College basketball viewers’ guide: Kansas-Houston, North Carolina-Duke and more – The Athletic

By Justin Williams53m ago

We made it — the final viewers’ guide of the college basketball season. Conference tournaments are already underway and will ratchet up in earnest next week as the regular season concludes on Sunday. Fortunately, this last stretch has provided us some fun and impactful matchups as we dive into the most wonderful hoops month of the year.

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Let the madness begin! Your guide to the early conference tournaments

One last time, let’s power-rank the top-10 matchups between over the final five days of the regular season, starting with a few honorable mentions and counting down.

(All times ET)

Honorable Mention: No. 4 Tennessee at No. 17 South Carolina (Wednesday), Northwestern at Michigan State (Wednesday), Oklahoma at Texas (Saturday), Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Saturday), No. 11 Baylor at Texas Tech (Saturday), New Mexico at No. 22 Utah State (Saturday), No. 12 Illinois at Iowa (Sunday)

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10. Memphis at Florida Atlantic, Saturday, Noon, CBS

USF ran away with the AAC regular-season title, but this game remains an important one in the NCAA Tournament conversation. FAU is squarely on the bubble, while Memphis — which beat the Owls at home last week — is lurking around the edges. The Tigers have more to gain from a win in this one, which would give them another Q1 victory and resume boost entering the conference tournament, but FAU can’t afford to drop games either. It should be a good game regardless, featuring AAC player of the year candidates David Jones from Memphis and Johnell Davis from FAU.

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9. Clemson at Wake Forest, Saturday, 6 p.m., ACC Network

The Demon Deacons are testing the pliability of the bubble after Tuesday night’s home loss to Georgia Tech. A win over Clemson to close out the regular season now feels like a must-win for the program with just one Quad 1 victory. Clemson is safely in the NCAA Tournament but also on the hunt for a top-four seed in the ACC tourney and a valuable two-day bye to the quarterfinals. Good big-man matchup in this one between Wake’s Efton Reid and Clemson’s P.J. Hall.

8. Boise State at No. 21 San Diego State, Friday, 10 p.m., FS1

I trust that all of you have been reveling in Mountain West After Dark — I gladly traded a sufficient night’s sleep to witness this halfcourt buzzer-beater last week. If not, this is a good one to start with. The Aztecs, who made it all the way to the national title game last year, host a Boise State squad that is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season. Both teams will be looking to rebound from Tuesday losses: SDSU fell to a surging UNLV, and Boise State dropped one at home to Nevada.

7. Villanova at Seton Hall, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., FS1

A massive game for the Bubble Watch community. Both of these teams are in that Big East group currently flirting with the “last four in” and “first four out,” and a win would help to nudge either team to the right side of the at-large cut line. A loss isn’t disqualifying to either’s tournament chances, but the Pirates might need this one more considering they’ve lost two straight and have lowly DePaul remaining on the regular season slate. Nova hosts Creighton on Saturday.

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6. Wisconsin at No. 3 Purdue, Sunday, 12:30 p.m., Fox

Pull yourself together, Wisconsin. The Badgers, who climbed as high as No. 6 in the AP Top 25 and No. 11 in the NET rankings at the start of February, have dropped seven of their last nine and are doing the exact opposite of “peaking at the right time.” Wisconsin probably isn’t in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament altogether, though it seems intent on putting that idea to the test. A win at Purdue would help to mask a month of missteps ahead of the Big Ten tournament. But good luck with that against the Boilermakers, who clinched an outright regular-season title with Tuesday’s win over Illinois, and will celebrate Zach Edey’s Senior Day on Sunday as they chug toward another No. 1 seed.

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5. No. 20 BYU at No. 6 Iowa State, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Can the Cyclones win the national championship? Can they win the Big 12 tournament? For so much of the season, it felt like a chunk of the college basketball audience was waiting for Iowa State to turn back into a pumpkin. Instead, the team is top 10 in the AP poll, NET and KenPom with a shot at a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. But are they in that top group of programs that have a chance to win it all? I think that question makes them one of the more intriguing teams this month. Regardless, this should be a fascinating matchup between an elite Iowa State defense and a BYU offense that hoists more than 32 3-pointers a game.

4. No. 2 UConn at No. 8 Marquette, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., FS1

This game would be a couple spots higher if not for the fact that Marquette standout point guard Tyler Kolek will miss it due to an oblique injury. The Golden Eagles feel similar to Iowa State in the sense that they are a very good team, but are they good enough to reach the Final Four and win a championship? With a healthy Kolek, I think the answer is yes, but that remains to be seen with Marquette saying he will be reevaluated ahead of the Big East tournament. His absence tempers this one a bit, but it’s still worthy of this list.

3. No. 15 Kentucky at No. 4 Tennessee, Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS

The Wildcats — capable at any and all times of going supernova on offense and turnstile on defense — is the team I’m most likely to struggle with in my NCAA Tournament bracket. I could see them losing in the first weekend or barnstorming to the Final Four, and whichever decision I make will certainly foreshadow the opposite. Until then, this feels like a must-watch matchup considering UK’s offensive firepower against Tennessee’s stout defense. Also, SEC player of the year candidate Dalton Knecht. The Volunteers’ hopes for a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday would benefit from a win over Kentucky as Tennessee vies for a regular-season crown.

2. No. 14 Kansas at No. 1 Houston, Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN

Top-ranked Houston has looked markedly vulnerable exactly once this season. The Cougars have three losses and some close wins, including Saturday’s last-second victory against Oklahoma, but the only game where they’ve been humbled was a 78-65 loss at Kansas on Feb. 3, in which the Jayhawks shot 69 percent from the field against the best defense in college basketball. I don’t expect a repeat performance in Houston, but with Kevin McCullar Jr. back in the lineup, Kansas rebounded from two straight losses with a blowout win over Kansas State on Tuesday. Houston, led by Big 12 Player of the Year and All-America candidate Jamal Shead, could have a chance to wrap up the regular-season title in front of its home crowd and in its inaugural Big 12 season.

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1. No. 7 North Carolina at No. 9 Duke, Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

This game always engenders eye rolls from some of those whose college basketball fandom and nostalgia exist outside the Tobacco Road mystique, and that’s fine. But even those of you sick of seeing Jeff Capel’s halfcourt shot or Tyler Hansborough’s busted-up nose can’t deny the stakes and implications of this one. Two top-10 teams — in the AP poll, NET and KenPom — vying for an ACC regular-season championship and gearing up for potential Final Four runs. Duke has been one of the best teams in the country since its loss at Carolina on Feb. 3, but against some admittedly lackluster ACC competition. Carolina has the experience and inside-out talent between R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot to beat anyone. So do your best to suffer through the gratuitous crowd shots of the Cameron Crazies and grainy highlight videos and enjoy what should be a high-quality, high-stakes affair.

(Photo of Duke’s Mark Mitchell and North Carolina’s Harrison Ingram: Chris Seward / AP)

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Justin Williams covers college football and basketball for The Athletic. He was previously a beat reporter covering the Cincinnati Bearcats, and prior to that he worked as a senior editor for Cincinnati Magazine. Follow Justin on Twitter/X @williams_justin Follow Justin on Twitter @williams_justin

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