After suffering through some of the lackluster pairings of December, we're set to enter the first stacked weekend of the conference slate in college basketball.
Some of the top teams in the country must get through true road tests in hostile venues. In all, nine top-25 teams, including top-10 Florida State and Nevada, are on the road Saturday or Sunday.
These early trials might not seem pivotal now, but the results of this weekend's contests could shape the final hierarchy in contested league races.
No. 5 Kansas at Iowa State (5 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2)
Ames, Iowa, is home to a hidden gem of a BBQ joint named Hickory Park and one of the most overlooked environments in college basketball. Kansas knows what it's walking into on Saturday evening.
The Jayhawks lost to Iowa State once each season (twice on the road) between 2014-15 and 2016-17. Hilton Coliseum will be on fire for this matchup against Kansas, which is not only a chance for Iowa State to pick up a signature win after battling through injuries throughout the nonconference season but also an opportunity to make an early statement in the Big 12 title race that Kansas has owned for more than a decade.
Lindell Wigginton (15.0 points per game) has played only three games this season for the Cyclones, but his team has averaged 1.20 points per possession with him on the floor, per HoopLens.com. It's a team full of big wings who don't really have positions.
But Udoka Azubuike's return from an ankle injury has rejuvenated a Kansas team that has two Wooden Award contenders in Lagerald Vick and Dedric Lawson. Bill Self is coaching one of his most versatile teams. But he's also facing one of the most versatile teams in the Big 12.
Clemson at No. 1 Duke (8 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)
Jones is the player opposing coaches fear. He's averaging 2.0 steals per game. The leader of a defense ranked third in the nation by KenPom.com also has helped the Blue Devils force turnovers on nearly a quarter of their possessions. That's ridiculous.
Also ridiculous? A Clemson team that once looked like a sleeper to make a deep run in March can't stop committing turnovers. During its current four-game winning streak (Radford, Charleston Southern, South Carolina, Lipscomb), the Tigers have committed 75 turnovers. And now they're facing perhaps the best on-ball defender in America.
No. 8 Michigan State at No. 14 Ohio State (12 p.m. ET Saturday, Fox)
Two years ago, Ohio State fired Thad Matta and hired Chris Holtmann in the middle of the summer. It was an odd move, based on the timing, but athletic director Gene Smith clearly made the right hire. All Holtmann has done with the opportunity is lead Ohio State to the NCAA tournament in his first season with the team, help Keita Bates-Diop become Big Ten Player of the Year, and position his current squad to chase a Big Ten title and earn another at-large berth.
Kaleb Wesson (16.5 PPG) is Ohio State's offensive leader, but the Buckeyes don't have a superstar. They're just tough and relentless.
Michigan State has a similar profile. For the first time in years, Tom Izzo doesn't have a first-round pick on his roster. But Cassius Winston (17.1 PPG, 7.8 assists per game, 46 percent from beyond the arc) has recorded All-American numbers for a Michigan State squad that is connecting on 41 percent of its 3-point attempts while holding opponents to a 39.3 percent clip inside the arc.
Huge Big Ten matchup here.
No. 21 Indiana at No. 2 Michigan (4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)
Some of the national buzz around Romeo Langford disappeared after he went 3-for-15 and scored 13 points in a 21-point loss at Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Since then, however, the five-star recruit has averaged 18.8 PPG (70 percent inside the arc) in the past seven games and led his team to top-50ish wins over Northwestern, Penn State, Butler and Louisville.
But Michigan has the same impressive balance as Duke. The undefeated Wolverines have surrendered more than 60 points in just four games this season. Ignas Brazdeikis leads a trio of players who are all connecting on at least 43 percent of their 3-point attempts.
We'll see how much progress Indiana has made since the lopsided loss to Duke when the Hoosiers travel to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines.
No. 9 Florida State at No. 4 Virginia (3 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2)
All three players have made more than 40 percent of their 3-pointers this season.
We all know Virginia is a perennial defensive tyrant. This season's numbers are, as expected, stunning.
Per Synergy Sports, Virginia's opponents have scored 69 points per 100 possessions against its half-court defense, a mark in the 100th percentile. Also, teams get to the free throw line only once every 10 trips up the floor against the Cavaliers.
So the Cavs have a suffocating defense. They have three of the nation's most efficient offensive players. And they don't foul often.
It's a quagmire for any team.
But Leonard Hamilton has a rare 2-1 record against Virginia in the past three seasons. In last season's game, Florida State made 48 percent of its shots in the first half before succumbing to Virginia's scheme after the break.
But Terance Mann (13.1 PPG, 44 percent from beyond the arc) and a strong Seminoles team might finish what they started this time.
Kansas State at No. 11 Texas Tech (2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU)
It's not easy being Chris Beard's squad. The Red Raiders left Morgantown on Wednesday with their first-ever road win over West Virginia, a tight game through the final minutes.
Now, they go back home only to face a Kansas State team that is missing star Dean Wade (foot injury) but is still playing top-five defense. But the Wildcats can't score. See their 47-46 loss to Tulsa as proof.
And the Red Raiders have Jarrett Culver (19.5 PPG, 5.6 rebounds per game, 4.2 APG, 45 percent from the 3-point line). That helps too.
No. 6 Nevada at New Mexico (8 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU)
This should scare everyone in the Mountain West:
Nevada finished 7-for-29 from beyond the arc and committed 16 turnovers on Wednesday against Utah State, arguably the No. 2 team in the league, and still won by 23 points.
The Wolf Pack will attempt to preserve their unblemished record at The Pit, one of the most intimidating venues in the country, on Saturday night.