The holiday season is comfortably in the rear view mirror, meaning our next two months of weekends will be brimming with high-level conference play across the college basketball landscape. The Big 12 and ACC are sure to produce a handful of must-see games every weekend, and neither conference disappoints in that regard in the coming days. Three of the four matchups this weekend that feature two ranked teams come from those conferences.
No. 5 Xavier at Providence
Saturday, noon ET, Fox
Xavier continues to climb the rankings, with its only loss of the season still the neutral-floor reversal against Arizona State back in November. This is an appetizer of sorts for the Musketeers, who visit Villanova next week. Chris Mack’s team is a force on offense and looks like a terrible matchup for a Providence group ranked 86th in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency. The Musketeers rank 13th in the country in two-point percentage, while the Friars rank 219th in two-point defense.
Xavier 83, Providence 73
Louisville at No. 25 Clemson
Saturday, noon ET, ACC Network
The next few weeks will tell us a lot about this Clemson team. At 13-1 overall, with a win over Florida, the Tigers have been one of the brightest surprises this season. The strength and depth of the ACC hits them immediately, however, with games against Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia all by Jan. 23. We’ll know if the Tigers are more than just a bright surprise by then.
Clemson 74, Louisville 67
No. 12 North Carolina at No. 8 Virginia
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Cavaliers are one of the more interesting teams in the country at the start of conference play. We know what to expect from a Tony Bennett team, and this one has held up its end of the bargain, going 13-1 thus far. The loss, however, was to the best team it played, West Virginia, while its most impressive wins came against Rhode Island and Virginia Tech. This is about as great a clash in styles as you could get in the college game, with the Tar Heels ranking 13th in kenpom.com’s adjusted tempo, and the Cavaliers ranking 351st, dead last in the country.
Virginia 68, North Carolina 61
No. 21 Seton Hall at Butler
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, FS1
Butler owns one of the most impressive wins of the season, a 101-93 triumph over then-No. 1 Villanova. The Bulldogs dropped a game at Xavier earlier this week, but there’s no shame in that. The signature win over the Wildcats is going to come in handy in March, and they have a real chance for another one this weekend. The Pirates, however, can make life uncomfortable for the Bulldogs if they speed up this game. The matchup between Khadeen Carrington and Kamar Baldwin will be key in this one.
Seton Hall 74, Butler 73
Notre Dame at Syracuse
Saturday, 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Irish dominated North Carolina State in its first game without Bonzie Colson, winning 88-58 behind 22 points from T.J. Gibbs. Three others scored at least 10 points, and it’ll have to be that sort of all-hands-on-deck approach for the team to replace Colson’s scoring. The Orange have really struggled guarding the three this year, which isn’t always characteristic of their 2-3 zone. That’s not a trait a team wants to bring into a matchup with Gibbs and Matt Farrell.
Notre Dame 67, Syracuse 60
Kansas State at No. 18 Texas Tech
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
The Red Raiders look like one of the many challengers to Kansas’s throne in the Big 12, especially after knocking off the Jayhawks in Lawrence earlier this week. The play of Big 12 point guards like Trae Young, Devonte’ Graham and Jevon Carter has overshadowed Keenan Evans, who’s averaging 16.5 points per game this season. Kansas State will have to figure out how to contain him to have a chance at the upset.
Texas Tech 72, Kansas State 61
No. 22 Arkansas at Auburn
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU
These two teams are emblematic of the surge year in the SEC, with both looking like tournament teams at the start of conference play. They both get up and down the floor, so this should be an exciting, fast-paced game. This could be the start of something special at Auburn, with zero seniors in its rotation. DeSean Murray and Mustapha Heron will have their hands full with Jaylen Barford, but the Tigers have a significant rebounding advantage, ranking fifth in the country in offensive-rebounding rate. That could prove to be the difference.
