<
>

From Kentucky's ceiling to three-way battle for Big 12 dominance, what to watch this weekend

play
Could this be John Calipari's final year at Kentucky? (2:30)

Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser discuss if John Calipari and Kentucky should part ways. (2:30)

Every year, men's college basketball waits for its turn to enter the public consciousness after college football ends. Now it's here again. The 2022-23 conference season is already hectic. And college basketball's best action will unfold in the weeks ahead as we head toward the conference and NCAA tournaments.

This weekend's slate of games features key matchups that could affect NCAA tournament seedings, conference championship races and the futures of a few top coaches. Here's what to watch, and why.

The main event

Kentucky (10-6, 1-3 SEC) at No. 5 Tennessee (14-2, 4-0 SEC) could hasten John Calipari's divorce from the school
Noon ET, Saturday, ESPN

Waldo wasn't this lost. During Tuesday's 71-68 home loss to South Carolina -- the same South Carolina team that lost to George Washington by 24 points earlier this season -- a Kentucky fan was removed after he displayed a "Please Go to Texas" sign aimed at John Calipari. The quick response from the building's security staff was the most aggressive defense Rupp Arena had seen in weeks.

Right now, Kentucky is not a lock to make the NCAA tournament, although it will get multiple opportunities to secure quality wins at home in the weeks ahead. But the rift between Calipari and the fan base is growing. With the opening at Texas and reports the Longhorns have interest, maybe he'll walk.

Saturday's game is another test of Kentucky's ceiling. Injuries to Cason Wallace and Jacob Toppin have been a concern for a program that faces a Tennessee team with Final Four potential. This is a bad rebound matchup for Kentucky. Opponents have realized Wooden Award winner Oscar Tshiebwe struggles defensively in pick-and-roll situations. Opposing teams have made 56% of their shots on pick-and-pop scenarios when Tshiebwe has guarded the shooter, per Synergy Sports data. The Vols, led by Santiago Vescovi (12.9 PPG, 2.2 SPG), are ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. This could be a blowout and another sign that Calipari's best years at Kentucky -- despite the upcoming arrival of D.J. Wagner and a top-ranked recruiting class -- are behind him.

Prediction: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 63


Three others to watch

Jerome Tang's rise continues with No. 11 Kansas State (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) at No. 17 TCU (13-3, 2-2 Big 12)
2 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN2

Last season, Kansas State won 14 games overall. This season, Kansas State has won 16, with a nine-game winning streak that includes four victories against top-30 teams on KenPom. Tang has already changed the culture at Kansas State halfway through his first season as head coach. Markquis Nowell is averaging 27.7 PPG and 10.0 APG in Big 12 play. Those aren't typos. A road win over a TCU squad that has surrendered a 54% clip inside the arc thus far in league play would guarantee Tang's team a slice of the Big 12 lead entering next week, and give his campaign for conference and national coach of the year honors another boost.

Prediction: Kansas State 73, TCU 70


No. 14 Iowa State (13-2, 4-0 Big 12) aims to take the Big 12 lead at No. 2 Kansas (15-1, 4-0 Big 12)
4 p.m. ET, Saturday, Big 12/ESPN+

When Tyrese Hunter left for Texas after winning Big 12 freshman of the year honors last year, Iowa State faced questions about its future. Then T.J. Otzelberger added transfers Osun Osunniyi (8.1 PPG) and Jaren Holmes (13.1 PPG, 37% from the 3-point line) from St. Bonaventure to team with returning veterans Gabe Kalscheur (11.8 PPG) and Caleb Grill (11.1 PPG). Kansas, however, is chasing another national title. With Jalen Wilson and freshman star Gradey Dick on the floor together this season, the Jayhawks have shot 43% from beyond the arc and 52% from inside, per hooplens.com. The winner of this game is guaranteed a share of first place in a strong league entering next week.

Prediction: Kansas 75, Iowa State 70


No. 25 Marquette (14-4, 6-1 Big East) at No. 12 Xavier (14-3, 6-0 Big East) is a key matchup in the Big East title race
12 p.m. ET, Sunday, FOX

After losing key players from last season, the Golden Eagles were picked to finish ninth in the Big East in the preseason. But second-year head coach Shaka Smart had other plans. Kam Jones (16.1 PPG) is having a breakout sophomore season, and Marquette led the nation with a 60.1% clip inside the arc. Sean Miller's Musketeers are top 10 nationally in 3-point percentage (41%). With the veterans who returned from last season's NIT championship squad and UTEP transfer Souley Boum (17.7 PPG), Xavier -- tied with Providence for first place in the Big East -- has manufactured a 10-game winning streak.

Prediction: Xavier 86, Marquette 83