Saturday marks the third weekend of conference play, but it’s really the first weekend of the season with marquee league games.
4 UVA (16-0, 4-0 ACC) vs. 1 Duke (14-2, 3-1 ACC)
The matchup between the Virginia Cavaliers and Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina is the biggest of the five games to watch this weekend.
The Blue Devils are coming off a 95-91 home loss in overtime to Syracuse Monday night.
But the biggest loss Duke suffered in Monday’s game didn’t happen when the clock struck zero; it took place with less than six minutes played in the first half, when guard Tre Jones injured his shoulder diving for a loose ball. The Blue Devils were up eight when Jones left the game. The Orange managed to cut the deficit to one at halftime, before winning the game in over time.
Jones may not be the scorer or star that Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett are, but his absence was felt in a big way earlier this week. Jones is probably Duke’s best defensive player and Coach K likes to pressure the ball coming up the court on defense. With Jones sitting out against Virginia, Duke’s ability to pressure the ball will be greatly impacted and more than likely affect the final score in this weekend’s game.
Virginia is one of the best shooting teams in the country. The Cavaliers shot 54% from beyond the arc in a 22 point win over Virginia Tech earlier this week and they’re hitting the long ball at a 40% clip for the season.
If Duke is unable to pressure the ball and Virginia finds easy looks from the outside, The Blue Devils could be headed for their second straight home loss.
Prediction: While the Jones injury will hurt Duke, the Blue Devils have the benefit of star power and home court advantage in this game. Williamson and Barrett will need to combine for 45 to 50 of their team’s points. I think Duke wins a tight one late.
2 Michigan (17-0, 6-0 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten)
The Michigan Wolverines picked up right where they left off after last year’s run to the national championship. John Beilein’s club is off to the best start in school history at 17-0.
6’ 7” Ignas Brazdeikis is filling the void left by Mo Wagner’s exit to the NBA. Brazdeikis is averaging more than 15 points per game and better than 5 rebounds this season.
Two other players are averaging double figures for Michigan: Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
While the Wolverines are not a great 3 point shooting team, averaging just 36 percent on the year, their combination of inside size and veteran guard play makes them a tough matchup.
Meanwhile, The Wisconsin Badgers face yet another tough game against a ranked opponent. Three of Wisconsin’s six losses have come at the hands of top 25 teams, including fourth ranked Virginia and number 19 Maryland (their last game). But the Badgers, led by the ageless Ethan Happ, averaging 19 points a game and shooting 57%, have been competitive in every loss.
Prediction: I expect Saturday’s game to be another close loss to a ranked opponent for Wisconsin. The Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin is one of the toughest place to play in college basketball. Happ will keep the Badgers in the game, but in the end I like Michigan’s combination of size and experience.
Alabama (11-5, 2-2 SEC) vs. 3 Tennessee (15-1, 4-0 SEC)
Switching gears from the number two team in the country to the nation’s third-ranked squad, the Tennessee Volunteers.
So far in conference play, the Vols have run roughshod over the rest of the SEC. Rick Barnes’ club features two of the best players in the entire country, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Williams averages nearly 19 points and 8 rebounds per game, while Schofield is second on the team with almost 18 points and more than 6 rebounds a contest.
Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide also features a dynamic duo. Kira Lewis Jr. leads the team in scoring at 14 points per game and 45% shooting. Donta Hall leads the team with just under nine rebounds a game.
Prediction: In what promises to be a high-scoring and fast-paced game, Alabama averages of 76 points a game and Tennessee totals about 87, Williams and Schofield will be too much for a young Alabama team to handle.
12 Kentucky (13-3, 3-1 SEC) vs. 14 Auburn (13-3, 2-1 SEC)
In the only other matchup featuring two ranked teams, Auburn hosts Kentucky.
Bruce Pearl has done a remarkable job turning football school Auburn into a basketball power the last two seasons. Saturday’s showdown with blue blood Kentucky is where the Tigers will have to prove just how far they’ve come.
On the other side, John Calipari’s Wildcats have followed a similar script this season as Cal’s past teams. A young and inexperienced squad struggles to find a rhythm in November and December, before rounding into form in conference play, ahead of a March tournament run.
Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson, 14 points and 5 rebounds a game, and Auburn’s Bryce Brown, 16 points a game, are two of the best guards no one is talking about.
Prediction: The battle between the Wildcats and Tigers should be another high-scoring affair, both teams put up more than 80 points a game. Auburn is slightly better on the defensive end, and I like the Tigers experience. Brown is a senior, while Johnson is a freshman. It’s a lot to ask a freshman point guard to win a game on the road, that’s why I’m taking Auburn to win.
8 Texas Tech (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) vs. Baylor (10-6, 2-2 Big 12)
Texas Tech is coming off its first conference loss of the season earlier this week to Iowa State by 4.
Now the Red Raiders have to travel to Waco, Texas to face a Baylor team that’s been a tough out at home. Baylor beat Iowa State, the team Texas Tech just loss to, by 3 about a week ago.
Tech guard Jarrett Culver has been Mr. Do Everything for Chris Beard’s club this year. Culver averages 18 point per game, but there’s a steep drop off in scoring after Culver. Only one other Tech player averages in double digits: Matt Mooney at 11 points a game.
Texas Tech also struggles to shoot the ball from the outside, average just 34% from beyond the arc this season.
Meanwhile, Baylor is limited offensively. The Bears leading scorer Tristan Clark averages 14 points per game. As a team, Baylor shoots at just a 43% clip.
Prediction: If Baylor’s going to pull off the upset, the Bears will have to do it with defense and rebounding. But I don’t see Scott Drew’s squad keeping up with Texas Tech’s pace. The Red Raiders right the ship after the loss to Iowa State, beating Baylor by double digits.
Graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism. Fan of all sports and a long-suffering Jets fan who will defend Sam Darnold at all times. Also, an above average golfer.