What to watch for in college basketball: Wichita State is two games from an undefeated regular season

Peter Aiken

The big conferences will take center stage next week, but this week is about Wichita State.

The major-conference college basketball teams have two weeks left in their regular season, so we're still a week away from many of those high-profile races shaking out. The Missouri Valley Conference does not fall in that category, though, and the race isn't shaking out, but it's still worth watching. Wichita State shook that race out a long time ago, and the Shockers will attempt to conclude their undefeated regular season with its final two games this week.

Both will be nationally televised.

Monday, Feb. 24

Syracuse Orange at Maryland Terrapins, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Syracuse has suddenly lost two games in a row after winning its first 25 this season, though the Orange were tempting fate in both games before their loss Wednesday to Boston College. All of a sudden, Syracuse is in second place in the ACC behind the 14-1 Virginia Cavaliers, and the Orange need to bounce back on the road against Maryland. At 15-12, the Terrapins are likely on the outside of the NCAA tournament looking in, but a home win over Syracuse would make the Terrapins an interesting case study come Selection Sunday.

Oklahoma Sooners at Kansas Jayhawks, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Oklahoma has been solid all season, with only one of its seven losses coming by double digits—even then, that was an 87-76 loss to Michigan State in Brooklyn on Nov. 23. The Sooners dropped their first matchup against Kansas on Jan. 8. Andrew Wiggins was 2 for 9 in that game and finished with nine points. Kansas is coming off an 85-54 win over Texas on Saturday.

Tuesday, Feb. 25

Florida Gators at Vanderbilt Commodores, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Florida will make its debut as the No. 1 team in the country Tuesday night on ESPN, hitting the road to play in one of college basketball's funkiest venues. Vanderbilt has had a down season, playing with only seven scholarship players after leading scorer Eric McClellan was dismissed from the team in early January, but the Commodores have played well considering. The matchup of point guards, Florida's Scottie Wilbekin against Vanderbilt's Kyle Fuller, will be fun.

Wichita State Shockers at Bradley Braves, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The first time these two played, Wichita State won 72-50 at home. That was on Jan. 14. Perhaps the biggest thing that's changed since then for the 12-17 Braves: They now have a mascot. The new mascot is a gargoyle and was introduced Saturday. From the Peoria Journal Star:

"It fits in the sweet spot between powerful, fierce, intimidating and approachable," Bradley athletics director Dr. Michael Cross said. "I don't know if I'd use the word cuddly, because it's a rock, when it's all said and done, but it's something that will work very well in different settings."

Wednesday, Feb. 26

Miami Hurricanes at Virginia Cavaliers, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3: It's difficult recommending a game between teams that rank 344th and 351st—dead last—in tempo this season, but you ought to familiarize yourself with the Cavaliers team that is now a game up on Syracuse in the ACC. Virginia's only loss in conference play was a 69-65 loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 13, and the Cavaliers have won 11 straight since.

West Virginia Mountaineers at Iowa State Cyclones, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN3: The Mountaineers are on the outside looking in if you ask SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean, but Dobbertean noted that West Virginia still has a handful of quality-win opportunities. Wednesday's is a big one. If the Mountaineers could steal a win in Ames, the 12-loss record would look quite appealing on the bubble. The last time these two teams played, West Virginia hit about a billion threes (actual number: 13) in a 102-77 win in Morgantown.

Thursday, Feb. 27

Duquesne Dukes at Saint Louis Billikens, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network: Saint Louis' only two losses of the season were a six-point loss to Wisconsin in November (in Mexico), and a five-point home loss to Wichita State on Dec. 1. The Billikens have expertly navigated the tricky Atlantic 10, eeking out several close wins along the way. The Billikens' game against Duquesne is a relative breather compared to how they'll finish the regular season after—at VCU, home against Dayton and at UMass—but tune in to see one of the most dominant defenses in college basketball.

Oregon Ducks at UCLA Bruins, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Ducks started the season 13-0 but have since had one of college basketball's most prominent collapses, first losing eight of their next 12 games. That takes them into Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, where a win could get them back on the right side of the bubble. The Ducks' best win, if you consult KenPom.com's rankings was a road overtime win over No. 43 Utah. And plus, it seems likely Bill Walton will be on the call Thursday, which is worthy of your time no matter who's playing.

Friday, Feb. 28

Providence Friars at Seton Hall Pirates, 7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: The schedule is slim Friday, but start your super-social night on the town* with one of the Big East's bubble teams, Providence. The Friars were in much better shape three weeks ago but have since lost five of their last seven (and the only two wins during that time were against DePaul). The first time these two played on New Year's Eve, Seton Hall won 81-80 in two overtimes.

*Staying in watching college basketball by yourself

Iona Gaels at Manhattan Jaspers, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Iona is two games up in the MAAC and seems likely to earn the MAAC tournament's top seed and thus the favorite to earn the league's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Iona's offense is 17th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, and Manhattan's defense is 48th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Saturday, March 1

Cincinnati Bearcats at Connecticut Huskies, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Bearcats suffered a stinging loss Saturday on a buzzer beater to Russ Smith and Louisville, but they're still tied for the lead in the American. Mick Cronin's team has made its name with its defense, but tune in Saturday to see Sean Kilpatrick and Shabazz Napier face off.

Missouri State Bears at Wichita State Shockers, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Wichita State will attempt to cap its unbeaten regular season—assuming it wins Tuesday at Bradley—on Saturday afternoon against Missouri State. It's a fitting opponent, too, because no team to date has challenged this Shockers team the way Missouri State did on Jan. 11. The Bears held a 19-point lead in the second half at home before Wichita State stormed back to force overtime and ultimately win 72-69.

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