- Several teams will have the opportunity to boost their resumés in a weekend slate that features a matchup between No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 12 North Carolina.
It’s a relatively light week in the weekend preview, the calm before the storm of the holidays and conference play. Still, there’s wall-to-wall action on Saturday, bookended by a couple of top-25 showdowns in which two of the top-four teams in the country will take the court. Plus, we get a matchup between mid-major powerhouse Nevada and a team that scored 139 points—139 points!—in its last game. Sure, it’s a relatively light week in this space, but there’s never a dull weekend in the college hoops world.
No. 17 Villanova at No. 1 Kansas
Saturday, noon, ESPN
The weekend kicks off with a marquee matchup, though it’s fair to question if this game has lost some of its luster since the schedules were revealed. Villanova has lost three games, including to Furman and Penn, the latter of which took place earlier this week. Kansas has lived up to its end of the bargain, winning its first eight games to start the season, including impressive victories over Michigan State, Marquette and Tennessee. Even with Udoka Azubuike out with an ankle injury, Kansas's frontcourt is a handful thanks to the ascension of Dedric Lawson, and Lagerald Vick has done his part and then some to take the perimeter mantle from Devonte’ Graham, who took it from Frank Mason, and so on, and so on. If Villanova is going to have any chance at pulling the upset, it will have to execute in the half court better than it has all year—especially considering that Bill Self has shifted to a zone-first team this season—and get big games from both Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.
Kansas 79, Villanova 66
Purdue vs. Notre Dame (in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
Saturday, 1:30 pm, CBS
The opener of this year’s Crossroads Classic features a couple of brand names who have been powerhouses in recent years, both desperate for a win. Purdue entered this season seemingly toward the top of a talented, crowded Big Ten field, but it has lost four of its last six games. Notre Dame, on the other hand, was always going to be retooling on the fly this year, but losses to Oklahoma and UCLA in its last two games have it still looking for its first resumé-building victory of the season. Unlike most previous Mike Brey teams in South Bend, this season’s Irish just don’t have an offensive identity. They shoot it poorly from behind the arc (258th in the country) and poorly from inside the arc (233rd in the country). They protect the ball and can get after the offensive glass, but that doesn’t matter much when your shots don’t fall. As for the Boilermakers, they simply aren’t getting enough from players not named Carsen Edwards. We knew the losses of Vince Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias and Isaac Haas would hurt, but it was hard to see this extreme of a downturn coming. It’s just the middle of December, but this is a monster game for both teams.
Purdue 74, Notre Dame 65
NC State vs. Penn State (in Atlantic City)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU
The inaugural Boardwalk Classic takes place in Atlantic City on Saturday, and three of the four games are part of our weekend preview. The first of those, and second of the day, is this one, with a couple of sneaky-good teams from power conferences meeting in what could end up as a big, resumé-building win for either squad. NC State still has just one loss on the year, and that was at Wisconsin by four points. Penn State has lost four times, but they played both Maryland and Indiana close, leading Maryland in College Park with 10 minutes left in the game, and losing to the Hoosiers by two at home. Lamar Stevens essentially doesn’t leave the floor for the Nittany Lions, playing more than 90% of the team’s minutes thus far this season, and that’s good news because he’ll be tasked with slowing down Torin Dorn. This game is a clash in styles, with the Wolfpack wanting to push the pace and make it a track meet, while Penn State will want to slow things down and force both teams to operate in the half court. We’ll take our chances with a team that can speed things up.
NC State 75, Penn State 66
No. 25 Indiana vs. Butler (in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
Saturday, 3:45 p.m., CBS
Indiana and Butler wrap up this year’s Crossroads Classic in what’s essentially a home game for both teams. Butler, of course, is in Indianapolis, but no neutral floor in the state of Indiana is a true road game for the Hoosiers. They’re starting to round into form, with three straight wins over Northwestern, Penn State and Louisville. Remember, too, that they beat Marquette before Thanksgiving, a win that looks even better now than it did then. It’s a rebuilding year for Butler, but in what’s expected to be a down season for the Big East, the Bulldogs have enough firepower and veteran know-how, led by Kamar Baldwin, to cobble together a resumé that gets them into the big dance. Speaking of Baldwin, he may be just 6’1”, but he’s an elite on-ball defender, and Butler is one of the smaller teams in the country. Don’t be surprised if he draws primary duty on the 6’6” Romeo Langford.
