Less than a month now from Selection Sunday and the handing out of spots in the Big Dance, the action on the hardwood gets more and more intense.
Conference titles for the regular season are being contested across the country as teams are fighting for NCAA tournament seeding and looking for critical wins to secure their places in the field of 68.
The ACC has three teams at the top hoping to be the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Races in the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC are also hotly contested.
Here are the top college basketball games to watch this weekend as we inch closer to March Madness.
No. 1 Duke at Syracuse
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
There are myriad subplots associated with this contest, not all of which, unfortunately, are basketball related. The Blue Devils will be trying to avenge one of their mere three losses on the season. They’ll probably have to do so, however, without national player of the year favorite Zion Williamson. His unfortunate knee injury in the opening minute of Wednesday night’s loss to North Carolina not only altered the complexion of that game but could have long-term ramifications for Duke’s postseason outlook if he is out for an extended period. The school has called his status “day-to-day.” For now, Duke must compensate for his absence on defense as well as find scoring contributions from someone other than R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. It doesn’t help that they struggled against the Syracuse zone even with Williamson in the lineup last month. The Orange are coming off another smothering performance against Louisville. But the night ended in tragedy when coach Jim Boeheim was involved in an accident that left a pedestrian dead along an interstate highway. It is difficult to quantify how the incident will affect the team’s preparation, but it will certainly put a damper on the festivities.
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No. 17 Florida State at No. 9 North Carolina
Saturday, 3:45 p.m. ET, CBS
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels don’t get much time to enjoy their huge rivalry win at Duke. The Seminoles come to Chapel Hill riding an eight-game winning streak as they look to stay in the mix for a top-four finish and double bye in the upcoming ACC tournament. Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye were able to do anything they wanted for UNC against the Williamson-less Blue Devils. But they’ll have more concerns on the defensive end. Florida State has a lot more scoring diversity, led by veteran Terance Mann and super sub Mfiondu Kabengele.
No. 5 Tennessee at No. 15 LSU
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
The Vols find themselves in a nearly identical situation they faced a week ago, a road contest against a highly motivated and talented opponent that is coming off a loss. There might not be quite as much fanfare as the trip to Kentucky featured, but LSU figures to be just as intense once the ball goes up. Tennessee, understandably sluggish last time out as they struggled to put away Vanderbilt, will try to establish its physical advantage on the inside more quickly this time. The Tigers, outlasted in overtime by a desperate Florida squad, must be ready to clamp down in the paint.
No. 12 Kansas at No. 14 Texas Tech
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ah yes, the streak. A 15th consecutive Big 12 regular-season crown is still in reach for the Jayhawks, who host current league leader Kansas State Monday night in a quick turnaround. But first they must get past the Red Raiders, with whom they are tied for second just a game behind the Wildcats. KU has managed to reinvent itself since losing Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury, with Dedric Lawson now leading the way for a smaller lineup. But Texas Tech matches up well with the Jayhawks, with Jarrett Culver doing a bit of everything to set the tone.
No. 11 Michigan State at No. 7 Michigan
Sunday, 3:45 pm. ET, CBS
It hasn’t been easy by any means for the Great Lake State rivals, but they have battled into a three-way race along with Purdue for the top spot in the Big Ten. The Spartans have been hit hard by the injury bug, with Joshua Langford out for the year and Nick Ward sidelined indefinitely. But Cassius Winston has kept things together with his strong play at the point. He’ll be opposed Sunday by the Wolverines’ Xavier Simpson, also among the best in the country with an assist-turnover ratio better than 3/1.