College basketball top 25 schedule: Huge ACC showdowns headline games to watch
Keep an eye on Duke-Lousville, Florida State-UNC, plus if Baylor can bounce back
Ready for another resume-defining weekend in college basketball? We're now officially more than halfway through the season, so the separation is starting to take shape. We're getting a clearer vision of teams truly in contention for No. 1 seeds, teams that will be in the tournament but are floating in that Nos. 5-8 seed area right now, and the bubble is getting closer (not there yet!) to forming.
Nothing like a good preview to get you even more eager for the weekend ahead. March is obviously the best time of year, but man do I just love a Saturday in January when I can dig in and watch hoops all day. Plenty out there to see this weekend. Let's jump right in.
1. Duke seems likely to lose another game
You know how college football almost always makes you wait until the SEC game on CBS before Saturdays get really good? College hoops doesn't have this problem. There's usually at least one really good game that starts at noon, just rolling you into a 12-hour hoopsfest. So here we have it. Duke-Louisville is the game that kick-starts your weekend. It's the biggest game on Saturday, and it's a noon tip on ESPN.
No. 7 Duke (14-3) has given no indication that its starting power forward, fifth-year senior Amile Jefferson, will be available to play. Duke is coming off a 16-point loss at Florida State, and remember, it doesn't have Mike Krzyzewski on the sidelines either. The No. 14 Cardinals (14-3) rank as the No. 1 defense in America. U of L not having to deal with Jefferson down low on the defensive end should make things a lot easier. Duke's noticeably hindered without his instinct, presence and leadership around the rim.
Without him, I think Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum will need to collectively shoot better than 50 percent and account for 80 percent of Duke's offense in order to win. I don't think that happens. Louisville 76, Duke 72.
2. ACC owns the weekend
While Duke-Louisville is the headliner, the conference also has Clemson in a desperate situation at home against Virginia (the Tigers just took a loss at Georgia Tech and is on a three-game losing skid); Notre Dame on less than 48 hours worth of rest in a road test against Virginia Tech; Miami on less than 48 hours worth of rest and flying to Pittsburgh to try and keep its NCAA Tournament resume decent-looking (the Hurricanes were beaten at home by ND on Thursday night); and NC State on red alert with a home game against Georgia Tech on Sunday.
But the second-best game? That would be No. 11 North Carolina (15-3) hosting No. 9 Florida State (16-1). I already told you why Florida State is one of the 10 best teams in America. The Duke win went a long way to having the country understand that. If FSU can win at UNC, then things really go up a notch. FSU, which is winning ACC games by an average of 12 points, will enter in as a top-five team in the country, and it will have more respect put on its name than in a very long time. UNC will not have rotation freshman Tony Bradley, who is being held out due to a concussion. This game is a 2 p.m. ET tip on ESPN, so yeah, you'll be locked in between Duke-Ville and FSU-UNC for four hours. Eat an early lunch.
3. Undefeated watch
It's been a staple of our weekend preview posts since early December, but now we're down to just one unbeaten remaining. Thankfully for college hoops fans, No. 5 Gonzaga (16-0) has a real test Saturday. No. 21 Saint Mary's (15-1) is coming to town. The game will be in Spokane, so Gonzaga's a favorite, but Saint Mary's is capable of pulling off the upset.
Do you dare call it?
SMC went on the road against Portland on Thursday night and smeared the Pilots, winning 74-33 (WHAT!) and putting all the more intrigue on this game. Gonzaga, if you're curious, was at home against Loyola-Marymount and waltzed to a 93-55 win. Gonzaga was swept in the regular season by SMC last year; the Gaels won 63-58 at GU. The game tips at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. It's my most anticipated game of the entire day/night. Also, this is really impressive from Gonzaga, because the Bulldogs are blowing almost everyone out.
4. Xavier's moment of proof
The No. 15 Musketeers were ranked in the preseason and haven't fallen out of the Top 25 since. But when you look at the team's resume, it's lacking. It's actually a good sign for the Big East that it has programs able to coast off name brand; it's a testament to the league's still-strong status. The reality with X is the team's best wins have come on a neutral over Clemson (that win's worth is weakening), a home win over Wake Forest (eh) and a road win against Georgetown last weekend (ehhh). So here's a 2 p.m. ET road tilt against No. 12 Butler (on Fox Sports 1), a good opportunity for Xavier to show itself as top-25 quality.
Both teams are coming off losses against the two best teams in the conference. Butler fell at Creighton, Xavier fell at Villanova. This is the 55th meeting between Butler and X; Xavier's won six of the past seven.
5. League races at the top are about to get rattled
In chronological order, here are the teams that need to win their games this weekend in order to remain at the top of their league standings. Notice how many teams are on the road. Some conference standings pages are going to get a shakeup.
- Villanova, 4-1 in the Big East, plays at St. John's on Saturday at noon on Fox Sports 1.
- Florida, 4-0 in the SEC, hosts Georgia on Saturday at noon on ESPN2.
- Richmond, 4-0 in the Atlantic 10, plays at Saint Joseph's on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.
- VCU, 4-0 in the Atlantic 10, plays at Davidson on Saturday at 2 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
- Kansas, 4-0 in the Big 12, hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.
- Florida State, 4-0 in the ACC, plays at UNC on Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
- Notre Dame, 4-0 in the ACC, plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN3.
- Kentucky, 4-0 in the SEC, hosts Auburn on Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN.
- Oregon, 4-0 in the Pac-12, plays at Oregon State on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network.
- Michigan State, 4-1 in the Big Ten, plays at Ohio State on Sunday at 1:30 on CBS.
- Cincinnati, 4-0 in the American, plays at East Carolina on Sunday at 4 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
Note: Arizona and Creighton, both of whom share spots at the top of their leagues, aren't playing intra-conference games this weekend.
6. But here's the most important conference race
The Missouri Valley has a big-time showdown at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. Wichita State and Illinois State are far and away the two best teams in the league, now both 5-0. The Shockers will head to Normal, Ill., to play the Redbirds in what could wind up as the most important game in the Valley this season. Wichita State is 15-3 but has been off the radar most of this year. Illinois State (13-4), who I picked in the preseason to win this year's MVC tournament, is finally rounding into being a top-60 team -- which I also projected back in October.
7. Baylor fraud watch
Yeah, Baylor's not a fraud. How many times do I have to tell ya that? But the reality is, if Baylor can't win at Kansas State on Saturday (4:30 tip on ESPNU), then a lot of people are going to look at a team that got its first-ever No. 1 ranking, promptly dropped two games, and think the Bears are pretenders. Nah. The reality is, WVU is probably one of the five best teams in America (check out why that's a factual statement), and Kansas State is a top-30 KenPom team with a 13-3 record. Losing this game is acceptable. And if it happens, Baylor would be 15-2, a record every single Bears fan would have taken in the preseason -- and still a record not one person on earth outside of Waco thought was possible seven weeks ago.
8. The team that finally gets to go home
Saturday, on Jan. 14, Texas Southern will play its first home game of the season when Grambling State comes to town. TSU is the last team in the country to have a home game. The Tigers are 7-9 and have played nothing but road games so far this season because they fund their athletic programs by going on the road and taking on any program that will pay them tens of thousands of dollars. Also, they're by far the best team in the SWAC. Now at 3-0, with three SWAC road games already done, KenPom projects TSU at having a 13-percent chance of finishing conference season undefeated. If you're unaware, Texas Southern is coached by one-time Indiana and UAB head man Mike Davis.
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