Weekend Preview: The NFL Playoffs aren’t the only huge games this weekend

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source: AP
Jerian Grant, LaDontae Henton (AP Photo)

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 3 Virginia at No. 13 Notre Dame, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

There may not be a more intriguing matchup all season long than this one. As I diagrammed earlier this week, Virginia runs a defense known as the Pack-Line, and they are the best in the country at doing it. The way to beat the Pack-Line is by spreading the floor with shooters and letting playmakers penetrate and get those shooters open looks. That’s precisely what Notre Dame does. So what we get on Saturday is strength on strength, one of the nation’s best defenses squaring off against a team with as potent of an offense as you’re going to find in the college ranks.

This game won’t bring with it the kind of hype that Louisville-Kentucky or Duke-Wisconsin did. Hell, Virginia plays Duke in two week and Louisville the week after that. This will be a blip on the radar compared to those to games. But when you combine the Pack-Line vs. Notre Dame’s shooters with the fact that both teams have an all-american on their roster — Jerian Grant and Justin Anderson — and this is the kind of game that you, at the very least, throw on the iPad while you watch the NFL playoffs.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 5 Louisville at No. 18 North Carolina, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Does anyone know what to make of North Carolina yet? I don’t. I thought they were a top ten team entering the season and then they went and lost to Butler and Iowa. I thought they were back on the upswing in the last three weeks, and then they went and lost to Notre Dame at home. A visit from the Cardinals will be a chance for the Tar Heels to make a statement, but Louisville will be looking to prove a point of their own. They’ve been up and down this season as well, with their success hitched to the Chris Jones wagon. Which Chris Jones shows up on Saturday? The one that played like an all-ACC point guard against Wake Forest or the one that looked like bad Russ Smith reincarnated against Kentucky?

FIVE MORE TO WATCH

  • No. 17 Iowa State at No. 14 West Virginia, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Cyclones entered the season as a favorite in the Big 12, and while they lost a couple of games in non-conference play, they still look like a team that will finish in the top four of the league. But West Virginia has looked that way as well. I’m not fully bought-in on the new-look Mountaineers and their full-court press, but a win over Iowa State will go a long way towards convincing me.
  • No. 22 Ohio State at Indiana, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: D’angelo Russell vs. James Blackmon is a matchup between the two best freshmen that get no hype.
  • Kansas State at No. 16 Oklahoma, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: After mollywhopping Texas in Austin, Oklahoma looks like the favorite in the Big 12. Kansas State has struggled mightily, but they — or Marcus Foster — took a huge step in the right direction
  • No. 1 Kentucky at Texas A&M, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: ‘Unbeatable’ Kentucky’s first conference road trip of the season.
  • DePaul at No. 8 Villanova, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: DePaul is in sole possession of first place in the Big East at 3-0. Seriously. No, that’s not a joke. They really are. Really. And if they’re ‘for real’, they’ll give Villanova a fight in Philly.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 10 Texas at Oklahoma State, Sat. 5:00 p.m.

We all saw what Oklahoma did to Texas on Monday night. That was in Austin. On Saturday afternoon, the Longhorns will be headed to Stillwater to take on an Oklahoma State team that has been one of the bigger surprises in the country this season. The Pokes have yet to put together a win that can be considered a statement win, but knocking off the Longhorns at home would definitely fall into that category. It will be interesting to see how Travis Ford decides to deal with the massive Texas front line.

UPSET WATCH

  • No. 11 Maryland at Purdue, Sat. 2:30 p.m.: Maryland, who is supposed to be the second-best team in the Big Ten, is coming off of a loss at Illinois. Purdue isn’t the Purdue of the Gene Keady years, but they are tough at home and have a pair of really good seven-footers.
  • No. 19 Seton Hall at Creighton, Sat. 2:15 p.m.: The Pirates shot into the top 25 with wins over St. John’s and Villanova at home. They were beaten pretty solidly at Xavier. You can tell how good a team is by how they play on the road in league play.
  • No. 2 Duke at N.C. State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Wake Forest almost picked off Duke in Winston-Salem on Wednesday. Jahlil Okafor won’t be overpowering BeeJay Anya in the paint.
  • No. 15 Wichita State at Loyola (IL), Sun 5:00 p.m.: Loyola is 12-3 this season and playing at home in what will be their most important league game of the season.
  • No. 25 Old Dominion at Western Kentucky, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Monarchs will be playing their third straight game on the road on Saturday. Eventually, that will catch up with you.

FIVE MORE STORY LINES

1. George Washington at La Salle, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: The Colonials will be challenged by La Salle on Saturday in a game that will be shown on NBCSN.

2. No. 21 Baylor at TCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: TCU entered Big 12 play undefeated and then proceeded to lose their first two games. Baylor hasn’t fared much better, however, as they are 0-2 in the league as well.

3. Cincinnati at UConn, Sat. 11:00 a.m.: Cincinnati will be playing without head coach Mick Cronin for the rest of the season. Just how good can the Bearcats be without him?

4. South Carolina at Ole Miss, Sat. 5:00 p.m., and Georgia at LSU, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: The power structure of the SEC is going to be tough to figure out. Kentucky is the best. Arkansas is probably second-best. These four teams all have a claim at No. 3.

5. Xavier at Butler, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: We’re midway through the season and I’m still not sure what to make of either of these teams.