Weekend Preview: Big Ten headliners, bounce-back opportunities, bubbles to be burst

We’ve only got about four more of these left in the dwindling college basketball season. You know, those weekends where you can wake up in the late morning and spend your whole day bouncing around the country as the entire hoops landscape explodes with storylines.

February 10 and 11 will be no different.

If you’re a college hoops addict like myself, here’s how you should be spending your next 48 hours:


Butler @ No. 1 Villanova | Noon EST | FOX
Up until its loss to St. John’s at home Wednesday, Villanova seemed pretty much unbeatable this season — other than, of course, its eight-point loss at Butler. The Bulldogs have recently become a kryptonite for ‘Nova in Big East play, having now won three in a row in the series, two of which coming when the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the nation. Villanova’s sometimes-suspect defense will be once again put to the test, as a Butler team that ranks No. 26 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings posted 101 when it hosted ‘Nova on December 30. Prediction: Villanova 92, Butler 87 // Chances of Upset: 45%

No. 10 Kansas @ Baylor | 2 p.m. EST | CBS
Baylor? Really? Yes, really. Just a week ago, the Bears sat at 12-10 with a dismal 2-7 mark in Big 12 play, and had taken single-digit losses to Kansas State, Oklahoma and Kansas. Two impressive wins over Iowa State and at Oklahoma State over the past seven days have Baylor back in the tournament conversation. On the flip side, the Jayhawks, which recently lost by five to those same Cowboys, have a brutal stretch ahead with a trip to Ames, followed by home tilts with West Virginia and Oklahoma, followed only by a trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech. I don’t think Kansas slips up here, but if they do, they could find themselves in a tough spot going into the final week of the season. Prediction: Kansas 74, Baylor 66 // Chances of Upset: 30%

No. 21 North Carolina @ NC State | 2 p.m. EST | ACCN
Who on earth is NC State? My best answer: A bonafide giant killer. The Wolf Pack continue to hover on the bubble despite wins over Duke, North Carolina and Arizona. The biggest reason is inconsistency. A loss to Virginia Tech and a scare against Pittsburgh have kept NC State from building real momentum, but that could change with a sweep of the Heels. The Wolf Pack, after Saturday, enter a stretch of three winnable games (@ SYR, @ WAKE, vs. BC). I’m not saying Saturday’s game will be an upset, but UNC is riding a high and could easily fall into a trap when it visits Raleigh. Prediction: North Carolina 88, NC State 84 // Chances of Upset: 42%

Texas @ TCU | 2 p.m. EST | ESPNU
The Big 12 bubble landscape is one of the most intriguing in any league and these two teams epitomize it. The difference? TCU got to this point by starting red-hot and then opening conference play 2-6, whereas the ‘Horns took a few early-season losses but gradually put together a decent résumé. Texas got the better of TCU by just a point in Austin earlier this month in 2OT and I have a feeling this matchup will be just as exciting. The Horned Frogs, though, get it done and stay on the right side of the bubble. Prediction: TCU 85, Texas 83 

No. 3 Purdue @ No. 4 Michigan State | 4 p.m. EST | ESPN
This one just speaks for itself — the Big Ten’s best, two top-five teams, two bonafide No. 1 seed candidates, a handful of NBA prospects. Miles Bridges. Isaac Haas. Vincent Edwards. The Izzone. Matt Painter. Not much more needs to be said. Just watch this one, okay? You won’t be sorry. Prediction: Purdue 68, Michigan State 67

No. 15 Tennessee @ Alabama | 6 p.m. EST | SECN
Collin Sexton. Collin Sexton. Collin Sexton. Oh, yeah, Tennessee is pretty darn good, too. The Volunteers’ recent win over Kentucky solidified them as an SEC contender and a potential top-four seed in March. Going into Tuscaloosa will be no easy task, though, as the Vols will have their hands full with Sexton —  whose 18 points recently led ‘Bama over Trae Young and Oklahoma — and the Crimson Tide. I’m going to go ahead and call upset, but certainly believe Tennessee could get through this test and ultimately go on to compete for an SEC title. Prediction: Alabama 74, Tennessee 71 // Chances of Upset: 64%

UCLA @ Arizona State | 7 p.m. EST | PAC12
Pac-12 basketball just got very interesting with the rise of the Bruins. When UCLA took three losses in a row against Colorado, Oregon State and Oregon, it was a mile away from the Tournament conversation. The Bruins covered that mile in about two weeks, lopping off California, Stanford, USC and Arizona all in a row to revive their season. Coming off a win of its own over USC, Arizona State is looking to do the same and get itself essentially within one or two wins of a locked-up March bid. UCLA’s hot, ASU’s seemingly figuring things out, both teams need it. This one should be fun. Prediction: UCLA 78, Arizona State 74 

