Weekend watch: Kansas-Missouri trumps all

This is the penultimate weekend of the regular season, and it also could mark the end of one of the nation’s best rivalries.

Kansas-Missouri might be the nation’s second-best basketball rivalry, behind only Duke-North Carolina. And, frankly, it’s nastier than Blue Devils-Tar Heels. That the rivalry is going away should bring a tear to every college basketball fan’s eyes.

Elijah Johnson and Kansas can sew up the Big 12 if they avenge their loss to Missouri.
(US Presswire)

To add to the intensity Saturday: The winner seems extremely likely to win the Big 12. It should make for some excitement at Allen Fieldhouse.

There are some other big games, as you’d imagine, especially in the Big East. There is a rare Big East game Friday night, this one involving Marquette and reeling West Virginia. It should get the weekend off to a good start.

Here’s a look at the key games this weekend. All times Eastern.

Top five games to watch

Marquette at West Virginia, Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN: Marquette is tied for second in the Big East with Notre Dame and already has clinched at least a first-round bye in the league tourney. WVU has lost six of eight to fall to 7-8 in league play; the Mountaineers were hammered by 27 at Notre Dame on Wednesday and have a quick turnaround. It’s hard to see WVU not making the NCAA field, but a win over Marquette would erase any lingering doubt. But do the Mountaineers have a win of that type in them?

Vanderbilt at Kentucky, Saturday, noon, CBS: UK is going to win the SEC. The big question now is whether the Wildcats can finish unbeaten in league play, becoming just the third conference team in the past 55 years to accomplish that feat. Vandy has won four of its past five; its only loss in that stretch was a six-point setback at home against UK in which Vandy fell apart down the stretch. Vandy is 8-3 away from home this season. But UK hasn’t lost at home since Billy Gillispie was its coach.

Missouri at Kansas, Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS: Oh, my, this is a big one. Huge. Gigantic, actually. With Mizzou on its way to the SEC, this could be the last regular-season game between these fierce rivals for a long time. That the Big 12 title basically is there for the taking for KU adds even more intensity to the matchup. Kansas owns a game lead over Missouri in the race for the crown. But Missouri beat the Jayhawks in Columbia and a win in this one would all but lock up the title for the Tigers. Did we mention that this is gigantic?

North Carolina at Virginia, Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN: North Carolina has won nine of its past 10 games and is tied for the ACC lead; the Tar Heels also are in the running for a No. 1 NCAA seed. Virginia looks to be the fourth-best team in the ACC and also is NCAA-bound. But the Cavs sure could use a marquee victory, one that would boost its NCAA seeding. UNC rolled past UVa by 18 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 11.

Wisconsin at Ohio State, Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS: Ohio State is tied for second in the Big Ten, and the Buckeyes need to beat the Badgers to have a realistic shot at winning the conference title. The Buckeyes, who are 18-1 at home this season, beat the Badgers by six in Madison on Feb. 4. Wisconsin trails league leader Michigan State by two games, and this is a must-win contest if the Badgers are to keep their title hopes alive. Wisconsin is 8-3 away from home; the Badgers have more home losses (four) than road losses.

[Big 12 basketball: Kansas and Missouri meet for conference title]

“Mid-major” game of weekend

Temple at Saint Joseph’s, Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU: Temple has won 11 in a row and leads the Atlantic 10 by a game over Saint Louis. The Owls beat one Philadelphia rival Wednesday (La Salle) and now are seeking a season sweep of their biggest city rival. St. Joe’s suffered a bad loss Wednesday when it fell at home to Richmond; that setback put a huge dent in the Hawks’ NCAA hopes – a dent so big that only a victory over the Owls can repair it. Basically, if St. Joe’s wants to be in contention for an at-large bid, this is a must-win game. Temple is trying to stay in first place in the A-10 and also trying to improve its NCAA seeding.

Something to prove

Jawanza Poland and South Florida desperately need to collect a good win.
(US Presswire)

USF. The Bulls are tied for fourth in the Big East entering the weekend, but they have just one top-50 win and are 4-10 away from home. They play host to Cincinnati on Sunday (noon, Big East syndication/Sportsnet New York/MASN/Altitude/ESPN FullCourt) in an important game for both teams. Cincinnati is coming off a huge victory over Louisville, and the game with USF gives the Bearcats an opportunity for another top-100 road win. Cincy has won five of its past six.

