Ohio State's perfect season is at risk of coming to an end just like Kemba Walker's National Player of the Year hopes. Can Villanova keep the Big East race at least reasonably interesting? Can San Diego State keep from ruining my future travel plans? Can Marquette get a win that'll allow me to rank a nine-loss team instead of a 10-loss team?
Let's do the Weekend Look Ahead.
Best game: Ohio State is 24-0, ranked No. 1 and led by Jared Sullinger, a freshman many consider the nation's top player regardless of class. Meantime, Wisconsin is 13-0 at home, ranked 13th and led by Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, arguably the Big Ten's best guard-forward duo. So you can see why I booked this trip to see Saturday's showdown between the Buckeyes and Badgers weeks ago, right? Can't wait to get to Madison, where our eventual national champion might take its first loss at the same place last season's eventual national champion (Duke) took its first loss.
Another interesting matchup: Saturday's Pittsburgh-Villanova game is No. 4 vs. No. 10, but it lost some luster this week when the Wildcats showed an inability to defend the four-point play in the final seconds and lost at Rutgers. Still, this is important. Pitt is 10-1 in the Big East -- otherwise known as two games ahead of Notre Dame (9-3) in the loss column and three games ahead of Georgetown (8-4), Louisville (7-4) and Villanova (7-4). If the Panthers move to 11-1 they'll then be projected by most to finish no worse than 16-2 in the league based on their remaining schedule, meaning a Pitt win at Villanova should secure a Big East regular-season title barring an upset loss or two down the stretch.
Yet another interesting matchup: Florida will almost certainly win the SEC East -- provided the 17th-ranked Gators handle Tennessee on Saturday at the O'Connell Center -- but I don't have a clue who will finish second, third, fourth and fifth. It'll be Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Tennessee in some order; they're all entering the weekend with 5-4 league records. So Saturday's game between the 18th-ranked Wildcats and 23rd-ranked Commodores at Memorial Gym is big for seeding both in the SEC tournament and NCAA tournament, and hopefully referee Tim Higgins won't be there to screw up the ending.
Guaranteed to be a blowout: The good news for Iowa State fans is that Fred Hoiberg has enrolled multiple high-level transfers that'll significantly enhance the level of talent on campus. The bad news is that none of those transfers will be eligible Saturday when the Cyclones play No. 2 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
Guaranteed to be an upset: I'm already on record predicting Wisconsin to deal Ohio State its first loss, and there's no turning back now. So consider that the upset pick of the weekend. Now here's another prediction: It'll be the only game Ohio State loses between now and the start of the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes will be 33-1 on Selection Sunday. Book it.
Player trying to keep rolling: I wrote about Kendall Marshall after North Carolina's loss to Duke because the Tar Heels are so clearly better under the leadership of their talented freshman point guard than they were under the leadership of their not-as-talented junior point guard who quit shortly after the talented freshman point guard took his job. Also better: John Henson. The sophomore forward is averaging 13.5 points and 10.0 rebounds since Marshall became UNC's starting point guard, and he got 14 and 12 in that loss at Duke. It might take a similarly nice effort for the No. 20 Tar Heels to avoid a loss Saturday at Clemson.
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Player trying to get rolling: There are lots of reasons why Syracuse has gone from 18-0 to 20-5 and from third to 12th in the Associated Press poll. The main one, I think, is that the Orange were never as good as their record and ranking indicated. But another reason is Scoop Jardine's shooting woes. The junior guard is 20 of 68 from the field (29.4 percent) in Syracuse's past seven games, and he's averaging 6.3 points per game over the past three. Simply put, Jardine must be better. If not, the Orange will lose at No. 16 Louisville on Saturday and fall for the sixth time in eight games.
Three things you need to know
1. I'm already booked and ready for No. 7 BYU at No. 6 San Diego State (The Rematch!) in two weekends, and so now it would be ideal if the Cougars and Aztecs kept winning. BYU is at home Saturday against Utah. That should be simple enough. But I'm concerned about the San Diego State-UNLV game that'll tip about two hours later. The Rebels should provide a tough test for Steve Fisher's team. But if the Aztecs escape the Thomas & Mack Center with a win, they should be 27-1 when Jimmer Fredette visits Feb. 26.
2. Kemba Walker is falling out of the National Player of the Year race faster than Denard Robinson. The Connecticut guard is a very Scoop Jardine-like 21 of 72 (29.2 percent) from the field in his past four outings, three of which have resulted in losses, and he has only shot better than 50 percent from the field once since Dec. 8. Consequently, I now doubt that he can catch Jimmer (Fredette) or Jared (Sullinger). And maybe not even Jordan (Hamilton). But that's not important now. What's important now is that the former National Player of the Year candidate gets UConn out of this downward spiral. Sunday's home game with Providence provides a good opportunity.
3. Saint Mary's (9-1 in the WCC) is at San Francisco (7-2 in the WCC) on Saturday, meaning we've got a February game for first place in the WCC that doesn't involve Gonzaga (6-3 in the WCC). Raise your hand if you saw this coming.
Final thought: I'm gonna ride with Marquette till the end.
The Golden Eagles are 15-9, I know. But they've lost just one game to a team not ranked in the latest Top 25 (and one), and nobody -- not Duke, not Pittsburgh, not anybody -- has beaten them by double digits. In fact, their nine losses have come by an average of 4.6 points. So Buzz Williams' team has wins over No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 12 Syracuse and No. 25 West Virginia and Marquette has been competitive with everybody. So I don't see how the Golden Eagles could be out of anybody's 68-school bracket, but they're out of a lot of people's brackets right now because, I'm assuming, that loss total is just too much for some folks.
Which means Marquette has a problem.
The Golden Eagles play Sunday at No. 11 Georgetown in a game any bubble team should lose. But if Marquette is already on the wrong side of the bubble in some brackets, another loss will do nothing to help even if it's a reasonable and expected loss on the road to a top 15 team. In other words, Marquette needs a win to quiet skeptics. I'm not saying it's right because I think it's wrong. But I know it's true because my inbox will be flooded if I have to rank a 10-loss team late Sunday. (And don't think I won't.)