WEEKEND PREVIEW: Villanova-Butler, USC’s chance for a statement, Kansas upset?

Butler coach Chris Holtmann (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Villanova at No. 18 Butler, Sun. 7:30 p.m.

The only game this weekend between two ranked teams features Villanova going into Hinkle Fieldhouse and taking on a Butler team that has been a bit disappointing early on in league play. The Bulldogs climbed as high as No. 9 in the polls, thanks in large part to an impressive showing in Puerto Rico and a win over Purdue in the Crossroads Classic, but their first two games in the Big East were less than inspiring. Kris Dunn shredded their defense in the second half of a loss in Hinkle, as Butler blew a 13 points lead, and they followed that up with getting drubbed by the Edmond Sumner-less Xavier Musketeers.

At this point, Villanova has to be considered the favorite in the conference — if only because they own a 31-point win over Xavier — but they’re not an ideal matchup for Butler. The way to beat the Bulldogs is with guards that can break down a defense off the dribble. As good as Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson are, they’re not exactly known for being slashers that the original Gary Payton couldn’t guard.

So this is the kind of gam that Butler could easily win.

And they need it, too.

A loss not only drops them to 1-3 in the conference, it drops them to 0-3 against the other top four teams. If they have any hopes of winning a regular season conference title, this is essentially a must-win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 7 Arizona at USC, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

I’m really not quite sure what to make of USC at this point. If it wasn’t for a massive collapse last Sunday — a collapse, mind you, that happened to coincide with an ankle injury to Julian Jacobs — the Trojans would currently be sitting at 3-0 in the Pac-12. That would put them all alone in first place in the conference, and while they have yet to really beat anyone that matters, when was the last time we needed that qualifier when it comes to USC basketball?

I say all that to say this: USC is going to get their best shot at making a statement on Saturday night when No. 7 Arizona comes to down. Unlike year’s past, the Trojans actually have a shot at playing their way into the NCAA tournament this season, but in order for them to do that they’re going to need to win games like this. That won’t be easy this weekend, not after they lost at UCLA on a blown defensive assignment.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Baylor is the forgotten member of the top of the Big 12, which is the kind of thing that tends to happen when you lose by 30 to Kansas. that said, the Bears matchup far better with No. 13 Iowa State, who doesn’t have nearly enough size inside to deal with Baylor’s front court. Taurean Waller-Prince vs. Georges Niang will be fun. That game tips at 3:00 p.m. Saturday.
  2. Ben Simmons and LSU will get another test when they head to Florida to take on the Gators on Sat. at 1:30 p.m. I’m not sure if this is the kind of game where LSU is truly in danger of losing — remember, this Florida team no longer is coached by Billy Donovan and got mollywhopped by Tennessee in Knoxville this week — but it will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond to Tuesday’s win over Kentucky. This is a program that’s proven to be inconsistent, and nothing would make more sense for them that beating UK and losing to UF.
  3. Jim Boeheim’s back! The Syracuse Hall of Famer missed the last nine games as he was suspended for academic fraud and NCAA violations committed during his tenure. The Orange went 4-5 without, including 0-3 in the ACC, which is why Saturday’s visit from No. 6 North Carolina is so important.
  4. Vanderbilt has been one of the most disappointing teams in college basketball this season, going from a team that looked like an SEC contender to one that has lost essentially every meaningful game they’ve played. On Saturday, they play at No. 22 South Carolina, one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball.
  5. There’s an intriguing matchup in the Sunshine State this weekend as Florida State pays a visit on Saturday to No. 12 Miami in a game between the two preseason picks for ACC sleepers. If you like quality guard play, this is a game for you.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 1 Kansas at Texas Tech, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Yeah, I’m going out on a limb here, but I think I’m on to something. Kansas is coming off of that massive win over Oklahoma, a game that probably won’t be topped at any point this season. After Saturday, they’re heading to Morgantown to take on a West Virginia team that plays a physical, pressing style of basketball and has proven to be a tough place for the Jayhawks to win. And Texas Tech is actually pretty good this year. They’re 11-2 on the season and gave Iowa State all they could handle in Hilton on Tuesday. The Jayhawks better show up ready to play.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: Is this the point in time where we start talking about LSU potentially being the best team in the SEC?

I know. It’s kind of crazy to think that, but hear me out here.

No. 9 Kentucky is clearly not who were thought there were going to be this season and they probably aren’t ever going to be. This group is different than the 2014 team. That group had the talent to win a national title. The reason they ended up as an eight seed heading into the NCAA tournament is because there was something going on within that team and within that locker room that ruined chemistry and made them pedestrian.

This group does not have that talent level. Jamal Murray is inconsistent. Skal Labissiere has been consistently bad. Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee are still around for a reason. They may not be as bad as they were on Tuesday night against LSU, but they’re certainly not the top three team that they were in the preseason.

LSU also won at Vanderbilt last Saturday. If they win at Florida this Saturday, they’ll have beaten three of the top six teams in the league, two on the road, in their first three league games. They’ll be 6-1 with Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor. They’ll have the best player in all of college basketball on their roster.

Now, it’s worth noting that LSU still has to play at Kentucky, at No. 22 South Carolina and No. 21 Texas A&M twice this season, not to mention their non-conference date with No. 2 Oklahoma, so it’s not like they’re going to skate through the rest of league play.

But after watching the Aggies struggle with Mississippi State (albeit without Danuel House) and knowing that South Carolina’s best wins are against Tulsa and Memphis, it’s a fair question to ask.

Assuming, you know, that the Tigers don’t find a way to lose at Florida on Saturday.