The final college basketball weekend of 2016 is loaded with quality matchups, including a Big East battle of unbeatens. Here are some of the best games to watch as we ring in the new year.
Five teams head into 2016’s final weekend unbeaten, but that number is guaranteed to shrink by the time the ball drops in Times Square.
A pair of 13-0 teams meet Saturday afternoon in Omaha when No. 1 Villanova and No. 10 Creighton clash in a Big East showdown that could be one of the best games of the young season. Especially at a time when the defending national champions seem vulnerable.
DePaul went in to Philadelphia on Wednesday and gave the Wildcats a scare, as they escaped with a too-close-for-comfort 68-65 win over the Blue Demons. Josh Hart’s 3-pointer in the final minute provided enough of a cushion for Villanova to hang on, adding another clutch moment to a potential All-American season. The star senior finished with 25 points, and he’s averaging 25.8 over his last five games.
The Bluejays, meanwhile, are rolling. They opened conference play with a 14-point win over Seton Hall on Wednesday behind 21 points and 10 assists from Philadelphia native Maurice Watson Jr. His 9.1 assists per game lead the nation, although he totaled nine in two losses to the Wildcats last season.
But that’s not the only intriguing matchup this weekend, as the other three unbeaten teams also are in action.
USC can prove it is for real
Andy Enfield is in his fourth season with the Trojans after leading the Dunk City movement at Florida Gulf Coast and has completely turned around the USC program. He suffered through 11-21 and 12-20 campaigns his first two years before bring USC to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010-11 last season.
The No. 22 Trojans are off to a 14-0 start this year, though they needed overtime to beat Wyoming and struggled to pull away from a very bad Oregon State team in their last two games. Beating Oregon on the road Friday night would prove they’re legitimate Pac-12 contenders.
The Ducks have won 10 in a row with help from standout Dillon Brooks, whose last-second 3-pointer gave them a 89-87 home win over No. 2 UCLA on Wednesday to give the Bruins their first loss of the season. Brooks is fully healthy, and Oregon is looking like the Final Four-caliber team everyone expected with him in the lineup.
The Trojans will be without Bennie Boatwright for at least a couple more weeks, but Elijah Stewart (15 points per game), Jordan McLaughlin (14.4) and Chimezie Metu (13.5) have picked up the slack. It remains to be seen if they can provide enough to knock off the dangerous Ducks.
Loaded final weekend of 2016
USC-Oregon and Villanova-Creighton are two of the highlights, but those aren’t the only must-watch games before ringing in the new year.
No. 4 Baylor at Oklahoma (Friday)
Brooks wasn’t healthy when Baylor stomped Oregon early in the season, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive the Bears were that day and how well they’ve played following that contest. They’ve added wins over Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier since then as part of a 12-0 start. Johnathan Motley is the real deal and is averaging 16 points while shooting 51.2 percent from the field.
No. 20 Florida State at No. 12 Virginia (Saturday)
Virginia made a huge statement Wednesday with a 61-53 victory at No. 6 Louisville to open ACC play while moving to 11-1. The Cavaliers used their trademark defense to stifle the Cardinals, who finished 19 of 44 from the field. Virginia guard Devon Hall was the only player on either team to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points.
Now Virginia is tasked with stopping the 13-1 Seminoles and their trio of standout scorers. Dwayne Bacon is averaging 17.4 points and netted 23 in Wednesday’s win over Wake Forest. Xavier Rathan-Mayes matched Bacon’s total against the Demon Deacons, and freshman big man Jonathan Isaac is shooting 53.3 percent from the floor.
No. 6 Louisville vs. No. 16 Indiana in Indianapolis (Saturday)
This matchup lost a bit of its luster with Louisville’s listless loss to Virginia and the Hoosiers somehow losing at home to Nebraska on Wednesday in their Big Ten opener. Indiana has been wildly inconsistent so far this season with wins over Kansas and North Carolina, and losses to IPFW and the Cornhuskers. A win over the Cardinals would continue that trend.
No. 5 Duke at Virginia Tech (Saturday)
Problem child Grayson Allen will serve the first game of his indefinite suspension coach Mike Krzyzewki levied upon him after purposely tripping a player for the third time in the last two seasons. The Blue Devils haven’t played since the incident occurred against Elon on Dec. 21, and heading into Blacksburg rusty and without their best player could be dangerous.
The Hokies are 11-1 and holding opponents to 67.4 points per game. Coach Buzz Williams also has five double-digit scorers, led by South Florida transfer Zach LeDay at 16.5 points per game. Sophomore guard Ahmed Hill is averaging 20 points while shooting 46.2 percent from 3-point range over his last four games.
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.
Sadly, because of an awful jury duty assignment and the no games over the holidays, this is the first time since the Dec. 8-10 Weekend Primer, so my previous record is from those games.
Here’s a look at what I like this week:
Season record: 9-11
Last post: 3-2
- Wisconsin (1.5) over Marquette (W)
- Gonzaga (-16.5) over Akron (W)
- UCLA (-9) over Michigan (W)
- Colorado (+3) over BYU (L)
- UNLV (+20.5) over Duke (L)
- Baylor (-6) over Oklahoma
- Arizona (+2.5) over California
- Creighton (+1) over Villanova
- Louisville (-2.5) over Indiana
- Virginia (-9) over Florida State