A showdown of college basketball royalty
The most attention in college basketball Saturday will be directed to upstate New York, where Duke makes its first-ever visit to the Carrier Dome and a meeting against No. 2 Syracuse. The Blue Devils have hit their stride during a five-game winning streak that included a convincing 15-point win at Pitt earlier this week. The Orange, of course, have their sticky zone defense that will make life difficult for Duke's collection of three-point shooters. It all sets up for a classic matchup, with coaching royalty roaming the sidelines in Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, who stand 1-2, respectively, in all-time Division I victories with a combined 1,914.
Buddies on the bench
The meeting of Boeheim and Krzyzewski also is noteworthy because of the relationship they've developed coaching together on Team USA in the Olympics and the World Championships. "It's been a great relationship," Boeheim said this week on an ACC coaches conference call. "We get along very well - wives and kids, his grandkids, my kids. And we've done some very neat basketball things over the years together." But don't tell Boeheim this is a big game. "I've coached 1,000 games. That's too many games to get excited about one game," he said.
The mighty three
As we enter February, three teams - Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State - remain undefeated in NCAA Division I, the first time that many have gone into the month with zero losses since 1976 (Indiana, Rutgers, UNLV), according to Yahoo.com's Jeff Eisenberg. The Wildcats (21-0) and the Orange (20-0) have been ranked 1-2 in the AP poll for eight consecutive weeks. Though they are ranked fourth, the Shockers have played just six opponents inside the RPI Top 100. While they could be undefeated through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, they will continue to be the subject of a hearty debate on whether deserve a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It's the defense
Arizona has shot only 38 percent from the field in its last two games and has struggled all season from the free-throw line. But the Wildcats have hung in all their close games because of their defense, particularly in Wednesday night's three-point win at Stanford. "We're an outstanding defensive team," Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the game. "We just buckled down and had a lot of players playing very hard." The Wildcats are among the best teams nationally in points allowed (56.7 per game, fourth) and field-goal percentage defense (37.2 percent, sixth).
Out there somewhere
Louisville has recovered from midseason slumps the last two years to make the Final Four, and wound up going all the way last season. But the Cardinals have been perplexing to say the least, as evidenced by their No. 39 ranking in the RPI and no signature wins yet this season. They rallied from a 17-point deficit at home Thursday night to take the lead over No. 13 Cincinnati but couldn't hold on in a 69-66 defeat in which they established a season low for points. "We've got to make a lot of changes and get a lot better if we want to make that run and do what we've done the last couple of years," forward Luke Hancock said in an AP story.
So who would have thought that Ohio State and Wisconsin, both of which had been ranked as high as No. 3 this season, will play Saturday, with the loser likely to be bounced from the Top 25? The two teams have combined to drop nine of their last 11 games, and the Buckeyes dropped to 3-5 in the Big Ten with their overtime loss Wednesday at home to Penn State. The Badgers, meanwhile, were stunned at home by Northwestern and saw their normally reliable three-point shooting fail them; they made just five of 24 from deep.
The head of "Havoc"
Those of you who follow the Atlantic 10 are familiar with the pressing defense of Virginia Commonwealth and the contributions of guard Briante Weber, the NCAA leader in steals at 3.8 per game. Weber needs three steals Saturday to break the Rams' career record, and with his senior year still to come, he will take aim at the NCAA record of 385 set by former Chester High star John Linehan, who set the mark with Providence. "When he's in the right place mentally, it's a perfect marriage - his game and our style of play," VCU coach Shaka Smart said in an AP article. The Rams lead the nation in turnover margin and steals.
Expat of the Week
Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a 6-foot-7 freshman who starred at Chester High School, brings a poised mindset to the Wildcats off the bench. "Rondae is very confident," coach Sean Miller told Azcentral.com. "He's very sure of himself on the court. He does not back down from a challenge. The bigger the moment, the bigger the game, the higher the stakes, he settles in. His personality really allows him to be in a competitive mindset." Jefferson, who has come off the bench in 19 of his 21 games, averages 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 46.7 percent from the field.
Games to Watch
Duke at Syracuse, Saturday at 6:30 p.m., ESPN: A pair of Hall of Fame coaches who are the only two in NCAA Division I men's basketball with more than 900 wins (Mike Krzyzewski 974, Jim Boeheim 940) might overshadow this matchup. But two of the nation's best freshmen – Jabari Parker of Duke, Tyler Ennis of Syracuse – are accompanied by talented supporting casts in what should be a defensive struggle.
Kansas at Texas, Saturday at 4 p.m., ESPN: The streaking Jayhawks, the only unbeaten team in Big 12 play, get tested by a Longhorns team that has won its last three games against ranked opponents.
Virginia at Pittsburgh, Sunday at 12:30 p.m., ESPNU: The Cavaliers, who have allowed the fewest points (56.0 per game) in the nation, look to fend off the Panthers in this battle for second place in the ACC.
Michigan at Indiana, Sunday at 1 p.m., CBS3: The Wolverines had better watch out; the Hoosiers blew a 16-point lead at Nebraska to fall to 3-5 in the Big Ten, and they (and the home crowd) should be in a foul mood.
Iowa State at Oklahoma State, Monday at 9 p.m., ESPN: Yes, these two teams are nationally ranked but they're no better than middle of the pack in the Big 12.
Wichita State at Indiana State, Wednesday at 8 p.m., ESPN3: The season's first meeting turned into a 20-point Shockers rout in Wichita, but the Sycamores (8-0 at home) are primed to hand WSU its first defeat. -Joe Juliano