Kentucky has been nearly perfect this season.
The Wildcats are 25-1.
And yet if they lose Saturday they'll be tied with Vanderbilt atop the SEC standings and at risk of finishing second in their division while still possibly earning a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. What a strange turn of events. Credit Vandy coach Kevin Stallings for creating the scenario, not to mention this marquee game that I look forward to most in the Friday Look Ahead.
Best game of the weekend: It's being described as the biggest Vanderbilt game in decades, and the fans are treating it that way. "No tickets available," read the message on StubHub.com when I did a Friday morning search for tickets to this tilt between the 17th-ranked Commodores and No. 2 Kentucky. So I can't imagine a better place to be Saturday than Memorial Gym. Thus, I can't wait to get to Memorial Gym.
Another interesting matchup: My Player of the Year column from Thursday has readers asking why I don't love Ohio State's Evan Turner, to which I say, are you crazy? Why would I not love Evan Turner? He's terrific, unbelievable, a joy to watch. I flew to West Virginia last month -- on my birthday, no less -- just to see Turner because I had not seen him this season, and if he wins Player of the Year you won't find me protesting outside of the Wooden Award offices. It's just that I still believe John Wall is the best player in the country, and that he's done nothing to relinquish that title. Period. But don't get it twisted. Turner is awesome. And if he's awesome Sunday when the ninth-ranked Buckeyes meet No. 11 Michigan State at the Breslin Center on CBS, OSU could steal a road win and move into a tie for second in the Big Ten standings with Michigan State, or a tie for first if Illinois were to somehow win Saturday at No. 4 Purdue.
Yet another interesting matchup: The Big East Game of the Year will be played next weekend when Villanova and Syracuse -- both of which currently have a two-game lead on everybody in the conference standings -- meet at the Carrier Dome. But there's no guarantee Jay Wright's Wildcats will still be tied with the Orange in the loss column by then, because No. 3 Villanova is at No. 19 Pittsburgh Sunday, and the Panthers are 14-1 at the Peterson Events Center with a recent win over No. 9 West Virginia (although, in fairness, it did take them three overtimes).
Guaranteed to be a blowout: Yes, Colorado took Kansas to overtime earlier this month and held Xavier Henry to just three points. But that game was at Colorado, and Saturday's game with the top-ranked Jayhawks is at Allen Fieldhouse, and that should be a big enough difference to create a really big difference in the final score. Plus, I don't believe the Colorado cheerleaders travel, and how is Colorado supposed to keep it close without its support?
Guaranteed to be an upset: The likeliest ranked schools to lose to a lower-ranked or unranked opponent this weekend are both in the SEC. No. 2 Kentucky is at No. 17 Vanderbilt and No. 20 Tennessee is at unranked South Carolina. My prediction: At least one of them goes down. Maybe both.
Player trying to keep rolling: A three-game winning streak has pushed No. 22 Baylor into a tie for third in the Big 12 standings, and LaceDarius Dunn is a big reason for the development. The junior guard is averaging 22.0 points in the Bears' past five games, which includes a 30-point effort in a win over Texas Tech. He'll need to keep it up to help Baylor avoid a collapse given that three of the next four games are on the road, starting with Saturday's tilt at Oklahoma State.
SI.com: Best bracketbuster games
SB Nation: Race for No. 1 seeds
|CBS Games of the Week|
UF-Ole Miss on CBK Live and CBS, 12 ET Sat.
Villanova-Pitt on CBK Live and CBS, 12 ET Sun.
OSU-MSU on CBK Live and CBS, 12 ET Sat.
Player trying to get rolling: That Gonzaga is capable of beating Wisconsin and Memphis (at Memphis) in the same season that it loses to San Francisco and Loyola Marymount is simultaneously impressive and troubling. The only explanation is that the Zags are good enough to play with anybody and unreliable enough to lose to anybody, particularly when Robert Sacre doesn't put the ball in the basket. The Zags struggled at home with Pepperdine last month when Sacre finished 0 for 3 from the field, lost to Loyola-Marymount late Thursday when Sacre was 0 for 5 from the field. I bring this up now because Gonzaga plays Saturday at Pepperdine. If Sacre shows up, the Zags should be fine. If not, who knows?
Three things you need to know before you go
1. Siena remains in play for an at-large bid and might still be even with a loss at 18th-ranked Butler on Saturday. But a win at Hinkle Fieldhouse would significantly help the Saints' body of work, which, at this point, is mostly unimpressive. To date, the best win is over Northeastern, and the Saints have losses to Niagra and St. John's. Like I said, mostly unimpressive. But a victory this weekend would quiet some skeptics and likely pay dividends in Jerry Palm's next Projecting the Field.
2. Texas plays Saturday at Texas Tech, where a loss could cause the Longhorns to drop from the AP poll despite being ranked No. 1 a little more than a month ago. Rick Barnes' team has dropped six of nine and watched its record go from 17-0 to 20-6 overall, 6-5 in the Big 12. A loss to the Red Raiders would change those numbers to seven of 10, 20-7 and 6-6 with road games at Texas A&M and Baylor still to come.
3. Fordham plays at Rhode Island on Saturday, and it will almost certainly lose, if only because that's all it has done in the Atlantic 10 this season, the 0-12 league record serving as proof. But give credit to the school for understanding Dereck Whittenburg, fired earlier this season, wasn't the lone problem. Fordham announced this week that it will increase its men's basketball budget from the bottom third of the A-10 to the top third of the A-10. Will this development help Saturday at Rhode Island? Again, no. But it'll almost certainly help the school hire a better candidate than it could've otherwise hired, and it'll give the next coach a realistic chance to flourish.
Final thought: All the attention will be on Kentucky-Vanderbilt because first place in the SEC is up for grabs, because John Calipari is at risk to take a loss, because it's a late afternoon game on ESPN with Dick Vitale in attendance. But roughly 24 hours later another game with similar ramifications will tip-off, and you'd be wise to plant yourself in front of the television for it just the same.
Doesn't sound like much, I know.
But we're in late February, and a Virginia Tech win would create a tie in the loss column atop the ACC standings. Duke enters with a 22-4 record that includes a 10-2 league mark; Virginia Tech is 21-4, 8-3; Maryland is 18-7, 8-3. So if Maryland beats Georgia Tech on Saturday and Virginia Tech beats Duke on Sunday, the Blue Devils, Hokies and Terrapins will be tied in the loss column atop the ACC standings.
My question: If it goes that way, will people start to take Virginia Tech seriously?
I ranked the Hokies last week, put them at No. 25 in the Top 25 (and one). But they were left out of the AP and Coaches polls, mostly because voters aren't impressed with a non-league strength of schedule that ranked among the nation's worst. And I get that. Honestly, I do. But the fact remains that we're in late February, and Virginia Tech is 21-4 overall and 8-3 in the ACC with wins over a Georgia team that's topped Vanderbilt and Tennessee, a Seton Hall team that's topped Pittsburgh and Louisville, a Miami team that's topped Minnesota and South Carolina, a Virginia team that's topped UAB, a Clemson team that's topped Butler and South Carolina, and a Wake Forest team that's topped Gonzaga, Richmond and Xavier.
Again, that's 21-4.
After 11 ACC games.
"We just try not to get caught up in all the bull ...," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg told me by phone on Thursday, and you can probably guess how he finished that sentence. "At the end of the season, we'll have a record. And it's like Bill Parcells once said: You are what your record says you are."
So what does the Hokies' record say they are right now?
It says they're tied for second in the ACC with a chance to move to first.
In my eyes, that's pretty solid.
And worth a number beside their name.