Indiana 74, Butler 67
Temple vs. Davidson
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN3
This might not seem like a game befitting the weekend preview, but these two teams could end up on the bubble in three months, and it’s never too early to start talking bubble. If these teams indeed end up on the fringes of the tournament picture, they’ll look back on this meeting as a big game for one major reason: Neither is going to get a ton of chances in conference play to build a resumé, especially Davidson. Temple will at least have the benefit of playing Cincinnati and Houston in the AAC, but Davidson will have to romp through a down Atlantic 10 if it’s going to get an at-large berth this year. One good way to add to that is to pick up a big non-conference win. Be sure to keep an eye on Davidson’s Jon Axel Gudmundsson, who’s averaging 19.6 points per game and shooting 43.8% from distance.
Davidson 75, Temple 73
No. 4 Gonzaga at No. 12 North Carolina
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
The game of the weekend takes place in Chapel Hill, which is a pretty great setting for a game of the weekend. This is a big game for the Tar Heels, given that, to this point of the season, they haven’t really flashed the Final Four contender chops most thought they had entering the year. They lost to Texas on a neutral floor and got trounced by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their best win of the season came against UCLA, and their only other win over a top-100 kenpom.com team was over Wofford in the season-opener. There would, of course, be no shame in losing to Gonzaga, but the Tar Heels are going to have to step up and beat a legitimate contender at some point, and it’d be nice if it happened before the ACC season began. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are coming off their first loss of the season, a 76–73 battle with No. 3 Tennessee. Expect plenty of scoring and quick pace in this game that features two of the fastest-moving offenses in the country
Gonzaga 85, North Carolina 83
No. 13 Virginia Tech vs. Washington (in Atlantic City)
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU
The nightcap in Atlantic City features two more power conference teams, one of which could use a big non-conference win. That would be Washington, which nearly got one against Gonzaga last week. The Huskies don’t face any other high-profile teams before Pac-12 play begins, so if they’re going to get a meaningful victory before the conference season opens, it will have to be on Saturday. The Hokies have mostly taken care of business thus far, outside of a speed bump at Penn State, and they counteracted that with a neutral-floor win over Purdue. The three-headed monster of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill has led the Hokies to the sixth-best offensive efficiency rating on kenpom.com, setting them up to be a real contender in the ACC. No team can get through Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State and Syracuse—not to mention NC State, Louisville and Clemson—without being able to score the basketball and, every so often, score at will. Virginia Tech can do that, which Washington will learn on Saturday.
Virginia Tech 82, Washington 71
Cincinnati at No. 18 Mississippi State
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., SEC Network
This game is flying a bit under the radar, but should be one of the most competitive of the weekend. These two teams know exactly what they are, and while it may not produce as pretty a result as Gonzaga-UNC, it will be every bit as compelling. While neither the Bearcats nor Bulldogs blow you away with scoring ability, both teams are experts at getting extra possessions. The Bearcats are 11th in the country in offensive rebounding rate, while the Bulldogs are 22nd. The former also rarely give away a possession, ranking 19th in the country in turnover rate. The Bulldogs have a bit more individual scoring punch with Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters, and that could ultimately be the difference.
Mississippi State 64, Cincinnati 60
South Dakota State at No. 7 Nevada
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN3
South Dakota State is coming off a game in which it scored 139 points, put up 1.53 points per possession and made 23 of 34 three-point attempts. Senior Mike Daum, who could easily play his way into the NBA, had a double double in the first half, went 4 for 5 from behind the arc, and finished the night with 37 points and 17 rebounds. Now, the Jackrabbits, Summit League favorites who hung with Ohio State in the first round of last year’s tournament, head to Nevada to take on the undefeated Wolf Pack. Making sure you’re ready for games like this is what the weekend preview is all about. Daum’s going to have to be at his best again if South Dakota State is going to hang with Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline, arguably the best triumvirate of scorers in the country. One of the last things any team wants to bring into a matchup with Nevada is a defense allowing 103.8 points per 100 possessions. Daum may not be up to this task, but it will be fun to watch.
Nevada 90, South Dakota State 75
Saint Louis at No. 24 Houston
Sunday, 3 p.m., ESPNU
Houston is one of nine remaining unbeaten teams in the country, and will put its unblemished record on the line against a Saint Louis team that has already had a few ups and downs just six weeks into the season. The Billikens have lost games to Pittsburgh and Southern Illinois, but also own wins over Seton Hall and Butler. Maybe they should put in for a transfer to the Big East? The problem for them, especially against a team like Houston, is that they are all defense and no offense, and that’s not a great formula for beating any good team, much less one that is comfortable playing at a slow tempo like the Cougars. The Billikens also could be without Tramaine Isabell, who missed their last game with a leg injury. The Cougars should take care of business in this one, but it’s a good game to keep an eye on just in case things start to go sideways.
Houston 68, Saint Louis 58