Virginia and Villanova are two of the eight Division I programs to win at least 60 games in the past two seasons. However, both seasons ended much sooner than expected.
The teams meet Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia (noon ET, ESPN2), just one highlight on a terrific schedule of compelling non-conference matchups.
It's safe to say the Cavaliers didn’t send holiday greetings to anyone in East Lansing, Michigan, this year. Wily coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State knocked Virginia out of the NCAA tournament in 2014 (Sweet 16) and 2015 (Round of 32).
Villanova fans have endured a sadder fate in March, watching their team exit on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament twice in a row. The Wildcats squandered a No. 2 seed when they fell to eventual champion Connecticut in 2014 and became the first No. 1 to depart in 2015, stumbling against No. 8 N.C. State.Those poor postseason performances are lost in the rearview mirror, however, as both No. 8 Virginia and No. 12 Villanova are poised to contend for their respective conference titles again with the idea of earning another high NCAA seed.
The Cavaliers have won seven games in a row, including a 16-point win over West Virginia in their last pre-exam outing, Dec. 8th. There aren’t many weaknesses on coach Tony Bennett’s club. They are 10th in offensive rating (1.22 points/possession) and 32nd in defensive rating (0.90 ppp). Point guard London Perrantes is shooting a career-high 53.8 percent on 3-pointers, after shooting 31.6 percent last season.
Villanova stumbled in its biggest test yet -- losing by 23 against Oklahoma in Hawaii. But the Wildcats’ best offense could still lie ahead. After shooting 38.9 percent on 3-pointers last season, they’ve hit only 30.9 percent so far. That number is certain to rise. Josh Hart, a 6-5 junior, is a matchup problem who is having a fine season - 15.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg.
Expect a grinder. Both teams are deliberate and rank in the bottom 20 percent in average possessions per game.
More on the rest of the weekend shortly, but first …
Please allow me to introduce myself: Oakland point guard Kahlil Felder orchestrates a dynamic offense that produces 1.13 points per possession (52nd in the nation). Felder, a 5-9 junior, had 34 points, six assists and three steals Saturday as the Grizzlies stretched their winning streak to three games with a 76-64 road victory over Toledo. Felder is averaging 24.6 points per game (fourth in the nation) and has scored at least 20 points in each outing. He rarely leaves the floor (93.1 percent of minutes) for coach Greg Kampe, assists on 44.3 percent of the Grizzlies’ field goals -- his 8.9 assists per game leads the nation -- and is shooting a career-high 40 percent on 3-pointers. Felder has several opportunities to reveal his skills to a national audience in the next two weeks. Oakland (6-3) plays at Washington on Saturday, faces No. 1 Michigan State at the Palace at Auburn Hills (Mich.) on Tuesday and travels to No. 8 Virginia on Dec. 30
Now, here are the other games worthy of a spot in the remote control rotation on Saturday:
North Carolina vs. UCLA in Brooklyn, N.Y. (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Although they’ve lost twice, it’s too early to call the Tar Heels a disappointment. Saturday will be Marcus Paige’s fourth game. If Justin Jackson (29.4 percent on 3s) can locate his outside touch, a dangerous offense (1.19 points per possession) becomes terrifying for opponents. The 8-3 Bruins, meanwhile, are one of the surprise teams of 2015-16, winning five in a row since dropping two games in Maui. UCLA forward Tony Parker is still a free throw liability (47.4 percent) but is an elite offensive rebounder 16.6 percent of Bruins’ misses). His 260-pound frame could bother a slender UNC frontcourt that’s missing Kennedy Meeks (foot).
Notre Dame vs. Indiana in Indianapolis (2 p.m., ESPN2)
Folks who like offense -- and who doesn’t, really? -- will love this one. The Fighting Irish (7-2) are No. 2 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom.com and the 8-3 Hoosiers are No. 4. Also, neither team has shown a great notion to play defense (111th or worse). Tough to beat the point guard battle as well. Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell is second in the nation in offensive rating (135.4) among players who use at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions. Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson is right behind (131.8). Both players can penetrate, pass and shoot threes.
Purdue at Butler (5 p.m., BTN)
Change the channel but remain in the state of Indiana as the sun sets for a top-20 battle between the No. 9 Boilermakers (11-0) and No. 17 Bulldogs (8-1). This could be not only coach Matt Painter’s best team in 11 seasons in West Lafayette, but the best bunch of Boilermakers since coach Gene Keady led the program to an Elite 8 in 2000. Purdue is big, deep and No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Opponents are shooting 37.5 percent on 2-pointers. Butler, on the other hand, has made 57 percent of its twos (10th in the nation) and will need strong nights from seniors Kellen Dunham (130.0 offensive rating) and Roosevelt Jones (120.5).
Baylor at Texas A&M (9 p.m., ESPNU)
Elite offensive rebounding Baylor (45.4 percent of missed shots) heads to College Station aiming to overpower the Aggies in the paint. The No. 16 Bears (8-1) have won seven in row behind the play of forwards Rico Gathers (15.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg) and Taurean Prince (15.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg). No. 24 Texas A&M (8-2) has a balanced offensive attack, boosted by the emergence of 6-10 freshman Tyler Davis (75.5 percent on 2s). Every Aggies regular has an offensive rating of 105 or higher.