February’s first week isn’t over, and the month has already produced a rash of upsets in men’s college basketball. March Madness could be quite mad, indeed, if the holds up in the preceding month.
More chaos could be on tap this weekend as major conference contenders continue to battle for standings positions and, by extension, favorable seeds in the Big Dance.
Here’s this week’s Starting Five, ranking the five most compelling games that are worth your attention even with that big football game being played Sunday.
No. 7 Alabama at No. 17 Missouri
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
The Crimson Tide remain unscathed in SEC play, bouncing back from last weekend’s non-league loss to Oklahoma with a solid win against LSU. Mizzou is in decent shape to reach the tournament despite some inconsistency, and the Tigers could certainly use this top-tier victory to improve their bracket location. Alabama shoots threes and defends the perimeter extremely well, as embodied by hard-working guard Herbert Jones. Jeremiah Tilmon could pose a match-up problem for the Tide if the turnover-prone Tigers can keep their entry passes sharp.
MISERY INDEX: Michigan State continues to plummet; Texas falters
No. 6 Texas at No. 24 Oklahoma State
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ABC
Despite coming up short against No. 2 Baylor earlier this week, the Longhorns have a chance to climb back into the top five in the Ferris Mowers Men's Basketball Coaches Poll thanks to the wild Wednesday night that saw No. 3 Villanova and No. 5 Houston upset. The Cowboys, who just sustained a damaging loss to TCU, won’t be terribly interested in helping Texas’s ranking. Cade Cunningham gets most of the attention for Oklahoma State, but the Longhorns’ deep frontcourt featuring Greg Brown and Jericho Sims has enough length and athleticism to keep him in check.
Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Rondel Walker (5) shoots the ball against Kansas defenders Jalen Wilson (10) and forward David McCormack (33) during the second half at Gallagher-Iba Arena. (Photo: Rob Ferguson, USA TODAY Sports)
No. 22 Kansas at No. 18 West Virginia
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS
We’ll double dip in the Big 12, where the Jayhawks got a needed breather against struggling rival Kansas State but must now show they can handle the league’s upper-division squads to protect their tenuous poll ranking. The Mountaineers have an undistinguished resume that could still use a boost. KU got the better of the Mountaineers in Lawrence back on Dec. 22, but the Jayhawks have struggled to generate offense since the calendar turned to 2021. WVU’s Derek Culver can be a force on the interior but will need help to solve KU’s numerous defensive options.
No. 20 Wisconsin at No. 13 Illinois
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, Fox
The game of the day in the Big Ten, still the nation’s deepest conference, features the surging Fighting Illini challenging the Badgers, who boast the league’s stingiest defense. Illinois’s overtime victory against Indiana earlier in the week was anything but pretty, but perhaps the Illini can take some solace from the fact that they were missing Ayo Dosunmu, who had fouled out, for the extra session but still found a way to win. This tilt with the Badgers might also be a grind, but the Badgers’ Micah Potter could have his hands full inside with Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn.
No. 21 UCLA at Southern California
Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Starting Five makes its first visit to Pac-12 territory for this rivalry game in the City of Angels, with the league lead on the line serving to enhance the intensity. USC pulled out a hard-fought win at Stanford Tuesday to stay within a game of the first-place Bruins. UCLA has, for the most part, found ways to win tight contests since losing standout guard Chris Smith to a season-ending knee injury. Strong play at both ends from forward Cody Riley has helped, but he’ll face a tough matchup in the Trojans’ Evan Mobley.
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