The heart of conference play is here in college basketball, and with less than two months until Selection Sunday, it’s time for teams to start making their moves to solidify their spots in the postseason picture. We’ve got another loaded weekend slate on tap, with several games that will shape conference races and have major implications for the selection committee come March. Here’s a look at the five most important men’s games to track this weekend, including the favorites in the Pac-12, SEC and ACC all hitting the road for difficult tests.
1. UCLA at Arizona, Jan 21, 2 pm ET
The Pac-12’s two preseason favorites face off in what currently stands at UCLA’s toughest remaining test of the regular season. the no 5 Bruins have won 14 straight and own the nation’s third-longest active win streak, leaning heavily on one of the best trios in the country to carry them to the top of the Pac-12 by two games. A win today in Tucson would solidify the Bruins as a cut above the rest in the conference after knocking off fellow conference contender Arizona State in Tempe on Thursday.
The stakes are high for Arizona, which has already dropped three conference games, including on the road last weekend at Oregon. The Wildcats have one of the best frontcourts in the country with Ąžuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo but are shooting just under 30% from three in their last five games. That, combined with a defense that ranks outside the top 50 nationally, has set the Wildcats back in their quest to repeat as conference champions. UCLA’s ability to force turnovers could be a problem for Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa, who has struggled taking care of the ball lately.
2. Alabama at Missouri, Jan. 21, 6 pm ET
The Crimson Tide have been the best team in college basketball in the last month, establishing themselves as the class of the SEC with a 7-0 record and all seven victories by double figures. This matchup in what is sure to be an excellent atmosphere in Columbia serves as a great road test for Nate Oats’s team.
Expect plenty of points, since both teams love to get up and down the floor and take tons of threes. The Tide have one of the best shooters in the country in Brandon Miller, the five-star freshman who is shooting a blistering 46% from deep on more than three makes per game. Dennis Gates and the rest of the Missouri staff will have their hands full slowing down Miller, but even doing that isn’t enough to beat the tide: Alabama’s road win at Houston came in a game where Miller didn’t make a field goal. This is a great opportunity for a signature win for the Tigers, who’ve already taken down Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas in Gates’s first season at the helm.
3. TCU at Kansas, Jan 21, 1 pm ET
Kansas lost for just the second time all season this week in an overtime thriller against Kansas State. The Jayhawks can get back on track Saturday against a TCU team whose physicality could cause problems for a lean KU frontcourt.
Perhaps the lone weakness for the defending national champions is a lack of an enforcer on the interior, and that issue was magnified when starting center KJ Adams fouled out in the Kansas State game. TCU is among the best in the nation at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line, making this matchup a particularly good litmus test for Kansas’s March hopes. When TCU guard Mike Miles gets hot from deep, this is as good a team as there is in the Big 12. That said, winning at Allen Fieldhouse is an incredibly tough task, and Jayhawks have lost just two games in their home building since January 2020
4. Boise State at New Mexico, Jan. 20, 11 pm ET
The Mountain West could get as many as four bids to the NCAA tournament, and this game could go a long way toward determining the fate of these two teams. New Mexico is in the midst of a remarkable turnaround under second-year coach Richard Pitino, who has the Lobos 17–2 with key road wins at Saint Mary’s and San Diego State after inheriting a team that won just four Division I games in 2020– 21 Meanwhile, Boise State currently tops the Mountain West and hasn’t missed a beat despite losing three starters from a season ago. The Broncos have won 14 of their last 16 games and may be even better than last year’s group, which won the conference and earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Pit in Albuquerque should be rocking for this one with a chance for both teams to pick up a Quadrant I win.
5. Virginia at Wake Forest, Jan 21, 2 pm ET
The ACC race is wide open, and these two teams are jockeying for position near the top of the conference. Virginia is the favorite, ranking highest in the league in KenPom and owning quality wins already over Baylor and Illinois. But Wake Forest has asserted itself as a surprise challenger, winning four straight including a victory over league-leading Clemson earlier this week to get off to a 6–2 start in conference play.
A win for the Demon Deacons would set them up well to compete for an NCAA tournament berth, which would be their first since 2017. The program has maintained its upward trajectory under third-year coach Steve Forbes behind a breakout season from transfer guard Tyree Appleby , who has helped soften the blow of losing ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams to the pros in the offseason. If Wake is going to pull the upset, it will need a big day from Appleby against one of the best defensive backcourts in the country in Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark.