By Chris Carlson: The Big-12/SEC Challenge ended in a 5-5 tie with the most important victory going to Kentucky. The Wildcats were the first non-conference opponent to defeat Texas Tech at home in 54 games. With a plethora of must-watch marquee matchups and the end of January upon us the drama only builds more and more every week until March Madness. The Big Ten, Big East, and SEC will be in the spotlight in the coming days.
Marquee Matchup on Saturday
#13 Kentucky vs. #17 Auburn: This SEC matchup could go a long way for pole position in league play come March. As it stands now, Kentucky is one game back from 7-0 LSU but a win over Auburn could give them a two-game lead over the Tigers. After losing back to back outings, Auburn strung together 3 wins and look to extent it to 4 with a win over the Wildcats. Kentucky has won 4 in a row and will no doubt have their hands full with Auburn on the road. The Wildcats would love to get some sort of revenge for Auburn knocking them out of the big dance last year.
The Pick: In a very close game Auburn does enough to get another key home win.
Marquee Matchup on Sunday
#18 Iowa vs. #19 Illinois: Iowa had won 5 consecutive games but fell at Maryland in a close one. The fighting Illini’s only loss in January was to Michigan State and since won 7 straight. Illinois held off a pesky Minnesota on Thursday night but now must travel on the road. The Hawkeyes have Luka Garza who will be the best player in the game on paper. However, Illinois has two capable big men to throw at Garza in Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili. As much as this hoops junkie wants to pick the road dog in Illinois, Iowa has been too consistent of late especially at home.
The Pick: Iowa grinds out a game in the 60’s to protect home court.
Marquee Matchup on Wednesday
#8 Villanova vs. #16 Butler: About a week and a half ago, the Wildcats blitzed the Bulldogs to a tune of 76-61. Butler’s only loss prior to their 3 game slump came via the #1 team in the country Baylor. The Bulldogs did manage to sneak by Georgetown and beat Marquette in overtime. Villanova, winners of 7 before their Saturday date with Creighton seem to peaking in preparation for the big push in March. With Big East leading Seton Hall the very next game at home, the Wildcats get beat to put a halt to their winning ways.
The Pick: Butler cools off Villanova with the desperation win at home.
Upset Special for the Week
Stanford has lost 3 in a row but get their act together enough to upset #11 Oregon.
Also, USC is more than capable of upsetting a #20 Colorado team that just dropped one at UCLA.
Under The Radar
#15 Maryland vs. #25 Rutgers: On Tuesday, the Terps look to hold their spot in the Big Ten versus a much improved Rutgers team. Maryland being tied with Rutgers in the league race only makes for a more competitive contest. An inexperienced Scarlet Knights squad has only loss on the road in the Big Ten and this hoops podcaster can’t wait to see if they can finally get over the hump to beat a quality opponent on their turf.
#23 Wichita State vs. Tulsa: It wasn’t all that long ago when Tulsa was leading the AAC, a win over the Shockers would tie them for 1st place with 7-1 Houston. Wichita State is holding steady in 4th but a win here could keep their hopes alive in the AAC regular season. This 50-50 matchup on paper should be anyone’s ball game in the last few minutes.
Quick Hits Recap
-North Carolina head coach Roy Williams passed Dean Smith on the all-time wins list with 880 good for 4th most.
-#12 West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins is not all the far behind Roy Williams as he recently tied Adolph Rupp with 876 wins (7th most).
-#6 Louisville had a 20-0 run in the first half of their blowout victory over Clemson 80-61 making it 6 straight for the Cardinal.
-Speaking of winning streak’s, #7 Dayton has won 10 in a row.
-Not to be outdone #8 Villanova have been red-hot of late winning 13 of 14 games.
-#17 Auburn has a big game with #17 Kentucky Saturday night as the Tigers attempt to keep their home winning ways going which stands at 14, the longest in the SEC.
Note: The rankings used in this prediction article will not reflect Monday’s New Associated Press Top-25 Rankings.
Written by Chris Carlson Host of The College Ball Show Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ ropeadoperadio & Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio