By Kevin Sweeney
It may only be the fourth weekend of the college basketball season, but I have a feeling we will still be talking about this action-packed slate of hoops on Selection Sunday. The headliner is UCLA’s high-powered offense traveling to Kentucky for a blue-blood showdown in the Bluegrass State, but there are so many games that have huge implications for the rest of the season. Here are some of the things I’m most excited to see this weekend:
Bubble Teams Battle in Austin
Friday night’s match-up between Texas and Alabama is huge for both teams. The Longhorns are desperately trying to right the ship after three straight losses, while Alabama searches for a quality win in the non-conference after dropping games to Dayton and Valparaiso earlier this season. Shaka Smart’s young Longhorn team is very talented, but is still trying to find their identity with such an inexperienced group. Texas’ lack of shooting has really hurt them, as they have shot just 17-61 from downtown during their recent 3-game skid. On the other side, the Crimson Tide will rely on the freshman duo of Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key to carry the load. I anticipate an Alabama win in a tight, low-scoring affair.
Ball, Bruins Take on Top-Ranked Kentucky
UCLA has certainly been one of the more impressive teams early in this 2016-17 campaign, sprinting out to an 8-0 start. However, the Bruins haven’t faced a huge test yet. They certainly will get one Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena, where they will take on #1 Kentucky, which has won its games by an average of 30.6 points per game. While the majority of the headlines about UCLA this season have been about Lonzo Ball, the freshman sensation who has averaged 14.6 points and 9.6 assists per game this season, the Bruins are actually a very balanced team, with a remarkable 6 players averaging in double figures in scoring. Kentucky, of course, is no stranger to superstar freshmen. They have 3 of their own in Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Edrice Adebayo. This should be as exciting a game as we see all season, and I believe that UCLA will stun the Wildcats, 93-88.
Xavier With Biggest Test Yet At Baylor
While the RPI is not always a reliable source this early in the season, CBSSPORTS.com’s RPI Index has Baylor and Xavier ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively, while neither UCLA nor Kentucky even crack the top 30. While it is ludicrous to say that neither of those teams are top-30 teams right now, it isn’t crazy to think that Xavier and Baylor are two of the three best teams in the country. Baylor already has wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, and Louisville on their resume, while Xavier is also out to an 7-0 start against quality competition. Jonathan Motley has proven himself to be the best big man in the Big 12 so far this season, and I think he has the ability to carry his team to a win over the Musketeers.
Whoever thought of this idea is a genius. Two of the top mid-major conferences, which consistently put multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament, match up this weekend, boosting the SOS and RPI of all involved parties. There are certainly some juicy match-ups this year, including Wichita State at Colorado State and Illinois State at New Mexico. 9 out of the 10 games in the Challenge will be played Saturday, and I see the Mountain West, thanks to some favorable match-ups, taking home 6 out of 9. Here’s the full state:
Stars Collide in College Park
Melo Trimble and Jawun Evans are two of the best players in the country. They might be the two best point guards in the college ranks. We get the privilege of seeing these two guys on the floor at the same time in College Park on Saturday night, as Trimble’s Maryland Terrapins take on Evans and Oklahoma State. Both teams have relied heavily on their star and it has certainly paid dividends, with each team currently on the fringes of the top 25. This should be a fantastic contest, but right now I think that Trimble has a better supporting cast than Evans, so I will take the Terps to get a strong non-conference win Saturday night.