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Saint Mary’s is unbeaten Gonzaga’s last major obstacle

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

Despite a big part of the country getting a stern reminder that it’s still winter, college hoops fans can take heart that March Madness is now just a month away.

With that, of course, readers of basketball news will see plenty of other ‘B’ words as well, such as ‘bracketology’ as well as the dreaded ‘bubble.’ Here are some potential weekend highlights.

Game of the weekend: No. 1 Gonzaga at No. 20 Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN — If the Zags can survive this road rematch, they’ll in all likelihood retain the No. 1 ranking for the remainder of the regular season. The Gaels are all too familiar with that Selection Sunday feeling when the bracket is unveiled and you’re not on it.

In truth, both these teams are probably playing for seeding at this point. Still, Saint Mary’s could use this win to give its lofty victory total a bit more heft. Gonzaga’s list of non-conference conquests includes Arizona and Florida, somewhat weightier than the Gaels’ best wins outside the WCC against Dayton and Nevada.

The first meeting up in Spokane last month was more one-sided than expected. It didn’t help that Gaels’ big man Jock Landale picked up a couple of early fouls and was held to just 10 points. But no one else shot well for Saint Mary’s, either, and the Gaels hope that will change in their home arena. Gonzaga, however, doesn’t give up many easy shots. Nigel Williams-Goss continues to do it all, and it has also helped the Zags that center Przemek Karnowski has stayed healthy.

Player to watch: Troy Caupain, Cincinnati. As he’s done throughout his career with the Bearcats, the senior guard seems to do whatever is necessary to help his team win. Still averaging 10.5 points a game, he’s scored only a total of 12 over his last two outings. But he handed out six assists in Wednesday night’s win against Central Florida and continues to lead his team in that category at 4.6 a game. Caupain might need to do a little of both Sunday as the No. 11 Bearcats visit SMU (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) for what could be their toughest remaining obstacle as they try to stay perfect in the AAC.

Conference to watch: Big 12 — Just when you thought a fairly stable pecking order had been established in the Large Dozen-minus-two, last Saturday happened. The three top-tier squads appear to have restored order during the week, but chaos is never far away in the world of college basketball.

Saturday’s slate begins with No. 14 West Virginia hosting Kansas State (noon ET, ESPN). The Wildcats couldn’t quite follow up their weekend takedown of Baylor with another upset against archrival Kansas, but the Mountaineers would do well to take them seriously nonetheless. As for Kansas, the third-ranked Jayhawks take to the road for a date with desperate Texas Tech (2 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Red Raiders could use a major win to boost their NCAA tournament profile. Baylor, now ranked eighth but still well-placed for a top seed in most bracket projections, hosts TCU (2 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

Then there’s the puzzle that is Iowa State. The Cyclones pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year by snapping KU’s 51-game winning streak in Allen Fieldhouse, only to drop their next contest against Texas. Still occupying territory dangerously close to the bubble, ISU looks to protect its home court Saturday against Oklahoma (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL

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