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Hoops weekend preview: Final year of The Border War?


Mike Miller

(All times ET)

Game of the Weekend: Sat. 9 pm: No. 8 Kansas @ No. 4 Missouri

Let’s put this game in a vacuum. Let’s pretend that Missouri hasn’t turned into a top five team and that Kansas has struggled this season with their two-man attack. This game would still be must-see TV. Why? Because this could be the last time that these two teams meet in Mizzou Arena for a long time. The Border War is one of the most heated rivalries in the country, but with Missouri’s decision to head to the SEC next season, what little friendliness existed between the two schools is all but gone. The environment at this game is guaranteed to be absolutely electric, a fact that is only going to be magnified by Gameday’s appearance in Columbia.

But this game doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The fact of the matter is that these are two of the best teams in the country, with both having legitimate Final Four aspirations. That is sure to make things even more intense.

The intrigue is this game is heightened by the differing styles between the two teams. Simply put, Kansas is going to have a mismatch inside on every single possession. Its no secret that Missouri runs a four-guard lineup, using 6'6" shooter Kim English at the power forward spot. No matter who he ends up guarding -- National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson or seven-foot center Jeff Withey -- Missouri is going to hav issues matching up with the Jayhawks inside.

But the flip side of that is Missouri will have a mismatch of their own. Will Bill Self risk tiring out his star by having him chase English around the perimeter? Will he risk putting a less-mobile Withey on English? Will Self be forced to go small? Will Haith be forced to go big?

My pick: I’m taking Missouri. I think that the Tiger’s ball pressure defensively is going to force Tyshawn Taylor into too many turnovers and that Marcus Denmon is finally going to break out of this shooting slump.

Five more to keep an eye on:

Sat. 11 am: South Florida @ No. 14 Georgetown: It feels weird saying this, but this game could actually end up being quite important in the Big East standings. The way things are today, Georgetown is sitting all alone in third place, a half game up on South Florida, who is tied with Notre Dame one game behind the Hoyas in the win column. The Hoyas got Hollis Thompson going on Wednesday night against UConn, but save for a four minute stretch in the second half, Henry Sims had another tough game. He needs to get things turned around for the stretch run.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Vanderbilt @ No. 11 Florida: The way it looks like right, these are the two teams that are fighting for the right to be considered Kentucky’s biggest challenger in the SEC. Florida is coming off of a less-than-inspiring Thursday night win over South Carolina where Patric Young, who looked like he was getting over a nagging ankle injury the past week, was a limited factor. Florida is going to need Young to battle with Festus Ezeli inside. The perimeter battle between these two teams should be quite entertaining. Will Kenny Boynton go back to shooting like John Jenkins -- which he did in non-conference play -- or Kenny Boynton -- which he’s done for the entirety of the rest of his career.

Sat. 1 pm: No. 18 Virginia @ No. 24 Florida State: Raise your hand if you like high-scoring basketball. If your hand is currently raised, then grab the remote and find out what channel this game is on. Now set your TV to make sure that channel is blocked for this two-hour time-block, because if Leonard Hamilton and Tony Bennett have their way, this game will look like the slop-fest that was Michigan State and Illinois. While this may not be a pretty game on the eyes, it is quite important in the ACC race. Florida State is tied with Duke and UNC at the top of the ACC while the Cavs are sitting one game behind those three.

Sat. 1 pm: Xavier @ Memphis: I don’t think that its a stretch to say that these are the two best non-BCS programs in the country, but neither of them are having the kind of season that they had hoped. Memphis looks like they have started to turn things around, but they are still sitting a game out of first place in the CUSA race. Xavier, on the other hand, appears to be a completely different team than they were at the start of the season. This isn’t a league game, but the bubble implications are huge.

Sat. 2 pm: No. 3 Ohio State @ No. 20 Wisconsin: You guys remember what happened the last time these two teams got together in the Kohl Center? This did. That game was a similar situation as well: Ohio State was the favorite in the Big Ten and Wisconsin was trying to prove to the nation they deserve to be in the conversation. The Badgers are going to have a very difficult time dealing with Jared Sullinger and they definitely aren’t the same team without the consistency that came with Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil. That said, despite early season struggles, Wisconsin is a tough team to beat at home, especially if their back court is shooting well.

