College basketball: Oklahoma-Baylor highlights intriguing weekend
Directing college basketball fans toward quality entertainment is the sole purpose of this space each Friday.
Just last week, three of the five games selected for weekend viewing remained undecided until the final possession, while one gave the gift of bonus basketball. Of course, finding exciting action this season has been as simple as turning on the television.
|MARCH MADNESS ON SOCIAL MEDIA|
JOIN THE TEAM.
Here are five games we’re watching this weekend:
Albany (15-5, 4-1 America East) at Stony Brook (14-4, 5-0) (9 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Last season, Albany beat Stony Brook by two points in the America East tournament finals to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The year before, Albany beat Stony Brook by nine in the finals. And the year before that, Albany beat Stony Brook by two points in the tournament semifinals.
It’s safe to say Stony Brook is tired of having its dancing dreams crushed by Albany.
The rivals are ruling the America East yet again. Stony Brook is the best offensive team (1.18 pts. per possession) and defensive team (0.84) in conference play. Albany is second in both categories.
Stony Brook has the best player in the conference -- center Jameel Warney (18.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg) and is riding a 10-game winning streak. Albany answers with balance (four score in double figures). Terrific freshman Joe Cremo (11.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg in conference) has been consistent and efficient.
No. 1 Oklahoma (15-2, 4-2 Big 12) at No. 13 Baylor (15-3, 5-1) (noon, ESPN)
The Sooners opened the week as No. 1 in the nation, but a loss at Baylor drops them into fourth in the Big 12, the top-rated conference at KenPom. That pretty much sums up this wild, wacky, wonderful college basketball season.
After a humiliating 28-point loss at Kansas in the Big 12 opener, the Bears have reeled off five consecutive victories, surviving a double-overtime thriller against Kansas State on Wednesday.
A trio of seniors lead Baylor: center Rico Gathers, 6-8, 275 pounds, is a terrific offensive rebounder (4.6 per game); slippery forward Taurean Prince (15.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) projects as a first round NBA Draft pick; point guard Lester Medford sets the table (37 pct. assist rate) and pressures the ball.
Oklahoma is the only team in the top 10 of adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, but surrendered a season-worst 1.19 points per possession in Monday’s loss at Iowa State.
Sooners guard Jordan Woodard has excelled in Big 12 action (54.8 pct. on 3-pointers).
No. 20 Duke (14-5, 3-3 ACC) at NC State (11-8, 1-5) (2 p.m. ET, CBS)
To avoid their first four-game losing streak since Feb. 2007, the Blue Devils must defeat a bitter rival that’s coming off it’s best performance of the season -- a 78-61 win at Pittsburgh to snap a five-game skid. Making matters worse for coach Mike Krzyzewski, he’s taken better teams to Raleigh two of the past three years -- and lost.
Duke’s troubles are well documented -- lack of depth, frontcourt size, interior defense, rebounding, in particular on the defensive glass. Many of those issues are beyond repair with this roster. In the short term they need another perimeter scorer (or two) to help Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram. Luke Kennard was 0-for-9 versus Syracuse, Matt Jones is shooting 25 percent on 3s in the last five games and Derryck Thornton hasn’t reached double figures in ACC action.
The Blue Devils better find a winning recipe soon. Their ACC schedule is backloaded with heavyweights, which could jeopardize their 20 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances -- the second longest active streak.
N.C. State, like Duke, extends only seven players deep, at best. Cat Barber takes 29 percent of the Pack’s shots, assists on 28 percent of its baskets and draws seven fouls per 40 minutes, rarely leaving the floor.
No. 18 Butler (13-5, 2-4 Big East) at Creighton (13-6, 4-2) (7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
The Big East is ranked fourth at KenPom and seven of its 10 members schools still have their heart set on competing in the NCAA tournament. Butler sprinted to an 11-1 record in the nonconference, but was unable to deliver down the stretch in narrow losses to Villanova and Providence.
The Bulldogs have lost four of six as their offense has downgraded from remarkably efficient in the nonconference (1.24 points per possession) to ordinary in Big East play (1.04 ppp). Senior guard Roosevelt Jones has remained steady though (53.3 pct. shooting).
After a two-year adjustment period, the Bluejays are trying to prove they have the requisite athleticism and skill to consistently compete in an elite league. This upcoming four-game stretch (Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova are next) will measure their progress.
Flashy point guard Maurice Watson (111.5 offensive rating) helps Creighton avoid turnovers (14.7 pct of possessions) better than any team in Big East action. Making nine 3-pointers per game at 38.6 percent helps also.
No. 22 Purdue (17-3, 5-2 Big Ten) at No. 9 Iowa (15-3, 6-0) (1 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
If they handed out Coach of the Year awards on Jan. 22, it would be hard to find a coach more worthy than Iowa’s Fran McCaffery. Since a one-point loss at Iowa State, he’s steered the Hawkeyes into victory lane eight straight games, knocking off Michigan State (twice), Michigan and Purdue.
The Hawkeyes are No. 4 at KenPom because they are top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency. Peter Jok leads Iowa with 41 3-pointers on 40 percent accuracy. In Big Ten action, the Hawkeyes lose the ball on a league-best 12 percent of possessions.
When these teams met on Jan. 2, Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff had 25 points and five blocks to lead a 70-63 victory.
Purdue has many large men on its team (fourth in nation in effective height, per KenPom) who use their tall frames and long wingspans to lead the Big Ten in offensive rebounding (39.3 pct.) and defensive rebounding (79.5).
Guard play has been a sore spot in the Boilermakers’ losses. Starting guards Rapheal Davis and P.J. Thompson combined for five points on 1 of 11 shooting and committed six turnovers in the first matchup.