What to know in college basketball for Saturday, Jan. 27:
Virginia at Duke, 2 p.m., ET, CBS: Hate this kind of unbalanced scheduling. Virginia only plays Duke once and it’s at Cameron this season. Boo! They need to play twice. The Cavs held Clemson to only 36 points in the last outing. Forget about Clemson being depleted (playing without second-leading scorer Donte Grantham). That’s still only 36 points. “Our guys understand how good we have to be at both ends of the floor, defensively especially,’’ said national of coach of the year candidate, Virginia’s Tony Bennett on the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365.
As is the norm in the ACC, the elite teams usually have tougher games in the back side of the conference. Network preferences usually dictate this with the focus on college basketball in mid-January into early March.
“Our schedule is getting tougher as we go into the ACC,’’ Bennett said. “We’re on the road at five of our last eight and we’re playing the top half of the league.” Virginia has a 6-4 road/home split, including the Duke game, in the final 10 of the regular-season. The road spots include Syracuse, Florida State, Miami, Pitt and Louisville. The Cavaliers only played North Carolina once, too, and that was at home where they won and held the Tar Heels to 49 points.
But this team may be better prepared for that slate. Why?
“What’s different about this team is I don’t know what our ceiling is and coming into the year we didn’t have a double digit scorer,’’ said Bennett. “This chemistry and how they play together offensively and defensively may be at the highest level since I’ve been there.’’
This will be a unique challenge, said Bennett when referencing the size of Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr.. and Gary Trent Jr.
NCAA Statistical Rankings:— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) January 26, 2018
Scoring Defense (51.6 ppg)
FG% Defense (36.4%)
Fouls Per Game (13.8)
Turnovers Per Game (9.5)
Turnover Margin (5.1)
Scoring Margin (17.6)
3FG% Defense (29.1%)
A/TO Ratio (1.46)
“This will be a good day for college basketball,’’ said Bennett. “I hope it is for us. Both teams have positioned themselves to be in a good spot.’’
Also the podcast, Bennett went in detail about the pack line defense and his appreciation for defense by watching his father, Dick, take a team with limitations and win.
The rest of the key games in the ACC:
NC State at North Carolina, 12 p.m., ET, CBS: Joel Berry II has become one of the top closers in the game this season. If the game is on the line and the Tar Heels have a chance to win, put the ball in his hands to go make a play. Why is he so comfortable in this role? Berry was on the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365 this week and said, “if I don’t hit those shots and get the criticism from the outside, not a lot of people want to be in that position. I don’t mind it.’’ The Tar Heels are not the forgotten team in the ACC. They are still fully capable of toppling Duke and Virginia and winning the regular-season title or the ACC tournament title.
Miami at Florida State, 4 p.m., ACC Network: The ‘Canes had their shot to establish themselves as a contender for the title, but then dropped the home game to Duke last week. They rebounded with a home win over Louisville. The Seminoles weren’t able to build momentum off the win against North Carolina at home. Miami can stay within striking distance with a win at 5-3. But a loss to drop to four losses before February probably puts first out of reach. The Seminoles at 4-4 appear to be at that cut line in the standings for a possible bid.
2. Cincinnati at Memphis, 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Memphis can rise up. We’ve seen that happen this season when the Tigers destroyed UConn at home. But this Cincinnati team is too versatile and disciplined this season to expect a loss unless the Bearcats contribute to one. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, appearing on the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365 said the win at UCLA earlier in the season in a dominating fashion “gave this team a lot of confidence. That was the turning point for this team, believing what they were capable of. The confidence level of this team rose with that victory.’’ Cronin said the Bearcats have been devastating on the defensive end this season so far. And this team is road tested, having to play its games at Northern Kentucky University due to construction at their on-campus facility. No one seems to be paying too much attention to the Bearcats. But Cincinnati is deep March good right now.
3. Duquesne at Rhode Island, 12 p.m., ET, NBC Sports Network: The Rams are going to win the A-10 outright and rather handily. I’m going to continue to pound that narrative. But the Dukes are the surprise team in the league this season behind former Akron coach Keith Dambrot. So, don’t be shocked to see a more competitive game than probably originally predicted when the conference schedule came out. URI has the talent to go to the second weekend. Stay on this narrative.
4. East Tennessee State at Wofford, 7 p.m., ET, ESPN3: The Buccaneers beat Furman. Now it’s onto Wofford, who is tied with UNC Greensboro with only one loss. ETSU is 8-0. Win at Wofford and the Buccaneers may only have UNCG to hold off. But the Terriers are more than capable of still making this chase a two or three-team race with a win. The UNC road win continues to age well for Wofford.
5. Iowa at Nebraska, 8 p.m., BTN: Nebraska is my pick to get out of the muddled middle of the Big Ten and reach the NCAA tournament. But to do so they have to win all its home games and steal some on the road. The Huskers don’t get any of the top four in the Big Ten (Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan) the rest of the regular season. That means they can bulk up on wins, but it also means they may have to beat one of them in the Big Ten tournament in New York. Iowa played its best game of the season in crushing Wisconsin at home. But their act hasn’t traveled well, even if they now have renewed confidence.
What's on the line in each Big 12/SEC Challenge game:
Texas Tech at South Carolina, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Red Raiders impressive profile would be enhanced by a true road win against the Gamecocks. South Carolina has a long haul to get a bid. This would help dramatically.
Baylor at Florida, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Gators need to find consistency after losing at home to South Carolina. The Gators need to regain the finishing touch they had at Kentucky the previous week.
Ole Miss at Texas, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Longhorns are a tournament team. Ole Miss is a spoiler. Texas is still searching for consistency.
Georgia at Kansas State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Georgia desperately needs to get a road win. Mark Fox, returning to Manhattan, has had to sweat out too many Selection Sundays. The Wildcats have become a tough out at home after knocking off Oklahoma at home last week.
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Oklahoma at Alabama, 2:15 p.m. ET, ESPN: Trae Young-Collin Sexton. This is appointment TV. The Sooners are coming off a home win over Kansas. The Tide stumbled at Ole Miss.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Oklahoma's Trae Young vs. Alabama's Collin Sexton
TCU at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Horned Frogs played their best game of the Big 12 at the most important time, beating West Virginia at home. The rebuilding Commodores have been a major pest for anyone coming into Nashville (wins over LSU and Alabama in the SEC).
Texas A&M at Kansas, 4:30 p.m., ET, ESPN: Kansas needs another bounce back after a loss at Oklahoma. Texas A&M apparently still has visions of being an NCAA tournament team and a possible Final Four contender. It’s not crazy based on a strong resume, a 37 RPI and three wins in quadrant 1. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said on the NCAA.com podcast that if the guard play gets better then this team can still ascend.
Oklahoma State at Arkansas, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Cowboys beat Oklahoma, but then lost at Texas Tech. This is a young team that, naturally, can stumble on the road. Arkansas is a different team at home, save one outlier against LSU.
Kentucky at West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Nevermind that the Wildcats have struggled and lost two of their last three (the win over Mississippi State stopped the skid). This will be an intense affair. Kentucky hasn’t played as good a pressing team as West Virginia and the Mountaineers will be jacked to play well after losing at TCU. But this is the kind of game the Wildcats rise up in, when they appear to be struggling. Still, it’s hard to see West Virginia losing two at home after falling to Kansas last week.