By Steve Silverman
Saturday, January 20
No. 1 Villanova (17-1, 5-1) at Connecticut (10-8, 8-1), 12 noon ET, CBS
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and that’s a lesson that Villanova knows well.
The Wildcats are back in the top spot, and everybody is shooting for them. That was the case a couple of weeks ago when they weren’t the top team, but the aim is more precise, and the determination is a bit more intense when the No. 1 team in the nation comes calling.
Jay Wright and his players should feel plenty of heat Saturday when they go to the XL Center in Hartford to take the on the Huskies. Connecticut does not have a team of All-Stars, but head coach Kevin Ollie will have his team ready to play.
The Wildcats and the Huskies were once fierce Big East rivals, but when UConn moved to the American Athletic Conference, that poured cold water on the hatred. However, with a chance to bloody the noses of the No. 1 team in the nation, UConn should be primed to play its best game.
Villanova has a slew of weapons, but Jalen Brunson is their best player and he is averaging 18.8 points and 5.3 assists per game.
UConn will turn to 6-3 junior guard Jalen Adams, who is the team’s leading scorer with 18.3 points per night.
Look for the Huskies to come flying out of the gate and possibly taking a lead into the lockerroom at halftime. However, the Wildcats will take charge in the second half as Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo will take over down the stretch.
No. 14 Arizona (15-4, 5-1) at Stanford (11-8, 5-1), 4 p.m. ET, CBS
The Arizona Wildcats are right where they are supposed to be at the top of the Pac-12 standings. The Stanford Cardinal are also in the same place, and few expected head coach Jerod Haase’s team to be in this position.
The Wildcats are clearly a dangerous team, led by 6-5 junior guard Allonzo Trier, but there is some vulnerability when they go on the road. Arizona lost to unheralded Colorado when they ventured to Boulder earlier this month, and Stanford is a much better team than the Buffs.
The Cardinal has won five games in a row, and that includes an 86-77 victory over Arizona State Wednesday night. Junior forward Reid Travis is leading Stanford with an average of 20.0 points per game and he is also pulling down 7.5 rebounds per night. Michael Humphery is averaging 11.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
Trier is averaging 19.7 points per game and connecting on 51.1 percent of his shots from the field, while freshman big man DeAndre Ayton is leading the team with 20.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per night.
This is the kind of game that the Wildcats could fall way behind if they are not ready for battle against a game Cardinal team. Look for this game to go down to the wire.
Tuesday, January 23
No. 10 Kansas (15-3, 5-1) at No. 4 Oklahoma (14-3, 4-2), 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Big 12 is the best conference in the country this year, and this battle between the Jayhawks and the Sooners should be a beauty.
The Jayhawks are clearly used to owning the Big 12, but it will be a much more difficult task this season. If Bill Self’s team is going to survive this gauntlet, it means the Jayhawks will be the most battle-hardened team in the nation by the time the NCAA tournament commences.
The Jayhawks have a one-game lead over the Sooners at this point, and this game will be one more opportunity to watch Oklahoma freshman Trae Young show off his immense talent. Young is lead in the nation in scoring and assists with 29.5 points and 9.8 assists per night. Guard Christian James is second in scoring with an average of 12.1 points per night and he is connecting on 51.1 percent from the field.
Kansas will counter with Devonte Graham, who is averaging 18.3 points per game while big guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is averaging 16.6 points per game and connecting on 48.1 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Look for the Jayhawks’ class and experience to come through as Kansas keeps Oklahoma at arm’s length for more than a half before pulling away in the late stages.
Mid-Major Game of The Week
Eastern Michigan (11-7, 2-3) at Buffalo (13-5, 5-0), 7 p.m., ET, ESPN3
The Buffalo Bulls are the best team in the Mid-American Conference to this point in the year, and head coach Nate Oats has his team playing quite consistently. The Bulls have a two-game lead in the Eastern Division of the Mid-American Conference.
The Eastern Michigan Eagles are tied for fourth in the West Division of the conference, but this will be a tough game for head coach Rob Murphy’s team. Eastern Michigan is just 2-6 on the road, and the Eagles will need to play their best game in order to avoid a blowout. Elijah Minnie is averaging 17.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game to lead Eastern Michigan.
Guard C.J. Massinburg is averaging 18.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per night for the Bulls, while forward Nick Perkins is contributing 16.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Buffalo simply has too much firepower for the Eagles, and they should win this game and pull away in the process.