Duke vs. North Carolina and 10 more must-watch games left in this crazy college basketball season
Another weekend, another all-you-can-eat buffet of surprises and flip-flops in college basketball. If February is this good, imagine what March will be like. But what to keep the public occupied until then? More about that in a minute.
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You didn’t need to be a powerhouse to share in the tumult. Take Alcorn State. The Braves hit a 3-pointer with one second left to force overtime against Mississippi Valley State, then buried another jumper with one second left in the extra period to win 72-71, meaning Mississippi Valley State twice led with two seconds left on the clock, and lost.
Meanwhile, home winning streaks became an endangered species. Wichita State’s was stopped at a nation-leading 43, Maryland’s at 27, Valparaiso’s at 25 (on a tip-in at the buzzer), Oklahoma’s at 19, by its old friends from Kansas, whose own 39-game streak is now the nation’s longest.
So the landscape looks as volatile as ever. Now, about the future. The conference tournaments are just down the road, but there are still some regular-season games that should make the intrigue meter click.
Such as ...
North Carolina versus Duke in Chapel Hill on Feb. 17, and in Durham on March 5
RELATED: Duke vs. North Carolina preview
Yes, this season has steamed up the windows, and the most ballyhooed rivalry of all hasn’t even tipped off yet. Duke went three months without a win over a ranked opponent. And now two in six days, including Grayson Allen’s last-second winning bank shot against Virginia on Mike Krzyzewski’s 69th birthday, just after he had missed two free throws. You can’t make this stuff up.
The Blue Devils have had the better of Tobacco Road lately, winning three meetings in a row and 10 of the past 13. But the Tar Heels are supposed to be positioned for a reversal. We’ll see.
Wisconsin at Michigan State, Feb. 18
No, neither team is leading the Big Ten, but they might be the two hottest teams in the conference. Wisconsin, for example, has gone from 9-9 to 16-9, after blowing through Maryland. Let’s see who keeps Big Mo.
Iona at Monmouth, Feb. 19.
Lately, when it comes to intense rivalry, these two have made Carolina and Duke look like Bert and Ernie. There was some postgame skirmishing after Monmouth ended the Gaels’ 26-game home winning streak in a 110-102 shootout in January. There had been bad blood last March when they played in the MAAC tournament.
Not only that, Iona coach Tim Cluess lobbed some verbal bouquets at the famed Monmouth bench and its skits: “`Are they on the team? I don’t know if they were on the team or wearing uniforms as cheerleaders. I’ve never seen them on the court doing anything, so to me, they’re not basketball players.”
How can it not be lively come Friday?
Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga, Feb. 20
These two are the Coke and Pepsi of the West Coast Conference, finishing No. 1 and No. 2 for 11 consecutive years. So it’s not all that surprising they’ll likely be playing for the lead. Saint Mary’s ended an eight-game losing streak against the Zags earlier this season, 70-67, as both teams shot 62.5 percent the second half.
Villanova at Xavier, Feb. 24.
On New Year’s Eve, the ball dropped on Xavier in a visit to Villanova, when point guard Edmond Sumner had to be carted off after a scary head injury -- he’s fine now -- and the Musketeers were crushed 95-64. That made them 4-22 against the Wildcats, and 0-6 since they became Big East brothers. Now Villanova is No. 1 -- which is easy for some to forget, with all the usual fuss about the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC -- and Xavier is 22-3 and 12-1 at home.
Arizona at Colorado on Feb. 24 and Utah, Feb. 27.
The Wildcats own five defeats by a total of 18 points. Standard operating procedure for a program that has not been beaten by double digits in nearly three years, with the average margin of its last 16 defeats at 3.5. Arizona has steadily rounded into trim for crunch time, and this swing through the mountains might well go far in deciding its Pac-12 title chances.
Kansas at Texas, Feb. 29.
Old take on the Jayhawks after they lost three of five: Revolution in the Big 12! New take on the Jayhawks now that they’ve beaten Oklahoma twice, West Virginia, and Kentucky: The boss is still in the office!
Since it is a given Kansas will win all its home games -- that is a given, right? -- this might well be the day that settles it for the Jayhawks in their bid to make it 12 regular season titles in a row in the Big 12. The Longhorns are 12-1 on their court, and by then might be desperately seeking the high value win that gets them off the bubble.
LSU at Kentucky, March 5.
Ben Simmons plays in Rupp Arena -- where the home team has won 34 in a row -- for the first and probably last time. He seems to flirt with a triple double weekly, but the operative numbers are 85-67. That was the pounding the Tigers put on Kentucky in Baton Rouge in January. But lately the Wildcats have looked like the monster everyone feared. They are particularly dangerous when their coach gets the boot 146 seconds into the game.
The Iowa-Maryland-Indiana big finish, March 1 and 6
First, Indiana is at Iowa. Then, Maryland visits the Hoosiers, who are a little like the proverbial month of March. Lions at home, and lambs on the road. Somewhere in there, the Big Ten regular season title probably gets decided.
Should be fun stretch run. And then the serious business starts.