Forget about the NFL, the big games are on the college basketball board this weekend. There are a number of huge Top 25 matchups Saturday and we have news and notes for all the action:
Missouri Tigers at Florida Gators (-13, 136)
For most of Billy Donovan’s first 16 seasons as the coach with No. 9
Florida, his teams have been strong offensive teams. This edition of the
Gators is easily on pace to become the best defensive squad he’s had,
something No. 16 Missouri may learn the hard way on Saturday when they
meet for the first time ever. During his time in Gainesville, Donovan’s
teams have surrendered an average of 66.8 points, but this team is
ranked third in the nation in scoring defense at 51.7 points per game
and coming off another fine effort in Thursday’s 68-47 victory at Texas
A&M. The Tigers counter with the country’s best rebounding team,
although the uncertain status of injured leading scorer Laurence Bowers
looms large against the Gators’ front line. Missouri bounced back from a
15-point loss at Mississippi last Saturday with a 79-62 win over
Georgia on Wednesday.
Kansas Jayhawks at Texas Longhorns (+8, 125)
With a potential marquee game on the horizon, Kansas will look to remain undefeated in Big 12 play when it visits struggling Texas on Saturday. The fourth-ranked Jayhawks enter as one of two teams without a loss in the conference. The other is No. 18 Kansas State, which hosts Kansas on Tuesday. After an overtime win against Iowa State to begin their Big 12 slate, the Jayhawks have barely been tested in victories over Texas Tech and Baylor. Freshman star Ben McLemore scored 17 points in the triumph over the Bears before exiting with a sprained right ankle. McLemore returned to practice Thursday and expects to play against the Longhorns. It has been a frustrating stretch for Texas, which lost back-to-back overtime affairs to begin Big 12 play and then lost by 20 at Iowa State last Saturday.
Arizona Wildcats at Arizona State Sun Devils (+6, 132)
An intense in-state rivalry will help take an early snapshot of the Pac-12 title race when Arizona State hosts seventh-ranked Arizona on Saturday afternoon. Both teams will look to avoid a costly second loss in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy league. The Wildcats are wrapping up a three-game road swing. They opened the stretch with their first loss - a 70-66 defeat at Oregon - but rebounded with an 80-70 win at Oregon State last Saturday. The Sun Devils also suffered their lone conference loss to the Ducks, losing 68-65 at Oregon on Sunday to snap a six-game win streak. Arizona has won 28 of the past 36 meetings in the series that dates to 1914, but Arizona State has claimed seven of the past 11, including an 87-80 home win in the most recent contest March 4.
Oklahoma Sooners at Kansas State Wildcats (-5, 124)
Oklahoma and No. 18 Kansas State are off to their best league starts in years but one will fall from the ranks of the Big 12 Conference's unbeaten on Saturday. The host Wildcats are 3-0 in Big 12 play for the second time since the league started in 1997 while the Sooners are 3-0 for the first time since an 11-0 start in 2009. Kansas State is undefeated at home and has won seven straight overall. The Sooners had five players score in double figures for the first time this year in Wednesday's 81-63 win against Texas Tech, Oklahoma's fifth straight.
Creighton Bluejays at Wichita State Shockers (-2.5, 141)
Doug McDermott and No. 10 Creighton travel to Wichita, Kan., for a matchup Saturday between the top two teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bluejays are fresh off a 79-68 win over Northern Iowa on Tuesday. McDermott, the nation's second-leading scorer at 24 points per game, tallied 21 of his 31 points in the second half to turn a five-point halftime lead into a comfortable cushion. That performance came four nights after the returning consensus First Team All-American made 14 shots in a row, singlehandedly outscored Missouri State 28-24 in the second half and finished with 39 points and 10 rebounds in Creighton's 74-52 rout of the Bears. Wichita State hosts the Bluejays with only two blemishes: a 69-60 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 13 and a 71-67 defeat at the hands of Evansville on Sunday. The Shockers beat Illinois State 74-62 on Wednesday.
Syracuse Orange at Louisville Cardinals (-7, 135)
The Cardinals have breezed through their first four conference games and are coming off a 73-58 win at Connecticut on Monday, the same day they ascended to the top spot in the national polls for the third time in school history. The Orange have had a bit more trouble staying undefeated in league play, winning their past three games by 11 points or less, including a 72-61 home win over Villanova last Saturday. Louisville has won seven of the past nine meetings, but Syracuse claimed both contests last season.
Oregon Ducks at UCLA Bruins (-5, 144)
A season after struggling to put two teams into the NCAA Tournament, the
Pac-12 appears to have a plethora of worthy candidates this season. Two
of the conference’s best will jockey for early positioning atop the
league standings on Saturday when No. 25 UCLA hosts Oregon. The Bruins
have rolled off 10 consecutive wins and won their first five conference
games for the first time since 2003-04 – coach Ben Howland's first
season in Westwood – after defeating Oregon State 74-64 on Thursday. The
5-0 start has UCLA a half-game ahead of Washington and Oregon, the
latter of which is on a six-game winning streak but nearly blew a late
10-point lead on the road in Thursday’s 76-74 triumph over USC. The
Ducks’ 4-0 mark in league play is their best since the 1973-74 team
began the Pac-8 season with the same record.
Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan State Spartans (Pick, 132)
No. 17 Michigan State has been on a role since dropping its Big Ten opener at Minnesota on Dec. 31. The Spartans will put their perfect January on the line Saturday, when they host No. 11 Ohio State. The Buckeyes have had six days off since hosting rival Michigan and knocking off the last unbeaten team in the country. Traditionally among the best defensive teams in the conference, Michigan State could have its hands full with Deshaun Thomas. Thomas leads the Big Ten in scoring at 20.3 points and has put up at least 20 in each of the last four contests. The Spartans got a big game from Adreian Payne following some team-imposed discipline on Wednesday and have gone over 80 points in each of their first two Big Ten home games. Michigan State is kicking off a stretch of four of five games against ranked teams with the Buckeyes.
VCU Rams at Duquesne Dukes (+12, 146)
Two nights after a hard-fought overtime win over St.
Joseph's, 19th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth will shoot for its 13th
consecutive victory when it travels to Duquesne on Saturday night at
CONSOL Energy Center. It's a matchup of one of the preseason favorites
to win the Atlantic 10 in VCU against a Duquesne squad picked to finish
last in the 16-team league. The Rams outlasted St. Joseph's, 92-86, to remain
undefeated in their first season of Atlantic 10 play. They haven't lost
since dropping consecutive games to Duke and Missouri in the Battle 4
Atlantis tournament. The Dukes have dropped five straight, including
their first three Atlantic 10 contests. They're coming off a 79-66 loss
at Massachusetts on Thursday.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels at Colorado State Rams (-3.5, 139)
UNLV looks to snap another team’s long home winning streak when the 23rd-ranked Rebels visit Colorado State, which has won 23 straight home games at Moby Arena. UNLV ended San Diego State’s 10-game home winning streak with an 82-75 win on Wednesday, while Colorado State cruised to a 39-point win over Air Force. The Rams are ranked first nationally with a plus-14.1 rebound margin, but they’ll be tested by the physical Rebels. UNLV boasts one of the top freshmen in the country in forward Anthony Bennett, who leads the Rebels in scoring (19) and rebounds (8.9). The Rams have four players averaging at least 11.4 points, including top scorer Colton Iverson (14.9).
Marquette Golden Eagles at Cincinnati Bearcats (-7, 128)
Cincinnati will try to end a three-game home-losing streak Saturday night when the No. 24 Bearcats host Marquette in a Big East game. Cincinnati might be without one of its best players, senior point guard Cashmere Wright, who sprained his left knee early in the second half of Tuesday’s victory at DePaul and did not return. Wright did not suffer structural damage, the team reported, but is considered day-to-day in his recovery. Wright is second on the team in scoring (15.1) and leads in assists (3.7) and steals (1.9). He scored 20 points before the injury against DePaul and 23 last Saturday in a victory at Rutgers. Marquette has won six in a row, including two in overtime and the others by single digits. A win against the Bearcats would go a long way toward getting the Golden Eagles into the USA Today top 25 coaches poll.
San Diego State Aztecs at Wyoming Cowboys (-1.5, 118)
San Diego State visits Wyoming on Saturday looking to rebound from an 82-75 loss to No. 23 UNLV on Wednesday. Jamaal Franklin scored a game-high 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but the No. 14 Aztecs allowed the Rebels to shoot 51.6 percent and were outrebounded 41-28 in the loss. Wyoming lost to Fresno State 49-36 on Wednesday, shooting 24 percent from the field. The Cowboys lost two of their first three Mountain West games and are 2-2 since leading scorer Luke Martinez broke his right hand during a bar fight on Dec. 30. Martinez was also arrested for aggravated assault and suspended indefinitely over the weekend.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-12.5, 138)
Offensive efficiency was one of several reasons No. 20 Notre Dame was
able to match its longest winning streak in coach Mike Brey’s tenure. On
Saturday, the Fighting Irish hope to avoid their longest losing streak
in almost three years when they host Rutgers. Notre Dame shot 53.3
percent and averaged 78.3 points during a 12-game run that ended with
last Saturday’s 65-58 loss to Connecticut. The Irish fell under both
marks for the second straight game in Tuesday’s 67-63 setback at St.
John’s. Notre Dame hasn’t lost three in a row since Feb. 11-17, 2010,
but will try to reassert its home dominance against the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers is off to its best start since beginning the 2005-06 season
with a 12-4 record after Thursday’s 70-67 victory over South Florida.
Gonzaga Bulldogs at Butler Bulldogs (+2, 138)
Butler will be shorthanded when it hosts No. 8 Gonzaga in a non-conference game Saturday. The No. 13 Bulldogs will be without leading scorer Rotnei Clarke, who suffered a neck injury in last Saturday's victory at Dayton when he crashed headfirst into a support post under the basket. Clarke, a senior point guard who transferred from Arkansas, averages 16.3 points while shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range. Alex Barlow is expected to start in his place for the second consecutive game, but the Bulldogs will need a team effort to fill his shoes in the scoring column. Gonzaga’s only loss this season came against Illinois, which also handed Butler one of its two defeats. Butler still has the size to match up with the Bulldogs. Andrew Smith, a 6-11 senior center who averages 12 points and 5.2 rebounds, will likely be locked up against Gonzaga’s leading scorer, 7-1 junior Kelly Olynyk.