We've got another loaded weekend of basketball ahead of us, and it once again starts on Friday night. (I could really get used to this idea of having a marquee matchup on Friday night, for what it's worth.) After a quiet week due to final exams, we're really ratcheting up the intensity.
Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.
Best game: No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina (Saturday, 5:15 p.m., ESPN). The lone top-20 matchup on Saturday, this one features two teams that are ranked lower than they were back in the preseason – but also two teams who have the ability to beat anyone. North Carolina has clearly proven that, knocking off Louisville and Michigan State – could the Wildcats be next? Kentucky bounced back from its Baylor loss with a win over Boise State. The Wildcats have to take care of the ball and also dominate the paint, grabbing offensive boards and getting the Tar Heels' bigs in foul trouble. Meanwhile, Willie Cauley-Stein needs to be effective as the last line of defense again, and the Wildcats have to get back in transition defense.
Second-best game: No. 23 Iowa at No. 17 Iowa State (Friday, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU). Two straight weekends we've had intriguing Friday night games. This one should be fun. Both Iowa and Iowa State are rolling, with the Hawkeyes off to a 10-1 start and the Cyclones unbeaten through seven games. The two teams match up pretty well with each other up front, as both sides have athletic forward and versatile five-men. Iowa has the edge when it comes to depth, but Iowa State has DeAndre Kane in the backcourt – he could end up being the difference. This one is going to be up-tempo. Iowa has to guard the perimeter well, while Iowa State will have to keep Iowa off the glass.
Another one to watch: No. 1 Arizona at Michigan (Saturday, 12 p.m., CBS). Heading into the season, this looked like a potential marquee game between a couple of top-10 teams. Although Michigan has already lost three games, the Wolverines still have enough talent to hand top-ranked Arizona its first loss. In order to get the win, freshman point guard Derrick Walton will have to consistently get the Wolverines into their offense against a tough backcourt pairing of T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson. Moreover, Glenn Robinson III has to come up big on the wing, making shots and creating his own looks. Defensively, keeping Arizona off the glass and away from the rim will be imperative.
Guaranteed wins: There are a few highly-ranked teams getting an easy post-finals test out of the way. First, No. 6 Louisville is at home against Western Kentucky (Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN2). There is some question whether Chris Jones will play, but the Cardinals should cruise either way. Massachusetts sits at 8-0 after last weekend's win over BYU, and the Minutemen will get a ninth win when Northern Illinois comes to visit (Saturday, 3 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Finally, Michigan State has a litany of injuries, but Oakland shouldn't prove to be much of a test (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2).
Potential upsets: There aren't any obvious ones for this weekend, but here's two to look at: VCU at Northern Iowa (12 p.m., ESPNU) and BYU at Utah (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network). In the first one, it's a contrast of styles. VCU will have to either turn Northern Iowa over a ton, or learn to score in the half-court against the Panthers' defense. Then the battle out west will feature a BYU team that has been solid if not slightly inconsistent against a Utah team that has a string of unimpressive wins. Can the Utes break through and get a key victory?
Seven more must-see games:
Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2): Big chance for Tennessee to prove itself, while Wichita State looks to stay undefeated.
Notre Dame at Indiana (Saturday, 3:15 p.m., ESPN): Notre Dame has been a disappointment in the ACC; Indiana needs an impressive win.
Saint Mary's at Boise State (Saturday, 6:05 p.m., ROOT): Boise State fell to Kentucky on Tuesday, and Saint Mary's has rolled to a 7-0 start.
New Mexico at No. 13 Kansas (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2): Kansas has dropped two in a row; will a talented and experienced New Mexico team make it three?
Cincinnati vs. Xavier (Saturday, 8 p.m., FOX Sports 1): One of the better rivalries in the sport – plus both teams are still trying to figure themselves out.
Illinois at No. 15 Oregon (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN2): Oregon's final game without Dominic Artis and Ben Carter – and a chance for Illinois to make a statement.
No. 2 Syracuse at St. John's (Sunday, 12 p.m., FOX Sports 1): Interesting contest. St. John's has tons of athletes, but it needs to be disciplined against Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
Other games to watch:
- Arkansas-Little Rock at No. 16 Memphis (8 p.m., ESPN3)
- Elon at No. 21 Colorado (8:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
- Youngstown State at Pittsburgh (12 p.m., ESPN3)
- Eastern Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin (1 p.m., ESPN3)
- Sam Houston State at Toledo (1 p.m.)
- Louisiana Tech at No. 7 Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU)
- Princeton at Penn State (2 p.m., Big Ten Network)
- Middle Tennessee at Ole Miss (5 p.m., ESPN3)
- Butler at Purdue (6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
- North Dakota State at No. 3 Ohio State (8:15 p.m., Big Ten Network)
- No. 20 Gonzaga vs. South Alabama (10 p.m., ROOT)
- La Salle at No. 10 Villanova (2:30 p.m., FOX Sports 1)
- Western Michigan at No. 24 Missouri (7 p.m., ESPNU)