Finals week at last is over at most schools, which means a slow and tedious five days of basketball will give way to some marquee Saturday matchups. The top 10 showdown between Arizona and Florida highlights this weekend's action:
1. No. 5 Florida (7-0) at No. 8 Arizona (7-0), Saturday
Storyline to watch: Arizona's first matchup against a ranked opponent will provide an early barometer whether the Wildcats are an elite team or merely just a good one. In its first seven games this season, Arizona's best victories came at ACC also-ran Clemson and Big 12 bottom feeder Texas Tech. A Florida team that has demolished Florida State, Marquette and Wisconsin poses a major step up in class. One key to the game might be how much Florida's pressure defense bothers an Arizona team lacking a pure point guard. The Wildcats average 15 turnovers per game and the Gators force 17 a game, potentially a dangerous combination for the home team. Arizona will also have to do a good job defending the 3-point line, especially against stretch forward Erik Murphy and streaky shooting guard Kenny Boynton. Predicted winner: Florida
2. Butler (7-2) vs. No. 1 Indiana (9-0), Saturday (Indianapolis)
Storyline to watch: Brad Stevens didn't hesitate to label Indiana as the best team in the nation this week. In fact, the Butler coach went so far as to say he's "not even sure it's that close." For the Bulldogs to stay competitive despite the talent gap, they must continue to get consistent production from big men Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall. Smith had a breakout game at Northwestern last Saturday, erupting for 24 points and 10 boards. Marshall has scored in double figures in six of Butler's seven wins. It's crucial both take advantage of one-on-one opportunities in the post because Indiana likely will not double in order to avoid giving Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham open looks on 3s. Smith and Marshall also have to get back in transition and avoid foul trouble defending Cody Zeller and Christian Watford. Predicted winner: Indiana
Storyline to watch: This is a much bigger game for Memphis than Louisville because it's one of the Tigers' few remaining shots at a marquee victory. Since Memphis dropped a pair of games at Battle 4 Atlantis against VCU and Minnesota, its most notable wins entering Saturday's contest came against Northern Iowa and Ohio. With Conference USA looking particularly weak this year, the only other needle-moving games on the Tigers' schedule are a Jan. 4 trip to Tennessee and a Feb. 26 visit to rebuilding Xavier. For Memphis to upset Louisville, the Tigers must take care of the ball against the Cardinals' trademark pressure defense. Memphis has gotten more out of its backcourt since Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford switched positions and explosive junior college transfer Geron Johnson carved out a bigger role in the rotation. Predicted winner: Louisville
4. Alabama (6-2) at VCU (6-3), Saturday
Storyline to watch: Power conference teams typically refuse to play road games at VCU, but Alabama's Anthony Grant had no choice but to play at his former school. When Grant coached at VCU from 2006 to 2009, his contract stipulated that the school that someday hired him away would have to schedule a home-and-home series against the Rams as penance. As a result, Alabama hosted VCU last November and visits the Rams on Saturday. "I coached at Florida for 10 years and it was awkward going down there in the opposing locker room," Grant told the Decatur Daily. "I'm sure this will be no different." While Grant's return will dominate the pregame headlines, this is a big game for both teams. Alabama is coming off back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Dayton after an unbeaten 6-0 start. VCU wants to capitalize on the opportunity for a marquee win after letting chances against Duke and especially Missouri slip away in the Bahamas. Predicted winner: VCU
5. Kansas State (7-1) vs. No. 14 Gonzaga (9-1), Saturday (Seattle)
Storyline to watch: It was surprising to see Gonzaga get thoroughly outplayed on its own home floor Saturday night against Illinois. Now the Zags have the chance to bounce back in front of what should be another favorable crowd when Kansas State travels West to face them in Seattle. For Gonzaga, the key to avoiding a second straight upset will be doing a better job guarding the perimeter and exploiting its size and skill advantage in the paint, two areas the Zags struggled against the Illini. Kansas State is another perimeter-oriented team like Illinois. Based on the success Brandon Paul had running the pick and roll to score 35 points against the Zags, it's a safe bet Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder will attempt to duplicate it. Kansas State will surely have the support of its Big 12 brethren in this one. With the Big 12 seventh in conference RPI and supposed contenders West Virginia and Texas struggling, the league could use a marquee win against a top 15 opponent. Predicted winner: Gonzaga
Other games to watch:
Charlotte (9-0) at Miami (5-1), Friday: The 49ers legitimized their unbeaten record with a quality win over Davidson. Now they'll take a swing at a Miami team that has beaten Michigan State at home and has been much better since the return of Durand Scott.
Texas A&M (7-1) vs. Oklahoma (6-2), Saturday: This matchup between former Big 12 rivals pits two solid teams with gaudy records but little of significance on their resume.
Belmont (7-2) at Kansas (7-1), Saturday: Underdogs whose names start with a B have bitten Bill Self before (See Bucknell and Bradley). Belmont boasts the guard duo of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, a win at Stanford and an impressive array of 3-point shooters, but the way Kansas is defending right now, a win at Allen Fieldhouse seems unlikely.
No. 3 Michigan (10-0) vs. West Virginia (4-4), Saturday: John Beilein faces his former team at a time when West Virginia is struggling. The cold-shooting Mountaineers lost to lowly Duquesne on Tuesday and enter Saturday's game 298th in the nation in field goal percentage (39.8) and 317th from behind the arc (27.7).
No. 18 Creighton (9-1) at California (6-2), Saturday: After getting blitzed at Wisconsin and falling at the buzzer against UNLV, Cal is still in search of its first notable non-league win this season. A visit from Creighton represents the Bears' final chance, but they'll have to slow down Doug McDermott and the rest of an offense that again is one of the nation's most efficient.
Eastern Kentucky (9-0) at No. 10 Illinois (11-0), Sunday: For all its success away from Champaign this season beating Gonzaga and winning the Maui Invitational, Illinois has sometimes looked pedestrian at home. The Illini cannot sleep on this Eastern Kentucky team, which is looking for a huge upset to validate its undefeated start.
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