Note: Betting lines for Saturday’s game won’t be out until Friday afternoon or evening. This post will be updated then. For now, we’ll be using the projections on KenPom.com as a line. It’s usually pretty close to what Vegas sets.
No. 1 Villanova at No. 10 Creighton, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
The Big East is home to the biggest game of the day, as undefeated reigning champion Villanova will make the trek to Omaha, somewhere in middle america, to take on undefeated Creighton. That’s notable, because it’s just the second time in the history of the Big East that two undefeated teams will square off in conference play. The only other time it happened was in January of 1989, when Georgetown took on Seton Hall.
But there is so much more in this game. Creighton is one of, if not the most underrated team in college basketball. They are the nation’s best three-point shooting team. They are the seventh-most efficient offense in the country. They play at as fast of a pace offensively as anyone. They spread the floor and may actually have a better set of guards than Villanova does. What’s more is that the Bluejays matchup perfectly with the Wildcats. What makes Villanova so good is that they create mismatches everyone on the floor. Kris Jenkins can play the four or the five. Josh Hart can play any position on the floor. They can both guard big men. It’s a nightmare for opponents to deal with …
… but it’s exactly what Creighton does as well. Their four-man is Cole Huff, who is – or thinks he is – a natural wing. Their bigs, Justin Patton and Toby Hegner, are 7-foot and 6-foot-10, respectively, but shoot a combined 47.4 percent from three. Patton has the chance to be lottery pick one day.
What’s more is that a loss here will essentially take Creighton out of the Big East title race. Yes, I know how that sounds with 16 games left, but think about it like this: Villanova has gone 16-2 in the Big East each of the last two seasons, and this team may be better than the team that won the national title last season. They’re not losing many games this season, and this loss would not only put Creighton a game behind the Wildcats, it would mean they would have to win in the return game in Philly to have any shot of winning the league outright. Forgive me if I don’t see that happening, which is what makes this game so important.
- Prediction: Creighton historically gives Villanova trouble and plays in an arena that holds 17,000 people. That town will be fired up and so will the team. If you can get Creighton (+2), take it.
No. 6 Louisville at No. 16 Indiana, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
The matchup of styles here is quite intriguing. Louisville is the best defensive in the country, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, and the number of different looks they can give on that end of the floor is a nightmare for teams that don’t have strong point guard play. Indiana doesn’t have strong point guard play but what they do have is a team that can score in transition, spread the floor with shooters and bang 15 threes in a game. The Hoosiers are the most unpredictable team in college basketball because they can quite literally win or lose any game they play.
What may be more interesting about this game is that one of these two teams is going to have their New Year’s Eve ruined and the future of their season questioned after this game. Indiana is coming off of a home loss to Nebraska which came two weeks after a loss to Butler in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers, who beat North Carolina and Kansas earlier this season, need to turn things around. Louisville, on the other hand, followed up a home win over Kentucky by getting punished in that same building by Virginia.
- Prediction: Louisville’s defense will be too much for Indiana, even in Indianapolis, so give me Louisville (-3).
No. 20 Florida State at No. 12 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
Florida State has quite a bit of talent on their roster this year, namely future lottery pick Jonathan Isaac, and a gaudy record through the first seven weeks of the year. But they haven’t beaten anyone yet that would make you believe they are “for real”. They’ll get a chance to do just that against a Virginia team that is coming off of a resounding win at Louisville last week.
The ‘Hoos are going to have to figure out a way to deal with both Isaac and Dwayne Bacon, who are two of the best scorers in the ACC and guys with the kind of size and athleticism that can conceivably give Virginia’s perimeter options some trouble. It is important to note, however, that FSU is a team that likes to run, and Virginia is as good as anyone in the country at taking away the transition game.
- Prediction: I think Virginia runs away with this. Like Louisville, this just isn’t a good matchup, so I’ll be on Virginia (-10).
FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH
- No. 11 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, Fri. 4:00 p.m.: There are two intriguing things about this game: 1. West Virginia’s press going up against Jawun Evans, and 2. Brad Underwood, a former Bob Huggins assistant, taking a swing at Huggy Bear. Underwood upset WVU in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, when he was the head coach of Stephen F. Austin. Pick: I loved Oklahoma State at (+5.5), but the line has moved to OSU (+1), in which case I’m on West Virginia
- No. 22 USC at No. 21 Oregon, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: Coming off of the high of a home win over UCLA on Wednesday night, the Ducks have to regroup to take on a still-undefeated USC team. The Trojans picked off Oregon State this week and are still playing without Bennie Boatwright. I think the Trojans are a good team, but this is a tough ask. Pick: Oregon (-7)
- No. 18 Arizona at Cal, Fri. 11:00 p.m., and Stanford, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: Arizona has themselves quite a weekend with a pair of road games to kick off Pac-12 play. We’ll get into this more in a bit. Pick for Friday: Arizona (+1) over Cal
- No. 5 Duke at Virginia Tech, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Virginia Tech is a good basketball team that has been glossed over this season. This is their first chance to prove it. Pick: I think the Blue Devils make a statement Saturday, so I’ll be on Duke (-6)
- No. 24 Notre Dame at Pitt, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: There are going to be a lot of sneaky-good games in the ACC this season, and this is one of them. The Irish make the road trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers in a game that will feature about 12 6-foot-8 combo-forwards. Michael Young of Pitt is one of the best players you’ve never heard of. Pick: Notre Dame (-1)
FOUR STORY LINES TO FOLLOW
1. Conference play officially begins this weekend: While league play has slowly started to happen this week, it won’t be until this weekend that conference play starts in full. We get a full slate on games, starting on Friday afternoon, as the Big 12 and the Pac-12 get festivities going a day earlier than usual. As anyone with even a mild interest in college basketball can tell you, it gets real once those league foes start coming to town, and if I can guarantee one thing this weekend, it’s that …
2. … there will be upsets: The hardest thing to do in college basketball is to win road games in league play. League rivals know each other so well and the crowds create such a difficult environment to play in it’s inevitable. And this weekend, it just so happens that the only top ten team playing a home game is No. 10 Creighton, who hosts No. 1 Villanova.
No. 2 UCLA is at Oregon State on Friday night. No. 5 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina both tip off at noon on Saturday at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, respectively. No. 6 Louisville is at Indiana. No. 7 Gonzaga is at Pacific.
Things get particularly interesting in the Big 12, the conference that had the best record in non-conference play of anyone. TCU will get their chance to prove their 11-1 record is legit when they host No. 3 Kansas on Friday night. Oklahoma will have the opportunity to bounce-back from some disappointing non-conference losses when they host No. 4 Baylor in the opener. Even Bobby Huggins will have a chance to get some revenge on Brad Underwood as No. 11 West Virginia visits Oklahoma State.
Things are going to get weird this weekend.
They always do in league play.
3. Duke will play their first game without Grayson Allen at Virginia Tech: It feels like Duke has all of the story lines this season. First, it was Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden getting injured. Then, there were questions about when those two would finally return. After that, those questions landed at the feet of Harry Giles III, who still hasn’t really shown up yet this season. And now, nearly two months into the season, we have to wonder about Grayson Allen, the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year. He’s been suspended indefinitely due to his third tripping incident of 2016.
The issue isn’t necessarily when he will return; I’d be shocked if Allen wasn’t in the lineup when Duke plays at Florida State in two weeks. The issue is A) who will Allen be when he returns to the floor, and B) how is Duke going to react to his absence? They’ve been fine without Tatum and fine with Allen banged up, but this feels different. Allen is supposed to be one of the veteran leaders on this roster and he’s out here tripping people and throwing tantrums on the bench in a game where Luke Kennard told reporters that he didn’t think his team was “unselfish” enough.
Oh, and Virginia Tech is good and scrappy and everything you’d expect out of a team coached by Buzz Williams. This will be a test.
4. Arizona will have a chance to prove their mettle in the Pac-12 race: The No. 18 Wildcats have been flying under the radar a little bit. Many wrote them off due to the disastrous start they had to the season, losing Ray Smith, appearing to lose Allonzo Trier and watching Parker Jackson-Cartwright go down with a bad ankle injury. But a funny thing happened to Sean Miller’s team: he coached ’em up. Lauri Markkanen has been terrific all year while Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, two super-talented freshmen that arrived at Arizona with red flags, have gotten better game-by-game.
Now it looks like Arizona might have Jackson-Cartwright available this weekend, meaning they’ll essentially be at full strength as they pay visits to Cal and Stanford. Why is this relevant? Because UCLA is unquestionably awesome and Oregon looked like they were back to being awesome when they beat UCLA on Wednesday. This is Arizona’s chance to make a statement: “We Outchea, Too.”