Pregame Shootaround: Virginia and North Carolina clash; Arizona travels to Utah; more great Big 12 action

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 7 North Carolina at No. 3 Virginia, 6:30 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview.

This matchup has all the storylines.

Let’s start with North Carolina. The Tar Heels are currently sitting all alone in first place in the ACC, but with this visit to Charlottesville and a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium still on their schedule, there’s certainly no guarantee that they are going to even hold on to a share of the regular season title. And that’s before you consider everything that’s going on within that team. Why isn’t Marcus Paige any good anymore? Why don’t Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks fit well together these days? Will the Tar Heels ever figure out a way to consistently shoot from beyond the arc?

Oh, and then there is the whole issue of whether or not the Tar Heels can handle the pressure of a big moment in a big game. They couldn’t down the stretch against Duke, and while they steamrolled Miami last Saturday, they never had any game pressure on them in that one. If there is anything that Virginia does well, it’s that they ensure they won’t get blown out. UNC is going to be in a dogfight on the road on Saturday. How will they respond?

As far as Virginia is concerned, this game is their last chance to remain in the race for a share of the ACC regular season title. They’re currently two games off the pace, but there is a very realistic scenario where there is a five-way tie for first place in the conference. If the Tar Heels lost at Virginia and at Duke and Miami gets picked off by Louisville in Coral Gables before the Cardinals fall at Virginia, assuming the contenders avoid any dumb losses elsewhere on their schedule, all five of the teams I mentioned will finish with five losses on the season.

And I do think that Virginia has a very real chance to win this game.

There are a couple of things that the ‘Hoos do very well defensively: They clear the defensive glass and they force their opponents into taking jump shots. The Tar Heels really struggle shooting the ball from the perimeter and their biggest strength is their front court, particularly the ability of their big men to get to the offensive glass

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 9 Arizona at No. 22 Utah, 2:00 p.m.

This matchup lost a little bit of its luster on Wednesday night when the Wildcats lost to Colorado, this is still a battle of two of the Pac-12’s best teams this season. The winner will claim sole possession of second place in the league standings, sitting just a game behind Oregon, who still has two road games left to play in addition to a game against Washington this weekend. This game is also critically important for an Arizona team that doesn’t exactly have many elite wins to their name. The Wildcats aren’t missing the NCAA tournament, not with how soft the bubble is, but with just two top 50 wins to their name, Arizona could find themselves seeded significantly lower than you would expect for a team ranked in the top ten.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO:No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 25 Texas, 2:00 p.m.

Oklahoma looked like the best team in college basketball earlier this season, but as their consistency shooting the ball from beyond the arc waned, so did their wins. The Sooners lost three out of four during one stretch, and they’ll get another tough matchup this weekend as they head to Austin to take on a Texas team that is probably better than they get credit for.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. The two teams currently sitting one game out of first place in the ACC will square off on Saturday afternoon, as No. 11 Louisville makes the trip to Coral Gables to face No. 12 Miami on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. The Hurricanes were able to land a nice bounce-back win on Monday after a demoralizing loss at North Carolina last weekend, but the Cardinals have consistently shown that winning a regular season title is their sole priority this season.

2. Here are the last three games that No. 10 Maryland has played: 13 point home loss to Wisconsin, loss at Minnesota, four point home win over a Caris LeVert-less Michigan. On Saturday, they’re at No. 20 Purdue in a 4:00 p.m. tip. In theory, the Terps should be able to matchup favorably with Purdue, but that this point, it’s impossible to really have a feel for what Maryland is going to bring night in and night out.

3. Vanderbilt looks like they night actually be figuring things out late in the year. They’ve won four of their last five games, and their only loss came on the road and at the buzzer. Kevin Stallings’ club might have already dug themselves too deep of a whole, but that could change this weekend. On Saturday at 4:00 p.m., the Commodores will be hosting No. 16 Kentucky in what is a must-win game for them.

4. Texas Tech is surging lately and they could do a lot to solidify its NCAA tournament case with a road win at No. 2 Kansas on Saturday. The Red Raiders have won five straight games, including wins over Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma but beating Kansas in their building is a daunting task. The Jayhawks could help clinch a share of the Big 12 regular season title with a win.

5. There will be two games that will be featured on NBCSN on Saturday: VCU at George Washington (12:30 p.m.) and William and Mary at James Madison (2:30 p.m.). VCU and George Washington are both battling for at-large bids in their Atlantic 10 clash while William & Mary tries to reach 20 wins on the season when they face 20-win James Madison.

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

OTHER TOP 25 GAMES

  • No. 1 Villanova at Marquette, 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 14 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 6:00 p.m.
  • Kansas State at No. 17 Iowa State, 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 19 Baylor at TCU, 8:00 p.m.
  • No. 21 Texas A&M at Missouri, 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Notre Dame at Florida State, 4:00 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Ole Miss at South Georgia, 12:00 p.m.
  • Cincinnati at East Carolina, 12:00 p.m.
  • UCF at Temple, 12:00 p.m.
  • Georgia Tech at Boston College, 12:00 p.m.
  • Butler at Georgetown, 12:00 p.m.
  • Rhode Island at Dayton, 12:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Syracuse, 2:00 p.m.
  • Rutgers at Northwestern, 2:00 p.m.
  • Illinois State at Wichita State, 2:00 p.m.
  • South Carolina at Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m.
  • DePaul at Providence, 4:00 p.m.
  • UCLA at Stanford, 4:30 p.m.
  • Auburn at Alabama, 5:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas at Tennessee, 7:30 p.m.
  • Gonzaga at BYU, 8:00 p.m.
  • Florida at LSU, 8:30 p.m.