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College Basketball Weekend Preview: Duke-Syracuse Matchup is Top Draw

C.J. Fair

C.J. Fair

Take a break from Super Bowl preparations Saturday — and Sunday — to watch a little college basketball. Trust us.

While last weekend was short on top matchups, this week promises plenty of key storylines on heading into the biggest sports day of the year.

The showdown between Duke and Syracuse is the top game of the week as the Blue Devils appear to have solved some of their defensive shortcomings just in time for their first trip to the Carrier Dome.

The meeting will be the first between Jim Boehiem and Mike Krzyzewski since the 1998 NCAA Tournament when Duke defeated Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Since then, the two coaches have combined for three national championships and reached the 900-win marks at their respective schools.

In other games, top contenders face tricky road matchups against surprise teams. Kansas faces Texas in Austin as the Longhorns have been one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12. Arizona dodged Stanford on Wednesday, but its trip to the Bay Area will continue against a Cal team that is in NCAA Tournament contention.

Related: This week's NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 1-2

Game of the Week:
Duke at Syracuse (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Blue Devils have the outside shooting to attack the Orange’s zone defense, ranking fifth nationally 3-point efficiency (41.4 percent). Meanwhile, Duke’s recently reacquired ability to defend will be tested. The Blue Devils held Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson to 4 of 14 shooting on Monday, but defending forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will be another challenge. Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis didn’t have his best game of the season in the road scare Wednesday against Wake Forest, but this should still be a showdown between two of the nation’s top freshmen in Ennis and Jabari Parker.

Related: College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings

Must Win:
Baylor at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
It’s time to panic in Waco. The Bears, who beat a Colorado (with Spencer Dinwiddie) and Kentucky in non-conference action, dropped to 1–6 in the Big 12 with Tuesday’s home loss to West Virginia. This team is too good to be sinking to an NIT bid. Baylor has been nothing short of inept since conference play started. Oklahoma State’s situation isn’t as dire as Baylor’s, but the Cowboys have lost two of their last three games and struggled to beat West Virginia at home.

Upset Alert:
Arizona at Cal (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Arizona’s undefeated start, now at 21 games, has been tested in the last two games. The Wildcats’ 10-point win over Utah on Sunday was more hotly contested than the final score indicated. On Wednesday, Arizona held Stanford to one field goals in the final 9:30 to escape Palo Alto with a win. Cal has lost three in a row, but Mike Montgomery’s team is solid on both sides of the court and has some nice veteran leadership in the form of senior guard Justin Cobbs and senior big man Richard Solomon. It would not be wise to pick against Arizona, but don’t be shocked if this game goes down to the wire.

Tricky Road Trip:
Kansas at Texas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Texas continues to be one of the nation’s biggest surprises. The Longhorns lost their top four scorers from the worst team of the Rick Barnes era, yet somehow find themselves among the upper echelon of the Big 12 with a 5–2 mark in league play. Kansas, of course, remains the team to beat. The Jayhawks, loaded with elite talent, are 6–0 in the Big 12 and appear to be getting better every game. Andrew Wiggins, the subject of lofty expectations to start the season, has set career highs in the last two games with 27 points against TCU and 29 against Iowa State.

Statement Game:
Virginia at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Both teams are darlings in the advanced analytics world with Pitt ranked 12th in KenPom and Virginia one step behind. That’s with good reason. Both teams play sound basketball on both ends of the court, and with the exception of Virginia early in the season, neither loses games to inferior competition. That said, neither team has taken down a upper-echelon team this season.

Best Individual Matchup:
Oklahoma at Iowa State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler, a Gonzaga transfer, may be one of the top rebounders in the country. After a 17-board game against Oklahoma State on Monday, Spangler is averaging 13.5 rebounds in his last six games. The rematch will pit Spangler against Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim for the second time this season.

Odd Non-Conference Game:
Michigan State vs. Georgetown (Saturday in New York, 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Michigan State steps out of Big Ten play for a trip to Madison Square Garden to play a Georgetown team that has lost five games in row. The Hoyas, thought by many to be a legitimate Big East title contender, slipped to 3–6 in the league with a loss at home to Villanova on Monday night. When healthy, Michigan State is arguably the best team in the country. The Spartans, however, have not been healthy in weeks. The game is part of a basketball showcase the day before the Super Bowl, including Marquette at St. John’s and the Miami Heat at the New York Knicks.

Other Games to Watch:

Ohio State at Wisconsin (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Ohio State and Wisconsin don’t lose on the same day very often, much less both both at home to Penn State and Northwestern. The two teams were among the last undefeated teams in the country, but Wisconsin has lost four of five while Ohio State has lost five of six. Wisconsin has had a hard time defending guards on the perimeter including Minnesota’s Drew Mathieu and Northwestern’s Drew Crawford. Ohio State, meanwhile, has been a mess on offense since conference play began.

Kentucky at Missouri (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Kentucky’s season hit a low point this week with a listless performance Tuesday against LSU. The Wildcats had no answer for Tigers big man Johnny O’Bryant, who scored 29 points. Missouri isn’t built the same way, but guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson are among the most prolific scorers in the SEC. Missouri’s season hasn’t gone as well as the Tigers would have hoped, but the are coming off a win at Arkansas.

Memphis at SMU (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Larry Brown has worked wonders in his second season at SMU, putting the Mustangs into NCAA Tournament contention. The 78-71 loss to USF on Tuesday was a notable setback, though, meaning the Mustangs need to reassert themselves against a top American Athletic Conference team. This visit from Memphis on Saturday figures to be the most anticipated home game for the program in decades. The Tigers have been inconsistent, but Josh Pastner’s team has all the right pieces — talented young players, veteran leadership, solid guard play and quality big men.

Michigan at Indiana (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Michigan is fresh off one of the best eight-day stretches in school history. The Wolverines sandwiched wins at Wisconsin and Michigan State around a win at home against Iowa. This team is 7–0 in the Big Ten — and has done it without preseason All-American Mitch McGary. Indiana, treading water in the tough Big Ten, has a win over Wisconsin (at home) on its résumé, but the Hoosiers sure could use another quality victory to impress the selection committee.

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