Another week, another great slate of college basketball action. From top 25 clashes to teams desperate to have a positive showing, the week abounds with intriguing, important matchups. However, one game in particular stands out this week as top dog.
#12 Gonzaga vs. #4 Villanova, Madison Square Garden. Tuesday, 7 EST/4 PST, ESPN
This game between ranked opponents at the Jimmy V Classic has all the makings of a fun one. Both teams have something to prove, and the opportunity to make a statement under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden heightens the drama. The game is also the only matchup of the week between teams represented in TSFJ's College Hoops Power Rankings.
The Bulldogs lost a ton of production from last season’s national runner-up team, and have spent the early season trying to prove there wouldn’t be a step back. There was speculation that with Gonzaga’s roster attrition, this could be the year St. Mary’s breaks through in the WCC, but the Bulldogs have worked to dispel that notion.
Both teams enter the game aiming to build off impressive performances. Gonzaga easily handled #25 Creighton, 91-74. Villanova is coming off a 94-53 drubbing of city rival St. Joe’s. The Wildcats hit a school-record 19 threes in that win, and it was their most complete performance of the season.
Already holding wins over Texas and Creighton, Gonzaga has an opportunity to get one last big win before the schedule quiets down and conference play takes over. In front of a national audience, Gonzaga will look to show it remains a threat in March.
After things went off-script at the Battle 4 Atlantis, this game has become Villanova’s best shot at a signature non-conference win. A win over Tennessee in the Bahamas is solid, but it isn’t sexy. Nor are the Purdue and Arizona tests Villanova was expecting. Instead, this game is the Wildcats’ first test against a ranked opponent, and will likely be the only ranked team they face until Big East play rolls around.
Impressive balance has spurred a prolific Gonzaga offense that enters Tuesday’s game averaging 93 points per game. The Bulldogs have seven players averaging at least 9.8 points per game. Johnathan Williams (15.9 points, 6.9 rebounds) and Josh Perkins (14.3 points, 4.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 55% from 3) have been the catalysts. But against Creighton, Killian Tillie, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell Jr. each scored 20+; all posting career-highs. On any given night, a multitude of Bulldogs can beat you.
Villanova has solid balance of its own, with six Wildcats averaging at least nine points per game. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges have been spectacular, tying for the team lead in scoring at 17.9 per game and each knocking down more than 50% of their threes. But they’ve gotten plenty of help from Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman.
With each team boasting productive offenses, the defensive end could be what ultimately determines the outcome of this game, and where Villanova could find its advantage. While Gonzaga’s offense is rolling, ranked 4th in the country in points per game, the same can’t be said for its defense. The Bulldogs are surrendering 73 points per night, good for 202nd in the country. Meanwhile Villanova’s 86 points for and 62 points against each rank in the top 30.
Gonzaga may find an advantage in the frontcourt, where the 6’9” Williams and 6’10” Tillie will test Villanova’s front line of Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who are all listed at 6’9”. Spellman and Cosby-Roundtree are freshmen, so their relative inexperience could be a factor. The early season numbers also point to a rebounding advantage for Gonzaga. Limiting Villanova’s second chances while creating extra opportunities of their own could provide a boost for the Bulldogs.
Villanova likes to defend and rebound as a team, and will use its experience in doing so to try to offset any Gonzaga advantage in the frontcourt. Mikal Bridges’ 7-foot wingspan makes him an invaluable x-factor in the ‘Nova defense as well.
Josh Perkins against Jalen Brunson is a great matchup in the backcourt. Perkins is looking to rebound from his worst game of the season against Creighton, while Brunson has been fantastic all season long. The pair has put up similar numbers this year, and it will be fun watching them go head-to-head.
Both teams shoot the ball well and get contributions from a large part of their rotations. And each team has advantages they will look to exploit and disadvantages they will look to mitigate. It should be a fun matchup with the teams playing chess and trading blows. There’s a lot on the line for both squads, and the game will have a March feel.
This Week’s Other Games Of Note
Tuesday, December 5
#15 Virginia at #18 West Virginia, 7 EST/4 PST (ESPNU)
Virginia is doing typical Virginia things, possessing the top-ranked scoring defense in the country. The Cavs are undefeated and have a couple solid wins, but a win over West Virginia would put an exclamation point on their non-conference run. Meanwhile West Virginia enters the game with a humming offense, having won seven in a row following its loss to Texas A&M in the opener. The Mountaineers are in desperate need of a quality win, however, and this is their last chance before conference play. This one coincides with Villanova-Gonzaga, but is still worth a peek.
#7 Texas A&M vs. Arizona, 9 EST/6 PST (ESPN2)
A study of opposites in this matchup as A&M is off to one of the best, and most surprising, starts in the country, while Arizona is stumbling through one of the most disappointing starts in recent memory. Arizona has struggled defensively, and desperately needs to make a statement. A&M provides that opportunity, as the Aggies look to continue their hot start. Despite Arizona’s struggles, Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton are always worth watching, and provide a reason for NBA fans to watch this game.
Wednesday, December 6
Rhode Island vs. Alabama, 8 EST/5 PST, (SEC Network)
If you happened to glance at the latest RPI numbers, you might find a surprise. Alabama is sixth and Rhode Island is seventh. URI is off to a 5-2 start with respectable losses to Nevada and Virginia. The Rams hold a decent win over Providence, and although ‘Bama fell out of the top 25 following a loss to UCF, a win would look good for Rhode Island. Meanwhile, Alabama is 6-2 and could use a solid win of their own. This is the type of game that can make a difference come March. It’s also another chance for NBA fans to get a glimpse of the future in Alabama’s Collin Sexton.
Friday, December 8
St. John’s vs #16 Arizona State, 8 EST/5 PST, (PAC-12 Network)
St. John’s won a total of 22 games the last two seasons, but already have seven this year. Arizona State gives the Johnnies their first shot at a ranked opponent, and this game will serve as a measuring stick in terms of where St. John’s is at in its rebuild. The Sun Devils will aim to stay undefeated ahead of a big-time matchup that we’ll discuss in a minute. St. John’s has made a massive leap on the defensive end this season, but that will be tested against the Sun Devils, who average 93 points per game.
Saturday, December 9
#5 Florida vs. #17 Cincinnati, 6 EST/3 PST, (ESPN2)
Florida basically took a vacation following its loss to Duke, and will have a busy week ahead of this clash with Cincy. The Gators must deal with Florida State and Loyola-Chicago before worrying about the Bearcats. Cincinnati has only the Florida game on the schedule this week, meaning it has the entire week to sit and stew over last weekend’s loss to city rival Xavier.
Sunday, December 10
#16 Arizona State at #2 Kansas, 2 EST/11 A.M. PST, ESPN
Remember that big-time matchup we mentioned earlier for ASU? This is it. If the Sun Devils can get past St. John’s and Kansas can handle Washington, we will be treated to a clash of undefeated teams. Regardless of the records, the importance of this one is clear. The winner gets a huge boost come Selection Sunday. This should be a treat for fans of offensive basketball, as it’s a battle between the fifth and sixth-best scoring offenses in the country.
With college football winding down until bowl season kicks off, sports fans should have plenty of time to check in on college hoops, and there are plenty of games worth your attention. As always, enjoy this week’s action and check back next week for all the matchups you need to see.
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.