College football is over, the NFL is down to the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl, and the NBA playoffs are still a long way off in the distance—that means college basketball is ready to take center stage. With five weeks left in the regular season, there is still a lot to be sorted. If you call yourself a college basketball fan, here are the top ten must-watch games for the rest of the year.
- West Virginia at Kansas – February 17th
Take your pick of the Big 12 matchups—this one has the potential for West Virginia to make a real statement. The Mountaineers have never won at Allen Fieldhouse (a 16-point blown lead in the second half last season still haunts West Virginia), but this could be the year. Jevon Carter is a machine, and I can’t wait to see him matched up with Devonte’ Graham again. The key in this game is Svi Mykhailiuk—one of the best sharpshooters in the game. He can beat you from anywhere on the court.
- USC at Arizona -February 24th
This matchup doesn’t exactly pop off the screen, but the way the Pac-12 currently stands, it could very well decide the winner of the conference. The Wildcats have one of the most talented rosters in the country, but they’re just now starting to figure out how to put the pieces together for a national championship run. Arizona should be favored in this matchup, but the Trojans are a program on the rise, and they won’t go lightly.
- Cincinnati at Wichita State – March 4th
These teams play once before March 4th, and if the Shockers win that matchup, we could be looking at a battle for the American conference title on the last day of the regular season. The Shockers have dropped two straight on the back of poor defensive efforts, and the Bearcats are streaking, but they’ve lost to the only ranked teams they’ve played. So, while both teams have issues to sort out, rest assured they will be ready for the last day of the regular season.
- Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s – February 10th
It’s not quite the same dominating squad that Gonzaga had last season, but they’re still virtually a lock to make the tournament, even with only two seniors on the team. Like many of the games on this list, this is a rematch between these two teams—Saint Mary’s took the first matchup by three, and if Gonzaga wants to walk away with a victory the second time around, they must find an answer for Jock Landale, the 6’11” junior who torched them for a double-double.
- Purdue at Michigan State – February 10th
There’s no question that the Big Ten is down this year—Wisconsin is severely underperforming, and Minnesota and Northwestern have failed to live up to preseason hype. But, the Spartans have one of the most talented rosters in the country and, like Kansas, have five players averaging double digit scoring. The Boilermakers have transformed from respectable Big Ten team to national title contender. Michigan State will be the favorite at home, but don’t count out Purdue if they come into East Lansing on fire.
- Oklahoma at Kansas – February 19th
If you need evidence as to why this game deserves to be on this list, I’d direct you to their first matchup, an 85-80 Sooner win. The Big 12 has been the best conference in the country this year, and these are two of the conference’s best teams. The Jayhawks can hurt you from anywhere on the floor—their starting five all average double digits, and have you seen what Trae Young can do on a basketball court, especially now that he plans to shoot less and take care of the ball more? It’s the highly anticipated rematch, and a must-watch affair.
- North Carolina at Duke – March 3rd
It’s the greatest rivalry in all of sports—no way could it be withheld from the best games left in the season. There’s still much to be sorted in the ACC, but this final-weekend matchup could be for the conference crown. Luke Maye is making his case for player of the year, and the Tarheels continue to win the way they’ve done in the past—rebounding. They are second in the nation on the glass, which will prove pivotal against The Blue Devils, who just happen to be first in the nation on the glass. It’s the freshman phenoms vs. the seasoned veterans.
- Villanova at Xavier – February 17th
I was never a fan of the Big East realignment, but if there has been one team it’s worked out for, it’s the Villanova Wildcats. Since the new Big East formed in 2013, the Wildcats have lost a total of 18 games, winning the conference every year and claiming a national championship along the way. Although they blew out Xavier earlier in the season, the Musketeers will, in the comforts of their own arena this time around, pose as Villanova’s toughest test for the rest of the regular season.
- Ohio State at Purdue – February 7th
Is there a bigger surprise in college basketball than Ohio State? Under former Butler Bulldog coach Chris Holtmann, the Buckeyes sit atop the Big Ten with a near-perfect conference record and are at home until this game. Keita Bates-Diop is strongly making his case for Big Ten Player of the Year, but the biggest question in this game will be where the Buckeyes can look to in order to defend Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms. It’s looking more and more likely that both teams will head into this matchup undefeated, so this will be for the driver’s seat in the Big Ten.
- Virginia at Duke – January 27th
If you play basketball at the University of Virginia for Tony Bennett, you WILL play defense—since the 2011-2012 season, the Cavaliers have finished in the top five in scoring defense. This season, they’ve yet to give up 70 points—68 was the most points allowed in their only loss to West Virginia. They will certainly be tested against the number one scoring offense in the country in the Blue Devils. It’s the number one defense vs the number one offense, it’s a top five matchup, it’s the ACC, it’s everything you could ask for in a college basketball game.