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  • No. 11 Xavier at No. 19 Seton Hall is the only ranked matchup of the weekend, but there are plenty of other under-the-rader games that are worth watching, including a clash between Conference USA's two best teams that will serve as an early look at potential tournament Cinderellas.
By Michael Beller
January 19, 2018

We reach the penultimate weekend of January with a number of teams at a crossroads. Just what is the ceiling for Wichita State? Will Kentucky and Michigan State get on the right track? Can Notre Dame survive the gauntlet of ACC play without two key rotation players, including team leader Bonzie Colson? Those questions will be answered in full only after the next two months play out, but we’ll get the next pieces to the puzzle in the coming days. The game of the weekend, however, is in the Big East, where Xavier and Seton Hall meet for the first time this season.

No. 7 Wichita State at Houston

Saturday, noon ET, ESPNU

This is a surprisingly huge game in the AAC. Put simply, Wichita State is not holding up its end of the bargain as a Final Four contender. It has lost to the two best teams it has played—Oklahoma and a full-strength Notre Dame—and it got upset earlier this week at home by SMU. On top of that, the Shockers have played with fire too many times against teams it should handle with ease. Houston, meanwhile, has played its way into the tournament discussion, but got beat by lowly Tulane on Wednesday, it second loss of the season to a team devoid of at-large hopes. A win over Wichita State would go a long way to offsetting that damage.

Wichita State 72, Houston 68

No. 22 Ohio State vs. Minnesota (at Madison Square Garden)

Saturday, noon ET, Big Ten Network

Why is this game at Madison Square Garden? This is the third annual Big Ten Super Saturday, a basketball/hockey doubleheader played at the Garden in the conference’s attempt to spread the Midwest to the country’s biggest city. (The hockey game features Minnesota and Michigan State, if you’re interested.) The Buckeyes are one of the hottest teams in the country, sitting at 7-0 in the Big Ten. Keita Bates-Diop is the favorite for conference player of the year in a league that includes two likely lottery picks. Minnesota remains in the early bubble picture, but let’s remember that its best win of the season was over Alabama. The Buckeyes have too much offense for the Gophers to be able to keep up.

Ohio State 81, Minnesota 72

Texas at No. 6 West Virginia

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS

The Mountaineers have lost their last two games, though there’s no shame in losing to Texas Tech and Kansas, even less so by a combined six points. Defense is the watchword in this game, with both teams ranked in the top 10 in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency. The big difference, however, is that West Virginia forces a ton of turnovers and pressures teams to play at a pace faster than it can handle, while Texas clamps down in the half court with its defense anchored by elite rim protector Mo Bamba. West Virginia, however, has the offensive pieces to counteract such a defense, especially with Esa Ahmad back on the floor. That, plus the home court advantage, tilts the scales in favor of the Mountaineers.

West Virginia 75, Texas 65

No. 11 Xavier at No. 19 Seton Hall

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, Fox

This is the only matchup of two ranked teams all weekend. This is sneakily an important game for Xavier. They’ve done all their heavy lifting at home, with their best win outside of Cincinnati coming at Marquette. The Musketeers are unquestionably one of the 20 best teams in the country, but they need to prove they can beat high-level competition away from home. Xavier is one of the few teams in the Big East with the size to handle Angel Delgado, but it’ll be the matchup between J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett on one side, and Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez on the other that gets top billing in this one.

Seton Hall 84, Xavier 83                       

Creighton at Providence

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

These teams met a little more than a month ago, with Creighton running Providence out of Omaha to the tune of an 83-64 victory. The Friars have reason to be more confident getting the Bluejays on their home floor, but the matchup issues that existed for them the first time around are still present. Creighton is one of the most adept pace-up teams in the country, playing at kenpom.com’s 18th-fastest adjusted tempo. They get teams to play their style and those that don’t have the offense to keep up, like Providence, have trouble slowing them down. The best way to do it is on the glass but Providence is an average rebounding team. In other words, it doesn’t look like it will matter where this game is played. This is simply a clash of styles that favors Creighton significantly.

Creighton 81, Providence 73

No. 24 TCU at Kansas State

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPNU

TCU is already in trouble at 2-4 in the loaded Big 12. Late Thursday, more bad news surfaced for the Horned Frogs: guard Jaylen Fisher had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season. Kenrich Williams and Vlad Brodziansky might not be enough to keep this team afloat (and on track for an NCAA tournament bid) in the toughest conference in the country. Six of the Horned Frogs 13 remaining games are against West Virginia, Kansas, Texas Tech and Texas. It will be instructive to get a good look at them on the road against a Kansas State team that nearly upset Kansas in Lawrence and trounced Oklahoma in its last two games.

Kansas State 78, TCU 72

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Notre Dame at No. 20 Clemson

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN

The wheels are threatening to fall off Notre Dame’s season. They’re already without Bonzie Colson until March and now talented freshman D.J. Harvey joins him on the shelf for the next four weeks with a knee injury. A season can get away from any team with a bad four weeks in a loaded conference like the ACC and the Irish have already lost three straight games to Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Louisville. Clemson, meanwhile, has lost two of its last three, but this is an opportunity to get on the right track before a huge game at Virginia next week. With Colson and Harvey out, the Irish are going to have a tough time coming up with an answer for Donte Grantham.