[Dan Wetzel: How Cincinnati saved its season after brawl]

Keep an eye on

Butler. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and stormed into second place in the Horizon. That they have caught fire late cannot be a comforting thought for other Horizon coaches. Butler finishes the regular season Friday night at Valparaiso (7 p.m., ESPNU). Valpo already has clinched the Horizon title, but if Butler wins Saturday, it changes the dynamic of the league tourney.

California. The Golden Bears are atop the Pac-12 standings, but they have a tough one Sunday at Colorado (5:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net). Colorado has been much better than expected this season and could hurt Cal’s chances for an at-large bid with a victory.

Colorado State. The Rams barely have an NCAA pulse, and to keep that pulse beating, they need to win Saturday at San Diego State (10 p.m., The mtn.). While Colorado State has a good RPI (24th), the Rams have just two top-50 wins and are 2-8 in true road games. The best road win is over UTEP, which is 124th in the RPI.

Connecticut. The Huskies have lost seven of their past 10, but they have a chance for a statement victory Saturday when Syracuse comes calling (9 p.m., ESPN). UConn has six top-50 wins and is going to get an NCAA bid, but it would be nice if the Huskies could show some signs of life against a good team. Syracuse is in the lead for the Big East title and a good bet to get a No. 1 seed.

Harvard. The Crimson can take two big steps toward locking up the Ivy League crown this weekend. Harvard plays host to Princeton on Friday and Penn on Saturday (neither is on TV). Princeton is a game behind Harvard in the league standings, but the Tigers beat the Crimson in the earlier meeting. Harvard won by six at Penn in their earlier meeting. Remember that the Ivy doesn’t have a league tourney, so the regular-season winner gets the league’s NCAA bid.

Iowa State. Iowa State can make a good case for an NCAA at-large bid, but the Cyclones would be able to make an even stronger one if they can win at Kansas State on Saturday (1:30 p.m., Big 12 syndication/Altitude/ESPN FullCourt). The Cyclones don’t have a road win over a team in the RPI top 100, but are going for the season sweep of the Wildcats.

[Pat Forde: Once-disgraced Larry Eustachy finds redemption at Southern Miss]

Miami. UM’s loss at Maryland on Tuesday was its third in four games and put a huge dent in the Hurricanes’ NCAA hopes. They can get back on the top of the bubble if they can win over visiting Florida State on Sunday (6 p.m., ESPNU). FSU remains in the hunt for the ACC title and needs a victory.

Minnesota. The Gophers have lost four in a row and their NCAA at-large hopes are hanging by a thread. That thread gets snipped if they don’t beat visiting Indiana on Sunday (1 p.m., ESPN). This is the beginning of a tough closing stretch for the Hoosiers, who are looking to improve their NCAA seeding; they have Michigan State and Purdue after this, both at home.

Mississippi State. Mississippi State is stumbling toward the end of the season, having lost four in a row. One loss was to Kentucky, which is forgivable. The others? Auburn, Georgia and LSU, a trio of teams that certainly won’t be mistaken for Syracuse, Michigan State and Kansas this season. Those losses are bad ones. Saturday, the Bulldogs travel to Alabama (6 p.m., ESPN) and the Tide also needs a victory to bolster its NCAA hopes. Three SEC teams are locks for NCAA bids (Florida, Kentucky and Vandy); these are the other two league teams with a shot, though their recent bumbling ways can’t be impressive to the selection committee.

Purdue. The Boilermakers have won three of four to solidify their spot in the NCAA field, but a win Saturday at Michigan (6 p.m., Big Ten Network) would lock up a bid. Michigan, meanwhile, still is in the hunt for the league’s regular-season crown and certainly can’t afford a home loss.

VCU. The Rams play host to George Mason (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2) in a key game in the Colonial, as the winner gets the No. 2 seed in the league tourney and strengthens its case for an NCAA at-large bid. A possible at-large bid could be a long shot, though. VCU has just four wins over teams in the RPI top 100, while Mason has two (including a one-pointer over VCU on Feb. 14).

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Feb 23, 2012