By the end of this week, it will already be February – meaning the stretch run is about to begin in college basketball. This weekend saw several potential bubble teams get statement wins, while the conference contenders are starting to get separation. Monday features two marquee top-25 games, as well as a Big East showdown.
Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.
Best game: No. 18 Duke at No. 20 Pittsburgh (7 p.m., ESPN). The new ACC. Monday will be a proving ground for Pittsburgh, which is still getting very little respect nationally despite an 18-2 record with two losses by a combined six points. Meanwhile, Duke seems to have bounced back from whatever was ailing the Blue Devils at the start of January, winning four in a row – including Saturday's throttling of Florida State. This is the first of two brutal road games for Duke, which travels to Syracuse on Saturday night. Monday will be a contrast of styles. Pittsburgh wants to get to the rim and the offensive glass, finishing in the paint or going to the foul line. Meanwhile, Duke relies heavily on its plethora of perimeter shooters – and the dynamic duo of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. The battle between those two and Lamar Patterson will be fun.
Second-best game: No. 11 Oklahoma State at No. 25 Oklahoma (9 p.m., ESPN). Bedlam. Oklahoma State hasn't won at Oklahoma since 2004, when the Cowboys went 31-4 and reached the Final Four. Could this be the year the drought ends? Marcus Smart struggled over the weekend in a win against West Virginia, but he will be key at both ends on Monday. The Sooners have won three in a row, including two road wins over Baylor and Texas Tech. Jordan Woodard needs to hold his own at the point guard spot. The foul battle will be crucial – both teams get around a quarter of their points from the free-throw line.
Another one to watch: No. 4 Villanova at Georgetown (9 p.m., FOX Sports 1). Georgetown needs this one a lot more than Villanova, but the Hoyas have lost four in a row and are just 3-5 in the Big East. Things could get worse before they better too, as Georgetown faces Michigan State in New York City on Saturday. Two losses this week would drop the Hoyas to 11-10 overall. Villanova bounced back nicely from its 28-point loss to Creighton by going to Marquette and getting an overtime win. If the Hoyas stay out of foul trouble and take care of the ball, they could keep it close.
Three other things to keep an eye on:
- Savannah State sits atop the MEAC right now, but the Tigers are only a half-game up on Norfolk State – and the Spartans were preseason favorites (7 p.m., ESPNU).
- Also in the MEAC, Morgan State and North Carolina Central battle. If things fall right, the winner could be in first place by the end of the night (7:30 p.m.).
- First place is on the line in the SWAC, as 5-1 Alabama State visits 6-1 Southern (9 p.m.).