HomeSportsThis is March: Follow Saturday's loaded men's basketball slate

This is March: Follow Saturday’s loaded men’s basketball slate

March has finally arrived.

The showcase month for men’s college basketball kicks off in earnest on Saturday with a strong slate featuring a handful of games featuring AP Top 25 teams. There’s a showdown for first place in the SEC, a battle between Big East powers looking to improve their NCAA tournament seeding and several games with major bubble implications.

Here’s a look at the most intriguing games from March’s opening weekend. All times listed are Eastern.

No. 7 Kansas at No. 15 Baylor, Saturday, 1 p.m. (ABC)

Kansas was already only five deep and Kevin McCullar Jr. healthy, but now even thinner with the best player sidelined by a persistent knee injury. The Jayhawks suffered a 29-point road loss to Texas Tech without McCullar on Feb. 12 and suffered a rare home loss to BYU earlier this week. If McCullar can’t play at Baylor on Saturday, it might not be his 19.0 points per game that Kansas misses most. McCullar’s defensive presence and versatility would be especially useful against a deep, talented Baylor backcourt.

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No. 5 Marquette at No. 12 Creighton, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

Marquette’s chances of winning in Omaha likely rest on the health of the All-American point guard. Tyler Kolek injured an oblique muscle during the second half of a win over Providence earlier this week. He left that match for good with twelve minutes remaining and has not practiced since. While Shaka Smart isn’t ruling out Kolek returning against Creighton, it might be wise to be cautious. Marquette fails to overcome a two-game deficit to catch UConn for a share of the Big East title. Why not play it safe and make sure Kolek is healthy for the postseason?

With much of last year’s Sweet 16 team returning and a strong freshman class set to contribute, this could be Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s best remaining chance to capture his elusive second national title. Instead, the preseason top-five Spartans are so underwhelmed that they aren’t even a surefire NCAA tournament team. A win at Mackey Arena would likely remove any doubt, but Purdue isn’t handing it out easily. If Michigan State loses, it would drop to 17-12 overall and .500 in Big Ten play, with regular season games remaining at home against Northwestern and Indiana.

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No. 4 Tennessee at No. 14 Alabama, Saturday, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

On one side is Alabama, 12-3 in the SEC, thanks to the highest-scoring and fastest offense in college basketball. On the other side is Tennessee, also 12-3 in the SEC, but fueled by the dynamic Dalton Knecht and a physical, defense-oriented approach. At stake is the chance to seize control of the race for the league title – and much more. Tennessee is one of several teams vying for the final No. 1 seed of the NCAA tournament, joining the projected top three of Purdue, Houston and UConn. Alabama still has hopes of climbing to No. 2. It also urgently needs to demonstrate that its defense is competent enough to reach a Final Four.

No. 23 Gonzaga at No. 17 Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 10 p.m. (ESPN2)

While Saint Mary’s already captured the outright WCC title with Thursday night’s win over Pepperdine, this game still has huge implications for Gonzaga. The Zags likely need to win in Moraga to avoid making the WCC tournament and secure the automatic bid to extend a string of NCAA bids dating back to 1999. Strong computer stats and a huge win in February at Kentucky have elevated Gonzaga to a major player. twist, but the Zags don’t have much room for error. They are still just 2-5 in Quadrant 1 matches and 4-6 against the top two quadrants.

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