Baylor vs. Houston leads men's college basketball games to watch this weekend

Hard to believe, college basketball fans, but next week at this time, it will officially be March. With the men’s season in its home stretch, there are now just a few opportunities remaining for teams to earn quality wins. It’s also the time of year when teams want to be playing their best, though not many are actually doing so with tournament time right around the corner. All of this should once again make for an interesting weekend.

Saturday’s Starting Five features a pair of Top 25 clashes, an ACC double-header involving the foursome currently at the head of the standings, and the No. 1 team seeking a bounce-back performance at home in prime time.

Houston guard Jamal Shead (1) drives with the ball as Iowa State forward Robert Jones (12) defends during the second half at Fertitta Center.
Houston guard Jamal Shead (1) drives with the ball as Iowa State forward Robert Jones (12) defends during the second half at Fertitta Center.

No. 2 Houston at No. 11 Baylor, noon, CBS

The day tips off with the Big 12’s game of the century of the week. The Cougars now stand alone atop the league after taking the rematch with Iowa State. They now have a chance to grab the No. 1 ranking in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll if they can stay there. It won’t be easy, however, as they hit the road to Waco, where the Bears are in need of a victory on the rebound to retain their favorable seed projection. Baylor was tripped up at Brigham Young in its most recent outing, due in large part to giving up too many second-chance points. The Bears will need center Yves Missi to avoid early fouls to help frontcourt mate Jalen Bridges clean the glass. Cougars’ veteran point guard Jamal Shead can control the tempo on both ends, but he’ll need help limiting the three-point looks that kept the Cyclones in the game Monday night.

No. 13 Alabama at No. 17 Kentucky, 4 p.m., CBS

The Crimson Tide’s challenging non-conference journey appears to be paying dividends. They now put their perch atop the SEC on the line at Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats are still searching for consistency. Given the rapid pace preferred by both teams, this figures to be an up-and-down affair that should be a fun watch. Kentucky fans, however, might be more interested in how their team defends and gets to loose balls, issues that had seemingly been addressed in the big win at Auburn but recurred in Wednesday’s surprising loss at LSU. Alabama usually gets the shots it wants, and also enjoys a positive rebounding margin of nearly five a game. Can the Wildcats slow them down?

No. 7 Duke at Wake Forest, 2 p.m., ESPN

The ACC twin bill on the four-letter network opens in Winston-Salem, where the Demon Deacons have yet to lose this season. The Blue Devils, who got by Wake in Durham a couple of weeks ago, will severely test that unblemished home record. Duke should be at full strength with Tyrese Proctor back in the lineup after clearing concussion protocols, but it is the hot hand of freshman sharpshooter Jared McCain that will be the main concern for the Deacons’ perimeter defense. Gonzaga transfer Hunter Sallis has been Wake’s most consistent producer all season, but the Deacons are at their best when the scoring wealth is well spread.

No. 9 North Carolina at Virginia, 4 p.m., ESPN

The Tar Heels return to action after a full week off looking to retain at least a share of the conference lead. They haven’t emerged victorious from Charlottesville since 2012, but the Cavaliers have dropped two of their last three, including an ugly blowout loss at Virginia Tech Monday. The game will feature two of the league’s most accomplished floor leaders, North Carolina’s R.J. Davis and the Virginia's Reece Beekman. But the Cavaliers will need someone else to make shots and a total team effort inside to contain the Tar Heels big man Armando Bacot.

Villanova at No. 1 Connecticut, 8 p.m., Fox

The evening window is highlighted by defending champ UConn looking to stave off another challenger. Villanova is a team on the fringe of the bubble, sporting some standout wins but needing another to offset several bad losses. The Huskies saw their run of domination come to a halt last time out at Creighton. They’ll look to regain their air of invincibility in more friendly surroundings, but the Wildcats battled them to a one-point affair last month in Philadelphia and now bring a three-game winning streak into East Hartford. The three-point exhibition Creighton put on to conquer UConn earlier this week will be hard to match, but Villanova’s Justin Moore has begun to find the range of late. The Huskies ahve numerous shooters capable of heating up at any time, but Tristen Newton is the engine who can both initiate and finish.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College basketball weekend schedule: Houston-Baylor showdown on tap