By Steve Silverman
Saturday, Feb. 10
Butler (17-8, 7-5) at No. 1 Villanova (22-2, 9-2), 12 noon ET, Fox
This is a huge game for the Wildcats, who will almost certainly give up their No. 1 rating after their inexplicable home upset suffered at the hands of St. John’s – St. John’s – Wednesday night.
Head coach Jay Wright obviously wants to see his team get back on the winning track, and everything about the makeup of Villanova says that is what will happen. However, the Wildcats are playing Butler, a team that beat them earlier this season and has tormented them in the past.
Villanova generally responds to adversity with a superior effort, and that’s what is needed against the Bulldogs. Jalen Brunson is one of the top players in the nation, and he has superb numbers with a scoring average of 19.8 points per game and an exceptional 54.4 shooting percentage.
Mikal Bridges is averaging 16.6 points per night, while unsung Donte DiVincenzo is scoring 13.7 points per game and connecting on 48.5 percent of his shots.
Butler is coming off a 98-93 loss to Xavier, but the Bulldogs had won their previous four games. Powerful Kelan Martin is averaging 20.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while Kamar Baldwin is a fine complementary player with an average of 15.6 points per night. Martin had 24 points and eight rebounds in Butler’s 101-93 victory over Villanova in late December.
No. 3 Purdue (23-3, 12-1) at No. 4 Michigan State (23-3, 11-2), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
This is the Big Ten regular-season game of the year, as the Boilermakers have had a sensational year and are looking to make a statement against the Spartans.
Purdue had won 19 games in a row before losing at home to Ohio State Wednesday night, and they have been winning in powerful fashion. Matt Painter’s Boilermakers are outscoring opponents by an average of 19.0 points per game.
Look for Tom Izzo and the Spartans to be prepared for this test. After losing two of three Big Ten games in January to Ohio State and Michigan, the Spartans have reeled off seven straight wins and are playing to the level that was expected.
Miles Bridges is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 17.7 points per game, but the key to the Spartans’ success is their depth and versatility. Nick Ward, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Jaren Jackson Jr. are all averaging in double figures and quite difficult to defend.
Guard Carsen Edwards is leading the way for Purdue with an average of 17.0 points per night, while forward Vincent Edwards (no relation to Carsen) is right behind with 15.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Tuesday, February 13
No. 17 Oklahoma (16-7, 6-5) at No. 7 Texas Tech (20-4, 8-3), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Big 12 is the best and the deepest conference in the nation, and the Red Raiders are currently tied with Kansas atop the conference standings.
Texas Tech will try to show off their home-court dominance against the Sooners, who were one of the top stories in college basketball earlier this season because of freshman Trae Young’s sharp shooting. The star guard is still leading the nation in scoring and assists, but the Sooners have lost three of their last four games.
Texas Tech has a five-game winning streak, and it has also won 11 consecutive home games. Senior guard Keenan Evans is averaging a team-leading 18.4 points per night and connecting on 48.4 percent of his shots from the field, while freshman guard Jarrett Culver is scoring 11.0 points per game and shooting 49.7 percent. Zhaire Smith, another freshman guard, is averaging 10.5 points and connecting on 57.6 percent of his shots.
Young is averaging 29.9 points and 9.3 assists per game, while guard Christian James and forward Brady Manek are both averaging in double figures for the Sooners. However, opponents are starting to figure out Oklahoma, and head coach Lon Kruger is going to have to figure out a few alterations to his game plan very quickly.
No. 2 Virginia (23-1, 12-0) at No. 25 Miami (18-5, 7-4), 9 p.m. ET
The Cavaliers are poised to move into the No. 1 spot in the rankings since Villanova lost to St. John’s, and Virginia certainly appears to be a worthy successor.
Not only does Tony Bennett’s team play its signature defense, the execution of the offense is usually quite efficient on the most important possessions of the game. The Cavs are strong all around, but they will be tested severely by Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes.
Virginia has won 15 games in a row, and they have an excellent go-to scorer in sophomore guard Kyle Guy, who is averaging 15.4 ppg and shooting 86.0 percent from the free-throw line. Senior guard Devon Hall is second in scoring and the only other Cav in double figures with 12.3 points per night.
The Hurricanes have won five of their last six games, and they have a fine go-to-weapon in 6-11 sophomore forward Dewan Huell, who is averaging 12.8 points and shooting 59.6 percent from the field. Keep your eye on freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV, who is averaging 11.5 points per night.