It was a relatively quiet week in the college basketball world in terms of marquee matchups, but that is all set to change on Saturday. We’re blessed with three matchups of top 25 squads, as well as a few other games of intrigue. Here we highlight the five games you need to pay attention to on Saturday.
Texas A&M (7-2) vs. #19 Arizona (9-2)
Youth will be on full display in this one. Of the eight leading scorers in this game, seven of them are sophomores or freshmen. The matchup to watch is Aggies sophomore big man Tyler Davis against Arizona’s seven-foot freshman Lauri Markkanen. Both players lead their teams in scoring and rebounding.
The Aggies are looking for a signature win. They have suffered two respectable defeats to Pac-12 teams in USC and UCLA. A&M’s best non-conference win is against Virginia Tech, and a victory over Arizona would give the Aggies a nice boost come Selection Sunday.
Arizona could use a solid win of its own. A victory over Michigan State to open the season isn’t looking as strong as it did a month ago, and the Wildcats faltered in their other two notable games against Butler and Gonzaga. Arizona certainly wants to avoid a third non-conference loss with teams like UCLA, USC and Oregon looming in conference play.
#21 Notre Dame (9-1) vs. #15 Purdue (8-2)
Despite suffering their first loss of the season, the Irish rose in the polls this week after taking No. 1 Villanova to the wire last Saturday before succumbing 74-66. Purdue also held its own against the defending national champs, eventually losing a thriller 79-76. The Boilermakers’ other loss came to Louisville.
Meanwhile, both teams lack a true signature win and are hungry to get one on Saturday. Notre Dame has beaten Colorado, Northwestern and Iowa, while Purdue’s best win is against Auburn. Whichever team emerges in this one will get a huge lift before hitting the gauntlet of ACC and Big Ten play.
There will be plenty of talent on display in this one. Seniors Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Matt Farrell all provide double-digit scoring for the Irish. Purdue can counter that production with 7-2 Isaac Haas, as well as Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias, who contribute in a variety of ways.
But the best matchup is between Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan. Both players are averaging double-doubles and have been beasts this season. Swanigan is a 6-9 big who has a nice touch from the outside. Meanwhile, Colson plays much bigger than his 6-5 stature, as evidenced by his 10.8 rebounds per game and ability to play in the post.
These are two evenly matched teams who are eager to make a statement. Expect an excellent game.
#18 Butler (9-1) vs. #9 Indiana (8-1)
Butler and Indiana have followed similar paths this season. Both teams have scored some very impressive wins, while each has suffered a shocking defeat. Butler has taken down Northwestern, Utah, Arizona and Cincinnati, while losing to Indiana State. Indiana has taken down two powerhouses in Kansas and North Carolina but fell to Ft. Wayne.
The Bulldogs are led by a pair of 6-7 forwards in Kelan Martin and Andrew Chrabascz. Senior guards Tyler Lewis and Avery Woodson, along with freshman Kamar Baldwin, power the backcourt. Butler will need to try to control the tempo as it looks to neutralize Indiana’s high-octane offense that is averaging nearly 88 points per game. The Bulldogs also have to hold their own on the boards against an Indiana team that is averaging 14 more rebounds per game than the Bulldogs are.
For Indiana, senior guard James Blackmon Jr., and his 16.9 points and 6.6 rebounds, is one of several Hoosiers to watch; 6-10 sophomore Thomas Bryant is a double-figure scorer who is also a major reason for Indiana’s rebounding advantage. Indiana is also expected to get OG Anunoby back after he missed three games with an ankle sprain.
#7 North Carolina (10-1) vs. #6 Kentucky (9-1)
Here is the most anticipated matchup of the day and the only top 10 clash of the week. A high-scoring affair should be expected, as Kentucky is averaging 94.4 points per game and UNC is putting up 88. While a top 10 matchup between two of the sport’s blue bloods is enough to make any college hoops fan drool, some dichotomies in how these teams are successful add to the drama.
The Tar Heels rely heavily on their experience while being driven primarily by their frontcourt. Conversely, Kentucky is enjoying stellar production from its backcourt while leaning heavily on freshmen.
Of North Carolina’s four leading scorers, three are 6-8 or taller. Junior Justin Jackson leads the team in scoring at 15.5 a game, 6-10 senior Kennedy Meeks is nearly averaging a double-double with 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and Isaiah Hicks rounds out the experienced frontcourt trio. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, and for college basketball fans, Joel Berry’s status is uncertain for Saturday as he nurses an ankle injury. Berry is UNC’s most productive guard, averaging 14.8 points and 4.7 assists per game. Should Berry miss the game, additional pressure would fall on Nate Britt and Kenny Williams.
As opposed to North Carolina’s experienced big men, Kentucky is led by stud freshman guard Malik Monk and his nearly 20 points per game. He is joined in the backcourt by fellow freshman De’Aaron Fox, who has been doing it all for the Wildcats. Fox is averaging 15.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists for Kentucky. Senior Isaiah Briscoe, and his 16.6 points per game, is the final piece of Kentucky’s talented backcourt triumvirate. Freshman Bam Adebayo anchors the frontcourt.
It will be interesting to see which team can dictate the pace and impose their style on their opponent.
Northwestern (8-2) vs. Dayton (7-2)
At first glance, this game may not catch your attention. There are no national rankings, and neither team is a household name in the college basketball world. But if you look deeper you can find storylines, and you will discover that this is actually an important and fascinating matchup.
Let’s start with Northwestern. The Wildcats are pursuing the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. With their 8-2 start, many believe this could be the year. Northwestern has a decent win over a Texas team that was ranked 22nd at the time. Even more telling is the performance against two very good teams, Butler and Notre Dame.
The Wildcats went into a hostile environment in Butler and nearly pulled the upset before falling 70-68. They also played an underrated Notre Dame team to within four points. Northwestern will rely on a pair of 15 point-per-game scorers in Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey as the Wildcats try to knock off one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Speaking of the A-10, Dayton hopes to win the conference that consistently has a sneaky good top three or four teams. Much like Northwestern, the Flyers also got very close to a true signature win when they fell to St. Mary’s 61-57. So far, their best win is against Alabama, and adding Northwestern to that list would make their non-conference run look much better. That could be huge come March, when teams two through five in the A-10 usually find themselves squarely on the bubble. A victory Saturday would make Dayton feel much better should it fail to win the conference. A pair of senior guards, Charles Cooke and Scoochie Smith, will lead the way for the Flyers.
For Northwestern, every loss is huge as it prepares to enter Big Ten play, with very real aspirations of getting that first invite to the Big Dance. Dayton has been to the tournament three straight seasons and understands how important these types of games are for schools from conferences like the A-10. The intensity should be high in this one.
Now you’re prepared for a stellar Saturday of college basketball. Enjoy the games!
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.