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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

The Saturday Setup: Can UNC get its swagger back at UK?

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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Each Friday this season, The Dagger will set the table for college basketball's busiest day of the week, giving you a look at the games worthy of your attention while flipping through the channels.

THE MAIN CARD

No. 5 North Carolina (6-1) at No. 1 Kentucky (7-0), 12:00 p.m. EST: This is the obvious main event, and as far as future NBA talent goes, these are the two most talented teams in the nation. Right now, Kentucky looks like the more confident of the two, though, as UNC not only got knocked around by UNLV in an upset defeat last Saturday, but then couldn't force Wisconsin to play at its pace on its own home floor on Wednesday. The Tar Heels have just as much weaponry as the Cats, but what makes UK more dangerous right now is that on top of the ridiculous amount of talent John Calipari stocks the roster with every year, it's clear that they have a stronger veteran presence than at this point in the last couple of years. Two things to watch: How dominant can UK freshman Anthony Davis be on the defensive end, and how well can Marquis Teague break down Kendall Marshall, who has struggled mightily of late on the defensive end? The Pick: Kentucky.

No. 16 Marquette (6-0) at No. 9 Wisconsin (6-1), 4:30 p.m. EST: It's time to see just how good this Marquette team really is. This is easily its toughest game so far, and it's catching Wisconsin off of a tough loss at UNC. The Golden Eagles have scored at least 88 points in five of their six games so far, but in the one game where they were slowed down some, they edged Norfolk State by two. They guy to watch is Madison native Vander Blue. The sophomore has emerged as a deadly third scorer behind Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, and is also averaging 4.5 assists per game. He needs to score, while also helping some on Jordan Taylor on the defensive end. At the end of the day, Marquette will likely need to play its best game to win in one of college basketball's toughest road atmospheres. The Pick: Wisconsin.

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Purdue (7-1) at No. 11 Xavier (5-0), 3:00 p.m. EST: Against the better teams it has faced so far this season (Iona, Temple, Alabama, Miami), the Boilers have not looked as strong defensively as they have in recent seasons, and they've also had a tough time dominating on the glass. Now, in their first true road game, they get Xavier, who right now arguably has the nation's best backcourt duo. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons are averaging a combined 35.2 points, 8.2 assists and 7.7 rebounds a game. They're not turning the ball over much, either. The Pick: Xavier.

No. 19 Gonzaga (5-0) at Illinois (7-0), 3:15 p.m. EST: Gonzaga has sort of flown under the radar since freshman sensation Kevin Pangos's breakout performance against Washington State on Nov. 14 during ESPN's 24-hour hoops marathon. Illinois' outside shooting gives it a fair shot in this one, as Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco appears to be getting comfortable in his role as the Illini's resident sharp-shooter. He hit five treys in a win at Maryland on Tuesday night. But Illinois is in a transition phase up front with 7-foot-1 sophomore Meyers Leonard and junior Tyler Griffey now carrying the load. The two are talented, but inexperienced.The combination of Robert Sacre and Elias Harris for the Bulldogs might be too much for them to handle. The Pick: Gonzaga.

THE UNDERCARD

Arkansas (5-1) at No. 8 UConn (6-1), 3:15 p.m. EST: It's tough to call Arkansas' 5-1 start legitimate, given who the Hogs have played so far. A win here would stretch a long way. The Pick: UConn.

West Virginia (4-1) at No. 21 Mississippi State (7-1), 9:00 p.m. EST: The Bulldogs haven't stopped rolling since that early loss at home to Akron. West Virginia is still pretty untested. Still, this one has the makings of a slugfest. The Pick: Mississippi State.

Iowa State (5-2) at No. 14 Michigan (5-2), 12:00 p.m. EST: Just like almost everyone else who was in Maui before Thanksgiving, Michigan had trouble in its first game back on the mainland, falling apart in the second half in a loss at Virginia on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Iowa State is a Big 12 sleeper this year, but is coming off of an unsightly loss of its own, falling at home to Northern Iowa on Wednesday. Should be a wildly entertaining game, and a win would give Iowa State a key early signature victory. The Pick: Michigan.

Oregon (4-1) at BYU (5-2), 5:00 p.m. EST: Losses at Utah State and on a neutral floor to Wisconsin are hardly embarrassing for BYU, but the Cougars are struggling to find an exact identity in the wake of losing Jimmer Fredette to graduation and associate head coach Dave Rice — essentially the team's offensive coordinator a year ago. In theory, this should be an uptempo, entertaining game. The Pick: BYU.

Texas (4-2) at UCLA (2-4), 4:30 p.m. EST: The Good — In its fifth try, UCLA finally beat a Division-I opponent on Monday. The Bad — The opponent was Pepperdine. Doubters of UCLA should still doubt, unless they beat Texas. The Pick: Texas.

Indiana State (6-1) at Boise State (5-1), 10:00 p.m. EST: Indiana State could be one of the peskier teams from the mid-major ranks this year, while Boise State is one of its most entertaining. Despite graduating their top four scorers from a year ago, the Broncos have already topped 100 points twice, including a 108-64 drubbing of a pretty good Drake squad on Wednesday. The Pick: Boise State.

Georgia Tech (4-3) at Tulane (8-0), 2:00 p.m. EST: Granted, Tulane hasn't really beaten anyone of note so far, but 8-0 is 8-0. Plus, the Green Wave has won those eight games by an average margin of 22.4 points, including six wins by 19 points or more. If they beat Georgia Tech, they could have a good shot at being 12-0 when they head to Syracuse on Dec. 22. Who knows how long this run might last, but everyone loves a good underdog story. The Pick: Tulane.

Follow Ryan Greene on Twitter: @ryanmgreene

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