The Super Bowl may be Sunday but college basketball could have a national championship game preview on Saturday. Michigan’s visit to Indiana Saturday is probably the top regular-season contest of the year so far. It has strong implications for the Big Ten race, but there’s a good chance the two could meet again in the Georgia Dome at the Final Four. It’s not the only good game, but it’s at the top of the list this week.
Here are five games you don’t want to miss (all times ET):
No. 1 Michigan (20-1, 7-1 Big Ten) at No. 3 Indiana (19-2, 7-1 Big Ten) (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
At the beginning of the season it was clear some of the best games of the season would be played in Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. Hoosier fans expected the home team to be ranked No. 1 in most of those games. But Indiana has slipped to No. 3 and now the crowd will be intent on rattling Michigan as the Wolverines invade as No. 1. Before you rule out the possibility of Michigan winning on the road, think about the challenge Indiana faces in the backcourt with Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas all able to shoot the three or put the ball on the floor and create their own offense. Offensive efficiency has carried Michigan to the top of the Associated Press poll. The Wolverines rank third in field goal percentage, 13th in points per game and 36th in assists per game. Wednesday night, in a 68-46 victory over Northwestern, Michigan had only two turnovers. Coach John Beilein said there have been times Michigan has had two in the first minute of games. There are some intriguing matchups in this game. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo has been one of the nation’s best defensive players and could be guarding Burke. Michigan was without forward Jordan Morgan (sprained ankle) against Northwestern. If Morgan is out or limited, John Horford will need to step up his game to help against Indiana’s Cody Zeller. The Hoosiers need a solid game from guard Jordan Hulls. These two teams meet again March 10.
No. 14 Miami (16-3, 7-0 ACC) at No. 19 North Carolina State (16-5, 5-3 ACC), (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The preseason chatter in the ACC was all about replacing Duke and North Carolina at the top of the standings. North Carolina State was supposed to be the team that would accomplish that rare feat. Instead, it is Miami sitting in first place at 7-0, ahead of Duke and Virginia (both 5-2). After beating Duke, N.C. State hasn’t been able to put together consecutive wins. So the Wolfpack is 5-3, in fourth and 2 ½ games behind Miami. State will be playing at home but coach Mark Gottfried said Friday his team may be without injured point guard Lorenzo Brown, who has a sprained left ankle. “The probability in my mind for him to be recovered enough to cut and move and spring and jump is pretty thin," Gottfried said. Miami, led by Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji, has an eight-game winning streak. But Shane Larkin, averaging 12.9 points for the Hurricanes, could be the X factor in this game.
No. 25 Marquette (15-4, 6-1 Big East) at No. 12 Louisville (17-4, 5-3 Big East) (Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The ACC isn’t the only conference with a surprise leader in the standings. Marquette has come out of nowhere to win eight of nine games and move into a tie for first in the Big East with Syracuse at 6-1. Just as surprising is Louisville’s slip to 5-3 in the conference standings and that puts the Cardinals behind the top two and St. John’s (6-3), in a tie with Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Georgetown. Rick Pitino’s group ended that nasty losing streak with a win over Pittsburgh even though Wayne Blackshear (shoulder) and Kevin Ware (suspension) weren’t playing. It’s been one problem after another since Louisville rose to No. 1 in the polls. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva have struggled offensively. Heck, the whole team has had trouble scoring. The Cards have averaged 61.8 points in their last four games. Keep an eye on Marquette junior guard Vander Blue, who had 30 points in a win over South Florida.
No. 16 Mississippi (17-3, 6-1 SEC) at No. 4 Florida (17-2, 7-0 SEC) (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
With all the debate over Michigan and Kansas and who should be No. 1, Florida’s remarkable play lately hasn’t received the deserved attention. The Gators last lost on Dec. 22. That was to Kansas State on a neutral floor. In their nine-game winning streak, the most points the Gators yielded in one game was 61. Since Jan. 23, Georgia scored 47, Mississippi State scored 47, and South Carolina managed 36 against Florida. At the same time, Billy Donovan’s team is focused and efficient on offense. The Gators are eighth in the nation in field goal percentage. The Rebels had a nine-game winning streak snapped by Kentucky. It was a big opportunity at home for Ole Miss but Kentucky put together a great second half and Nerlens Noel blocked the path of the Rebels. Keep an eye on Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss. Never know what he’s going to do.
|Jayhawks No. 1 in Scout.com power rankings|
Oklahoma State (14-5, 4-3 Big 12) at No.2 Kansas (19-1, 7-0 Big 12) (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN3)
Oklahoma State got off to a terrific start this season and moved into the national rankings with victories over Tennessee and North Carolina State. But after a one-point loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 31, the road has been rocking in Big 12 play – literally. The Cowboys lost at Kansas State, at Oklahoma and at Baylor. It’s never a good thing to go into Allen Fieldhouse searching for your first conference road win, but OSU has a history of playing Kansas tough. Jayhawks coach Bill Self has had some significant losses to his alma mater but most of those have been in Stillwater. Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart and sophomore Le’Bryan Nash are talented enough to keep the Cowboys in the game. Kansas is searching for better point guard play, which could solve some of the Jayhawk scoring droughts. KU has been winning with its defense, which produces a lot of run-out baskets. Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey are having All-American seasons.