No. 7 Texas Tech @ Kansas State | 8 p.m. EST | ESPNU
At this point, it’s pretty hard to watch a Big 12 game without there being some kind of intriguing storyline. This one pits arguably the nation’s most surprising team as it competes for a conference title and a No. 1 seed. No one saw that coming. What no one else would also see coming would be a Kansas State upset, as the Wildcats — a bubble team in the truest sense of the term — look to pick up another résumé win. They’ve already beaten Oklahoma by 18, TCU by five, and came just one point from beating Kansas. There’s also the revenge factor — Tech took down K-State by 16 on January 7. For those reasons, I’m giving the Wildcats a good chance to win, but favoring Texas Tech in a close one. Prediction: Texas Tech 76, Kansas State 70 // Chances of Upset: 38%

No. 24 Kentucky @ Texas A&M | 8:15 p.m. EST | ESPN
Speaking of the revenge factor, enter Texas A&M. The Aggies came inches from a win at Rupp Arena back on January 9, as a full-court pass went out of bounds beyond the outstretched hands of center Tyler Davis, who was arguably fouled by UK’s Wenyen Gabriel as time expired. Reed Arena will be electric in a whiteout and I don’t think Kentucky’s young team will be ready for a red-hot A&M team on the road, especially one that just topped Auburn on the road. Prediction: Texas A&M 77, Kentucky 74 // Chances of Upset: 70%

No. 12 Gonzaga @ No. 11 Saint Mary’s | 10 p.m. EST | ESPN2
Ah, yes, the one time the country pays attention to West Coast Conference basketball. It’s for good reason, especially this year. Saint Mary’s has pretty clearly been the better of the two WCC Goliaths, with losses only to Washington State (by 5) and Georgia (by 2) on neutral courts in early December. This team is a deep tournament threat and you should start getting to know them before you see them pop up as a five- or six-seed in your bracket. The Gaels toppled Gonzaga in Spokane earlier this season, 74-71. The Bulldogs have the pieces for revenge, but I’ve got Saint Mary’s taking a stranglehold on the WCC with the conference tourney just three weeks away. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 79, Gonzaga 72 // Chances of “Upset:” 35%

USC @ No. 13 Arizona | 10:15 p.m. EST | ESPN
Pac-12 after dark at its finest! Arizona, the odds on favorite to win this chaotic league, has lost two in a row for the first time since its dismal trip to the Bahamas back in November. As for USC, blowing a nine-point lead to ASU means they’re right back in the thick of the bubble, and another loss or two away from trouble. Another situation out in the Pac-12 where two of the league’s likely four or five tournament teams both need key victories. Don’t count out USC — which matches up well with the Wildcats, especially down low — but Arizona’s going to get it done on their home court before a monumental trip to Tempe Thursday. But if you’re not asleep yet, give this one a watch to close out a jam-packed day of hoops. Prediction: Arizona 82, USC 72 // Chances of Upset: 20%


No. 6 Cincinnati @ SMU | 2 p.m. EST | ESPN
Yes, more basketball on Sunday, thanks to the American Athletic Conference! If you haven’t noticed yet, the Cincinnati Bearcats are a legitimate contender; I don’t think they’ll compete for a No. 1 seed due to their conference’s reputation, but they’ll be a dangerous No. 2 or No. 3 seed. SMU’s dangerous, too, having beaten Wichita State on the road, not to mention neutral victories over Arizona and USC. But coming off of two tough road losses, the Mustangs need this one to get back on the right side of the bubble. Cincinnati doesn’t have any particular “need” in this one, aside from keeping first place in the American to themselves, but they’ll probably get it done anyway. Check this game out if for no other reason than to get an early look at one of the most physical teams you’ll be seeing in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: Cincinnati 68, SMU 60 // Chances of Upset: 25%

Tulane @ Houston | 4 p.m. EST | ESPNU
Okay, you’re only going to want to check this one out if you’re truly a college basketball junkie, but Houston is worth watching as a potential upset special with a No. 10 or No. 11 seed in March. Tulane’s got some unfinished business, too, with a few impressive wins over SMU and Temple under their belt. In order to make some tournament noise, though, they’ll need to erase their recent 1-4 stretch, pick up this win in Houston, and probably win five of the six contests that follow. All of that is pretty unlikely, but Tulane’s nine-point home win over Houston earlier in the season proves they’ve at least got a good shot on Sunday. Prediction: Houston 77, Tulane 68

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