Defending regular-season conference champions Virginia and Villanova meet on Saturday as part of a home-and-home agreement, as two of the top teams in the country from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East Conference play each other for the first time in over 10 years.
The Cavaliers and Wildcats were ranked Nos. 1 and 4 respectively in the kenpom.com rankings entering the week, but other major polls have both teams slightly lower. One poll even showed Villanova ranked 15th. The teams were ninth and tenth last week in the AP Top 25. The schools agreed to meet at John Paul Jones Arena (Sat., 9 PT, ESPN2) this season. Next year the scene shifts to Wells Fargo Center.
Two of the most successful programs over the last two seasons, the Cavs are coming off back-to-back 30 win seasons, as well as, a pair of ACC regular-season titles, while the ’Cats won a school-record 33 games last season, winning both the Big East regular-season and tournament championships.
It would seem the media polls may be underrating these two teams, as several top players return from last season, but many are reminded of their unanticipated second-round exits from the NCAA Tournament in March.
Virginia has two of the top 10 players in the country in seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill. The Wahoos are 8-1 with their only loss coming in the second game of the season to rapidly-rising George Washington.
Meanwhile, Villanova also comes in at 8-1, opening the season with seven straight wins before losing, 78-55, to undefeated chart-topper Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. The Wildcats have a heart-and-soul leader in senior Ryan Arcidiacono.
Expect the Cavaliers to come in at around 4-point favorites, as the game total should be placed in the pedestrian range of 24. The Wildcats have been very good against the number so far, going 6-2, but the ’Cats have covered five straight on the road. The total has also gone OVER in five of VU’s last six away games. UVA, 66-60.
North Carolina (-7, 163) vs. UCLA (at Barclays Center, Sat., 10 a.m. PT, CBS): Speaking of polls, UCLA is having trouble getting respect of its own despite owning victories over Kentucky and now Gonzaga, which the Bruins beat on the road on Saturday, 71-66. Three losses, including defeats to Monmouth and Wake Forest, had UCLA just cracking the And One 26-spot in the CBS poll on Sunday night.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, were riding their RPI to a top-three spot in two of the major media polls entering last week, but a stunning, buzzer-beater loss to Texas and new coach Shaka Smart, send the Heels tumbling out of the top 10 for the most part.
The Bruins’ Isaac Hamilton scored 20 points in the shocker in Spokane to knock GU out of the top 20, as UCLA turned in one of its most-impressive offensive stretches in a tough environment in recent memory over the final 10 minutes. The Tar Heels rely on the strong front court, including Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson. UNC is just 1-4-2 ATS over its last seven games. UNC, 86-78.
Notre Dame (-1, 155) vs. Indiana (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sat., 11 PT, ESPN2): Already five losses between these two as they enter the Crossroads Classic. The Fighting Irish lost to Monmouth and Alabama during a lost holiday at a tournament in Kissimmee, Fla., and come in 7-2, while the Hoosiers have already been knocked around by Duke, UNLV and Wake Forest, with the latter two coming at the Maui Tournament, en route to an 8-3 start.
Senior Yogi Ferrell is the pacesetter for IU, as he relies on Troy Williams, James Blackmon and the country’s leader in shooting percentage, 6-10 Thomas Bryant (46-59, 78%). Notre Dame senior Zach Auguste is widely regarded as a top ten player this season, as he is joined by juniors Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia.
The Hoosiers have had the upper-hand in this series, covering nine of the last 12 meets, but only have recent meetings in ‘11 and ‘13. The Irish won two years ago, 79-72, in a game that included Ferrell, Williams, Auguste and Jackson. ND, 81-79.
Purdue (-7, 153) vs. Butler (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sat. 2 p.m., BTN): Butler’s super-impressive offense faces one of the nation’s top – if not the best – defenses. The Bulldogs come in with an 8-1 record, losing to a top 20 Miami, Fla., squad in Puerto Rico, while the Boilermakers have rolled to 11-straight wins to open the season, playing several unimpressive opponents, and only three games against top 50 squads (Florida, Pittsburgh, New Mexico).
That winning formula isn’t enough to fool the Sagarin ratings, which had the Boilers atop the charts on Sunday night. 7-foot-2 sophomore Isaac Haas is part of Purdue’s huge height advantage in this one, along with front court mates A.J. Hammond and Caleb Swanigan, while Kellen Dunham is the Hoosiers-style shooter that leads Butler, and undersized sophomore center Tyler Wideman would appear to be in for a day of hard work in the paint.
The teams have met 53 times with the Boilers holding a 37-16 edge. They played in the Classic in 2011, with a below-par BU taking a 67-65 victory despite holding a big second-half lead. In the 2013 event, Butler won 76-70, as a -2.5 favorite. Purdue hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs since 1998, a span of just five meetings. Purdue, 86-73.
Arizona State (+5, 139) at UNLV (Thomas & Mack, Wed., 7 p.m., CBSSN): The Runnin’ Rebels were intimidated last week in a 56-50 loss at Wichita State, as the Shockers’ diminutive top-flight point guard dictated the pace, but UNLV hung in there until the final seconds.
UNLV’s guard trio of Jerome Seagears, Patrick McCaw and Ike Nwamu were hurried into 11 turnovers in the raucus surroundings, shooting just 8-for-25 from the field. The Sun Devils have a veteran returning cast, including Tra Holder, Savon Goodman and Gerry Blakes. ASU is off a 72-58 loss at Kentucky on Saturday to fall to 6-3, including a season-opening home loss to Sacramento State.
UNLV travels to Tucson to face Arizona on Saturday, so they’ll need this one to continue to build confidence off a 73-62 road win at Cal-Riverside last Saturday. Recent history shows ASU just 6-13-3 ATS on the road, while the total had gone UNDER in seven of UNLV’s last eight games. UNLV 71-63.
Ramon Scott is a Southern California-based sportswriter, covering the preps to the pros for over 25 years. Email: [email protected].