As February hits its midpoint, the true contenders in men’s college basketball are looking to optimize their seeding for the upcoming NCAA tournament. Plenty of challengers, however, will still be attempting to enhance their own resumes at the expense of the front-runners.
Two such contests in the Big 12 Conference take center stage in this weekend’s Starting Five, though fans wanting to watch one of them will have to make use of the Internet.
No. 14 West Virginia at No. 1 Baylor
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN+
The Mountaineers are trending in the wrong direction on a two-game skid, not exactly encouraging when the next assignment is a road trip to face a team on a 21-game winning streak. The Bears are likely headed for a No. 1 regional seed even if they stumble once in the next few weeks, but they’d rather not test that theory. The approach is similar for both these teams that rely on ball pressure and relentless work on the boards when their offense struggles. But true lead guard Jared Butler and rim protector Freddie Gillespie give Baylor a significant edge.
Oklahoma at No. 3 Kansas
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
The Jayhawks, meanwhile, hope to solidify their own position on the No. 1 line and possibly stay in the mix for the top overall seed. The Sooners are comfortably in the field according to most projections, but a high-end road win would certainly be welcomed. KU’s tandem of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike continues to show the way. If Ochai Agbaji continues to improve his perimeter shooting, the Jayhawks will be even tougher to beat. OU wingman Brady Manek is among the best shooters in the game, but he’ll need a lot of help in the hostile environs of Allen Fieldhouse.
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No. 9 Maryland at No. 25 Michigan State
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Terrapins have made their way to the top of the crowded Big Ten standings thanks to a seven-game winning streak, but this trip to East Lansing is always a challenge. The Spartans hope Tuesday night’s narrow triumph against Illinois will serve as the launch point for a strong stretch drive. Cassius Winston remains the driving force for Michigan State, but Xavier Tillman’s hard work on the inside is just as important to the team’s long-term prospects. Maryland’s chances for victory improve dramatically when a third scoring option emerges to help Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, but the accuracy can still be lacking when the team leaves College Park.
Syracuse at No. 8 Florida State
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN2
The Orange, almost like — clockwork, find themselves in bubble territory needing a quality win to boost their profile. But the Seminoles are a bit tired of providing a positive result for someone else and want to take care of their home court following a disappointing outing at Duke. FSU will have a major depth advantage in this matchup, which could become even more of a factor if lots of whistles are heard. Somewhat by necessity, Syracuse is hoisting over 25 three-point attempts a game. But if those shots aren’t falling early, the Seminoles could take charge.
No. 4 San Diego State at Boise State
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBSSN
There’s a huge battle in the Mountain West Conference – for second place. The Aztecs already have the regular-season title locked up with just four league games remaining. This visit to Boise and the season-ending trip to Nevada look to be the last obstacles in their bid to run the table. The Broncos completed an improbable rally against Utah State on Jan. 18 to start a 6-1 run that has them back in the race for second place, though an at-large case would be hard to make unless BSU can find a way to hand SDSU its first loss. The Aztecs’ floor general is Malachi Flynn, putting up 16.4 points and handing out 5.1 assists a game while committing just 1.5 turnovers. The lead hoss for Boise is Derrick Alston Jr., averaging 18.4 points while connecting at an 81% clip from the free-throw line.
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