College Basketball Saturday: Big Conference Battles Loom
The regular season for college basketball’s major conference teams is just sixteen days away from wrapping up and the battle for league championships is in full gear. Of the top nine conferences in the country only the SEC (Florida) and the Atlantic 10 (St. Louis) are really put to bed, with each leader holding a three-game cushion. The schedule for this Saturday and Sunday is stacked with good games.
Here’s a rundown on College Basketball Saturday, what’s on TV and what the implications are. We’ll go in chronological order through the TV schedule and conclude with a Sunday addendum, where there are still a couple big battles…
*Louisville-Cincinnati (Noon, CBS): This game is part of CBS’ split coverage, so some of you may get Florida-Ole Miss. The Bearcats are quietly one of the country’s really good stories. They’ve already beaten Louisville on the road and hold a one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference. A win here puts Cincy in command. Louisville can tie for first if they get the W. What’s more, a Louisville win opens the door at least a crack for SMU, UConn and Memphis, all of whom have four league losses to Cincinnati’s one.
*Wisconsin-Iowa (Noon, ESPN2): The Big Ten has the feel of a race that could end in a crackup, with multiple teams sharing league honors. Iowa is one game out in the loss column, Wisconsin is two back and the leaders, Michigan and Michigan State, go head-to-head on Sunday. For Big Ten fans such as myself, the Badgers-Hawkeyes is an ideal opening act.
*Notre Dame-Virginia (2 PM ET, ESPN2): Virginia was the big beneficiary of Syracuse’s stunning home loss to Boston College on Wednesday night. The Cavs are now tied in the loss column with the Orange and host Syracuse on March 1. But Virginia needs to take care of business in this spot on Saturday.
*UCLA-Stanford (6 PM ET, ESPN2): Arizona has started to stumble a bit in the Pac-12, losing in double overtime last Friday night against Arizona State. The beneficiary is UCLA, who is now a game back in the loss column. The Bruins don’t play the Wildcats head-to-head, so if UCLA wants a championship for first-year coach Steve Alford they probably need to win out. And as we’ll see in a few paragraphs, they can add some juice to a big prime-time game if they win here.
*Syracuse-Duke (7 PM ET, ESPN): It’s shocking this isn’t the game that ESPN’s Gameday will go to. Consider that Gameday went to the Carrier Dome for the first meeting and it was one of the best games of the regular season, if not the best. Further consider that when programming decisions were made it was reasonably assumed Syracuse would be undefeated coming into Cameron Indoor Stadium. Then further consider that ESPN would televise a Duke scrimmage in a prime-time spot if they could get away with it.
But even so, 7 PM ET doesn’t suck as a far as a time slot. And this game now has added importance. Syracuse could slip behind Virginia with a loss. Duke is currently three games back after last night’s loss at North Carolina, a game the Blue Devils failed to put away when they had the chance. If Duke gets the win, it at least opens up the door for them to maybe get a first-place tie if some crazy things happen down the stretch.
*Texas-Kansas (7:30 PM ET, ESPNU): Kansas is two games ahead of Texas, and the Jayhawks can join the ranks of Florida and St. Louis, as teams with conference titles all but sewn up if Bill Self’s kids can simply defend their home floor.
Arizona-Colorado (9 PM ET, ESPN): Gameday is going to Boulder, and while it wouldn’t have been my choice, this is still a good game. We noted that Arizona is feeling the heat from UCLA. Colorado is in third place in the Pac-12, almost certainly bound for the NCAA Tournament and will be a very tough out on their home floor with the Saturday night crowd juiced up—literally and figuratively.
San Diego State-New Mexico (10 PM ET, ESPN2): Don’t look now but the Lobos have stayed right with the potent Aztecs in the Mountain West. There is just one game difference in the standings and New Mexico will have their own fired up crowd set for a big-time game on Saturday night. When you combine quality of play with the stakes, this might be the best game of Saturday.
THE SUNDAY SCHEDULE
Michigan State-Michigan (Noon ET, CBS): The stakes are simple—sole possession of first place in the Big Ten to the winner in a heated rivalry game. Easily the best game of the weekend overall.
SMU-UConn (2 PM ET, CBS Sports Network): It only has conference championship implications if Louisville beats Cincy, but both teams are over the 20-win threshold already and Larry Browns’ coaching job at SMU has become another great story in this season.
Seton Hall-Creighton (5 PM ET, FoxSportsNetwork): Creighton is tied with Villanova in the Big East, but while the Bluejays casually drop points on ‘Nova (196 combined in two head-to-head wins) they haven’t always taken care of business elsewhere. There’s no room for error if Creighton wants to grab the title in this league’s first year since the basketball-only schools broke away and went solo.