UConn, Purdue Face Tough Road Tests in Another Packed Men’s College Basketball Weekend

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Remember last week, when four of the top-five teams in the AP poll lost in the span of two days? Well, more chaos could be on the way this weekend.

The top four teams in this week’s poll all hit the road for conference games Saturday, helping headline a packed slate of games that could continue to shape league races as the calendar creeps toward February. In all, 13 of 25 ranked teams play between Friday and Sunday, which seems like a lock to produce a few upsets.

Here’s a look at the biggest games and story lines you’ll want to track this weekend.

The headliners

No. 1 UConn at Villanova, Jan. 20, 8 p.m. ET

This classic Big East rivalry has even more juice given the No. 1 next to the UConn Huskies’ name right now. The Huskies passed their first test while in the nation’s pole position Wednesday night, silencing the Creighton Bluejays’ dynamic offense in a 62–48 victory that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. UConn also is getting healthy thanks to the return of big man Donovan Clingan, who returned from a foot injury Wednesday to play 16 minutes. But hitting the road is never easy, and the Villanova Wildcats have proved they can compete against elite teams this season. An upset here would be the biggest win of the Kyle Neptune era and solidify this group as a top-tier team in the Big East.

Purdue and Zach Edey face a tough road test this weekend at Iowa.

Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Purdue at Iowa, Jan. 20, 2 p.m. ET

The Purdue Boilermakers had no problems with the Iowa Hawkeyes when the teams met in January at Mackey Arena, but this is a different Iowa team now. The injection of freshman big man Owen Freeman into the starting lineup has been a catalyst for the Hawkeyes, who’ve now won six of seven games and get a golden opportunity to get back into the NCAA tournament mix with a win in Iowa City. Freeman will certainly have his hands full with Zach Edey down low, but gives them a chance defensively against the high-powered Purdue offense.

Alabama at No. 6 Tennessee, Jan. 20, 2 p.m. ET

The Dalton Knecht show is must-watch television right now. Knecht, the grad transfer from Northern Colorado, has been lighting up the SEC for the Tennessee Volunteers, with a combined 75 points in his last two games after scoring 39 against the Florida Gators on Tuesday night. He’s been the engine for an improved Tennessee offense, one that now believes it has the firepower to win shootouts against teams like the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tide rank first nationally in offensive efficiency per KenPom, but are still looking for a signature win after a few close calls in nonconference play. A road win in Knoxville, Tenn., would certainly qualify.

No. 22 Ole Miss at No. 13 Auburn, Jan. 20, 8:30 p.m. ET

One of two remaining unbeatens in the SEC, the Auburn Tigers have quietly emerged as a potential Final Four team. All 15 of Auburn’s wins this season have been by double digits, and its two losses have come by a combined 11 points, with both games played away from home. Will that streak continue when the 15–2 Ole Miss Rebels come to town? The Rebels have exceeded expectations in Chris Beard’s first season, but a win like this could push Ole Miss from bubble team to top-tier SEC contender.

No. 10 Memphis at Tulane, Jan. 21, 12 p.m. ET

The Memphis Tigers have climbed into the top 10 of the polls thanks to the chaos elsewhere, but the Tigers have largely not played well in the last month, even before Thursday’s surprising loss to the USF Bulls. Memphis escaped a terrible loss at home to the UTSA Roadrunners, needed last-second shots to beat the SMU Mustangs and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and before that, failed to put away the Vanderbilt Commodores and Austin Peay Governors. That, combined with big early wins over the likes of the Michigan WolverinesArkansas Razorbacks and Virginia Cavaliers not aging well, has the Tigers’ position more tenuous than their top-10 ranking would suggest. A road win against a good Tulane Green Wave team would be a nice start toward bouncing back.

Bubble battles

  • No. 9 Baylor at Texas: The Texas Longhorns are suddenly in bad shape after losses to the West Virginia Mountaineers and UCF Knights in the last week. Rodney Terry’s club could really use a big win over the Baylor Bears to get back on track.
  • No. 15 Oklahoma at Cincinnati: Similar script here: The Cincinnati Bearcats’ hopes of dancing are built on winning difficult home games like this one. The Bearcats look the part thanks to their size, physicality and athleticism, but the Big 12 is a different grind than what they experienced in the AAC.
  • Northwestern at Nebraska: The two teams that have beaten Purdue this season face off Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. The guard battle here between Northwestern’s Boo Buie and Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga should be a blast.
  • Clemson at Florida State: Based on nonconference results, you’d have expected the Clemson Tigers to be the team in this matchup off to the 5–1 ACC start and the Florida State Seminoles to be stumbling along at 2–4. But roles have been reversed here in January, with FSU making a push toward the bubble and Clemson falling from potential conference title contender to sweating its NCAA tournament hopes.
  • San Diego State at Boise State: The Mountain West’s charge toward five or even six NCAA tournament bids continues. For that to become a reality, teams on the edges of tournament contention like the Boise State Broncos have to protect home court against the likes of the San Diego State Aztecs.

Mid major game of the weekend: Grand Canyon at Seattle

The Grand Canyon Antelopes own the nation’s second-longest winning streak and have lost just once this season, quietly building an at-large case should they slip up in the WAC tournament. Take this chance to watch them on the road against a Seattle Redhawks team that’s also among the better squads in the WAC. 


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