The new-look UNC-Duke rivalry, battle for Big 12, Mountain West, WCC dominance and other important games this weekend
This weekend’s slate of basketball games features matchups that will have implications in conference races and NCAA tournament seedings on Selection Sunday.
But North Carolina and Duke, the highlight clash of the weekend, boast the premier rivalry in men’s college basketball. Their initial meeting of the 2022-23 season will be the first time the two teams have played without Mike Krzyzewski or Dean Smith on the sidelines in more than 60 years. It’s a can’t-miss contest. Here are the games to watch this weekend, and why.
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Yes, Carolina and Duke have missed preseason expectations thus far. The Tar Heels started the season as the No. 1 team in America before a rough stretch cost them their national ranking. They’ve regrouped in league play, and will enter Saturday with four wins in their past five games. Duke, meanwhile, continues to battle the injury bug. Jeremy Roach, last year’s NCAA tournament hero, recently returned after being sidelined by a toe injury, and Dariq Whitehead, the No. 2 recruit in the 2022 class per ESPN, has missed six games this season with foot and leg injuries.
While there are no guarantees Duke-North Carolina will remain college basketball’s greatest rivalry under Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, both coaches have attracted elite recruiting classes for the upcoming season. Despite their challenges, any time Duke and North Carolina play it’s pure entertainment. Sure, bragging rights are probably the greatest prize on Saturday for a pair of teams hoping to earn at-large berths in the NCAA tournament, but it’s still the biggest game of the weekend.
Score prediction: Duke 75, North Carolina 72
Other games that matter
Friday, 9 p.m. ET, FS1
In his latest Bracketology, Joe Lunardi lists the Broncos among his last four byes. A win over the Aztecs — who have Matt Bradley averaging 13.2 PPG — would not only boost the résumé for Boise State, it would give the Broncos sole possession of first place in the Mountain West title race.
Score prediction: San Diego State 72, Boise State 67
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
In a matchup between Big 12 title contenders, the Jayhawks have bounced back from a three-game losing streak with wins over Kentucky and Kansas State. But the Cyclones, who were on the wrong end of the greatest second-half comeback in Big 12 history in Monday’s loss to Texas Tech, have lost four of their past six.
Score prediction: Kansas 75, Iowa State 72
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
In their first nine SEC games, the Tigers played three top-50 KenPom teams. But a matchup at Tennessee — coming off a loss at the Florida Gators on Wednesday — is the beginning of a stretch that includes seven top-50 KenPom teams in the next nine games.
Score prediction: Tennessee 70, Auburn 65
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
One of the greatest rivalries in college basketball is also a matchup between top Wooden Award contenders. While it’s difficult to imagine any player catching Zach Edey (22.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.1 BPG), Trayce Jackson-Davis (19.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.1 BPG) is going for it.
Score prediction: Purdue 82, Indiana 77
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
When Chris Beard was arrested on a felony domestic violence charge in December and subsequently fired, it appeared the Longhorns’ potential as a Final Four team would come to an end. But acting head coach Rodney Terry has led them to a first-place slot in the Big 12 — which they will maintain if the Longhorns can earn a win against a strong Wildcats squad on the road.
Score prediction: Kansas State 76, Texas 72
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Zags have won the WCC regular-season championship since 2001, with the exception of 2012, when the Gaels took it instead. Aidan Mahaney (14.7 PPG, 43% from 3) and the Gaels could repeat that feat this season, especially if they can hand Gonzaga another WCC loss on Saturday.
Score prediction: Saint Mary’s 74, Gonzaga 71
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