Clemson 74, Notre Dame 63

Missouri at Texas A&M

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

These are two teams headed in opposite directions. Texas A&M entered SEC play as one of the hottest teams in the country, but injuries and suspensions contributed to a 0-5 start in conference play. Missouri, on the other hand, has knocked off Georgia and Tennessee in two of its last three games, doing the work necessary to offset an ugly non-conference loss to Illinois. This is a big game between two potential bubble teams, meaning it is absolutely critical that Missouri protects its home floor. That’ll be easier said than done with the Aggies back at full strength.

Missouri 68, Texas A&M 66

Georgia at No. 17 Auburn

Saturday, 6 p.m., SEC Network

Auburn’s 14-game winning streak came to an end earlier this week when it fell at Alabama in the Iron Bowl, basketball edition, earlier this week. The Tigers should be able to get back on track against a Georgia team that, while intriguing, is going to have trouble getting this game to its desired pace. Georgia plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, and has really struggled offensively since conference play began, ranking last in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency in SEC games. Auburn, meanwhile, plays the quickest pace in the conference, draws a ton of fouls and is one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country. Put another way, this is a truly terrible matchup for the Bulldogs.

Auburn 79, Georgia 67

Baylor at No. 10 Kansas

Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

If Kansas ends up making another deep tournament run, we may look back at the second half of its win at West Virginia earlier this week as the moment its season turned. That’s not to say the Jayhawks were playing poorly before that—they were 14-3 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12—but they didn’t quite show that next gear before outscoring the Mountaineers 43-25 in the second half—including a 29-15 spread over the last 10 minutes of the game—to pick up their biggest win of the season to date. It’s a down year for Baylor, but Kansas has to make sure it isn’t looking ahead to Tuesday’s showdown with Oklahoma in Norman.

Kansas 78, Baylor 62

No. 21 Tennessee at South Carolina

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

South Carolina has put itself back on the fringes of the early NCAA tournament discussion with wins over Georgia and Kentucky in its last two contests. The Gamecocks don’t do anything particularly well on offense, but that was the case last year when they streaked their way to the Final Four. This version of the team, of course, does not have Sindarius Thornwell, which changes the equation. Tennessee lost an ugly game at Missouri on Wednesday, but they enter this matchup as clearly the better team. South Carolina has enough size to bother Grant Williams, but the Volunteers should find a way in this one.

Tennessee 68, South Carolina 60

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Middle Tennessee State at Western Kentucky

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Stadium

Want to get a jump on scouting potential NCAA tournament Cinderellas? Then you won’t want to miss this battle between the two best teams in Conference USA. Both Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky have fringy at-large resumés, especially the Hilltoppers, who knocked off Purdue on a neutral floor. Still, this is likely to be a one-bid league. Western Kentucky has a good chance to strike first blood with this game on its home floor, though there is a return matchup in Murfreesboro in March, and, hopefully, a third matchup looming in the Conference USA tournament championship. Senior wing Darius Thompson leads Western Kentucky with 15.6 points per game, while fellow senior Justin Johnson checks in at 13.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. You already know about Giddy Potts from Middle Tennessee’s previous tournament runs, but fellow seniors Nick King (21.8 points per game) and Brandon Walters have stepped up this season.

Western Kentucky 76, Middle Tennessee State 71

Florida at No. 18 Kentucky

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

It’s entirely possible that neither Florida nor Kentucky is a top-two team in the SEC, but that’s another topic for another day. Florida’s best offense is the three-ball, with the Gators ranking 31st in the country in three-point percentage while getting 36% of its points this year from distance, a rate that ranks 71st according to kenpom.com. Only four teams have surrendered a lower three-point percentage than Kentucky’s 29%, a hallmark of John Calipari’s recruiting style that places an emphasis on athleticism and length. If you’re looking for a game-within-the-game matchup to watch, that’s it.

Kentucky 74, Florida 67

Boise State at Nevada

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPNU

This is another sneakily excellent game, and a great way to wrap up a full day of college hoops. Nevada is a legitimately dangerous team led by Caleb Martin, who’s averaging 19.3 points per game on 49.8% shooting, including 46.5% from behind the arc on 114 attempts. The Wolfpack are 12th in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency, better than Oklahoma, Arizona and North Carolina, just to name three teams. Boise State is definitely in the at-large discussion, ranked 50th on kenpom.com, 42nd in Kevin Pauga’s rankings (kpisports.net, another smart, analytically driven site) and 31st in the RPI. Still, without a significant non-conference win to its name, its path to an at-large bid may have to include at least one win over Nevada. It’ll be much easier for the Broncos to get that win when the teams meet in Boise on Valentine’s Day.

Nevada 76, Boise State 68

No. 25 Miami at North Carolina State

Sunday, noon ET, ACC Network

It’s another tepid Sunday slate, which will remain true through the Super Bowl. The Wolfpack picked up wins over Duke and Clemson before getting rolled out of Charlottesville by Virginia last weekend. Still, the Duke and Clemson wins were just what the Wolfpack needed to start building a foundation for an at-large bid. A home win over Miami would only add to that effort. The Hurricanes lost to those same Blue Devil and Tiger teams in their last two games, suffering a particularly excruciating loss to the former. Miami led Duke by 13 points with eight minutes left in the game, then watched as the Blue Devils outscored them 30-9 the rest of the way. The Hurricanes can suffer through extended bouts of listless offense, evidenced by the Duke loss, but that may not rear its ugly head against a bad defensive team in Raleigh. The bet here is that Miami’s defense, ranked seventh in the country in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency, is the dominant force in this game.

Miami 66, North Carolina State 64

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