Sun. 1 pm: No. 10 Michigan State @ No. 22 Michigan: Will he or won’t he? Draymond Green, that is. He left the Spartan’s Tuesday night game against Illinois with a knee injury, one bad enough that he couldn’t put any weight on it the rest of the game. Will he be available just five days after that? Without him, Michigan State not only loses their leader, but a facilitator in their offense and one of their best offensive rebounders.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 1:45 pm: No. 6 Baylor @ Oklahoma State

Yeah, I know. This seems kind of silly. The last time these two got together, Baylor won. By a lot. 106-65 to be exact. And given that Oklahoma State has lost four of their last six -- which includes a 15 point loss to a Texas A&M team that was missing 60% of their starting lineup -- its not exactly like they are an underdog making a late-season surge. One of those two wins came against Texas Tech, who hasn’t won a game in league play yet. The other? Against Missouri at home. This game against Baylor? Its at home.

The issue with Oklahoma State is that they don’t always come to play. Its not like they don’t have the talent, because they do. Its an issue of effort. When they play up to their potential -- which is a much easier thing to do when a rocking Gallagher-Iba Arena is backing them -- they can win games. I think they’ll show up to play.

Who is on upset watch?:

Sat. 1:00 pm: No. 15 Marquette @ Notre Dame: Notre Dame has gone back to the Burn Offense, and its worked of late. The Irish are coming off of wins over Syracuse, Seton Hall and UConn because of it. What makes it so effective is that the Irish have two very talented playmakers in their back court in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, a quality big man in Jack Cooley and a number of solid role players. But more importantly, they have a roster full of kids that have bought into this system and are willing to sacrifice stats for wins. Marquette is sitting a game above the Irish in the loss column. A win here and Notre Dame will climb into fourth place in the Big East.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 13 UNLV @ Wyoming: Wyoming is a much improved team this season, riding USC transfer Leonard Washington to a 17-5 record. They’ve struggled of late however, losing two of their last three games to fall to 3-3 in the MWC. We all know how tough it is to win games on the road in league play. I’ve been to Laramie, WY. Its not exactly ... happening.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 6 UNC @ Maryland: When Maryland is right, the Comcast Center is one of the toughest places in the country to play. The problem is that its been a while since the Terps have been right, but that doesn’t mean the place doesn’t fill up when the right opponent comes to town. UNC is the right opponent. Maryland is going to need a bit of luck for that to happen -- Terrell Stoglin will have to shoot the ball well and Maryland’s front line is going to have to play their best game of the season.

Sat. 5:00 pm: No. 12 Creighton @ Northern Iowa: The Panthers came into MVC play with fairly high expectations, including an outside chance at an at-large bid. Unfortunately, their success was short-lived; UNI has lost seven of their first 12 league games. That said, the Panthers have a bit of a chip on their shoulder in this one. Creighton’s player of the year candidate? Doug McDermott? He was supposed to be a Panther.

Sat. 7:00 pm: No. 20 Indiana @ Purdue: Would this even count as an upset? Purdue is 5-4 in Big Ten play. Indiana is 5-6. Purdue is great at home. Indiana stinks on the road. But Indiana is ranked, Purdue isn’t and this is an intense rivalry. That makes it count as an upset, right? No?

Mid-major matchup of the Weekend: Sat. 5:00 pm: Old Dominion @ George Mason

On Wednesday night, George Mason lost at Delaware. On Thursday night, Old Dominion knocked off James Madison. That means that there is now a four-way tie for first place in the CAA.

Five more to keep an eye on:

Fri. 7:00 pm: Belmont @ Lipscomb: Round two of the Battle of the Boulevard.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Iona @ Manhattan: The MAAC has been as competitive as any mid-major league in the country this season. Guess who the top two teams in the league are?

Sat. 8:30 pm: Oral Roberts @ North Dakota State: On Thursday night, Oral Roberts went into South Dakota State and lost, putting them just a game up on the Jackrabbits in the Summit League standings. NDSU is currently sitting in third place in the league.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.