A pair of Big Ten showdowns and a rare late-season non-league showdown highlight the second weekend of February. Here's a look at what to watch:
Gonzaga at Memphis (Saturday, 9 p.m. EST): This is a bigger game for Gonzaga than for Memphis simply because the Zags desperately need a marquee win to validate their gaudy record and improve their NCAA tournament seeding. They're 21-3 overall and three games clear of everyone else in the WCC, but they've lost to two non-NCAA contenders (Dayton and Portland) and their most notable wins have come against West Virginia, BYU and Arkansas, all long shots to make the field of 68. Gonzaga has the size down low to compete with Memphis, but the question will be whether it's backcourt is athletic enough to keep the Tigers backcourt from blowing by off the dribble. The Zags also will need a bounce-back performance from Kevin Pangos, who has slumped recently and is averaging just 8.7 points in his last three games. Projected winner: Memphis
Michigan at Iowa (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): Everything about the Hawkeyes screams that they're a top 15 team with the exception of the list of teams they've beaten. Outside of a win over an Ohio State team that later avenged that loss, Iowa's best wins came against Minnesota and Xavier, neither of which are even sure bets to make the NCAA tournament at this point. The Hawkeyes will have another chance to add a meaningful scalp Saturday when they host a Michigan team that shares first place in the Big Ten with rival Michigan State. This game will probably be a battle of elite offenses that score in different ways. Michigan relies on an array of shooters, buoyed by the ability of Nik Stauskas and Derrick Walton to create off the dribble. Iowa has a wealth of scorers who can get to the rim and finish. Projected winner: Iowa
Cincinnati at SMU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST): Already in firm control of the title chase in the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati can take another big step toward securing the league title by winning one of its toughest remaining road games. The Bearcats (22-2, 11-0) will visit an SMU team that is a year ahead of schedule in Larry Brown's rebuilding process and is poised to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1993. Expect a low-scoring struggle Saturday night because the Bearcats boast one of the nation's elite defenses and SMU is holding league opponents to 38.7 percent shooting. The key will be whether SMU can hold Cincinnati star Sean Kilpatrick in check and keep the Bearcats from getting second-chance opportunities via the offensive glass. The Mustangs have already beaten Memphis and UConn at home, but Cincinnati plays more relentlessly than either of those two teams and is enjoying its best season in more than a decade. Projected winner: Cincinnati
Wichita State at Northern Iowa (Saturday, 9 p.m. EST): If Wichita State's chances of finishing the regular season unbeaten once seemed remote, then that's certainly no longer the case. The Shockers (24-0, 11-0) are done with second-place Indiana State and the only remaining game they have with a team that's above .500 in league play is the regular season finale at home against Missouri State. Of the remaining road games, Saturday night's at Northern Iowa (11-12, 5-6) may be the most difficult. The Panthers have lost only once at home this season, an 87-81 setback against Indiana State. What killed Northern Iowa in its first meeting was anemic 33 percent shooting against the Shockers' stingy defense. Wichita State also has a huge advantage on the glass that the Panthers must limit to have a chance at the upset. Projected winner: Wichita State.
Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 1 p.m. EST): It's a testament to Michigan State that injuries haven't prevented the Spartans from contending either nationally or in the Big Ten. Every Michigan State starter has missed time with an injury, yet the Spartans enter Saturday's game 20-3 overall and tied for first place in the Big Ten with Michigan. While Adreian Payne made his return Thursday against Penn State, forward Branden Dawson remains out with a broken hand and point guard Keith Appling is questionable with a wrist injury. Wisconsin will take all the help it can get in light of its uncharacteristic struggles at home this season. The Badgers have lost five of seven overall and three straight at the Kohl Center entering Saturday's game. They need Sam Dekker to build on a strong game at Illinois earlier this week and the defense to be strong against Michigan State's dribble penetration. Projected winner: Michigan State
Other games to watch:
Texas at Kansas State (Saturday 1:30 p.m, EST): Can the Longhorns follow up their win against Kansas with a victory in Manhattan? The Wildcats need to keep Texas off the offensive glass to avoid losing four of five.
Oregon at Arizona State (Saturday, 5 p.m. EST): Two bubble teams headed in opposite directions meet Saturday in Tempe. Oregon has dropped seven of nine since its unbeaten start, while Arizona State has won four of its last five.
Creighton at St. John's (Sunday, 7 p.m. EST): Creighton needed a Doug McDermott game winner to beat the Johnnies in Omaha. Will the national player of the year favorite come through again if St. John's adopts the strategy of playing him 1-on-1 and not letting his supporting cast beat them?
West Virginia at Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): Here's West Virginia's chance to make everyone take the Mountaineers seriously as NCAA tournament contenders. They've beaten Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma in their last three games to improve to 6-4 in the Big 12, but this is a step up in competition.
Indiana at Minnesota (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EST): Minnesota had been cruising toward an NCAA tournament bid before dropping three straight to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue. Indiana desperately needs to prove it can win on the road to reach the NCAA tournament.