A pair of ACC showdowns highlight college basketball’s weekend slate, but an important matchup in the Pacific Northwest shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Baylor’s No. 1 ranking came pretty much by default. Sure, the Bears were undefeated with some quality wins, but AP Top 25 voters likely felt they had to put them in the top spot after Villanova lost despite knowing they’re not the best team in the nation.
West Virginia proved the doubters correct on Tuesday, forcing (gasp!) 29 turnovers while routing Baylor, 89-68, in Morgantown, dealing the Bears a loss that will make their first-ever reign as the No. 1 team short-lived. Baylor will try to rebound at No. 25 Kansas State on Saturday.
As Baylor sank, Florida State continued to rise. The Seminoles have won 12 in a row since a three-point loss to Temple on a neutral court, including the last three over ranked foes. After stomping Virginia Tech on Saturday, FSU got 21 points from Xavier Rathan-Mayes in an 88-72 home win over No. 7 Duke on Tuesday.
The Seminoles’ fourth consecutive ranked opponent might be its toughest to date, though.
FSU puts its winning streak on the line in one of the best matchups of the weekend when it travels to Chapel Hill to face 11th-ranked North Carolina on Saturday. The Seminoles will need freshman Jonathan Isaac to be a beast down low, and their guards must step up as they’ve done regularly throughout the season. Rathan-Mayes is coming off a big game, and Dwayne Bacon is averaging 20.5 points over his last four.
If you’re hoping for a defensive battle, look elsewhere. The Tar Heels rocked N.C. State, 107-56, on Sunday before surviving a tough 93-87 battle with Wake Forest on Wednesday. Justin Jackson is averaging 21.1 points while draining 45 percent from 3-point range over his last seven games.
Those numbers are much better than Grayson Allen’s since he returned from his one-game suspension – and less controversial, too. Allen has averaged 12 points while shooting 4-of-13 from 3-point range and committing nine turnovers in Duke’s last three games. In the last two contests, Allen appeared to trip – yes, again – Boston College’s Connar Tava and shoved FSU assistant Dennis Gates, although Gates released a statement downplaying the matter.
Who knows what Allen will be up to when the Blue Devils play at No. 14 Louisville on Saturday. Both teams could use a quality victory, as Duke has split its last four and Louisville is just 3-2 since Christmas.
Picture telling your friends that you’re staying in Saturday night to watch No. 5 Gonzaga host No. 21 St. Mary’s at 10 p.m. ET. You might get ridiculed. But after the game is over, you’ll know that if those friends are college basketball fans, they’re the ones who missed out.
The Zags are the last remaining undefeated team in the nation, and the biggest threats to them running the table prior to the NCAA Tournament are two matchups with the Gaels. Gonzaga is on a roll, having won its last eight games by double digits, and moved to 16-0 with a 38-point rout of Loyola Marymount on Thursday. Leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss played fewer than 30 minutes after a 36-point, 11-rebound performance in his previous game against San Francisco.
St. Mary’s has won the last two regular-season matchups, though, and won’t be intimidated by going into The Kennel. The Gaels were more or less written off after a 14-point home loss to Texas-Arlington on Dec. 8, but they’ve won nine straight since to move to 15-1. Calvin Hermanson scored 27 points in Thursday’s 74-33 trouncing of Portland.
Best of the Rest
No. 15 Xavier at No. 12 Butler, Saturday at 2 p.m. ET
Both the Musketeers and Bulldogs will be looking to bounce back from losses to the Big East’s top two teams. Xavier got crushed by 25 at Villanova on Tuesday, and Butler lost by 11 at Creighton the following night.
Butler leading scorer Kelan Martin had only a season-low seven points against the Bluejays in a performance short of his standards. The same goes for Xavier top scorer Trevon Bluiett, who scored 10 points while going 2 of 10 from the field against Villanova.
No. 4 UCLA at Utah, Saturday at 6 p.m. ET
UCLA has won four straight games since losing in the final seconds at Oregon, improving to 17-1 along the way. Bryce Alford went off for 37 points – hitting nine of the Bruins’ school-record 19 3-pointers – in Thursday’s win over Colorado, and star freshman Lonzo Ball ranks second in the nation with 8.0 assists per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the field.
But Utah has won 61 of its last 66 at home and is coming off a 22-point win over No. 25 USC on Thursday at the Huntsman Center. The Utes are 12-4 with a 3-1 start in Pac-12 play thanks to a balanced attack that has six players averaging in double figures.
In this section each week I pick five games against the spread that I’d put smart money on. I then keep a running record throughout the season. These picks will consist of games taking place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Last week was rough. I was close to climbing over the .500 mark, but a couple of pushes screwed up that plan. Here’s a look at what I have this week:
Season record: 13-15-2
Last week: 1-2-2
- Pittsburgh (+4) over Syracuse (L)
- Michigan State (-5) over Penn State (L)
- Notre Dame (-3) over Clemson (W)
- Villanova (-12) over Marquette (PUSH)
- Kentucky (-16) over Arkansas (PUSH)
- Virginia (-2) over Clemson
- Florida State (+7.5) over UNC
- Baylor (-1) over Kansas State
- Maryland (+2) over Illinois
- UCLA (-5) over Utah