Saturday could be one of the more intriguing days of the college basketball regular season with Syracuse-Duke highlighting a slate jam-packed with showdowns between conference contenders. A look at the best the weekend has to offer:
Syracuse at Duke (Saturday, 7 p.m. EST): If the craziest aspect of Syracuse's first loss was that it came at the hands of woeful Boston College, the other wild part is the ramifications for the Orange. They may now no longer be the favorite to win the ACC given how much more difficult their finishing stretch is than Virginia's. Four of Syracuse's final five regular season games are on the road beginning with Saturday night's visit to Duke. The rematch of the best game of this college basketball regular season could come down to whether Syracuse can get its offense together and whether Duke can have more success against the zone than it did Thursday night in Chapel Hill. The Orange have shot well under 40 percent both of its last two games. The Blue Devils have the outside shooting and skilled forwards to carve up a zone, but they went nearly nine straight minutes without a field goal in the second half against the Tar Heels. Projected winner: Duke.
Louisville at Cincinnati (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST): Even though Louisville is No. 5 in one poll and No. 11 in another, the Cardinals have a lot of work to do to earn a seed in line with its ranking. They only have three top 100 RPI wins all season, one at Connecticut and the other two at home against SMU and Southern Mississippi. Where Louisville will be seeded will likely be determined by its performance in its final five games, four of which are against likely NCAA tournament teams. Saturday's matchup with Cincinnati also has conference title implications with the Cardinals trailing the Bearcats by just one game in the loss column. Cincinnati has an elite scoring guard in Sean Kilpatrick, a stifling defense and a bunch of big men who crash the offensive glass. The Bearcats won in Louisville on Jan. 30 and will be a slim favorite again at home. Projected winner: Cincinnati.
Michigan at Michigan State (Sunday, 12 p.m. EST): Back on Jan. 25, when Michigan went into East Lansing and upset Michigan State, Nik Stauskas scored 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting to spearhead that surprising road victory. The Wolverines need that Stauskas back in order to complete a season sweep Sunday in Ann Arbor, especially since Michigan State has everyone but Branden Dawson back in the lineup and is coming off its best shooting performance of the season. In Michigan's three losses in its last five games, Stauskas has averaged 8.7 points, shot 8 of 23 from the field and tallied only three total assists. Opposing teams have kept a defender glued to Stauskas and made it difficult for him to get a shot off or to attack the rim, a role that Gary Harris will likely draw on Sunday. The stakes are high for Stauskas and the Wolverines. A win gives them the tiebreaker over the Spartans and sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. Projected winner: Michigan State.
San Diego State at New Mexico (Saturday, 1o p.m. EST): The first meeting between Mountain West front runners San Diego State and New Mexico is a high-stakes affair for both sides. The Aztecs can extend their conference lead to two games with four to play and can stay on track to earn a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Lobos can forge a first-place tie with San Diego State and erase any shred of doubt as to whether they're an NCAA tournament team. Which team wins on Saturday night will likely be determined by whether a New Mexico team boasting the Mountain West's best offense can enjoy success against a San Diego State team ranked in the top 10 nationally on defense most of the season. Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow are as good a big man tandem as there is out West, while New Mexico point guard Kendall Williams is the reigning league player of the year. The scoring of that trio and the cacophony of the Pit give the Lobos a slight edge. Projected winner: New Mexico.
Texas at Kansas (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST): Kansas boasts a two-game lead over Texas and a cushion of three or more games on everyone else in the Big 12. As a result, whatever slim chance the rest of the Big 12 has of preventing the Jayhawks from capturing their 10th straight league title depends on the Longhorns winning Saturday in Lawrence. For Texas to have a chance at completing a rare season sweep of Kansas, it will have to handle the hostile environment at Allen Fieldhouse, win the battle of the league's two deepest frontcourts and control Andrew Wiggins on the perimeter. Wiggins endured his worst performance of the season in Austin, making only two of his 12 field goal attempts. Expect him to be aggressive early with the memory of that game fresh in his mind and with a game winning put-back against Texas Tech in his last game to boost his confidence. Projected winner: Kansas.
Others to watch this weekend:
Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST): Iowa might have won at Wisconsin last month were it not for Fran McCaffery turning the momentum in the Badgers' favor by getting himself ejected. The Hawkeyes will be at home this time, but Wisconsin has surged to four straight wins because it has gotten scoring from numerous sources.
Arizona at Colorado (Saturday, 9 p.m. EST): Since Colorado dropped four of five after losing leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie for the season, the Buffaloes have rebounded to win five of six including a victory over previously surging Arizona State on Wednesday night. A win over Arizona would lock up an NCAA tournament bid for the Buffs, but the Wildcats will be formidable even without Brandon Ashley if they can find a way to get their offense on track.
UCLA at Stanford (Saturday, 6 p.m. EST): There's a lot on the line for both teams in this one. Stanford can take a huge step toward the first NCAA tournament bid in six years under Johnny Dawkins if it can take down UCLA at Maples Pavilion. UCLA can keep the pressure on Arizona in the race for the Pac-12 title if it can complete a road sweep of the Bay Area schools.
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