It's "Bracket Buster" weekend all across the country. What does that mean? It means that in addition to the regularly scheduled showdowns like Connecticut's trip to West Virginia and Georgetown's visit to Villanova, we'll also be blessed with more than a dozen very meaningful battles between top-flight mid-major teams, a group of matchups determined just a few weeks ago. Among those showdowns is Bucknell's venture to Northern Iowa, George Mason's trek to Wichita State, and many more.
MUST-SEE THIS WEEKEND
Kentucky at South Carolina
Both teams are fighting for their NCAA lives. The 'Cats have lost three of their last four and would fall to 6-6 in SEC play if they drop this one. USC, meanwhile, is looking to get to 6-6 in league action if they can capture their fourth straight win. A victory over UK would get the Gamecocks back in the Tourney talk.
Florida at Arkansas
The Hogs are sitting right on top of a very precarious bubble, especially after losing on the road at Mississippi on Wednesday. Stan Heath's squad is a game below .500 in SEC play, but a victory over the Gators would grab some much-needed (positive) national attention. UF, meanwhile, is trying to stay within a reasonable distance of East-leading Tennessee.
Connecticut at West Virginia
Both squads are 9-2 in Big East play and one game back of conference-leading Villanova heading into the weekend. The Mountaineers won their first eight league games of the season but have lost two of three since, both on the road. At the same time, Connecticut is looking to rebound from a loss at 'Nova earlier this week. Both are looking for championships and big-time NCAA seeding.
Tennessee at Alabama
The Vols seem to be running away with the SEC East and could take another step towards that title, plus the overall SEC crown, if they can knock off the Tide. 'Bama is currently in 2nd place in the West and has won three of their last four. Mark Gottfried's team is on the Tourney bubble, but a win like this over a top ten team would do wonders for their chances.
Michigan at Michigan State
These two in-state rivals meet for the second time this season; the Wolves won the first matchup in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion. Both teams are in the top half of the conference standings, and each squad's NCAA hopes look very good right now. The winner of this one keeps its Big Ten regular season title aspirations alive.
Pittsburgh at Marquette
The Panthers have won three straight since a two-game losing streak but are now two games out of first in the Big East. Marquette, meanwhile, is one game above .500 in league play and hanging on the inside portion of the bubble heading into the weekend. The Eagles look like a good bet for a NCAA berth, but a win like this one would almost certainly put the squad over the edge.
Georgetown at Villanova
This one is perhaps the best matchup of the entire weekend. Villanova, following their home victory over top-ranked UConn earlier this week, is now leading the Big East standings, while the Hoyas are a couple games back at 8-3 in conference action. G'Town has won seven of their last eight, though that one loss was in their most recent outing.
Indiana at Illinois
The Hoosiers dropped a hugely disappointing contest at Penn State on Wednesday, and then coach Mike Davis announced his retirement on Thursday. IU still has NCAA hopes if they can make some noise down the stretch, and what better place to start that run than Champaign? The question becomes, "how will Indiana respond to their coach's announcement?"
CAN'T-MISS "BRACKET BUSTERS"
Akron at Nevada
The Zips are tied atop the MAC East standings with a 12-2 league record, while the 'Pack is hanging on to a slim lead over LA Tech and Utah State in the WAC. Akron must win their conference tourney for a Big Dance berth, while Nevada is on the bubble for at-large consideration.
Bucknell at Northern Iowa
Perhaps the best "Bracket Buster" matchup of them all. The Bison are nationally ranked, while the Panthers are in a three-way tie for second place in the Missouri Valley, just a game back of first. Both squads are likely to be at-large NCAA selections but could increase those hopes with a victory in this one.
Missouri State at Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Another fantastic "Bracket Buster" matchup. The Bears are two games back of first place in the MVC after winning five of their last six games. UWM leads the Horizon League and is looking to make a return trip to the NCAAs. Both are on the bubble for at-large consideration.
Louisiana Tech at Southern Illinois
These are two of the better mid-majors in the country. LA Tech is fighting it out with Nevada in the WAC and boasts one of the country's best forwards in Paul Millsap, who averages 20 points and 13 boards per game. SIU is a game back of first in the MVC and a likely at-large selection if they don't win the league tourney.
George Mason at Wichita State
Another matchup of two of the best mid-majors in America. The Patriots hold a one-game lead over UNC-Wilmington in the Colonial and are 20-5 on the season. The Shockers, meanwhile, lead all parties in the Missouri Valley race and have won ten of their last twelve games. Both have NCAA at-large hopes, though George Mason could use the victory a bit more than WSU.
OTHER "BRACKET BUSTERS" OF INTEREST
Albany at Virginia Commonwealth
Albany leads the America East standings, while VCU has dropped a few games back of the pace in the Colonial. Both teams will need to win their respective conference tournaments to earn a NCAA berth this spring.
Buffalo at Iona
Bulls have had less success than expected in a tough MAC East, while Iona continues to lead the MAAC. Gaels have already beaten Iowa State and Fresno State, but neither squad would be an at-large selection.
Butler at Kent State
Bulldogs are in second in the Horizon League, while the Golden Flashes remain tied atop the MAC East standings. Neither will earn an at-large berth, but a win like this helps the NCAA seeding if either wins its conference tourney.
Northern Illinois at Winthrop
Huskies are leading the MAC West, while the Eagles are tied atop the Big South standings. Neither squad has at-large hopes, so this victory would help the NCAA seeding in the event that either wins their conference tournament.
Northern Arizona at Western Kentucky
The Lumberjacks are the top team in the Big Sky, while WKU tops the Sun Belt standings. Each is the only team in their respective conference to pile up ten or more league wins this season, though neither is an at-large candidate as of today.
Oral Roberts at Montana
The Grizzlies are a couple games back of NAU in the Big Sky, while Oral Roberts is two games back of league-leader IUPUI in the Mid-Con. Once again, neither is a candidate for at-large selection.
Samford at Ohio
Samford is chasing Murray State from behind in the Ohio Valley, while Ohio is four games back of the lead in the MAC East. Each was hoping for a bit more success this winter and will have to hope for a victory in their conference tourneys to go dancing this spring.
Fresno State at Creighton
Fresno State has had a disappointing campaign and is just 6-6 in WAC play and three games above .500 overall. Creighton, meanwhile, is right in the thick of things in the MVC and has a great shot to earn an at-large berth in March.
YOU'LL WANT TO CATCH THESE, TOO
Iowa State at Oklahoma - Saturday 12:00 PM CST
NC State at Virginia Tech - Saturday 12:00 PM CST
Colorado at Kansas State - Saturday 12:30 PM CST
Virginia at Florida State - Saturday 3:00 PM CST
Georgia Tech at Maryland - Saturday 3:00 PM CST
Iowa at Minnesota - Saturday 3:30 PM CST
Notre Dame at Seton Hall - Saturday 6:30 PM CST
Vanderbilt at Georgia - Saturday 7:00 PM CST
Louisville at Syracuse - Saturday 8:00 PM CST
North Carolina at Wake Forest - Sunday 12:30 PM CST
Texas at Oklahoma State - Sunday 12:30 PM CST
Arizona at Stanford - Sunday 2:30 PM CST
Miami at Duke - Sunday 4:30 PM CST
UCLA at Southern Cal - Sunday 7:00 PM CST