Super Bowl weekend won't be all about football. Duke's first visit to Syracuse highlights a loaded weekend slate in college hoops. A look at the best matchups and my projected winners:
Duke at Syracuse (Saturday, 6:30 p.m. EST): If Duke appeared headed for a disappointing season when it fell against Notre Dame and Clemson earlier this month, give the Blue Devils credit for quickly righting themselves. They've improved their perimeter defense, held their own better on the glass and continued to score efficiently, a formula that has helped them reel off six wins in a row culminating in Monday's victory over previously surging Pittsburgh. Winning at Syracuse in front of 35,000 orange-clad fans will be a daunting challenge, but Duke has the personnel to attack the 2-3 zone better than most. When they can't get out in transition to score before the defense is set, they can run their offense through ultra-skilled Jabari Parker in the high post, stretch the zone with good ball movement and an array of shooters and perhaps even hurt Syracuse on the offensive glass. If that happens, Syracuse will have to score efficiently at the other end to keep pace. Projected winner: Duke.
Kansas at Texas (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): The most intriguing aspect of this matchup of Top 25 teams will be seeing whether Andrew Wiggins can continue his recent surge. In his last two games, Wiggins has scored 27 and 29 points and been the aggressor Kansas wants him to be. Bill Self would love to see that Andrew Wiggins on Saturday because a visit to Texas is shaping up to be one of the more difficult games left on Kansas' schedule. The Longhorns have emerged as the Big 12's surprise team behind dominant rebounding, stingy defense and improved low-post scoring. Texas is currently one of only two Big 12 teams within two games of Kansas in the standings. If the Jayhawks win Saturday, they move one step closer to a tenth straight Big 12 title. Projected winner: Kansas.
Ohio State at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST): Ohio State has dropped five of six since starting the season 15-0 because it can't score with any consistency. Wisconsin has lost four of five since starting the season 16-0 because it can't stop anyone with any consistency. Both teams are coming off horrendous losses, with Ohio State falling at home to Penn State and Wisconsin dropping a home game to Northwestern. It's safe to say the Buckeyes and Badgers both desperately need a win on Saturday, but the question is who is better equipped to get it. Perhaps my faith in Wisconsin and Bo Ryan eventually will be proven ill-advised this season, but I'll take the Badgers. They're at home, they hadn't suffered a bad loss prior to the Northwestern game and Ohio State lacks the weapons offensively to exploit the holes in the Wisconsin defense. Projected winner: Wisconsin.
Arizona at Cal (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST): It wasn't long ago that this appeared to be the most challenging game of the Pac-12 season for Arizona. Cal had won its first five Pac-12 games to establish itself as the biggest threat to the Wildcats and the Bears were also getting top freshman Jabari Bird back from injury. The buzz for this one has since dissipated considerably, however, as the Bears have lost three in a row to USC, UCLA and Arizona State. They've struggled defensively and shooting from the perimeter during that stretch, which is certainly not the formula for an upset Saturday. The one thing the Bears have going in their favor is that Arizona hasn't exactly been torrid offensively its past few games. The Wildcats continue to struggle from the foul line and are prone to dry spells from the perimeter too. If Cal plays an inspired game and shoots uncharacteristically well from the perimeter, maybe the Bears can take advantage the way Stanford and Utah almost did. Projected winner: Arizona.
Kentucky at Missouri (Saturday, 1 p.m. EST): How Kentucky responds to Tuesday's demoralizing loss at LSU could help determine whether the Wildcats will ever become the national contender they were expected to be before the season. Kentucky will either fall three games behind first-place Florida with a loss or remain within striking distance entering a softer portion of the SEC schedule with a win. The challenge for a Wildcats team that is 2-5 away from Rupp Arena this season is that wins at Missouri are rare. The Tigers are 10-1 at Mizzou Arena this season, 43-2 there under coach Frank Haith and 94-5 since the 2008-09 season. Kentucky's advantage will be its size and strength in the paint. Unlike LSU, which had multiple elite big men, Missouri's strength is on the perimeter. The Wildcats have to exploit that by controlling the glass, defending the rim and feeding Julius Randle in the paint. Projected winner: Kentucky
Others to watch:
Virginia at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. EST): Virginia is playing as well as anyone in the ACC, but Pittsburgh is overdue to finally beat someone of consequence this season.
Oklahoma at Iowa State (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): The Cyclones desperately need this win after four losses in their past five games. Play as well offensively as they did at Kansas earlier this week, and I suspect they'll get it.
Baylor at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): Baylor is 1-6 in the Big 12 and matchups with Kansas and Oklahoma follow this one. The Bears' interior strength could give Oklahoma State trouble, but it may not be enough with the Cowboys at home.
Michigan at Indiana (Sunday, 1 p.m. EST): Since beating Wisconsin, Indiana has dropped three of four including a pair of bad losses to Northwestern and Nebraska. Either the young Hoosiers stop the slide at home against first-place Michigan, or the NIT will continue to look increasingly likely.
Arizona State at Stanford (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): Stanford really needed to hold onto its seven-point second-half lead against Arizona on Wednesday to feel good about its NCAA tournament hopes. If the Cardinal can't rebound with a home win over fellow NCAA tournament hopeful Arizona State, it will finish the first half of Pac-12 play 4-5.
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