By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Connecticut (CBS) – If the NHL All-Star game and the NFL Pro Bowl isn’t your cup of tea and you’re looking to fill that temporary sports void in your life before the Super Bowl next weekend, you’ve come to the right place. College Basketball season is in full swing and there are a lot of good match ups this weekend that should satisfy even the most casual of college basketball fans. Even if you aren’t a fan, and you just want to get a jump on your March Madness office pool by doing some team research, this weekend is a great place to start. Below is a ranking of the top 10 college basketball games of this coming weekend, starting tonight and ending Sunday night.
10. North Carolina State (14-7) at Louisville (17-4) – Sunday 1pm ACCNetwork
NC State is coming off a big 84-82 win at Duke on Monday and is looking for some more key wins to add to their resume and this would be a good place to start. NC State is led by excellent Freshman Guard Dennis Smith Jr. who will for sure be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Louisville absolutely throttled Pittsburgh on the road on Tuesday, 106-51 and already has big wins over Kentucky, Purdue, Indiana, Duke and Wichita State this season. There should be plenty of points scored in this game at the very least.
9. Michigan (14-7) at Michigan State (12-9) – Sunday 1pm CBS
This is the first of two meetings between the state rivals in the next 9 days. Michigan just beat Indiana 90-60 last night and is looking to get on somewhat of a run. Their longest winning streak of the season is 4 games, but they haven’t lost more than 2 in a row as well. Michigan State has lost 4 out of their last 5 and Sunday’s game starts a pretty favorable stretch for the Spartans to help them right the ship. If Michigan State wants to keep their streak of 19 straight NCAA tournament appearances alive, this game would go a long way.
8. Notre Dame (17-4) at Georgia Tech (12-8) – Saturday Noon ESPNU
Georgia Tech just handled #6 Florida State at home 76-58 the other day and have also beaten North Carolina and VCU this season. If they want to generate some momentum, beating a very tough Notre Dame team at home would help. Three of their next four conference games are on the road which makes this game all the more important. Notre Dame is 3-1 on the road in conference play so far with wins at Pittsburgh, Miami and Virginia Tech. Their only loss was by 3 points to Florida State. This will be a good test for Georgia Tech.
7. Indiana (14-7) at Northwestern (17-4) – Sunday 6:30 Big Ten Network
Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament in their program’s history. Beating a very vulnerable Indiana team at home to move to 7-2 in conference play would be monumental for their chances to attend this season. Indiana lost by 30 points at Michigan the other day and also lost 4th leading scorer OG Anunoby for the season to a knee injury last week as well. While Northwestern has 6 conference wins so far, none of them are what you would call “signature”. Their schedule is back loaded and they still have to play Purdue and Indiana twice each, Maryland Wisconsin and Michigan. Sunday’s game is big for the Wildcats.
6. Duke (15-5) at Wake Forest (12-8) – Saturday 3pm ACCN
The Duke basketball team has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately it seems. Whether it’s Grayson Allen’s obsession with tripping opponents and subsequent suspension, chemistry issues between the many talented stars on the team, Coach K taking a leave of absence due to a back injury or the most recent story of Coach K banning his players from their locker room a la Samuel L. Jackson putting locks on the gym in Coach Carter until his team got their grades up. All that has seemed to detract from the fact that Duke’s just hasn’t looked all that good lately on the court. They have a few decent wins on the season against Florida, Georgia Tech and Miami, but they’ve now lost 3 out of their last 4 and need to get it together before their conference schedule gets much tougher. Wake Forest, much like Georgia Tech, are looking for a win to propel them from being just a nice story, to a team that needs to be taken more seriously.
5. Maryland (18-2) at Minnesota (15-6) – Saturday 2:15pm BTN
If you asked who the biggest surprise in the Big Ten is so far this season, most answers would be Northwestern. But Minnesota would not be too far behind. Yes, they have lost 4 in a row and are now 3-5 in conference play, but 3 of those 4 losses were by a combined 10 points including a 2 point loss at home to Wisconsin. Minnesota has also beaten Northwestern already and beat Purdue. If they want to get the season back on track, tomorrow’s game would be a good start. Maryland is 18-2 on the season, but is only ranked #22 in the country. This speaks to the public’s disbelief in just how good of a team Maryland is to this point. Their out of conference schedule was pretty soft, and their conference schedule has been nothing impressive so far as well. Whoever wins this game would be adding a good W to their resume for sure.
4. North Carolina (19-3) at Miami (13-6) – Saturday 1pm CBS
After a surprising loss at Georgia Tech to open conference play, North Carolina has looked extremely impressive since. They’ve won 7 games in a row, beating up on teams at home, and winning much closer games on the road. If that trend continues, this game should be a very exciting one. Miami has hit a little bit of a skid recently, losing 4 of their last 6 games, but 3 of those 4 losses were on the road. Their only home loss in that stretch was a 5 point loss to Notre Dame. Right now, the middle of the ACC is very cluttered, winning this game would help Miami remove themselves from that group.
3. Dayton (15-4) at VCU (15-5) – Friday 9pm ESPN2
This is a very good appetizer to the actual weekend. The only game of the weekend featuring two teams that are not in a top 6 conference (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) should be a very good one. Both teams are the class of the Atlantic 10 and should be representing the league in the NCAA tournament come March if they can avoid any more missteps this season (VCU already lost at Fordham and Dayton lost at Umass). Both teams have many experienced players and the environment in Richmond has been one of the best on college basketball in the past 6 years since VCU really became a household name. VCU visits Dayton on March 1st in what will be another exciting game when that time comes.
2. Virginia (16-3) at Villanova (19-2) – Sunday 1pm FOX
Any other weekend an out of conference match up this late in the season featuring two teams of this caliber would be #1 no question. Last year Virginia beat the eventual National Champs 85-76 in Virginia, this year the game is being played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to accommodate the many fans who will attend this game. Virginia has seen some talent leave the program the past 2 seasons, but they’ve also replaced that talent as well. They still play very good defense. With the exception of the game at Pitt where they gave up 88 points, Virginia has held its conference opponents to 58.3 points per game in their other 6 games including road wins over Louisville and Notre Dame. Villanova blew a 17 point lead at Marquette on Tuesday night, but have played extremely well otherwise. Senior Josh Hart is having another phenomenal season and Villanova does have some big wins over Creighton, Notre Dame, Purdue and Xavier, but Virginia will be one of, if not the, biggest test of the regular season for the Wildcats.
1. Kansas (18-2) at Kentucky (17-3) – Saturday 6:15 ESPN
I’m not sure I really even need to preview this game. What’s written above should really say it all. Yes these two teams play each other every 3 years in the Champions Classic, but those games are on a neutral court. Last year’s game between these two teams was one of the best out of conference, non NCAA tournament games of recent memory. A game where Kansas won on their home court 90-84 in OT. This year it is a little of the same, just a few different names and a different location. A veteran Kansas squad that also features a stud freshman (Josh Jackson) going up against one of the best groups of Freshman in the country for Kentucky. All Kentucky fans had to hear last year was how Allen Fieldhouse is the best arena in college basketball, well now it is their turn to let the country know why Rupp Arena should be recognized as the best. Kansas will be thin up front as they are losing 6-10 Carlton Bragg Jr (6.1 PPG 4.8 RPG) to a suspension, so the guards and Jackson will have to carry a little more of the load and contribute on the glass. We can only hope this game delivers like last year’s did.
Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini