While there aren’t as many high-profile matches as there were last weekend, this weekend could be even better. That’s because there’s so much chance that some of the concerns will subside on Saturday. Even the best teams have a hard time playing in a road, conference environment, and there are a lot of those types of games this week. From the Big Ten to the SEC to some Big 12 games, most conferences have a game on Saturday that involves one of their best teams going into a road environment that has upset the writing on it.
No. 10 Illinois at Michigan State; 2pm ET on CBS
One potential upset comes from the Big Ten, where Illinois will travel to Michigan State to face the Spartans. While Illinois is a top-10 team and ahead of MSU in the rankings, the raucous Breslin Center crowd should keep the Spartans in it. The last time these two teams met was Jan. 11, an extremely close game, but the Illini pulled through in the end. As for this matchup, Michigan State’s Tyson Walker will certainly be a big factor, but it will be interesting to see how the rest of MSU’s starters play, as they have been underwhelming of late. For Illinois, Marcus Domask has been sensational of late, while Terrence Shannon has been slow to get back to his stellar self since returning to play. This should definitely be one to watch, not only because it’s two top programs meeting in a great setting, but because this could end up being critical to how the Big Ten standings shake out at the end of the season.
No. 12 Auburn at Florida; 3:30pm ET on SECN
Moving on to the SEC, another matchup of a top-15 team against the bubble takes place when Auburn travels to Florida. The Gators are right on the cut line in most bracket predictions, so a win here would be really big for their tournament hopes. Auburn, while a virtual lock for the field, would also like this Quad One win to boost its chances for a top seed but also keep it in the running for the SEC regular season title. The Tigers are coming off a big win over rival Alabama on Wednesday, so this game will see if Johni Broome and the rest of the roster can hold it together in a tough road environment. The Gators, however, have shown they can beat ranked teams, even on the road, as their star Walter Clayton Jr. willed his team to a win over Kentucky last month. Because of all that, this is a game with high upside potential, but with Auburn still the favorite with its talented squad.
Gonzaga at no. 17 Kentucky; 4pm ET on CBS
Another game from an SEC arena features only one team from the league, which is a big surprise this time of year. However, Gonzaga will travel to Kentucky to face the Wildcats in a non-conference game in mid-February. This game, while already interesting because of the teams involved, is even more interesting considering how these two teams have played all season. Both teams have proven talented at times, but generally meaningless. While this obviously won’t count in the conference standings, for the national standings and NCAA Tournament resume, it’s very important that Kentucky doesn’t lose at home here. Gonzaga, however, is desperate for a big win because they are projected to be completely outplayed. Winning that could put them in the field, meaning they wouldn’t be relying on the WCC autobid to get them in. All of which means this is sure to be one to watch, with star players Antonio Reeves and Rob Dillingham for UK battling Graham Ike and Ryan Nembhard for GU.
No. 5 Houston at Cincinnati; 4pm ET on ESPN2
It seems like every conference has a chance for a major upset, because here we have a Big 12 matchup that could be an upset in favor of the home team. Houston will try to avoid the upset, taking the trip to Cincinnati to face a bubble team hungry for a big win. The Bearcats are coming off a huge road win over Texas Tech, so making it back-to-back big wins would do wonders for their tournament chances, as they are currently in most projections, but not by much. For Houston, they’re the projected #1 seed, so losing here wouldn’t bode well for their hopes of holding onto that one streak. Jamal Shead and LJ Cryer are playing phenomenally, but the recent loss at Kansas means they definitely don’t want another L here. Simas Lukosius and Cincy, however, would love this big win at home against a top-five team.
13 Baylor at no. 4 Kansas; 6pm ET on ESPN
In what looks to be the best game on a packed Saturday, Baylor travels to Kansas to face the Jayhawks in a Big 12 showdown. Both of these teams won big games last Saturday, but Kansas suffered a loss this week to rival Kansas State. Baylor, on the other hand, is on a three-game winning streak, one it will try to extend in the raucous environment of Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas has yet to lose there this season, so it will be the perfect setting for them to make up for their loss earlier this week. The Jayhawks are looking like a doubleheader with an outside chance at one, so this game is really important if they want to get to that stretch. Kevin McCullar and Hunter Dickinson should have stellar performances as usual for KU, but Ja’Kobe Walter and RayJ Dennis are a dynamic duo for Baylor and could potentially pull off the upset in the tough road environment Kansas brings.
No. 6 Tennessee at Texas A&M; 8pm ET on ESPN
Another potential upset from the SEC comes from College Station where Texas A&M will host Tennessee. Both of these teams are projected to be in the tournament field, but Texas A&M doesn’t have much breathing room, so a win here could be huge for them. The Vols are right in the middle of the SEC regular season title race, so this is also huge for them and their chances of winning the league. Dalton Knecht is also contending for SEC Player of the Year honors, so expect a big performance from him, as well as Wade Taylor IV. The Aggies star usually thrives in big games like this. Texas A&M has already beaten Kentucky at home, so they’ve proven they can upset teams at home, which means this will definitely be one to watch.
No. 8 Arizona at Colorado; 10pm ET on ESPN
Another potential upset comes Saturday, this one from the Pac-12, where two of the top teams, Arizona and Colorado, will battle it out after dark. Arizona is the top dog in the conference, with the rest of the teams, including Colorado, fighting to make the tournament. Arizona, however, is fighting for a seed, so this is still important to them. Caleb Love and Oumar Ballo lead the ‘Cats and have been looking great of late. They will be up against Colorado star KJ Simpson who will be looking to take over this game and give his team a much needed big win. A win here could move the Buffs into a tournament spot, while a loss means they won’t have much of a chance to get a big win the rest of the season. All of this means that this matchup might look like it would easily go in the Wildcats’ favor, but a hungry Colorado team could pull off an upset at home.
Boise State at No. 22 of Utah; 10pm ET on FS1
Rounding out Saturday’s slate, Boise State heads to Utah State in a solid late-night Mountain West game. Both of these teams look strong on the court, but as far as the regular season crown in the Mountain West is concerned, it’s anyone’s game. This means that this could be the difference in the final standings, making it a very important match. Utah State took the previous game this season in overtime, which means we should have another shot this season. Tyson Degenhart, for Boise, is a name to remember, as is Great Osobor for USU, both of whom are some of the biggest stars in the conference. Both of these teams are coming off losses, so they’ll be hungry to get back to their winning ways, especially with the number of great teams the Mountain West has this season. All of that makes this a seriously intriguing matchup and a great one to end this busy basketball Saturday.