No. 3 VILLANOVA (-2) at No. 4 XAVIER, Sat. 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
Oh, there is so much to get to with Saturday’s showdown in Cincinnati.
Let’s start with this: Villanova has run absolutely roughshod over the Big East since the conference began anew in 2014. They’ve won four straight league titles by an average of 2.8 games per years. In those four seasons, when you include Big East tournament losses, the Wildcats have lost a total of 11 games to Big East opponents. They’ve won two Big East tournament titles and a national title to boot.
The Kansas streak in the Big 12 is more impressive because of the longevity of it, but Villanova’s dominance over their conference these last four years outweighs what Kansas has done to their league. They’ve been challenged, Villanova — despite playing in a league that has ranked in the top three on KenPom the last three years — has not been.
The Wildcats have lost two of their last three games and currently sit one game out of first place in the league standings. Behind Xavier. A loss on Saturday would mean that Villanova is two games out of first place with four games left to play; Xavier would only have three games left on their schedule. The idea of an outright Big East title would essentially be dead, while the Musketeers would only need to win one more game to lock up at least a share of the Big East regular season championship.
But here’s the kicker: As troubling as Villanova’s recent play has been, they’ve kicked Xavier’s hindparts as league rivals. It can’t even be considered a rivalry because that would assume both teams had a chance to win. The Musketeers are 1-9 in ten games against Villanova, including a 24-point loss in Philadelphia earlier this season. Will that correct itself Saturday?
We shall see.
What I do know is that this is the most intriguing game I’ve seen on this season’s schedule, even more so that Virginia’s visit to Duke earlier this year.
In the immortal words of Bart Scott, “CAN’T WAIT!”
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU WATCH?
- No. 20 WEST VIRGINIA at No. 13 KANSAS (-4), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): This is a big one for Kansas, who could very well fall two games behind Texas Tech in the Big 12 title race with a loss. And West Virginia is certainly good enough to go into Phog Allen and get a win. I just don’t think they will. Kansas (-4)
- No. 7 TEXAS TECH (-2) at BAYLOR, Sat. 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU): This is a sneaky game for the Red Raiders. Baylor is healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, having won four games in a row. Their zone can cause teams that don’t shoot great trouble, and Tech has had some issues this season playing on the road. Texas Tech (-2)
- No. 19 WICHITA STATE at No. 5 CINCINNATI (-9), Sun. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN): I was hoping there would be more intrigue with the AAC title race at this point in the season than their is, because this matchup is intriguing. Wichita State can’t guard and Cincinnati can’t score. I think the Shockers keep it close. Wichita State (+9)
- No. 8 OHIO STATE at No. 22 MICHIGAN (-1), Sun. 1:00 p.m. (CBS): The Buckeyes got worked over by Penn State on Thursday, but that might have been because they were looking forward to Sunday’s trip to Ann Arbor. Michigan, however, will be looking for some revenge for a loss earlier this year. Michigan (-1)
- No. 12 DUKE (-1) at No. 11 CLEMSON, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ACC Net): No Shelton Mitchell (probably) and no Donte Grantham (definitely) is tough for Clemson. Will Marvin Bagley play? Either way, I like Duke (-1)
- No. 16 RHODE ISLAND (-2) at ST. BONAVENTURE, Fri. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): The Bonnies, playing at home in a must-win game for their at-large chances, and they’re getting points. St. Bonaventure (+2)