Viewer's Guide: Villanova, Kansas look to solidify status as favorites

James Bell broke out of his slump with 17 points and eight rebounds over the weekend. (USATSI)
James Bell broke out of his slump with 17 points and eight rebounds over the weekend. (USATSI)

High school basketball gets the day-long treatment on Martin Luther King Day, with four high-profile battles taking place on ESPNU beginning at 11:30 a.m. At night, though, there are a couple of top-25 matchups in the Big East and Big 12 – while North Carolina and Ohio State look for wins.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.

Best game: Creighton at No. 4 Villanova (7 p.m., FOX Sports 1). The two best teams in the Big East do battle – although Creighton is still without guard Grant Gibbs due to injury. The rematch should have Gibbs healthy. On Monday, Creighton will look to bounce back after a weekend loss to Providence – and Villanova is out to prove its No. 4 ranking is for real. How will Villanova deal with Doug McDermott? Jayvaughn Pinkston might be able to body him inside, but it’s the supporting cast that will have to help out McDermott. The bigger concern could be Creighton getting out and guarding Villanova’s perimeter players and shooters.

Second-best game: No. 24 Baylor at No. 8 Kansas (9 p.m., ESPN). Two teams heading in opposite directions right now. Baylor has lost three of four since entering Big 12 play, including a double-digit loss at Texas Tech and a home loss to Oklahoma over the weekend. Meanwhile, Kansas might be starting to develop into the team we all thought they could be at the beginning of the season. The Jayhawks have defeated Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State to start conference play – and I don’t see them losing to Baylor on Monday. The matchup inside between Joel Embiid and Isaiah Austin should be interesting, though.

Another one to watch: North Carolina at Virginia (7 p.m., ESPN). North Carolina finally got its first win of the ACC season on Saturday, beating Boston College – but a road trip to Virginia comes at a bad time. The Cavaliers are rolling since a 35-point loss to Tennessee, starting 4-1 in the ACC with the lone loss coming in the final minute at Duke. Tempo will be a major factor in this one, as UNC wants to get out in transition and get points for Virginia has a chance to set its defense – but the Cavaliers limit fast-break points. Also, will North Carolina be able to get second-chance opportunities?

Guaranteed win: Loyola (Md.) at Boston University (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network). This won’t be a blowout, but it’s a chance to mention Boston University. The Terriers are 5-0 and are the Patriot League favorites heading into the final six weeks of the season. A road trip to American on Wednesday will be a showdown for first place. Maurice Watson and D.J. Irving form a dynamite backcourt tandem.

Potential upset: No. 17 Ohio State at Nebraska (7 p.m., Big Ten Network). This is a longshot, because it’s hard to see Ohio State losing four in a row. But Nebraska has lost just once at home this season, and that was by one to Michigan. The Cornhuskers have to limit LaQuinton Ross offensively, but the more important thing will be finding ways to score. They need to run efficient offense and get to the free-throw line.

Three other things to keep an eye on:

  1. Couple of Big East games to watch: Xavier at DePaul (4 p.m., FOX Sports 1), Marquette at Georgetown (9 p.m., FOX Sports 1).
  2. Delaware might have emerged as the CAA co-favorite with Towson – but a road trip to Drexel (7 p.m.) won’t be easy.
  3. Maryland and North Carolina State both need a win on Monday (9 p.m., ESPN). Can the Terps slow down T.J. Warren?
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