Weekend Preview: The Crosstown Shootout and Creighton-Gonzaga highlight a great weekend of hoops

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 25 CREIGHTON at No. 15 GONZAGA, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

The battle of the former mid-majors. This will be an interesting one to watch play out. Both of these teams proved themselves to be somewhat underrated from where they were heading into the season. Creighton thrives in a more uptempo game, while Gonzaga wants to grind things out a little bit more. There are two things that intrigue me about this game: The first is who ends up getting put on Khyri Island? Khyri Thomas is the best perimeter defender in college basketball. He shut down Manu Lecomte when the Jays nearly beat Baylor, and I expect him to get put on Josh Perkins in this one. The second is how Creighton slows down Johnathan Williams III, and that’s a bigger issue.

  • PREDICTION: I really, really like Creighton this year, but I think this is a difficult matchup for the Jays. I’m not quite sure how they’ll handle Williams, who put 39 on a Florida team that is similar to Creighton. Gonzaga (-7)


No. 11 CINCINNATI at No. 21 XAVIER, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

The Crosstown Shootout is one of the most fierce and more underrated rivalries in all of sports, and this year, it will feature two teams that are talented enough to get to the Final Four. Cincinnati is a rough-and-tumble team that has some toughness up front in Gary Clark Jr. and Kyle Washington, while Xavier is more perimeter-oriented … but just as tough as the Bearcats. I’m telling you, this will be great theater, as will the battle between Jacob Evans and Trevon Bluiett.

  • PREDICTION: Kenpom projects this as a one-point Xavier win in the Cintas Center, so I’ll ride with Xavier here. I don’t think either of these teams would lose a home game in this rivalry this season. Xavier (-1)

No. 8 WICHITA STATE at No. 16 BAYLOR, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

This is the most fascinating matchup of the day to me. On the one hand, I think Wichita State is terrific. They’re well-coached, they have talent and they can beat you inside or outside. On the other hand, at some point they are going to have to actually beat someone at this level for us to continue talking about them as a Final Four and national title contender. Baylor can play. Their zone can mess with teams and Manu Lecomte has proven time and again that he is one of the best clutch shooters in the sport. It won’t be all that pretty or high-scoring, but for x’s-and-o’s nerds, it will be appointment viewing. The x-factor is how Baylor will be able to play without Terry Maston, who broke his hand against Xavier.

  • PREDICTION: KenPom has Baylor getting points at home, and while I’m on record saying some fairly ridiculous things about the Shockers, I want to see them beat someone real before I invest my hard earned money betting on them. That said, with no Maston, I think the Shockers make it too hard for the Bears to score. Wichita State (-1)
Landry Shamet (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

You mean besides a ridiculous slate of college football games?

Well …

  • The Big Ten kicks off league play: Because of the conference’s stupid decision to play their conference tournament in New York a week earlier than usual, they were forced to schedule their first round of conference games for the first week of December. From Friday until next Tuesday, each Big Ten team will play their first home and their first road game.
  • No. 13 North Carolina at Davidson, Fri. 8:00 p.m.: Davidson is defense-averse and shoots more threes than anyone else in college hoops. I like UNC here, but I love the over. PREDICTION: UNC (-10.5)
  • Providence at Rhode Island, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: It doesn’t the attention of other rivalry games, but the hate between Providence and URI is real and both teams are good this season. PREDICTION: Providence (+2)
  • No. 2 Kansas vs. Syracuse, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: I think we’ll get a much better idea of what to make of this Syracuse team after this game, because as of now I really don’t know. They’ve been impressive through six games. PREDICTION: Kansas (-11)
  • No. 4 Villanova vs. St. Joseph’s, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Holy War was a lot more interesting before St. Joe’s got hit with injuries. PREDICTION: Villanova (-10)
  • No. 14 USC at SMU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: USC struggled at Vanderbilt earlier this season and got beat fairly handily by Texas A&M. Will they be willing to defend in Moody Coliseum? PREDICTION: SMU (-2)
  • Arizona at UNLV, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: Brandon McCoy and Deandre Ayton, former AAU teammates and both potential lottery picks, meet again. The Thomas & Mack Center will be packed. This is a chance for Arizona to prove they’ve figured out the issues that cost them three wins in the Bahamas. PREDICTION: UNLV (+7)
  • Seton Hall at No. 17 Louisville, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: Kevin Willard, a former Louisville and Rick Pitino assistant, pays a visit to the Yum! Center to take on David Padgett, another former Pitino assistant and current Louisville interim head coach. The Cardinals are going to have to be ready for a fight on Sunday. PREDICTION: Seton Hall (+3)