The showcase game for college basketball on Super Bowl Weekend comes Saturday night from Columbia, when Missouri hosts Kansas (9 PM ET, ESPN) in a fight for the top of the Big 12. The Tigers, along with Baylor, trail the Jayhawks by a game. The matchup offers a contrast between Missouri’s depth at guard contrasting with UK’s two-man show of Tyshawn Taylor up top and Thomas Robinson in the post. A lot of observers, including TheSportsNotebook, don’t feel Kansas is national championship-caliber. So far they’ve proven us wrong, but I don’t see a road win coming here. I look for a Tiger win in a great home atmosphere to set up a three-way tie at the top.
Earlier this week, TheSportsNotebook took a closer look at the middle of the Big 12, where five teams are racing for NCAA berths. Four of them go head-to-head, with Iowa State-Oklahoma (6, ESPN2) and Texas A&M-Kansas State. Here’s a look at what’s ahead for the rest of the country…
BIG TEN: Ohio State-Wisconsin (2 PM ET, ESPN) is the main event of Saturday afternoon. The Badgers are one of three teams within a game of Ohio State in the loss column and if they defend their home floor it throws the conference race into chaos. The two other teams chasing Ohio State are Michigan and Michigan State who meet in East Lansing on Sunday (1 PM ET, CBS), with the status of Spartan forward Draymond Green in doubt after injuring his knee in Tuesday’s loss to Illinois. On Saturday night, Purdue can make a case for the NCAA Tournament when they play Indiana at home. Someone will have to explain to me why ESPNU opted to show Penn State-Iowa for its 3 PM ET Big Ten game rather than showing IU-Purdue. I’m sure there’s a contractual reason. I’m equally sure that if it requires decisions like this, that contract isn’t fan-friendly.
BIG EAST: The first major sporting event of the weekend is South Florida-Georgetown, which tips off at 11 AM on ESPNU. And don’t sleep on South Florida, who’s getting strong frontline play from Augustus Gilchrist and Torlayn Fitzpatrick and is sitting on 6-3 in the Big East. The Bulls are still just 13-9 overall and could use this win over Georgetown to build an NCAA resume. First-place Syracuse tips off at St. John an hour later and then at 1 PM ET, CBS shows Notre Dame’s matchup with surging Marquette. Other noteworthy games include Seton Hall-UConn, where both teams have slipped below .500 in conference play. And on Sunday, Villanova-Pitt proved to be a bad choice for a Big East TV game, given how much each team has struggled. Too bad you can’t switch dates with Seton-UConn.
ATLANTIC 10: LaSalle has surprised everyone by taking sole possession of first place and they play an intra-city rivalry with St. Joe’s, who’s also made a nice step forward this season and will likely get in the NIT after several years in the basement. Time for another programming critique, in wondering why this game or Dayton-St. Louis, two prime challengers to the Explorers, can’t get the 2 PM ET slot on ESPN2 that was given to Temple’s mismatch with Rhode Island.
SEC: Kentucky puts its perfect conference record on the line at South Carolina (6 PM ET, ESPN),while Vanderbilt meets Florida at 1 PM ET on CBS (a TV spot they split with Marquette-Notre Dame). Florida’s got just one SEC loss and is the prime challenger to the Wildcats right now, but even playing at home, this one’s a big matchup problem as the Gators have no one who can handle Festus Ezeli in the post. I’ve been high on Vanderbilt all year and I’m making this a litmus test game to see if they’re really championship material. You need to win at least a couple big road games and Vandy in particular needs to exploit good teams without strong frontcourt play. This one fits the bill. Because I live just thirty miles from the campus of Marquette I won’t get Vandy-Florida on TV, but this is one of the weekend’s best games. Then on Saturday night, Ole Miss meets Alabama (8 PM ET, ESPN2) in a game between teams fighting for NCAA Tournament positioning.
ACC: North Carolina, Duke and Florida State are in a three-way tie in a good conference race here. The Tar Heels visit Maryland (4 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday, while Florida State hosts Virginia. Now I apologize for the broken-record complaining about TV decisions, but if you look through these all each weekend, you can find enough to make you wonder what kind of contracts are signed or what kind of idiots handle this. Because Virginia, the best team outside the ACC’s Big Three against co-leader Florida State is nowhere to be found nationally, while Boston College-Georgia Tech gets ESPNU coverage at 1 PM ET!*%#! Even if that decision was made months ago, who ever thought that game would be good?! Duke plays Sunday at home against Miami (3 PM ET, ESPNU) in the sporting world’s last appetizer before the Super Bowl.
PAC-12: Washington took sole possession of first place on Thursday night when they nipped UCLA 71-69 and Cal dropped a 78-74 decision to Arizona. The Golden Bears are now one of three teams giving chase to the Huskies. Both Washington and Cal should hold serve this weekend, but the other two contenders are Oregon-Colorado, and they go head-to-head. Arizona-Stanford is important in the NCAA Tournament battle in the middle.
MOUNTAIN WEST: Surprising Wyoming, with its 17-5 record, welcomes conference co-leader UNLV. For some reason NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus, which televised Mountain West games) chose New Mexico-Boise State over this game for its TV coverage. The Lobos are having another strong year under Steve Alford and need every win to join UNLV and San Diego State in the NCAA Tournament, but hapless Boise is unlikely to make this a game.