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College Basketball

The battle for Kansas highlights weekend games

Seth Davis' Fresh Takes
On this episode of Fresh Takes, Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis breaks down the five biggest stories in college hoops heading into the weekend.

Conference play is under way in college basketball. In the Big 12, the sport's breakout conference, an upswing Kansas State squad will face off against a skidding Kansas team with a chance for a signature win in Allen Fieldhouse. And after suffering their first loss of the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes will try to get revenge on Big Ten opponent Iowa. If you haven't been keeping up with college basketball yet this season, this weekend will be a good primer for the rest of the way.

The Weekend Forecast
 
Saturday, Jan. 11
 
Noon, ESPN North Carolina (10-5) at No. 2 Syracuse (15-0)
People like to say that North Carolina isn't bad, it's just inconsistent. Well, consistency and excellence go hand in hand, and the Tar Heels don't have much of either right now. The main thing that kept them afloat in the early going was Marcus Paige's outside shooting, but Paige shot 5-for-27 (3-for-19 from three) in the Heels' first two ACC games. Not surprisingly, the team lost both. Moreover, North Carolina struggles against a zone, and it will see far too much of that on Saturday.
 
2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network Minnesota (13-3) at No. 5 Michigan State (14-1)
The Spartans have lost just one game, but you get the feeling Tom Izzo does not enjoy coaching this group very much. He nearly burst into flames as his players frittered a 17-point lead before escaping Ohio State in overtime at home on Tuesday night. Even playing at less-than-their-best, the Spartans should get by Minnesota at the Breslin Center, but this team still faces long-term questions about its toughness, effort and overall health.
 
1 p.m., Fox Sports 1 No. 8 Villanova (14-1) at St. John's (9-5)
If I'm Charlie Brown kicking the football, then St. John's is my Lucy holding it. I simply refuse to believe that this Red Storm team can't get into the NCAA tournament. I picked them to beat Syracuse at home four weeks ago, and they hung tough before losing by five. The Johnnies looked awful in losing on the road to Xavier and Georgetown, so I'm banking on a little home cooking setting them straight. Suffice to say, St. John's will need much more production from 6-4 junior guard D'Angelo Harrison, who shot 1-for-12 in the loss to Georgetown.
 
Noon, ESPNU No. 9 Iowa State (14-0) at Oklahoma (12-3)
The one deceptive thing about Iowa State's start is its lack of a decent road win. The Cyclones edged a mediocre BYU team by two in Provo and then beat Texas Tech by 11 in Lubbock. So this will be their toughest road, and I have a hunch they won't pass. The Sooners may be young, but they have a strong, rusty old anchor in 6-7 senior forward Cameron Clark, who scored a career-high 32 points in Wednesday's loss to Kansas.
 
1 p.m., ESPN2 No. 10 Florida (12-2) at Arkansas (11-3)
The Gators just can't catch a break. They were coasting to an easy win against South Carolina when they lost their most important player, point guard Scottie Wilbekin, to a sprained ankle. He is listed as doubtful for this game. If he doesn't play, the Gators are ripe for an upset against a team that loves to run and doesn't lose often at home.
 
4 p.m. No. 11 Oklahoma State (13-2) at West Virginia (10-5)
This just in: Marcus Smart is really, really good. He turned in one of his best performances of the season in the Cowboys' win at Texas, finishing with 11 rebounds, six steals and five assists to go along with 24 points (16-for-20 from the foul line). In all, OSU shot 51 free throws to Texas' 23. It will need that kind of aggressiveness moving forward now that one of the team's best rebounders, Michael Cobbins, is done for the year with a torn Achilles.
 
2 p.m., ESPN No. 25 Kansas State (12-3) at No. 18 Kansas (10-4)
If you haven't seen Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster in action, this is your chance to check him out. The 6-2 guard from Wichita Falls, Texas, mixes highlight-reel dunks with a feathery outside touch. The Wildcats have been a pleasant surprise, but it's too much to ask for them to win in Allen Fieldhouse. You may have heard that the Jayhawks have some good freshmen as well -- including 6-5 guard Wayne Selden, who exploded for a season-high 24 points in the Jayhawks' win at Oklahoma on Wednesday.
 
Sunday, Jan. 12
 
1:30 p.m., CBS No. 20 Iowa (13-3) at No. 3 Ohio State (15-1)
When they put Aaron Craft's college career into a time capsule, the only play that future generations need to see is his diving steal towards the end of regulation of the Buckeyes' game at Michigan State. Ohio State lost the game, but it was a winning play, and I expect Craft will make more of those against the Hawkeyes. Ditto for fast-rising freshman forward Marc Loving, who is increasingly winning Thad Matta's trust.
 
5 p.m., Fox Sports 1 Stanford (9-5) at No. 17 Oregon (13-2)
The Cardinal briefly jumped on the national radar with a two-point win at UConn on Dec. 18, but they have since dropped way off thanks to three losses in their last four games, including Thursday night at last-place Oregon State. Oregon, meanwhile, badly needs to bounce back after losing two in a row. Sophomore point guard Dominic Artis has been a shadow of his former self since returning from a nine-game NCAA suspension.
 
3 p.m., CBS Sports Network Xavier (13-3) at Creighton (13-2)
Don't look now, but Xavier is one of the hottest teams in the country, having rebounded from its 0-3 performance in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving week to win eight consecutive games. Sophomore point guard Semaj Christon, who had a career-high 28 points in Thursday night's win over Marquette, is playing the best basketball of his career. I know that The Dougie is going to play for Creighton, but he sustained a painful shoulder sprain in the Bluejays' win over DePaul. Plus, Creighton will be without senior guard Grant Gibbs, the invaluable Glue Guy who will miss the next four to six weeks because of a dislocated kneecap.
 
Last Week: 6-4
 
Season Record: 42-18
 
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