Your Viewers Guide To A “Sensational Saturday” In College Basketball
15 College Basketball Games You Must Watch Saturday Or Else...
Everything is hyped today in the sports world and that’s mostly thanks to the internet and the 24 hour news cycle. However, this Saturday in college hoops is no joke. It is easily the best all year and it will have a major impact come March. There are a ton of early bubble games but we’ve also got some big times top 25 match ups. Unfortunately, at least two games (Missouri-Florida and Gonzaga-Butler) will be affected by injuries but come mid-season that isn’t really a surprise. Both Mizzou and Butler have to have multiple reserves step up to help fill the voids left by Lawrence Bowers and Rotnei Clarke respectively. We’ll see if they can do it but given the talent each has, don’t put it past them.
If I have one major gripe about this “supreme Saturday” it’s the fact that multiple great games are being played at the same time. I heard someone say this is a preview of the NCAA Tournament. That makes some sense but it would be a heck of a lot better if we could see more of each game in their entirety. Why not start off a killer weekend on Friday night? Especially this weekend, as the NHL is opening on Saturday afternoon and the NFL has championship Sunday. You would give both casual fans and the diehards something to watch.
College basketball’s regular season matters. Anyone that tells you differently just doesn't get it. Watch the games this weekend. Remember them. There are plenty of opportunities on Saturday’s schedule for resume wins. Now your team just needs to go and take them!
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.
#15: Maryland vs. North Carolina (ACC), 12 PM Eastern, ESPN
Who would have thought this would be a battle of the "bubblicious"? Maryland got off to a hot start but had cooled off until their ugly, nasty and lucky win over NC State at home while North Carolina finally got a win in ACC play by beating Florida State.
Expect Alex Len to have a big game in this one. North Carolina has little size underneath and nearly every game they've played a legit big it has been completely one sided. I want to see the Tar Heels press Maryland though. The Terps have had turnover issues all year and that can grab you some "cheap" points. PREDICTION: North Carolina 66 - Maryland 61.
#14: Connecticut vs. Pittsburgh (Big East), 12 PM Eastern, ESPN 2
Talk about two teams that it's difficult to get a read one. Connecticut may be ineligible for the tournament but they have a talented squad nevertheless. Of course, while the stars are there they don't have a lot of depth. I want to see Pitt get physical from the start and really grind down the smaller UConn guards.
The major problem I have with Pittsburgh is the inconsistency. You don't really know who is going to step up and provide the scoring. Lately freshman Durand Johnson has really stepped up. He's a wing that can get his own shot. A rarity in the Jamie Dixon era. PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 55 - Connecticut 50.
#13: Arkansas vs. Ole Miss (SEC), 1:30 PM Eastern, ESPN 3 (Online Only)
What an escape at Vandy by Ole Miss. They were down double digits multiple times in the game but made a ridiculous comeback thanks to some turnovers and Marshall Henderson's miracle a the end of regulation. That tells me this might be the year for Andy Kennedy's guys to break through to the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas has little effective size underneath although they can score themselves. Ole Miss will probably work through Murphy Holloway to start and then let Henderson do work once the Razorbacks are forced to double team him. PREDICTION: Ole Miss 71 - Arkansas 62.
#12:  Missouri vs.  Florida (SEC), 2 PM Eastern, ESPN
This is the first of our true "showcase" games on this special Saturday. Missouri has cooled off a little after getting spanked by Ole Miss but obviously they are still dangerous. However, Lawrence Bowers is still out with the knee injury and that's a huge weapon to be down going to the O'Connell Center.
Florida has really started to turn up the pressure defensively and that's helped them get on opponents early. It's imperative that Phil Pressey limits his turnovers. They won't be able to crawl back into a game with a bad start. Look for Erik Murphy to have a huge game. There isn't really a player on Mizzou that can match up with him. PREDICTION: Florida 75 - Missouri 64.
#11:  Syracuse vs.  Louisville (Big East), 4 PM Eastern, ESPN
This should be the best game for the day. It's a match up of truly contrasting styles. Syracuse brings their 2-3 match up zone in against a relatively poor three point shooting team. While Louisville will most likely press quite a bit as freshman Michael Carter-Williams goes into his first big road game in conference.
Wayne Blackshear needs to be the difference in this one. He hasn't really been in rhythm his last few games and expect the zone to shade towards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. Syracuse will be without gunner James Southerland as he is still under an NCAA investigation. PREDICTION: Louisville 62 - Syracuse 58.
#10:  Creighton vs. Wichita State (Missouri Valley), 4 PM Eastern, ESPN 2
The Missouri Valley Conference is back! Sort of... Creighton probably has the player of the year in college basketball in Doug McDermott. Wichita State though will be ready. They played them tough last year and have one of the best home courts in college hoops at Koch Arena.I want to see the Shockers ride Cleanthony Early and the recently healed Carl Hall. Creighton will have a tough time matching up with their bulk especially if Greg Echenique gets in foul trouble which can be a problem. PREDICTION: Wichita State 68 - Creighton 60.
#9: Oklahoma vs.  Kansas State (Big 12), 4 PM Eastern, ESPN 3 (Online Only)
This one might hurt your eyes. I'm not going to lie. These two teams have issues scoring and both want to win a low scoring affair. Oklahoma is a major pretender in my opinion but they have had a hot start to conference play and will have a chance to prove me wrong.
Oklahoma though is going to have a problem keeping Kansas State off the offensive boards. Even if Rodney McGruder has an off night shooting they collect so many of their misses it allows them to survive. The Sooners will need a huge game from Steven Pledger to keep it close PREDICTION: Kansas State 55 - Oklahoma 47.
#8:  Oregon vs.  UCLA (Pac 12), 4 PM Eastern, CBS
Finally a Pac 12 game that actually means something in the big picture! It's sure been a while but these are two exciting squads to watch. Oregon has a great freshman led back court, impressive size and EJ Singler to lead them on the wing. UCLA is running but they are still struggling defensively. I don't think that will change this year but for now they are still winning.
The Wear twins speed and athleticism is going to cause problems for the trio of Tony Woods, Arsalan Kazemi and Waverly Austin. Oregon is probably still a year away from being a major factor but next year? A Final Four isn't out of reach. PREDICTION: UCLA 74 - Oregon 69.
#7: Florida State vs. Virginia (ACC), 4 PM Eastern, ESPN 3 (Online Only)
This is another game that might be brutal to watch but it's got implications. I didn't buy Virginia (and still don't) but they've got a chance here to pick up a nice win at home. The pack line defense is keeping them in games but they don't have a way to get easy buckets like they did last year with Mike Scott.
Okaro White needs to exert himself early and often. He's a first round pick with his size and athleticism combo but he isn't aggressive. This is a good match up for him to put on his resume tape. Do it! PREDICTION: Florida State 56 - Virginia 51.
#6:  Ohio State vs.  Michigan State (Big Ten), 6 PM Eastern, ESPN
Throw out the rankings. These two teams have been very disappointing to me. Ohio State can't really score in the half court unless Deshaun Thomas is sizzling. Michigan State has been extremely inconsistent and Branden Dawson hasn't been the star many expected.
Watch the Keith Appling-Aaron Craft battle. It should be fascinating all game long. Gary Harris can be the difference as there isn't that great wing threat to shut him down like year's past. I just don't know if Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix will show up. PREDICTION: Michigan State 61 - Ohio State 55.
#5:  Marquette vs. Cincinnati (Big East), 7 PM Eastern, ESPN U
Cincinnati is a really good team that had a few fluky losses. Marquette meanwhile has been on the other side of the coin. While they have talent, especially up front, the breaks have clearly gone their way.
Cashmere Wright got hurt against DePaul and will probably be limited in this one. That puts a lot of pressure on Titus Rubles to help Sean Kilpatrick score. The Cincy bigs do virtually nothing on offense. However, David Nyarsuk on Davonte Gardner will be one hell of a match up. The Golden Eagles can't shoot. Get him the ball and take your chances. PREDICTION: Marquette 60 - Cincinnati 54.
#4: UNLV vs. Colorado State (Mountain West), 7 PM Eastern, NBC Sports Network
You know I wasn't going to have a list without giving the Mountain West some love. Normally we're used to some great MWC basketball during the midweek but this is quite the Saturday treat. UNLV is coming off a huge win where they found a new small lineup that gave them added quickness in the half court. That won't work in this one with the Rams ability to rebound and get physical.
Anthony Bennett will be tempted to shoot the three, and he can make it, but he needs to not be scared to take on Cole Iverson inside. Anthony Marshall meanwhile must limit his turnovers because Colorado State will put a lot of ball pressure like they did versus San Diego State which has a similar "combo guard" playing the point. PREDICTION: Colorado State 63 - UNLV 57.
#3: Rutgers vs.  Notre Dame (Big East), 8 PM Eastern, ESPN 3 (Online Only)
What's going on with Notre Dame? No I don't mean the close losses but instead Jack Cooley hitting the bench late in games? The Irish not making their threes? Bizarre. They'll have a chance to get back on track at home versus Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights are a pretty young team and they'll need to be patience versus the Irish tempo. I don't see it. Expect Notre Dame to get back on point from deep. PREDICTION: Notre Dame 65 - Rutgers 55.
#2:  Gonzaga vs.  Butler (WCC vs. A-10), 9 PM Eastern, ESPN
Man it stinks that Rotnei Clarke won't play in this one but it will still be a can't miss match up in prime time. Butler continues to churn along under Brad Stevens while Mark Few's squad might be the best he's ever had in Spokane. Also, they are never shy about stacking their non-conference schedule which I love.
Is this the game Kellen Dunham steps back up on the national stage? We saw what the stud freshman can do against North Carolina earlier this year and Gonzaga isn't exactly a good defensive team. Look what Brandon Paul did to them at the Kennel earlier this year. Andrew Smith has actually proven to me he can shut down the best so I'll finally give him his due. Kelly Olynyk won't be a factor. PREDICTION: Butler 73 - Gonzaga 65.
#1: Kentucky vs. Auburn (SEC), 9 PM Eastern, ESPN U
This should never be a game you need to watch but this year with Kentucky you just never know. They are legitimately "on the bubble" and can't afford a slip up to an SEC bottom feeder. However, with their struggles on the road, including a recent near loss to Vandy, this is no given.
I want to see Kentucky to continue to feed Nerlens Noel inside. Even if he misses his first, or second shot, he's such a good rebounder that few can stop. Kyle Wiltjer is starting to get into rhythm but unless he improves defensively, John Calipari can't afford to put him on the floor. PREDICTION: Kentucky 66 - Auburn 55.