The Michigan Wolverines were the last undefeated team in the country, but after this past weekend their record is now blemished just like everyone else. Now they’ll try to get back on track with a challenging contest in Minnesota on Thursday. That’s just one of the marquee matchups that’s worth keeping an eye on this week.
Michigan Wolverines @ Minnesota Golden Gophers – Thursday, Jan. 17
This is a matchup that illustrates how tough and demanding the 2013 Big Ten really is. The Wolverines and Golden Gophers are both nestled in the top tier of the Big Ten and yet they’re both coming off losses as they prepare to face each other on Thursday night in Minneapolis. Michigan lost at Ohio State on Sunday while Minnesota fell at Indiana on Saturday.
Michigan would like this game to be decided on the perimeter where it possesses superior quickness and shot-making ability. Minnesota wants this game to be decided in the paint where it owns more ruggedness and strength. The winner of this game will dramatically improve its resume and gain a leg up in the races for both the Big Ten regular season championship and a No. 2 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Syracuse Orange @ Louisville Cardinals – Saturday, Jan. 19
This is one of the foremost battles on tap in the Big East Conference. Last season, Syracuse was the best team in the league, the regular-season champion and a No. 1 seed in the East Region for the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Louisville, though, was the Big East team that made the Final Four in New Orleans. This year, Louisville looks like the best team in the conference and Syracuse is trying to move up the ladder in the college basketball rankings. A little bit of role reversal relative to 2012 is certainly going to spice up this matchup in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Missouri Tigers @ Florida Gators – Saturday, Jan. 19
When these two teams meet, there will be a special kind of urgency in the air on both sides. Missouri needs this win because it got undressed at Ole Miss this past Saturday and needs to prove that it can win a big-boy SEC game against the team that’s in position to win the regular-season league title. Florida needs this win because it knows that with Kentucky off to a 0-2 start in the SEC, the conference championship is waiting to be won this weekend. Missouri is perhaps the only team other than Kentucky that can catch Florida over the remainder of the season. If the Gators put their feet down here and thwart the Tigers at home, they’re going to be hard to deal with over the next two months.
Gonzaga Bulldogs @ Butler Bulldogs – Saturday, Jan. 19
This is a monster game for both teams — especially Gonzaga. Both of these teams are nicknamed the Bulldogs, so we’ll call Gonzaga by its informal nickname, the Zags.
Gonzaga lost at home to Illinois earlier this season, so the Zags need to win this game against a marquee opponent if they want to give a substantial boost to their NCAA tournament seeding. Gonzaga cannot expect to get a top-four seed in the tournament unless they win this game. Maybe a No. 4 seed is still in play if Gonzaga loses but the Zags could go no higher than that and would have to win out (following a loss to Butler) just to be in the conversation for a No. 4 seed. Butler is hoping that with a win and a dominant Atlantic 10 season, they could go as high as No. 2 or No. 3 in the March Madness bracket.
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