Thursday’s slate and what to watch

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After a season in which BYU, San Diego State and Arizona all vied for the “best team west of the Rockies” title, it seems Gonzaga has quietly reasserted its claims on that crown.

Or not so quietly.

The Zags (13-2) are ranked 21st in the AP poll, have won eight straight, including victories against Arizona and Xavier. They’ve also won their first three WCC games by an average of 33 points. They’re rolling. And it comes at the best possible time.

A trip to conference rival St. Mary’s is Thursday’s best game, both for the implications and the likely quality of play. If the Zags are the best team out west, then St. Mary’s might be the second best. Can’t wait to watch.

(All times ET; TV info from HDSportsGuide.com)

Gonzaga at St. Mary’s, 11 p.m., 11 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Gaels (15-2) haven’t been tearing through foes like the Zags, but they’re no less dangerous. Senior forward Rob Jones is the typical great college forward – short, but awfully damn effective – while Matthew Dellavedova is one of the best point guards and shooters in the nation. They’re the focal points of an elite offense. But we’ll see how they fare guarding another elite offense.

Virginia at Duke, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
The Cavs (14-1) haven’t lost since Nov. 18. This’ll probably do it. They’ve beaten Duke just once the last decade, hardly a promising sign. What is promising is having a guy like Mike Scott on your side. The 6-8 senior scores16.5 points a game, which is like 25 an outing in most other offenses.

Wisconsin at Purdue, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
If the Badgers (12-5) can’t win at home, how are they supposed to win at Purdue? The Boilermakers (13-4) feature their customary solid defense, but it does have a weakness – perimeter defense. That’s music to the Badgers’ ears.

George Mason at Drexel, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
I’d written off the Patriots last month. Their offense stunk, the defense was soft and they’re nearly lost to Towson (after losing to FIU and Florida Atlantic!). Yet they’ve won five straight, including wins against CAA rival ODU and surprise team Georgia State. Paul Hewitt’s finally readjusted to life outside the ACC. But … Drexel (10-5) could match Mason for CAA underperformer of the season. At least until recently when the Dragon finally came to life. No clue how this one turns out, but it should be worth watching.

EAST
Clemson at Boston College, 7 p.m.
Manhattan at Iona, 7 p.m.
Fairleigh Dickinson at LIU, 7 p.m.
CCSU at Mount St. Mary’s, 7 p.m.
Quinnipiac at Robert Morris, 7 p.m.
Rider at Siena, 7 p.m.
Monmouth (NJ) at St. Francis (NY), 7 p.m.
Sacred Heart at St. Francis (Pa.), 7 p.m.
Binghamton at Vermont, 7 p.m.
Bryant at Wagner, 7 p.m.
George Mason at Drexel, 8 p.m.

SOUTH
James Madison at VCU, 6 p.m.
Furman at Appalachian St., 7 p.m.
UNC Asheville at Campbell, 7 p.m.
Wofford at Chattanooga, 7 p.m.
Gardner-Webb at Coastal Carolina, 7 p.m.
UNC Greensboro at Coll. of Charleston, 7 p.m.
W. Carolina at Davidson, 7 p.m.
Samford at Georgia Southern, 7 p.m.
UNC Wilmington at Georgia St., 7 p.m.
Winthrop at High Point, 7 p.m.
Radford at Liberty, 7 p.m.
Idaho at Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m.
Elon at The Citadel, 7:05 p.m.
Presbyterian at Charleston Southern, 7:30 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at FIU, 7:30 p.m.
E. Kentucky at Austin Peay, 8 p.m.
Jacksonville St. at Murray St., 8 p.m.
South Alabama at Louisiana-Lafayette, 8:05 p.m.
UALR at Louisiana-Monroe, 8:30 p.m.
Virginia at Duke, 9 p.m.
Tennessee at Mississippi St., 9 p.m.

MIDWEST
S. Utah at IUPUI, 7 p.m.
Wisconsin at Purdue, 7 p.m.
UT-Martin at E. Illinois, 8 p.m.
Detroit at Green Bay, 8 p.m.
Minnesota at Indiana, 8 p.m.
Wright St. at Milwaukee, 8 p.m.
UMKC at N. Dakota St., 8 p.m.
South Dakota at S. Dakota St., 8 p.m.
SIU-Edwardsville at SE Missouri, 8 p.m.
Oral Roberts at W. Illinois, 8 p.m.
Valley City St. at North Dakota, 9 p.m.

SOUTHWEST
W. Kentucky at North Texas, 8 p.m.
Crowley’s Ridge at Houston Baptist, 8:05 p.m.

FAR WEST
Oregon St. at Arizona, 8:30 p.m.
Montana at N. Arizona, 8:35 p.m.
Utah St. at New Mexico St., 9 p.m.
Montana St. at Weber St., 9 p.m.
Portland St. at N. Colorado, 9:05 p.m.
Hawaii at Fresno St., 10 p.m.
San Jose St. at Nevada, 10 p.m.
Loyola Marymount at Pepperdine, 10 p.m.
Portland at San Francisco, 10 p.m.
San Diego at Santa Clara, 10 p.m.
Utah at Stanford, 10 p.m.
Cal Poly at UC Irvine, 10 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara at UC Riverside, 10 p.m.
Pacific at CS Northridge, 10:05 p.m.
UC Davis at Long Beach St., 10:05 p.m.
E. Washington at Sacramento St., 10:05 p.m.
Oregon at Arizona St., 10:30 p.m.
Colorado at California, 11 p.m.
Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s (Cal), 11 p.m..

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