Viewer's Guide: League contenders battle in Pac-12, AAC

Kyle Anderson is averaging 15.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists for UCLA this season. (USATSI)
Kyle Anderson is averaging 15.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists for UCLA this season. (USATSI)

Wednesday was a busy slate of hoops, with Connecticut, Kansas and Wisconsin getting key wins – and North Carolina and Missouri suffering questionable losses. Thursday has two headliner games, with a Pac-12 showdown and a guard-heavy battle in the AAC.  

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.

Best game: No. 1 Arizona at UCLA (9 p.m., ESPN). Is this where Arizona suffers its first loss of the season? The Wildcats needed a late run to beat Washington over the weekend, but they enter Thursday at 15-0. Meanwhile, UCLA is 12-2 after beating USC by 34 on Sunday – although the best win is a home victory against Alabama. There are several keys to this one. First, UCLA has to keep Arizona off the glass. The Wildcats are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and the Bruins need Travis and David Wear, and Tony Parker, to hold their own. On the other side, Arizona needs to get back in transition and force UCLA to play in the halfcourt. Also, will Arizona be able to make shots when UCLA goes to a zone defense?

Second-best game: No. 24 Memphis at No. 12 Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN). Heading into the season, this looked like a potential top-15 matchup, with a national title contender and its biggest threat in the AAC. Now, I’m not sure what it is. Memphis looked terrific against Florida in December, but the Tigers were inept in the second half against Cincinnati over the weekend. Louisville is 2-0 in the AAC without Chane Behanan; but are the Cardinals still the odds-on favorite to win the league? Thursday could be a statement-maker for both teams. The backcourt battle will be fun: Chris Jones and Russ Smith vs. Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Mike Dixon. Jones and Jackson have a rivalry dating back to high school.

Another one to watch: California at Oregon (11 p.m., FOX Sports 1). If the Golden Bears had Jabari Bird healthy, this would be a terrific perimeter matchup. Instead, California will have to rely on Richard Solomon and David Kravish crashing the boards down low, taking advantage of Oregon’s defensive rebounding woes. On the perimeter, Tyrone Wallace and Justin Cobbs can hold their own – but the Ducks will come at California with waves of guards, looking to push the ball and score in a hurry. The Golden Bears have to guard the 3-point shot better than they have this season.

Guaranteed win: Northwestern at No. 20 Iowa (9 p.m., ESPNU). Fran McCaffery won’t coach Thursday night’s game for the Hawkeyes, but that won’t matter. Iowa should cruise either way. Northwestern is struggling mightily in its first season under Chris Collins, coming into Thursday with three straight losses – including two at home. Iowa gets a tune-up before traveling to Ohio State Sunday.

Potential upset: Stanford at Oregon State (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Stanford suffered a crushing home loss to California last weekend – the kind of game the Cardinal need to win if they want to be an NCAA tournament team. A trip to Oregon State won’t be much easier – the Beavers now have Eric Moreland back from suspension, and Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier are putting up big numbers. 

Three other things to keep an eye on:

  1. Will Florida State or Clemson push for an upper-half finish in the ACC? They battle on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN3).
  2. Reminder: Marshall Henderson will not play Thursday night for Ole Miss against Auburn (7 p.m., ESPN2). He misses the next game, too.
  3. Can Marquette right the ship in Big East play? Not against Semaj Christon and Xavier (9 p.m., FOX Sports 1).

Other games to watch:

  • George Mason at VCU (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
  • Manhattan at Quinnipiac (7:30 p.m.)
  • George Washington at La Salle (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
  • Georgia State at Western Kentucky (8 p.m., ESPN3)
  • Michigan at Nebraska (9 p.m., ESPN2)
  • Arizona State at USC (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
  • No. 22 Gonzaga at Portland (11 p.m., ESPNU)
  • UC Irvine at Long Beach State (11 p.m.)
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