College basketball today: Saint Mary's-Gonzaga in battle of the conference unbeatens, more on Thursday's games to watch
Here's what you need to know for Thursday, Jan. 18:
Game of the night
Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga, 9 p.m., ET, ESPN
The Zags and Gaels are once again the two remaining unbeaten teams in the WCC. Gonzaga has the NCAA tournament resume now, but Saint Mary’s does not. The Gaels simply cannot be taken seriously for a bid unless they beat Gonzaga, at least once, for a bid. They will have one, possibly two more chances if these teams meet in the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. But Saint Mary’s cannot wait for that to occur and hope a win over Gonzaga in March is enough.
The Zags have more balance and options than the Gaels, who were a trendy preseason pick. Jock Landale is having an all-American season, averaging 21 points and 10 boards a game. He must have a stellar night against the Zags for the Gaels to have a chance. The beauty of this game for Gonzaga is that it gives them an elite-type feel amid conference games that won’t move the power-rating needle. Saint Mary’s and BYU provide that feel for the Zags, a necessity to keep them sharp.
No room for error
Minnesota at Maryland, 7:30 p.m., ET, FS1
The Gophers have the talent to make a run — assuming Amir Coffey comes back healthy. Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy are enough of a 1-2 punch to deliver knockouts to teams when they are hot. But the depleted Terps have their own version of a double threat with Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. The Terps have played so many games in the final possession and have come up short, outside of the road win at Illinois. This is yet another opportunity that they cannot let slip. The Gophers aren’t going to return to the way they played in November -- they are not that same team. They must be smaller, quicker and even more aggressive to win.
Michigan at Nebraska, 9 p.m, ET, BTN
The Huskers are on the edge of being an NCAA tournament team. They desperately needed that non-conference win against Kansas, but lost it in the final possession. They were essentially beat by Illinois at home, before James Palmer saved them with a game-winning 3-pointer. Nebraska coach Tim Miles said the Huskers must rebound well to find consistency.
Michigan continues to reinvent itself under John Beilein. The win over Michigan State on the road and the home squeaker over Maryland shows that this team is growing into a confident lot like a year ago. A similar run by this team isn’t out of the question, since Michigan has the high-profile wins that Nebraska does not. If the Huskers want to create some separation among the middling group in the Big Ten, they must get this win.
Virginia at Georgia Tech, 8 p.m., ET, ACC Network
The Yellow Jackets don’t have the NCAA tournament resume, but they are playing well and could disrupt the ACC regular-season title. Georgia Tech has won four in a row, including beating Notre Dame and Miami. Virginia is playing some of the best basketball of any team in the country and Tony Bennett is in the thick of the national coach of the year race. Virginia’s defense is locked in and Georgia Tech has had its drought moments. Virginia should win, but the past few weeks have shown that conference road games are no joke, regardless of the standings. Georgia Tech, now with just one conference loss, is playing with confidence again.
ORANGE & BLUE: Have we mentioned @UVAMensHoops is undefeated in @theACC? It's true! @wahoovoice takes a deeper dive into last night's win over NC State in today's Orange and Blue Report. #GoHoos #Wahoowa pic.twitter.com/swRWRscljO— Virginia Cavaliers (@VirginiaSports) January 15, 2018
Hidden gem of the night
East Tennessee State at Furman, 7 p.m., ET, ESPN3
First place is on the line in the Southern Conference. The Buccaneers came in at No. 36 in the Power 36 this week and have won eight in a row since losing the 22-point lead at Xavier in a two-point loss. ETSU is an incredibly balanced team with only two double-digit scorers.
Furman lost at Wofford, giving it the first loss of the conference season. Wofford, one game back of ETSU, gets its shot at the Buccaneers next Saturday.