College Basketball: 11 Must-Watch Games This Week
Last week proved that sometimes madness can come early in college basketball.
Of the nation's top 20 teams, 13 of them (including 7 in the top 10) lost at least once last week, which caused a massive shake-up in the polls. As teams start to take more losses, the big wins will go far in differentiating the elite from the pretenders. With only five weeks left in the regular season, the opportunity to grab signature victories is fading, making these games that much more important.
Game of the Day
These two teams are in need of a confidence boost before the bottom falls out, and a win over their opponent Monday could be just what they need. Unfortunately, only one of them can get it.
Notre Dame has lost three of four since starting 5-0 in conference play and they need to hold home court in this matchup to stay in the thick of the ACC race. The Irish became the latest team to fall prey to Georgia Tech in Atlanta over the weekend and need to bounce back before things get out of control.
Similarly, Duke has dropped three of their last five, in much more publicized fashion. While Coach K is missing time recovering from back surgery, the main thing keeping the Blue Devils afloat is the shooting of sophomore Luke Kennard.
His 34 points on 11-14 shooting and go-ahead three in the waning seconds Saturday at Wake Forest slowed the air from coming completely out of the balloon for the Blue Devils' chances in the conference. A win in South Bend would be a big boost for a team that needs to pick up momentum.
Game of the Day
Since the loss of senior guard Maurice Watson to a season-ending injury, Creighton has lost two of three. The Bluejays did bounce back to grab a win over struggling DePaul after getting drubbed at Georgetown earlier in the week. However, this game at Butler will be a great measuring stick to see if they can acclimate themselves to life without their senior leader and roll into March with a chance to make some noise.
Butler became Georgetown's second victim of the week on Saturday, ending a four-game winning streak that started after their trip to Creighton three weeks ago. The Bulldogs are only a half-game out of the Big East lead and seem to be Villanova's stiffest competition right now, given the struggles of Creighton and Xavier. Butler will have revenge on their mind, but this will be a great opportunity for Creighton to keep their name in the national picture.
Following a week where West Virginia went 0-2 and dropped from 7 to 18 in the AP poll, the Mountaineers defeated Kansas and Texas A&M at home to reclaim the 7th position in the polls. They pulled away from Kansas, handing the Jayhawks their first conference loss of the season.
This week brings more challenges, the first of which is a trip to Ames to face an Iowa State team that has played tough but has not been able to claim the signature win. The Cyclones are now 13-7, but the addition of a win of this caliber can differentiate themselves from others on the bubble.
Game of the Day
(2) Baylor at (3) Kansas, 9:00 PM ET, ESPN2
Kansas continues their crazy tough eight-day stretch when they return to Lawrence to take on Baylor Wednesday. Kansas escaped one of the toughest road trips any team will endure this year with only one loss, the aforementioned thumping they took at West Virginia, but also with a win over Kentucky that can go a long way when the selection committee needs to pick the 1 seeds.
Similarly to Kansas' win over Kentucky, Baylor gets an opportunity to add a huge win to their resume if they can knock off Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Bears were one of three top-10 teams not to take a loss this week, although they did get put to the test by a middle-of-the-road Mississippi team in a possible trap game. A win at Kansas would go a long way to help end the Jayhawks' long reign over the Big 12.
Florida State escaped what was believed to be their toughest stretch of the season, but dropped two games last week to unranked opponents and took a nosedive in the rankings. They look to avoid a three-game skid against a Miami team that has upset fresh on their mind after taking down North Carolina over the weekend in convincing fashion.
Northwestern is ranked in the AP poll for only the second time since the 1968-69 season and they will be put to the test in their first game as a ranked team by traveling to Purdue.
The Wildcats are a half-game out of the Big Ten lead and are currently riding a six-game winning streak. Purdue hit another bump in the road last weekend, this time at Nebraska in a game that came down to the wire. The Boilermakers had won five of six prior to that loss and are also in the thick of the Big Ten race.
Game of the Day
Gonzaga jumped up to the top of AP polls for the second time in school history and remain the only unbeaten team in Division I Men's Basketball. For those complaining about the ease of Gonzaga's strength of schedule, this will be a chance to see them get tested, as it is the second toughest squad the Zags stand to face for the rest of the regular season.
For those with less disdain for the Bulldogs, this will be their first game as the number-one team in the country this season and an opportunity to see just what this team is all about. Gonzaga has beaten their WCC opponents by an average of 28 points per game, including a 23-point win over fellow ranked conference foe Saint Mary's.
Game of the Day
Arizona is in the midst of a 14-game winning streak, including their first nine league games, and barring a letdown at Oregon State on Thursday, will carry a 15-game streak into their matchup with Oregon. The Wildcats won their last road test and claimed a signature win two weeks ago at UCLA and now face potentially their last big road test of the regular season Saturday in Eugene.
The return of Allonzo Trier has given Arizona another offensive weapon who can contribute all over the court and make the Cats a legitimate Final Four contender.
Oregon is coming off a tough loss to Colorado, which ended their 17-game winning streak that spanned all the way back to November. The Ducks look to take advantage of their opportunity to hand Arizona their first conference loss and even things up in the Pac-12 race. Oregon does not make the return trip to Tucson this year, so this game will be huge in deciding the league champion.
Kentucky dropped only four spots after losing at Tennessee and home to Kansas. They have a chance to first rebound against Georgia, but hit the road again for their toughest SEC road game this season at Florida.
The Gators will be motivated by the chance to grab a signature win and keep pace atop the SEC standings. Currently, Florida's best win is a neutral victory over Miami (FL), who is ranked 33rd, according to Kenpom.
(20) Notre Dame at (12) North Carolina, 6:00 PM ET, ESPN
Notre Dame's tough week continues with a trip down to Chapel Hill and a date with the 12th-ranked Tar Heels. North Carolina took their second road conference loss to an unranked Miami team last weekend and hope to right the ship and stay atop the ACC. UNC only holds a half-game lead in the conference, including a one-game lead over the Irish.
(23) Purdue at (17) Maryland
Purdue finishes their week with a trip to College Park and their only matchup with the Terrpains this season.
Maryland has been quietly climbing their way into and up the AP polls, winning 13 of their last 14 games. The computer numbers do not love the Terps this year, as our rankings, as well as Kenpom, have them ranked 40th. If they survive the test in Ohio State on Tuesday, a win over Purdue could help change people's tune about the co-Big Ten leader.