Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:
Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.
Game of the Day: No. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky
The biggest boost for Louisville Saturday is the news that center Gorgui Dieng will play against Kentucky. He won’t necessarily be 100 percent and back to his full playing capacity, but he’ll be an important frontcourt presence against the athletic Wildcats.
The other major matchup to watch is in the backcourt. Ryan Harrow had his best game of the season in his last game against Marshall, going for 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Can he replicate that against Louisville, or will the scoring duties fall back on the shoulders of freshman Archie Goodwin? Goodwin shot poorly from the field against Marshall (4-of-17) but was able to get to the line to boost his output (10-of-11 from the free throw line).
Russ Smith has shown a good deal of growth and maturation this season, leading to his 19.7 points per game, but Peyton Siva and his 6.3 assists per game are the engines for the Cardinals. Siva can’t have another six-turnover game like he did in a loss to Duke because turnovers will spur Kentucky’s transition game, where it is most dangerous.
Who’s Getting Upset?: Central Florida against Belmont
It might not be a massive upset, but this future Big East team is matching up Saturday with perhaps the toughest mid-major backcourt combo in the country. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson together average over 30 points per game and will put stress on the Knights’ backcourt to give an answer.
Expect Belmont to shoot well from the field as they typically do, which should help to minimize the impact of a possible rebounding deficit.
Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Valparaiso vs. Murray State
Valpo-MSU is a matchup between two mid-major stars: Isaiah Canaan and Ryan Broekhoff. Canaan is having the All-American season that was expected of him, averaging 20.9 points and 3.9 assists per game, while Broekhoff is one of the more unheralded impact forwards in the country with his 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Murray State will be pushing the tempo, but both teams shoot well from the floor. Keep an eye on who contains Ed Daniel in the paint for Valpo. If no one does, rebounding could be the deciding factor Saturday.
Five Things to Watch
1. Having center Gorgui Dieng back from injury will help Louisville to contain the young and athletic Kentucky frontcourt combo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Dieng has been out since he fractured his wrist against Missouri during the Battle 4 Atlantis, and now returns just in time to combat the 18+ points and 14+ rebounds per game of the Noel/Cauley-Stein duo.
2. North Carolina was dismantled by a Myck Kabongo-less Texas team on Dec. 19 and now they face an 11-1 UNLV team that has won nine in a row. The Rebels will once again be without forward Mike Moser, but Pitt transfer Khem Birch has proven to be a capable fill-in since becoming eligible.
3. Florida lost its footing at home against then-unranked Kansas State last Saturday, but now has a chance to redeem itself against Air Force. The Gators are heavily favored, but they’ll need to keep an eye on Air Force guard Michael Lyons, who is averaging 20.5 points per game.
4. C.J. Leslie had a career-high 33 points in his last time out against St. Bonaventure. Saturday against Western Michigan, he’ll run into some solid size in 6-10 center Shayne Whittington and 6-8 forward Darius Paul, the team’s top two leading rebounders.
5. Tennessee has been prone to abysmal offensive outputs this season (37 points in loss to Georgetown, 38 in loss to Virginia). If they have that kind of output against Xavier on Saturday, freshman guard Semaj Christon had the ability to carry the Musketeers to a win.
Top 25 Games
No. 1 Duke vs. Santa Clara (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
No. 2 Michigan vs. Central Michigan (7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
No. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky (4 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 6 Kansas vs. American (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 9 Syracuse vs. Alcorn State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 10 Ohio State vs. Chicago State (4:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
No. 12 Illinois vs. Auburn (2:15 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
No. 14 Florida vs. Air Force (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)
No. 16 Creighton vs. Evansville (8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 18 Butler vs. Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
No. 20 UNLV vs. North Carolina (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
No. 23 North Carolina State vs. Western Michigan (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
No. 25 Kansas State vs. UMKC (7 p.m. ET)
Other Notable Games
Delaware State vs. Maryland (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Virginia Tech vs. BYU (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Xavier vs. Tennessee (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Washington vs. Connecticut (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Harvard vs. California (8:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)