During a weekend dominated by the NFL divisional playoffs, college basketball will have a handful of matchups worth flipping over to watch between games or during commercial breaks. Here's a look at the best six games of the weekend:
North Carolina at Syracuse (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET): North Carolina has alternated between huge wins and baffling losses all season, so logic dictates Syracuse could be in trouble Saturday if the pattern holds. Don't fall for it. Though the Heels are coming off losses to middling Wake Forest and rebuilding Miami, Saturday doesn't have the feel of a bounce-back game. Without P.J. Hairston, North Carolina is shooting an abysmal 31.5 percent from 3-point range, hardly a winning formula against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. The Heels couldn't handle Miami's zone earlier this week, let alone the Orange's. If Syracuse can limit North Carolina's transition looks and force the Heels to score against a set defense, the Orange should cruise. Projected winner: Syracuse.
Kansas State at Kansas (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): This looks a lot more intriguing now than it did in mid-November when Kansas was ranked in the top five and Kansas State was falling to Northern Colorado and getting drubbed by Georgetown. Suddenly, the Jayhawks look very mortal and the Wildcats have reeled off 10 straight wins including impressive home victories against Gonzaga and Oklahoma State. Perhaps Kansas State is more capable than expected this season, but extending that win streak on the road at Allen Fieldhouse seems like a lot to ask. Kansas is too big inside and if Wayne Selden can build on his performance from the Oklahoma game earlier this week, the Jayhawks will also have another potent perimeter weapon. Projected winner: Kansas.
Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST): The one item missing from Iowa State's otherwise impeccable start is a quality road win. The unbeaten Cyclones have toppled Iowa, Michigan and Baylor at home and Boise State on a neutral floor, but their most impressive road wins came by two at now-struggling BYU and by 11 at Big 12 bottom feeder Texas Tech. Winning at Oklahoma would be a step up in class. The Sooners have a senior star in 6-foot-7 Cameron Clark and a talented young supporting cast. Iowa State already has done enough to earn the status of Big 12 contender, but it's road tests like this that will determine whether the Cyclones pose a serious threat to Kansas' league title streak or not. Projected winner: Oklahoma.
Florida at Arkansas (Saturday, 1 p.m. EST): For all Arkansas' struggles on the road under Mike Anderson, the Razorbacks typically still pose a threat to top teams in Bud Walton Arena. Auburn is the only SEC foe Mike Anderson has beaten in his two-plus seasons at Arkansas, but the Razorbacks toppled Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Missouri at home last season. That should put Florida on upset alert Saturday, especially with point guard Scottie Wilbekin (ankle) and wing Casey Prather (knee) questionable for the game. Should either of those two sit out on Saturday, the Gators would seem to be ripe for a road loss. Projected winner: Arkansas.
Iowa at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. EST): Iowa by my estimation is the fourth best team in the Big Ten behind Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, but this is a chance for the Hawkeyes to make a statement that they can contend for the league title. One similar opportunity slipped away from Iowa when they hung with Wisconsin last weekend but lost by four. Now the Hawkeyes visit an Ohio State team looking to rebound from a narrow loss at Michigan State last Sunday. As always with Ohio State, the question is its offense. The Buckeyes are always formidable defensively, but they are even better when inconsistent LaQuinton Ross is scoring and the backcourt is able to get out in transition. Projected winner: Ohio State
Xavier at Creighton (Sunday, 3 p.m. EST): Who's the biggest threat to Villanova in the Big East? The winner of this game will have a strong case. Both Creighton and Xavier are 3-0 so far in Big East play and have not lost since late November when both performed poorly during holiday tournaments over Thanksgiving weekend. Behind the inside-outside duo of Semaj Christon and Matt Stainbrook, Xavier has beaten Cincinnati, Alabama, Wake Forest, St. John's, Butler and Marquette in its last six games, an impressive collection of wins in such a short time. Adding Creighton to the list won't be easy, however. Though the Bluejays are without playmaking guard Grant Gibbs, they're obliterating opponents at home by an average of nearly 25 points per game. Projected winner: Creighton.
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