The concept of momentum in sports is nebulous. It is often more fanciful than tangible, and it is often fleeting.
That has never been more true than in the current men’s college basketball season, in which a winning streak can be derailed by a couple of positive COVID-19 tests just as easily as by a poor offensive display.
So with just over a month to go in the regular season and with momentum as elusive as ever, there are plenty of teams heading into this weekend hoping to maintain an upward trajectory or in need of a reversal of fortune.
USA TODAY Sports' Eddie Timanus tracks some of those teams in this weekend’s Starting Five — the top five matchups to watch:
No. 2 Baylor at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS
Nothing has yet slowed the Bears, who took down a second ranked opponent in a three-day stretch with Monday’s win against Kansas thanks to another standout performance from Jared Butler. But Oklahoma State has a star of its own in Cade Cunningham (18.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg), who hopes to at least give Baylor a push. The Cowboys picked up a win against Kansas in their most recent outing but had to go on pause this week. They’re on track to take the court as scheduled Saturday, but facing the Bears with reduced preparation time could prove problematic.
Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham will be the focus of the Bears' defense. (Photo: Rob Ferguson, USA TODAY Sports)
No. 19 Missouri at No. 6 Tennessee
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
The Volunteers, on the other hand, are in need of a reboot. Tennessee shot a woeful 29 percent Tuesday night in a 75-49 setback at short-handed Florida. UT did pick up a 20-point road win in its Dec. 30 meeting with Mizzou, but the Tigers have won three of four since then thanks to effective interior play from Jeremiah Tillmon.
No. 18 Ohio State at No. 10 Wisconsin
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS
Establishing any kind of a roll has proven extremely difficult in the crowded Big Ten. The Buckeyes rode a solid win against Illinois back into the Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll, only to be upended at home by a suddenly hot Purdue team. The Badgers have won their last two after a rough encounter with league leader Michigan. OSU’s team defense will have to be sound against the balanced Badgers, but Wisconsin’s veteran floor leader D’Mitrik Trice is hard to rattle.
Georgia Tech at No. 12 Virginia
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network
The Yellow Jackets had been out of action since Jan. 3 but looked sharper than ever in Wednesday night’s demolition of Clemson. They’ll now learn if they are in fact ready to challenge the ACC’s upper tier in this visit to Charlottesville. The Cavaliers have rounded into form while surging to the top of the standings, though their midweek postponement of their meeting with N.C. State could disrupt their rhythm. Both teams enter this matchup on a three-point hot streak, but Virginia’s overall defensive efficiency will be a major challenge for Georgia Tech.
Providence at No. 3 Villanova
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Providence snapped a three-game skid Wednesday with a much-needed win at No. 11 Creighton. Now back to .500 in the Big East, the Friars have a shot at another huge resume boost this weekend. The Wildcats, meanwhile, finally got back on the court Tuesday after nearly a month and needed a bit of good fortune in the closing seconds to outlast Seton Hall. The Friars’ inside-outside combo of Nate Watson and David Duke will need support from other sources to keep pace with Villanova’s multiple scoring options, but the Wildcats’ defense in the paint can be suspect at times.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus
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