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Home Style Previewing the top 10 college basketball games this weekend

Previewing the top 10 college basketball games this weekend

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Gonzaga will spend another week atop the USA TODAY Sports coaches poll.
USA TODAY Sports

Setting up the top 10 games this weekend in order of watchability. All times Eastern.

1.) No. 1 Gonzaga at No. 20 Saint Mary’s

Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

About the Bulldogs (25-0, 13-0): Gonzaga remained undefeated and atop the coaches poll after another strong week that included a road win at BYU and an easy home victory vs. Santa Clara. That was followed by another easy road win at San Francisco on Thursday night. There’s a very real chance for the ‘Zags to finish the regular-season undefeated and notch the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Like most of Mark Few’s teams, this one is exceptional on offense. But the difference with this group comes on the defensive end, where the Bulldogs rank second nationally field-goal percentage defense (36.9%) and limit opponents to 61.7 points per game, which ranks eighth in the country. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss steers this team, and is a national player of the year candidate.

About the Gaels (22-2, 12-1): Saint Mary’s, last year’s most snubbed bubble team, scheduled much better this season and barring a huge late-season collapse should be in the NCAAs as an at-large. The Gaels have only lost to Gonzaga (Jan. 14) and UT-Arlington (Dec. 8). The latter is a résumé stain, but shouldn’t matter if Randy Bennett’s team can keep it together. A sign for how good and underrated this veteran-laden St. Mary’s squad is? Try a 44-point demolition of San Diego on the road (Feb. 4). That was largely a product of a stout defense that ranks second in the country — allowing opponents 56.6 points a game. The Gaels also rebound extremely well, ranking in the top-five in that category too.

Star watch: Gonzaga guard Williams-Goss (15.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.7 apg) and center Przemek Karnowski (12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Saint Mary’s forward Jock Landale (16.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg) and forward Calvin Hermanson (12.8 ppg).

The pick: Saint Mary’s. If there’s any team good enough to hand the ‘Zags their first loss, it’s this Saint Mary’s team, which beat Gonzaga twice last season. Freshman big man Jock Landale has been the difference-maker for the Gaels, and a big game by him should help spearhead a major upset.

2.) No. 11 Cincinnati at Southern Methodist

Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN

About the Bearcats (22-2, 11-0): Cincinnati might be the most underrated team in the country with its only losses coming in non-conference play to Butler and Rhode Island. Forward Kyle Washington, who had 27 points and eight rebounds in a Feb. 4 drubbing of UConn, leads a balanced offensive attack, while veteran guard Troy Caupain (10.5 ppg, 4.6 apg) gives Mick Cronin’s group a steady presence, helping the Bearcats rank third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.64).

About the Mustangs (21-4, 11-1): Tim Jankovich has gotten his team to play fantastic defense, as the Mustangs rank third nationally in points allowed (58.6 ppg). The Mustangs are also tenacious on the glass, ranking second nationally in rebounding margin (11.0). Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye has been SMU’s main offensive catalyst.

Star watch: Cincinnati forward Washington (13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Jacob Evans (13.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg). SMU forward Ojeleye (18.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and guard Shake Milton (13.7 ppg, 4.4 apg).

The pick: SMU. This is the game to catapult the Mustangs into the national conversation and remind everyone they’re still a force in the post-Larry Brown era. Jankovich wants SMU to be in the top 25 regularly, and a win in Dallas should put them there.

3.) Northwestern at No. 5 Wisconsin

Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

About the Wildcats (18-6, 7-4): Is this the year? Coach Chris Collins and his team had been inching closer and closer to making history by reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history. But back-to-back setback losses against beatable teams, Purdue and Illinois, have cooled that story line down a bit. Still, there’s time for this Northwestern team can contend. There’s room for the Wildcats to also ascend to the top of the Big Ten if they blossom down the stretch in February. Northwestern takes great care of the ball, ranking among the leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s a credit to the team’s stellar point guard, Bryant McIntosh (13.5 ppg, 5.5 apg).

About the Badgers (21-3, 10-1): Wisconsin survived an overtime thriller against Nebraska on Thursday night to stay way out front in the Big Ten standings. This club has two mainstays in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig that make it a title-contender, but it’s been the play of Ethan Rapp (14.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) that’s been the most amplifying. The sophomore big man has given the Badgers consistent production all year. Greg Gard’s team also is one of the nation’s best defensive teams (allowing 59.8 points a game to rank fourth nationally) and rebounding teams (9.3 margin to rank fifth nationally).

Star watch: Northwestern guard Scottie Lindsey (15.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and forward Vic Law (13.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg). Wisconsin guard Koenig (13.9 ppg) and forward Hayes (13.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg).

The pick: Northwestern. The Wildcats are missing a signature win to add to their rèsumè in securing an at-large bid to the Dance. And this is a perfect opportunity to solidify a historic feat. An intriguing individual matchup in this game will be between guards McIntosh and Koenig.

4.) No. 2 Villanova at No. 25 Xavier (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox): The Musketeers obviously aren’t the same team without elite guard Edmond Sumner, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. That said, they’ve found ways to adjust, winning four in a row. Getting the Big East’s best team paves way for an upset, but the Wildcats are playing like the best team in the country and need this game to stay out front in the Big East.

5.) No. 13 Virginia at Virginia Tech (Sunday, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU): The Cavaliers bounced back from an upset loss to Syracuse last weekend with an impressive win against Louisville earlier this week. In the first matchup between these two teams, UVA embarrassed the Hokies by 23 points. Expect Virginia Tech to be hungry for revenge in this one.

6.) TCU at No. 8 Baylor (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU): TCU has been a sleeper team that’s overachieved in the Big 12, while Baylor has been perhaps the biggest overachiever in the country so far. Both teams are in need of a win for different reasons, and expect this to be close.

7.) No. 15 Florida State at No. 24 Notre Dame (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN): If there was any question about the Seminoles’ merit as an ACC and national title contender, their last three victories — all blowouts, including a 48-point win against Clemson — are a reminder for how good this team is. They’ll need to claim this road test to stay atop the ACC rankings, but Notre Dame is no easy out. The Irish finally bounced back from four consecutive losses, taking down Georgia Tech on Tuesday.

8.) No. 12 Kentucky at Alabama (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS): The freshmen-laden Wildcats aren’t playing great, having lost three of five and the Tide have momentum (and home-court advantage) after knocking off a ranked opponent in South Carolina earlier this week.

9.) No. 6 Oregon at USC (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network): Coming off a setback loss to UCLA on Thursday, the Ducks will be eager to turn the tide and get a necessary road win to stay in the Pac-12 title race.

10.) Michigan at Indiana (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS): Big one for two bubble teams who have both been flirting on the last four in and first four out lines. The committee will undoubtedly look at this if it’s close.

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