Auburn 81, Arkansas 75
No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 6 West Virginia
Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The game of the weekend. Trae Young gets his first look at Bob Huggins’s stifling full-court press, with the winner striking the first blow in what could be a battle between the two best teams in the country’s best conference. Young’s individual matchup with Jevon Carter would be worth the price of admission on its own, but there are intriguing storylines all over this game. Oh, and if you like possessions, this game is for you. Oklahoma ranks fourth in the country in kenpom.com’s adjusted tempo, while West Virginia is 26th.
West Virginia 90, Oklahoma 88
Marquette at No. 3 Villanova
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1
This is Villanova’s first game since it fell at Butler last week, its first loss of the season. The Wildcats will have to find a way to slow down Marquette sophomore point guard Markus Howard, who scored 52 in an overtime win over Providence his last time out. Still, this should be a good bounce-back spot for the Wildcats before next week’s big game with Xavier for early supremacy in the Big East.
Villanova 86, Marquette 72
No. 17 Kentucky at No. 23 Tennessee
Saturday, 9 p.m., SEC Network
Not too long ago, Tennessee looked like one of the potential breakout teams of the season. The Volunteers, however, dropped their first two games in SEC play, losing to Arkansas and Auburn, two teams that would seem to be their peers in the conference. Now they get a home game with a Kentucky team that was won three straight games and looks like one of the best defensive groups in the country. It may be early still, but this is a big one for Tennessee.
Kentucky 70, Tennessee 64
No. 10 Kansas at No. 16 TCU
Saturday, 9:15 p.m., ESPN2
These teams both split their first two games in Big 12 play, with TCU dropping a heartbreaker at home to Oklahoma and Kansas losing at home against Texas Tech. The Jayhawks still seem to be figuring out who they are, which is a surprise for a Bill Self team at the start of conference play. Kenrich Williams could be a serious matchup problem for the Jayhawks, given his size advantage over Lagerald Vick, and speed advantage on Svi Mykhailiuk.
TCU 82, Kansas 80
No. 1 Michigan State at Ohio State
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
This is the Spartans second game as the No. 1 team in the country after dispatching of Maryland on Thursday. The Buckeyes have shown more fight than expected this season, but they’re simply not ready to hang with a team like Michigan State. The most interesting thing to watch in this game will be how Miles Bridges handles a physical defender like Jae’Sean Tate. With the Big Ten in the midst of a down season, it’ll be about finding these individual, game-within-the-game challenges, for the Spartans all year.
Michigan State 77, Ohio State 63
No. 24 Florida State at No. 15 Miami
Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU
The Seminoles kicked off ACC play by splitting games with Duke and North Carolina (not bad), while the Hurricanes did so by splitting games with Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech (not good). The Hurricanes will have to figure out a way to prevent this game from turning into a track meet, because they simply do not have the offense to stick with the Seminoles in a game that features more than its fair share of possessions. That reality could be a problem for the Hurricanes all season in the offensively charged ACC, but it won’t hurt them at home on Sunday.
Miami 71, Florida State 67
SMU at No. 19 Cincinnati
Sunday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
The Bearcats have righted the ship after consecutive losses to Xavier and Florida at the start of December, though SMU is the best team they have played since then. The Bearcats don’t play Wichita State until the middle of February, so a win over SMU on Sunday could propel them to a long winning streak that would have them climbing up the early seed list for the NCAA tournament. SMU is comfortable playing at the Bearcats slow pace, though, and the home team will have to find a way to run Ben Emelogu, Ethan Chargois and Shake Milton off the three-point line. That’s the lifeblood of the Mustangs offense.
Cincinnati 66, SMU 60
No. 4 Arizona State at Utah
Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Going on the road against a team like Utah will be a good test for an Arizona State offense ranked fourth in the country in points per 100 possessions. The Utes are no pushover, but this is mainly about getting a look at the Sun Devils in their first game against a threat (no offense, Colorado) after losing for the first time this season. It’ll be interesting to see what Larry Krystkowiak does to try to slow down Tra Holder. The bet here is Holder sees a heavy dose of Sedrick Barefield.
Arizona State 84, Utah 75