Starting five: Baylor’s visit to Texas Tech among top games of college basketball weekend

We’re a long way from normal in the sporting world, but at least we still have sports to talk about. The men’s college basketball season has proceeded in fits and starts, not unlike the just-concluded football campaign. But we’ve already been treated to some surprising results, elite performances and fantastic finishes.

With conference play well underway, there are a number of compelling matchups worthy of attention this weekend. Keep in mind, of course, that games could be called off at a moment’s notice if COVID-19 tests come back positive.

USA TODAY Sports' Eddie Timanus ranks the five best men’s college basketball games to watch this weekend in the race toward March Madness.

No. 2 Baylor at No. 15 Texas Tech

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Red Raiders are riding high after Wednesday night’s thrilling road upset of fourth-ranked Texas. They return home looking for another top-five win against the undefeated Bears. Baylor had its midweek game against West Virginia postponed and figures to be the fresher team. Texas Tech had to expend a lot of energy coming from behind to set up Mac McClung’s late game-winner against the Longhorns. The Bears’ deep slate of scoring options, led by Jared Butler, could pose an even bigger challenge.

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No. 5 Michigan at No. 19 Minnesota

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2

The Big Ten has emerged as the deepest conference, but the Wolverines have moved to the head of the field. They’ll try to keep their dominant start going against the Golden Gophers, who have looked very good in some quality wins, most notably against Iowa, but extremely overmatched in some decisive losses. One of those setbacks happened to be a 25-point drubbing by Michigan on Jan. 6 in Ann Arbor, though Minnesota has yet to lose in Williams Arena. The Gophers will need to find an answer for the Wolverines’ sensational freshman Hunter Dickinson to keep that streak going.

Virginia's Justin McKoy looks for a shot as Notre Dame's Juwan Durham defends. (Photo: The Associated Press)

No. 22 Virginia at No. 12 Clemson

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cavaliers, who can still claim the title of most recent NCAA champions, have for the most part won the games they were supposed to and are off to a 4-0 start in the ACC. Clemson will be taking the court for the first time in 11 days, but the Tigers already have exceeded expectations. An early victory against Alabama has gained value, and their lone defeat came at Virginia Tech, another surprise team in the league. A major reason for Clemson’s early success has been the emergence of Nick Honor as a reliable three-point threat to complement the inside game of Aamir Simms. U.Va. also has shot the three ball well of late, with even big man Jay Huff stepping out to the arc on occasion.

Ohio State at No. 14 Illinois

Saturday, noon ET, Fox

As mentioned, the Big Ten is deep. So the Starting Five will double dip in the conference as the Fighting Illini return to action against the Buckeyes, who are just outside the Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll top 25 looking to get back in. OSU got back above the .500 mark in conference play with a solid win against Northwestern on Wednesday, avenging an earlier one-point loss to the Wildcats, thanks to a 23-point effort from top scorer Duane Washington Jr. Illinois, which had its midweek trip to Nebraska postponed, is coming off a puzzling home loss to Maryland last Sunday in which getting the ball to ultra-efficient postman Kofi Cockburn in the second half proved difficult.

No. 1 Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN

Gonzaga hasn’t been challenged much in the West Coast Conference this century. But the Gaels have enjoyed some success against the top dogs, most recently in the title game of the 2019 WCC tournament. This year’s version of the Bulldogs, however, has looked all but unbeatable with top-level recruit Jalen Suggs joining seasoned veterans Corey Kispert and Drew Timme. But the Gaels have a balanced lineup as well, featuring senior floor leader Tommy Kuhse and junior big man Matthias Tass.

Follow USA TODAY Sports colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus

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