Truthfully, you should watch every Big 12 game on Saturday if you can because there’s a storyline in all of them. I’m not calling it my "Game of the Weekend" nor my "Upset Watch" but as you may know, Marcus Smart has done his time and will be back on the court at Gallagher-Iba Arena for visiting Texas Tech on Saturday. It will be just one of many gems on the docket for this weekend, but here’s what to keep a closer eye on…
Big 12 Game of the Weekend: Kansas State at Oklahoma (3 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Are there two more forgotten teams in the Big 12? This will undoubtedly slide under the radar all the way to tipoff, but I do believe this could be the best matchup of the day. Depending on the TCU-Iowa State result, the winner of this game will either grab sole possession or a share of third place in the conference, with Texas in their crosshairs. Marcus Foster, rightfully lauded every week for performing well beyond expectations, was terrific in Kansas State’s first matchup in Manhattan (a six-point win for the Wildcats). Ryan Spangler (21 points, 14 rebounds) was a clear force in the post in that one as well, and you should expect much of the same thanks to an undersized K-State front line. Something will have to give when Oklahoma has the ball — Kansas State boasts the Big 12’s top defense, and the run-and-gun Sooners can kill you if they’re able to play at their pace. Fifth nationally in 3-point defense, shutting down Buddy Hield on the perimeter could help the Wildcats stifle an integral part of OU’s gameplan. Watch for Cameron Clark. Held to single-digit scoring in four of his last six games, he’s due to break out.
Big 12 Upset Watch: Baylor at West Virginia (12:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
This is how the Big 12 slate will kick off (tip off?) on Saturday, and I really like Baylor in this game. Winners of three straight, there may not be a more desperate team in all of college basketball, made evident in a gritty overtime win in Stillwater on Monday. Fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, the Bears need a signature true road victory; and of the three opportunities left, Morgantown appears to be the most feasible. WVU’s drubbing of Iowa State last week is truly an anomaly in what has been a rather mediocre four-game stretch for the Mountaineers, going 2-2 with a couple of double-digit losses. They nipped Baylor in an odd low-scoring affair in Waco on Jan. 28, in which the Bears turned the ball over 17 times. Expect Scott Drew to have those mistakes shored up. Kenny Chery has been a pleasant surprise, giving viewers another stellar Big 12 point guard matchup with Juwan Staten. When you boil it down, Baylor is hot and West Virginia is not. If they can limit turnovers and crash the glass, as they typically do, I think this is one that favors the do-or-die Bears.
Others around the country
(11) Louisville at (7) Cincinnati (Saturday, 11 a.m., CBS): Fact: the defending National Champions haven’t beaten a ranked team since the National Championship. And this season, Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati is where everyone goes to die. This might be the best matchup of defenses you’ll see all year, save for maybe St. Louis-VCU next weekend. Sean Kilpatrick is a First Team All-American if I had a vote, and Russ Smith is certainly in the conversation; yet another drool-worthy point guard showcase. If that somehow doesn’t float your boat, there’s a Montrezl, a Shaquille, a Mangok and a Ge’Lawn featured in this one — a name game for the ages.
(16) Wisconsin at (15) Iowa (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN): Prepare to wear out the "jump" button on your remote, because this one syncs up with Cincy-Louisville. You could have worse problems. The Hawkeyes haven’t played in Iowa City since the Korean War, so expect a heck of an environment at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. If there’s any game that city gets out of bed for, it’s when the Bo Ryans come to town. Wisconsin beat Iowa Jan. 5 in Madison, but these are certainly not your undefeated Badgers anymore. Between Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Roy Devyn Marble, there will be a slew of All-Big Ten talent to feast your eyes on. Marble went for 27 points on Jan. 5 after averaging just 7.5 in two games against Wisconsin last season. Should the Hawks pull this one out, it looks to a be a three-horse race for the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Michigan.
(1) Syracuse at (5) Duke (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN): There are several storylines here: Duke’s fourth game in eight days… Syracuse no longer unbeaten… A rematch of college basketball’s game of the year (depending on who you ask)… It’ll be a doozie no matter how you look at it. Winners of nine of 11, the Blue Devils get Jim Boeheim and the Orange in their building for this go-around. Though the grandeur of hosting an undefeated team in late February is officially gone, Cameron Indoor Stadium will undeniably be full-throat, as they always are. At the end of the day, this is a top-five matchup, and Syracuse has a No. 1 ranking to protect. It’s impossible to hype up this game too much, so be sure to tune in; Jabari Parker, C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis on the floor at the same time is as good a reason as any. Next season won’t be the same without them.