By Steve Silverman
Saturday, Feb. 17
No. 3 Villanova (23-3, 10-3) at No. 4 Xavier (14-3, 12-2), 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
What’s going on with Villanova? The Wildcats were the No. 1 team throughout the majority of the season, but they have dropped two of their last three games, including a 76-71 defeat at Providence Wednesday night.
Jay Wright’s team should be razor sharp at this point in the year, and they should be able to handle a tough road game against a hard-trying team that can’t match them in talent. If the Wildcats were on top of their game, they would have taken charge in the second half and beaten the Friars by 8-12 points.
Now the Wildcats must play their best game of the year against the Musketeers and hope that it’s good enough. Jalen Brunson has to come through with excellent leadership and a huge game.
It will be incredibly challenging because Xavier has won nine straight games since dropping an 89-65 decision at Villanova last month. Senior guard Trevon Bluiett leads the Musketeers with an average of 19.6 points per game, and he is knocking down 44.3 percent of his three-point shots. Fellow guard J.P. Macura is adding 12.7 points per night and is capable of getting hot and carrying his team.
The high-scoring Wildcats are normally a brilliant three-point shooting team, but they were just 3-of-20 in that area in the loss to Providence. Brunson is shooting 43.8 percent in that area and averaging 19.8 ppg, while Mikal Bridges is averaging 16.3 points per night.
Xavier head coach Chris Mack should have his team at a fever pitch for this game, and the Wildcats must match the Musketeers’ intensity or this could turn into another loss for the Wildcats.
Sunday, Feb. 18
No. 8 Ohio State (2-6, 13-2) at No. 22 Michigan (21-7, 10-5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Ohio State Buckeyes have been one of the great stories in college basketball this year, as first-year coach Chris Holtmann has taken a team that many of the preseason publications had ranked at or near the bottom of the conference and led them to a tie for first place with Michigan State.
It’s not all good for the Buckeyes, as they are coming off a 79-56 loss at Penn State Thursday night. Both of the Buckeyes’ conference losses have been to Penn State, and while that can be viewed as a fluke or a curiosity, it may be indicative that this group of overachievers will soon have to face reality.
If this team has any self-doubt, the Wolverines are likely to take advantage. Michigan is on its way to the NCAA tournament, and whenever the Maize and Blue get a shot at the Buckeyes – no matter the sport – they are sure to come with their best effort.
Forward Keita Bate-Diop is averaging 19.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per night for the Buckeyes, while junior guard C.J. Jackson is adding 12.5 points per game.
Michigan will combat the Buckeyes with junior forward Moritz Wagner, who leads the team with 14.6 points per night and he is connecting on 53.3 percent from the field. Freshman guard Charles Matthews is averaging 13.8 ppg and connecting on 50.3 percent of his shots.
No. 19 Wichita State (20-5, 10-3) at No. 5 Cincinnati (23-3, 12-1), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
The American Athletic Conference does not come with the panache of the ACC, Big East or Big 12, but make no mistake about it, teams like Cincinnati, Wichita State, Houston and UCF can play.
This confrontation between the Shockers and the Bearcats took a tough turn for the visitors Thursday night when Cincinnati saw its 16-game winning streak come to an end in a 67-62 loss at Houston.
As a result, Mick Cronin’s Bearcats should be snarling as they return home. Cincinnati is all about playing ferocious defense, and it is most likely the second-best defensive team in the nation behind Virginia. The Bearcats are giving up just 56.3 points per game.
Junior guard Jacob Evans leads Cincinnati in scoring with 13.6 points per game and he is shooting 45.3 percent from the field. Senior forward Gary Clark is adding 12.8 points per night and knocking down 51.1 percent of his shots.
The Shockers are trying to rebound after a cold stretch that saw them lose three of five games. They have won three straight heading into this game, and they have the kind of offense that could cause issues for Cincinnati. Wichita State passes the ball quite well, as Gregg Marshall’s team is third in the nation with 19.2 assists per game.
Sophomore guard Landry Shamet is averaging a team-high 14.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per night, while center Shaquille Morris is averaging 13.3 points and shooting 56.1 percent.
Hartford (15-11, 8-4) at Vermont (22-5, 12-0), 2 p.m. ET, ESPN3
The America East conference doesn’t get much attention during the regular season, but the conference champion is capable of becoming a tough out in the NCAA tournament.
The Vermont Catamounts are the best team in the conference once again, and head coach John Becker has a pair of go-to guys in Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes. Lamb is a sophomore forward who is averaging 16.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per night, and he plays even bigger than his 6-6 frame indicates. Bell-Haynes is scoring 15.6 points per night and connecting on 50.6 percent of his shots.
Hartford is something of a surprise team, because they looked like they would be fighting Binghamton and Maine to stay out of the conference’s basement.
Instead, Hartford has rebounded nicely after a tough start. The Hawks come into this game having won four of five games and looking like they are capable of playing a tough game at Vermont for 40 minutes. John Carroll and Jason Dunne are averaging 15.2 and 14.8 points, respectively, and are the keys to Hartford’s chances.