As the calendar page flips to February, there is about a month to go in the college basketball regular season. Here’s a preview of four games to watch this weekend.
St. John’s (16-5, 3-3 Away) vs. 2 Duke (18-2, 10-1 Home)
The rebuild at St. John’s has been a slow process for head coach Chris Mullin, but the turnaround is yielding its best results in year four.
After winning just eight games in Mullin’s first season in 2015-2016, St. John’s has improved each year since. The Red Storm won 14 games in Mullin’s second year and 16 in year three. This year the Johnnies have already racked up 16 victories with a month left in the regular season.
St. John’s faces a tough test this weekend when it travels to Cameron Indoor to meet second-ranked Duke. Still, the Red Storm are a handful defensively: averaging 82 points per game with five players in double figures. Shamorie Ponds leads the team with almost 21 points per game on 49% shooting.
Prediction: This should be a fun game to watch. Both teams have NBA talent and can score at a high level. But Duke is the deeper roster and is playing at home, so take the Blue Devils to win this one.
12 Virginia Tech (17-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. 23 North Carolina State (16-5, 4-4 ACC)
In one of two ACC showdowns featuring two ranked teams, the Virginia Tech Hokies visit the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
NC State played arguably its best game of the season Tuesday against Virginia and still came away with a one point overtime loss.
The Wolfpack held Virginia, one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams, to just 40% from beyond the arc. NC State also limited Virginia’s best player Kyle Guy to only 10 points.
Kevin Keatts’ club will need another strong defensive performance Saturday to upset Virginia Tech. The Hokies, like Virginia, are a veteran team that shoots the ball at a high percentage, 42.6% on the season.
Prediction: In a bit of a surprise, NC State should pull of the upset. The Wolfpack are tough to beat at home, and after Tuesday’s loss they will be hungry for another chance to knock off a ranked team.
9 North Carolina (16-4, 6-1 ACC) vs. 15 Louisville (16-5, 7-1 ACC)
In the second ACC game between a pair of teams in the top 25, Louisville hosts North Carolina.
First year Cardinals head coach Chris Mack has done a great job getting his team to 15th in the polls at this point in the season. Mack established himself as an elite coach at Xavier. In nine seasons with the Musketeers, Mack made the Sweet Sixteen three times and the Elite Eight once. This year with Louisville, Mack has put the focus back on basketball after the off the court scandals and FBI investigation that dogged the final years of Rick Pitino’s tenure.
The Cardinals have won six straight games, including a 19-point victory at North Carolina to start the streak. In that first matchup, North Carolina’s Houdini-like freshman Nassir Little scored just six points in 19 minutes played. Little has since posted double digits in three of the Tar Heels four games, including 23 points last week against Virginia Tech.
Prediction: I expect Little to continue his improved scoring pace. After Louisville handed UNC its worst loss of the Roy Williams era in their first meeting, the Tar Heels will be ready to serve up revenge.
16 Texas Tech (17-4, 5-3 Big 12) vs. 11 Kansas (16-5, 5-3 Big 12)
Texas Tech had struggled in the middle part of Big 12 play, losing three straight games.
A 19-point win over TCU at home this week should get the Red Raiders back on track in time for a visit to Kansas this weekend.
Tech is an elite defensive team, allowing just 56.8 points per game. Guard Jarrett Culver, who has a bright future at the next level, is averaging 18.5 points on 51.8% shooting from the field.
We’re accustomed to seeing Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings at this point in the season, but the Jayhawks are currently tied with Texas Tech and Iowa State at 5-3 with two teams ahead of them at 5-2.
Could this finally be the year Kansas’ unprecedented streak of 14 straight conference titles comes to an end? Until it happens, I would not bet on it. But there is no question this team is vulnerable.
The Jayhawks have lost three of their last five, including a 10-point loss to Texas on Tuesday, where they were thoroughly outplayed.
What’s missing in this Kansas team is an unquestioned veteran leader, a guy like Perry Ellis or Frank Mason who can led the Jayhawks to deep NCAA Tournament runs.
Prediction: They say defense travels. So I’m taking Texas Tech, who travel to Lawrence, Kansas, to deliver the upset over the Jayhawks.
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.