The NCAA tournament bubble is large and elastic in mid-January. It’s never too early for teams to start building a resume that will impress the selection committee in March. Several teams have key matchups this weekend in these five games to watch.
VCU (12-5, 4-0) at Richmond (10-6, 2-2), 2 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
The Capital City Classic always matters to these crosstown rivals, who are focused on keeping pace in the Atlantic 10 race and remaining in the hunt for a NCAA tournament at-large bid. After a 5-5 start, VCU has won seven in a row behind an energized offense that’s scored 1.14 points per possession during the streak. High-flying sophomore forward Justin Tillman erupted for a career-high 27 points in a 34-point thrashing of Fordham on Wednesday. VCU is third in the nation in opponents’ turnover percentage (25.5). Richmond was 46th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, but despite returning a veteran nucleus has slipped to 226th this season, allowing opponents to shoot 38.3 percent behind-the-arc (313rd in the nation). The Spiders, who have won their last two, have a dangerous trio of scorers led by senior forward Terry Allen (20.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg). Richmond swept the regular season games last season but VCU gained revenge in the A10 tournament.
No. 15 Texas A&M (14-2, 4-0) at Georgia (9-5 2-2), 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Georgia’s postseason resume is a shade thin. The Bulldogs could fatten up quickly by knocking off the Aggies, who have won seven games in a row and covet the first SEC regular season crown in program history. Georgia coach Mark Fox has his team playing hungry on the defensive end (seventh in effective field goal percentage defense). They are top 20 in the nation in shutting down 2-pointers (41.9 pct.) as 6-8 forwards Yante Maten (16.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) is an able rim protector. Stopping Texas A&M hasn’t been an easy task thus far. The Aggies have scored at least 80 points in four of their last six, with senior forwards Jalen Jones (117.0 offensive rating) and Danuel House (16.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) doing most of the heavy lifting.
No. 11 West Virginia (15-1, 4-0) at No. 2 Oklahoma (14-1, 3-1), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The marquee matchup of the weekend. West Virginia’s fullcourt pressure against Naismith Trophy frontrunner Buddy Hield, who committed a career-high 10 turnovers in the two-point win over Oklahoma State on Wednesday and has 21 turnovers in the last three games. The Mountaineers lead the nation in forcing turnovers (28.3 percent of opponents possessions) and snagging offensive rebounds (49.1 percent of missed shots) for a delicious combination that creates additional scoring chances. West Virginia guard Jaysean Paige (127.5 offensive rating) can finish in the lane, shoot 3-pointers and draw fouls. A tightly officiated game could hurt West Virginia, which averages 24 fouls per game.
Neither team is ranked, yet both are trending upward in hopes of accumulating enough SEC wins to crack the 68-team NCAA tournament field. Besides, it’s another chance to watch 6-foot-10 LSU forward Ben Simmons, who had 15 points and seven assists last time out in a 90-83 defeat of Ole Miss. The Razorbacks are easily Mike Anderson’s best 3-point shooting team in five seasons in Fayetteville. They are fourth in the nation (45.0 pct.) from long range and guards Anthlon Bell and Dusty Hannahs have combined to make 93 3-pointers -- both shoot 46 percent or better. Keith Hornsby is LSU’s best long range threat. He’s splashed 18 of 43 (41.9 percent) in nine games since returning from a leg injury.
Michigan (13-4, 3-1) at No. 16 Iowa (13-3, 4-0), 4:30 p.m. ET, BTN
The leg injury that has kept Caris LeVert out of Michigan’s lineup since Dec. 30 appears to be improving, however his status for a tough road test is uncertain. The Wolverines swished a dozen 3-pointers to upset No. 3 Maryland without him Tuesday night. In its four Big Ten games, Michigan is first in effective field goal percentage (58.3) and ninth in points allowed per possession (1.05). Iowa finished off a slick regular season sweep of Michigan State, vaulted to No. 4 in the KenPom.com ratings and is built to withstand the Big 10 gantlet. The Hawkeyes are experienced and balanced. Senior guard Mike Gesell has hit 57 percent of 2-pointers and flourished at the free throw line (six makes per game) in Big Ten play.