A number of big games Saturday close out the best week of the season thus far.
There is one of the Big 12's most important games of the season, as well as noteworthy matchups in the Atlantic 10, SEC, Mountain West and Big East on Saturday. Sunday's best game is a Big Ten showdown.
Here's a look at the key games this weekend. All times Eastern.
Top five games to watch
Missouri at Baylor, Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN: The biggest game of the weekend. Both are in the top 10. Baylor hadn't been involved in a game in its history involving two top-10 teams until it lost at Kansas on Monday; now, the Bears will be playing in their second such game in a row. Mizzou's lack of height could be a problem against a deep Baylor frontcourt. Keep an eye on Tigers F Ricardo Ratliffe; he was in foul trouble and scored just two points against Kansas State in the Tigers' only loss. When he's not on the floor, Mizzou has zero scary big men.
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Frank Haith letting Missouri run]
Cincinnati at West Virginia, Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPNU: Cincinnati has been shaky at times this season, losing to Presbyterian and St. John's at home. But the Bearcats also are 3-0 on the road in league play, beating Pitt, Georgetown and Connecticut. The win at UConn on Wednesday night gave the Bearcats a 5-1 league mark and put them – for now, at least – squarely in the league title hunt. We'll know more about the Bearcats after their next two games: this one and a home game against Syracuse on Monday. WVU is coming off an impressive win over in-state rival Marshall. WVU also beat Georgetown at home but lost at UConn. How will Cincy handle WVU F Kevin Jones, the only player in the country averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds?
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: This is the second big game in three days for Vandy, which won at Alabama on Thursday night. This is the start of a stretch that sees the Commodores play five of seven at home. Mississippi State already is 0-2 on the road in league play, losing to Arkansas and Ole Miss; neither of those teams is in Vandy's class. It's vital that Mississippi State slow the pace a bit and turn this into a physical affair.
New Mexico at UNLV, Saturday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network: These look to be two of the three teams that will vie for the Mountain West title. The other team in the mix is San Diego State, and the Aztecs already own wins over both the Lobos and Runnin' Rebels. Thus, while it's mid-January, this is an important game when it comes to who is going to wear the league crown. UNLV is 11-0 on its home court, and that does not include a victory over UNC, a game that was in Vegas but not at UNLV.
Wisconsin at Illinois, Sunday, 2 p.m., Big Ten Network: Illinois lost Thursday night at Penn State and no longer is alone in first place in the Big Ten. This is the first contest in a season-defining seven-game stretch that also sees the Illini play, among others, Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan and Purdue. Coming off a setback to Penn St, a home loss to begin that stretch would bode ill. Wisconsin has bounced back from a three-game losing streak to win three in a row, and again is over .500 in league play. Starting with this contest, the Badgers play four of their next six on the road, and the two home games in that stretch are against Indiana and Ohio State.
[Big Ten basketball: Is Northwestern's incredible tournament drought about to end?]
"Mid-major" game of weekend
Xavier at Dayton, Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN2: In the aftermath of the nasty brawl at the end of its game with Cincinnati, Xavier hit the skids. The Musketeers lost five of six, including a setback against Atlantic 10 foe La Salle. But Xavier has won four in a row and now has two big league games back-to-back; first, the Musketeers visit rival Dayton, then play host to Saint Louis on Wednesday. And guess what? If they sweep, the Musketeers prove they again are the team to beat in the league. But Dayton has been better than expected under first-year coach Archie Miller. The Flyers already have beaten SLU and Temple, along with Alabama and Minnesota. Can they hold serve at home against Xavier? Both have lost one league game, but they also are the only conference teams with fewer than two A-10 losses.
Something to prove
Colorado State. The Rams are 13-4 and have the second-best RPI (21st after Wednesday's games) in the Mountain West. Frankly, though, their losses (Duke, Stanford, Southern Miss and Northern Iowa) are more impressive than their best wins (Colorado and Denver). Colorado State is at Wyoming in a league game Saturday (The mtn., 6 p.m.). If the Rams are to be taken seriously in the league race, they need to win games like this.
[More mid-major: Pat Forde: Low-key coach is perfect for Murray State | Racers win again]
Keep an eye on
Alabama: The Tide plays at Kentucky on Saturday (noon, CBS). No one is expecting a win, but it will be interesting to see if the Tide's quick, aggressive defense bothers the Wildcats. Alabama's lack of perimeter scoring is a huge issue.
Marshall: The Thundering Herd nipped UCF for a big Conference USA win last Saturday, then got whipped by West Virginia on Wednesday. There's another big game Saturday, when the Herd travels to play surprising Southern Miss in another big C-USA game (6 p.m., Comcast-Charter Sports Southeast).
Northwestern: The Wildcats followed up a win over Michigan State last Saturday by losing Wednesday at Wisconsin. Northwestern has a legit shot at getting a needed road win when it plays Minnesota on Sunday (4 p.m., Big Ten Network).
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