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Saturday Six-Pack: Ohio State's pursuit of perfection leads off

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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After the Saturday schedule lacked deep interest a week ago, the slate seven days later is loaded.

And it's not just in the so-called power conferences.

The Mountain West, Missouri Valley and CAA will put feature some of the day's most crucial games, while the ACC, SEC and several other leagues will see clumps near the top of their standings get broken up a bit.

Still, when the No. 1 team in the nation — and the last remaining undefeated squad — heads on the road to play No. 13, it's obviously going to get top billing.

Let's get to this week's top six to see … (and some more)

No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Wisconsin — 2 p.m. EST

If Ohio State gets the win at the Kohl Center, it becomes realistic to think that the Buckeyes could make it through the regular season unblemished. Four of their final six games will be at home, and the toughest of the two road tests is against up-and-down Purdue. Wisconsin will come into this game with nothing to lose. It's tied with the Boilermakers in second place at 8-3 in the league, is bound for another NCAA tourney bid and hasn't lost at home this season. All of the pressure should be squarely on the visitors.

Old Dominion at VCU — 2 p.m. EST

Both VCU and George Mason have already reached 20 wins on the season, but this is still likely going to be a one-bid league. Both are also 12-2 in the conference, and Old Dominion is one spot behind, tied up with Hofstra at 10-4. VCU took the first meeting at ODU, 59-50, and is one of the best teams in the nation when it comes to defending its home floor. The Rams' 22-game win streak at the Siegel Center is currently the nation's fourth-longest.

Wichita State at Northern Iowa — 10 p.m. EST

The Shockers' already-slim at-large hopes took a major blow on Tuesday night with a home loss to struggling Southern Illinois. Winning out before the MVC tourney might be the only way to solidify them again. Three of Wichita State's final four league games are on the road, and it'll also host VCU in a BracketBuster on Feb. 18. Oddly enough, the Shockers have only lost once on the road this season, and avenging an earlier home loss to Northern Iowa would turn a few heads, even though the Panthers haven't been the same since losing forward Lucas O'Rear for the season last week. They've dropped both of their games without the 6-foot-6 senior with the glorious facial hair.

No. 18 Kentucky at No. 23 Vanderbilt — 1 p.m. EST

Will the Wildcats win another road game in the SEC? They're now 1-4, and John Calipari is now pulling every trick out to try and coax some more toughness out of his players. On the flip side, Vandy is 4-1 at home in league games. This match-up is always a blast.

Baylor at No. 3 Texas — 4 p.m. EST

The Bears have pulled off back-to-back wins, and all of a sudden are back in third place in the Big 12 behind No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Texas. Has Baylor built itself back up enough to where it's ready for showtime? One thing is for certain: Scott Drew's team needs a marquee win in the absolute worst way. This is the first of two remaining games between Baylor and Texas, with the Longhorns seven wins away from being the first Big 12 team to run the table in conference play since Kansas did so in 2001-02. These two teams both have outstanding front-courts that could provide an epic battle.

New Mexico at Colorado State — 9 p.m. EST

There's a good chance that these two could meet again in the opening round of the MWC tournament, but right now, this one is equally important on both sides. They're both clinging to hopes of finishing third in the league. For Colorado State, it's one of the Rams' last chances for a signature win at home in league play. They let close games against BYU and San Diego State get away from them at Moby Arena, and played New Mexico into the final minute in their 68-61 loss at The Pit last month. New Mexico has won four straight since starting a woeful 1-4 in conference play, and now has a monster four-game stretch that includes Saturday's trip to Fort Collins, a game on Wednesday night at SDSU, then UNLV at home a week later. Given the Lobos' weak non-conference résumé, they have to have this one.

BONUS: No. 4 Pitt at No. 9 Vilanova — 9 p.m. EST

It's your standard Saturday match-up between two Top 10 Big East teams. Pitt will try to improve its stranglehold on the Big East regular season title race, and Villanova is coming off of a brutal loss at Rutgers on Wednesday night.

A few others worth keeping tabs on: No. 12 Syracuse at No. 16 Louisville (12 p.m. EST); No. 24 Temple at Dayton (1 p.m. EST); No. 20 North Carolina at Clemson (1 p.m. EST); Maryland at Boston College (1 p.m. EST); Ole Miss at Alabama (4 p.m. EST); James Madison at George Mason (5 p.m. EST); Tennessee at No. 17 Florida (6 p.m. EST); Southern Miss at Memphis (6 p.m. EST); No. 6 San Diego State at UNLV (8 p.m. EST).

Ryan Greene covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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