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Weekend Preview: Four games featuring two ranked teams this weekend



GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 14 Kentucky at No. 3 Florida, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Here’s Kentucky’s chance to prove themselves. Here’s their chance to say that they are more than just a talented group of wimps. Florida is as good of a defensive team as you are going to find in the country, largely because they are so versatile in how they can defend. They’ll press. They’ll man. They’ll zone, playing 2-3 or a 1-3-1. They have size. They have tough on-ball defenders in the back court. They have versatile forwards that allow them to switch ball-screens.

Florida is legit. How will Kentucky handle that? They lost at Arkansas. They got beat up at LSU in a game where they could never truly answer the punches the Tigers were throwing. They came much closer to losing at Auburn that Kentucky ever should. Any chance of winning a league title will be on the line here. How will the Wildcats respond?

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 6 Villanova at No. 18 Creighton, Sun. 5:00 p.m.

Villanova has one loss in Big East play this season. It came at home in truly embarrassing fashion, and it came against Creighton. They were down 20 after seven minutes. They were down 40 in the second half, rallying to make it “respectable” when the buzzer sounded. Not only will Villanova have something to prove, they’re going to basically be playing for total control of the Big East regular season crown. A win would give them a two-game lead with less than a month left in the season.


  • No. 21 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan, Sun. 1:00 p.m.: Wisconsin has now won three in a row to get back on track, but this will be one of two remaining challenges they have this season. Can they stop Nik Stauskas? Michigan won the first matchup in Madison.
  • No. 20 Memphis at No. 24 UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Memphis lost the last time these two teams tangled in Memphis. Deandre Daniels is the x-factor for UConn, but watching Shabazz Napier deal with Mike Dixon and Joe Jackson will be fun.
  • No. 25 Pitt at North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: This is the last chance that Pitt is going to have before the ACC tournament to land a quality win. They need a quality win.
  • VCU at No. 12 Saint Louis, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The two best teams in the Atlantic 10? Two of the top ten defenses in the country? It’s probably not going to be pretty. But it will be good. VCU needs a win if they want any chance of winning the A-10 regular season title.
  • Maryland at No. 8 Duke, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: This will be the last time in the foreseeable future that these two teams will square off. In the early 2000’s, this was one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball.


  • No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State, Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Arizona is a different team when they don’t have Brandon Ashley on the floor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a worse team. Arizona State will be healthy this game, and they badly need the win.
  • No. 16 Iowa at Penn State, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Penn State is a thorn in the Big Ten’s side this season. Are they scrappy enough to pull out a win against Iowa at home?
  • No. 17 Virginia at Clemson, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Clemson and Virginia are both grind-it-out teams built around their defense. This may not be a high-scoring game, and that’s better for the Tigers. They’re looking to secure positioning as an at-large candidate.
  • West Virginia at No. 19 Texas, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: West Virginia has been one of the most surprising teams in the country. If Jonathan Holmes doesn’t play for Texas, the Mountaineers have a shot. Juwan Staten is the best player in the country you haven’t heard of.
  • No. 22 Ohio State at Illinois, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Ohio State will matchup well with Illinois, but the Illini are a desperate team with something to prove. A loss would all-but guarantee them an NIT trip.


1) There are a pair of good, off-the-radar games in the Big 12 this weekend. Kansas State will visit Baylor in a game that the Bears have to win, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will renew the Bedlam Rivalry without Marcus Smart’s participation.

2) Both of the nation’s undefeated teams will be playing games that they should win this weekend. No. 4 Wichita State will be at Evansville on Sun at 5:00 p.m. while N.C. State will visit No. 1 Syracuse on Saturday 3:00 p.m.

3) Texas Tech  has been playing much better of late, winning three in a row and beating both of the Oklahoma schools in the last week. They’re at No. 11 Iowa State on Saturday at 1:45 p.m.

