There could be a new No. 1 team in the nation after this weekend’s college basketball games, but if we’ve learned one thing this season, it’s to expect the unexpected.
With Villanova losing Wednesday night at home to St. John’s, Virginia should slide into the top spot if it defeats Virginia Tech on Saturday in Charlottesville. At 23-1, the Cavaliers are the only one-loss team in Division I. They are seeking their first No. 1 ranking since Dec. 21, 1982, the days of Ralph Sampson.
Purdue had a chance to make the Associated Press voters think about their ballot but the Boilermakers lost Wednesday night, 64-63, to Ohio State, breaking a 19-game winning streak, longest in the nation.
Villanova has been ranked No. 1 eight of the last nine weeks. The Wildcats missed Week 9 after their loss at Butler on Dec. 30, but jumped right back up from No. 3 the following week after losses by Duke and Michigan State.
Big Ten scramble
Purdue’s loss tightens what already had been a three-team battle in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers are tied with Ohio State for first place with 12-1 records while Michigan State is 11-2, but the Buckeyes have the tiebreaker with wins over both Purdue and the Spartans.
Five conference games remain in the regular season. The biggest one might be Saturday when Purdue travels to Michigan State, winner of seven straight. The Buckeyes are home with Iowa, then travel to Penn State – the only opponent to defeat them this season – on Thursday night.
Interesting note from The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn: Purdue will be involved in a game between top-five opponents for the first time in nearly 30 years. This will be Michigan State’s third top-five game this season.
On Sunday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will release the top 16 teams in the bracket, a list that gives the coaches of the teams involved and the public an idea of where they stand.
Committee chair Bruce Rasmussen, athletic director at Creighton, said Wednesday in a conference call that there was a consensus of the top three teams. Though he didn’t name them, the likely reference was to Villanova, Virginia and Purdue, two of which lost later that day.
The committee revealed a preliminary top-16 list last year on Feb. 11. The next month, on Selection Sunday, 15 of the 16 were the same.
Return of the Johnnies
That St. John’s defeated both fourth-ranked Duke and No. 1 Villanova in a five-day span was no surprise to Xavier coach Chris Mack, whose Musketeers, ranked sixth, barely avoided being another of the Red Storm’s victims before the Duke game.
“They’re the most athletic team in the league, a team that has really potent backcourt players,” Mack said. “They’re a hard team to get to the rim on because of their athleticism and their reaction time. They make really good offense from their defense.”
In two games against both Villanova and Xavier and one contest against Duke, sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds averaged 32.0 points. The Red Storm had been 0-11 in Big East play before defeating the Wildcats.
Baffling Blue Devils
Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils went down for the third time in their last four games Thursday night at North Carolina, but coach Mike Krzyzewski was a little more encouraged than he was after the St. John’s game.
“I thought we played a lot better, a lot harder and a lot more together. We just have to keep working at it,” said Krzyzewski, who used the word “disgusting” to describe his team’s play against the Red Storm.
Defense remains an issue for Duke, which forced just two turnovers against Carolina. The Blue Devils gave up 11 three-point baskets to the Tar Heels and allow 8.1 threes per game.
In the pits
What’s the deal with Pittsburgh? The Panthers are one of seven teams in the nation that are winless in their conference, limping along in the ACC at 0-12. Only two of those defeats, home against both North Carolina State and Syracuse, have been by fewer than 12 points.
The latest defeat came Thursday, 72-48 at Clemson. Coach Kevin Stallings said his players look to make their own plays when things go bad like they did in high school.
“At some point, they’re going to realize that life is over with because this is the ACC and you can’t go solo in this league and beat anybody,” he said.
The Panthers never have won fewer than four games in a conference since joining the Big East in 1983.
Expatriate of the week
Sophomore guard Tommy Funk, who played his high school ball at Archbishop Wood, is the Patriot League leader in assists with 5.9 per game as a point guard for Army. Funk also is fourth in the league with a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. A member of the league’s all-rookie team last season, Funk averages 10.3 points this season, leads the team in steals with 22 and is tied for first in average minutes at 29.5.
Games of the week
Purdue at Michigan State, Saturday at 4 p.m., ESPN: This top-five matchup should be most entertaining between two teams that can shoot it (Boilermakers, 50 percent on field goal attempts; Spartans, 51.7) and defend (Purdue, 39.8 percent field-goal defense; Michigan State, 36.1).
Virginia Tech at Virginia, Saturday at 6:15 p.m., ESPN: A win would most certainly propel the Cavaliers to their first No. 1 ranking in more than 35 years. The Hokies, meanwhile, could use a quality win, especially on the road, to give life to their hopes of an NCAA tournament spot.
Gonzaga at St. Mary’s, Saturday at 10 p.m., ESPN2: This is Round 2 in the annual battle between the West Coast Conference’s marquee teams, both ranked in the top 12. The Gaels surprised the Zags, 74-71, on Jan. 18 and a win here would give them a two-game lead in the WCC.
Cincinnati at Southern Methodist, Sunday at 4 p.m., ESPN: The Bearcats, undefeated in the AAC, are quietly moving up in the polls, this week standing at No. 6, but the Mustangs are tough on their home floor. This game matches two of the top six teams in the nation in points allowed.
Richmond at Rhode Island, Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: The Spiders went 2-10 in their non-conference schedule but have surprised in the Atlantic Ten where they are tied for third going into the weekend. The Rams have been the league’s dominant team all season.
Player to watch
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure, G, 6-2, 190, Sr., Baltimore
Adams had back-to-back 40-point games during the week, scoring 40 in an 84-81 win last Saturday at Duquesne and 44 on Wednesday against St. Louis, a 79-56 win for the Bonnies. Adams set a program record with 10 threes against the Billikens, and shot 69.2 percent (18 of 26) from deep in the two games. He leads the Atlantic Ten in three-point percentage (51.4) and average threes (3.2 per game) while scoring at a 20-point-per-game clip.