Weekend Preview: Saint Mary’s is the last team with a chance to end Gonzaga’s undefeated regular season

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Gonzaga at No. 20 Saint Mary’s, Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN): This is the last game standing between Gonzaga and an undefeated regular season.

Technically, that’s not true. Gonzaga will still play four games in league play after Saturday – three of which are at home – but the Zags have won every league game by double-figures this season, and that includes a road trip to BYU and their home date with Saint Mary’s back in January.

So while this is college basketball and anything is possible, I feel pretty confident saying that the Zags are going to be able to get into the WCC tournament undefeated … if they can escape Moraga with a win.

And that isn’t going to be an easy task.

The Gaels are good. They control as well as anyone in college basketball. They don’t force a ton of turnovers, instead relying on their ability to make you take tough shots and clearing the defensive glass. They spread the floor with snipers around Jock Landale, the best big man you’ve never heard of, and have yet another in their pipeline of awesome Aussie guards that are straight killers in pick-and-roll action in Emmett Naar.

The question is whether or not they have the weapons you need to beat a Gonzaga team that has as few weaknesses as anyone in college basketball. The best way to beat Gonzaga is to attack their back court with big, athletic guards, as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins just don’t have the physical tools that elite back courts do. They do, however, thrive in pick-and-rolls, so it will be interesting to see if Randy Bennett can find a way to scheme Przemek Karnowski into those ball-screens actions.

Bennett is one of the best coaches in the country. McKeon Pavilion will be rocking for Gameday. Will that be enough?

  • PREDICTION: I think Saint Mary’s wins this game, which means that I’ll gladly take the Gaels (+2).

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No. 2 Villanova at No. 24 Xavier, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX): Xavier is playing without Edmond Sumner right now, who tore his ACL two weeks ago, but that hasn’t slowed the Musketeers down. They’re 3-0 since the injury and they’re the only team that is still within a game of first place Villanova in the Big East standings.

This is going to be their chance to make a run at winning at least a share of the Big East title. It’s not going to be easy to do – Villanova is really good at switching defensively and Xavier doesn’t have the horses inside to capitalize on the fact that Darryl Reynolds is Villanova’s starting center – but they will be playing in the Cintas Center and they will have Trevon Bluiett, who has been sensational of late. He’s hit for at least 20 points in five of his last six games, and he’ll need to do at least that to win on Saturday.

  • PREDICTION: I think this is the game where the Musketeers come back to earth. Villanova is too good, so give me the Wildcats (-3).

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • Cal at No. 9 Arizona, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Cal has quietly climbed their way into the Pac-12 title discussion, as they sit just two games out of first place in the league standings. Arizona is in first place. Cal badly needs to add some quality wins to their profile, and this is one of the few they have left. PREDICTION: Arizona (-8)
  • No. 5 Oregon at USC, Sat. 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12): Oregon is coming off of a loss at UCLA on Thursday night and will be asked to handle USC, a team with a very similar style of play, on Saturday. The Trojans are currently playing for NCAA tournament seeding. PREDICTION: Oregon (-3)
  • No. 11 Cincinnati at No. 25 SMU, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN): It’s tough to figure out just how good these two teams are because the rest of the AAC stinks. Last month they played a barn-burner in Cincinnati, and you can bet that Semi Ojeleye and the Mustangs will be ready to get some revenge. PREDICTION: SMU (-5)
  • No. 12 Virginia at Virginia Tech, Sat. 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU): Nothing like a little in-state rivalry game to kick your Saturday up a notch. The ‘Hoos are in the mix for the ACC regular season title while the Hokies are on the edge of the bubble. This is a critical game for both teams. PREDICTION: Virginia (-8)
  • No. 14 Florida State at Notre Dame, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Irish have a point to prove after they lost at Florida State earlier this season. Notre Dame hit 15 threes in that game but had no answer for Jonathan Isaac. PREDICTION: Notre Dame (-1)