4) TCU at No. 7 Kansas wouldn’t normally be a must watch game, but Joel Embiid’s health will be something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

5) Key Bubble Games:

  • Southern Miss at Middle Tennessee State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • UMass at George Washington, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Cal at Washington, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • Xavier at Marquette, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Missouri, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Ole Miss at Georgia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • LSU at Arkansas, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • BYU at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • Minnesota at Northwestern, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
  • Georgetown at St. John’s, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

WEEKLY AWARDS: Denzel Valentine’s big week, Kansas makes a statement

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

In the title game of the Wooden Legacy, a game that was billed as a matchup between the two best players in college basketball — Valentine and Kris Dunn — Valentine was downright bad …

… by his standards. He finished with “just” 17 points, six assists and five boards. I say “just” because, in the previous two games of the tournament, the Spartan superstar averaged 30.5 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 assists. He’s been, hands down, the best player in college basketball this season, and that didn’t change this week.


  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Kris Dunn is the guy that is going to get all the national praise, but it was Bentil’s emergence that was critical for the Friars. He averaged 21.7 points and 6.0 boards in three games in the Wooden Legacy, carrying PC when Dunn was battling foul issues.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas: The highlight of Selden’s week was scoring 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the Maui title game win over No. 19 Vanderbilt. For the week, he averaged 19.3 points and shot 12-for-17 from three.
  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth: Robinson averaged 25.7 points in three games for Monmouth at the Advocare Invitational. The Hawks beat No. 17 Notre Dame and USC in the process, only losing to Dayton by three.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Remember when Justin Jackson was struggling? He averaged 21.5 points, 9.0 boards and 5.0 assists in wins over Northwestern and Kansas State. That came on the heels of a 25-point performance in the loss at Northern Iowa.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Ellenson notched three straight double-doubles for the Golden Eagles this week, which included 16 points and 11 boards in a win over Ben Simmons and LSU.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas headed out to Maui as a team that many weren’t really sure what to make of. They looked good against Michigan State for 30 minutes, then they blew that game as Denzel Valentine went bananas. They had as much depth as anyone in the country, but Brannen Greene was suspended, Cheick Diallo was ineligible and Wayne Selden was the most notable of a handful of talented players that had been somewhere between inconsistent and ineffective this year.

That all changed in Maui — well, other than Greene’s suspension — as Kansas rolled over Chaminade, UCLA and Vanderbilt to bring home the tournament title. Blowing out Chaminade was to be expected. But beating down a talented UCLA team? Dominating a very good Vanderbilt squad? That’s the Kansas we’ve been hoping to see show up for a few years now. The question is whether or not it’s sustainable, and at least on paper, it appears to be. Selden’s shooting percentages will come back to earth, but his raw numbers are less important than his confidence and aggressiveness. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are going to continue to take pressure off of each other in the back court. Perry Ellis isn’t going anywhere.

I questioned whether or not Kansas was truly one of the nation’s elite when the season started. I think they answered that question for me.


  • Xavier: The Musketeers not only won the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, they blew out in-state — and former Atlantic 10 — rival Dayton in the finals.
  • Syracuse: The Orange are going to be a factor in the ACC this season. How much? I don’t know. But after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by knocking off No. 18 UConn and No. 25 Texas A&M, it’s clear they’re going to be involved all season.
  • Northeastern: The Huskies picked up a road win against No. 15 Miami on this buzzer-beating jumper.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock: The Trojans picked up their second huge road win of the year, going into Tulsa and knocking off the Golden Hurricane. They’re now 5-0 on the season, having also won at SDSU.
  • Tournament winners: West Virginia knocked off Richmond and San Diego State to bring home the Las Vegas Invitational title, No. 24 Cincinnati beat Nebraska and George Washington in the Barclays Center Classic and Marquette knocked off LSU and Arizona State to win the Legends Classic.


Tuesday: No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Butler at No. 24 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday: Louisville at No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday: No. 13 Indiana at No. 6 Duke, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday: No. 11 Arizona at No. 10 Gonzaga, 3:15 p.m.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.