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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

What to watch this weekend: Illinois seeks to prove itself at Gonzaga

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Brandon Paul (Getty Images)

Since finals week is approaching at most schools and coaches are cautious with their scheduling this time of year, there aren't as many marquee games on the schedule as usual this weekend. Nonetheless, here's a list of five that are worth keeping an eye on, headlined by a battle of unbeaten teams in Spokane.

1. Illinois (9-0) at Gonzaga (9-0), Saturday, 10 p.m. EST

Storyline to watch: Illinois has been a pleasant surprise so far, but this is a barometer game to show whether its undefeated start is legit or not. A win in Spokane — heck even a competitive loss — would certainly prove a lot about the Illini, but right now they're still largely untested. Not only is their Maui Invitational title muted a bit because they only had to beat USC, Chaminade and Butler to win it, they've also had some close calls against the likes of Hawaii and Gardner-Webb. For the Illini to stay close at Gonzaga, they'll need to get a big game from Brandon Paul, hold their own on the glass and sink a high percentage of their 3-pointers. Illinois has attempted the second most 3-pointers in the nation and Gonzaga is out-rebounding foes by 13 a game. (Predicted winner: Gonzaga)

2. Colorado (7-1) at Kansas (6-1), Saturday, 2 p.m. EST

Storyline to watch: In a matchup of former Big 12 foes, Tad Boyle will attempt to spring an upset on his alma mater and end Colorado's long history of futility against Kansas. The Jayhawks have won 47 of the past 48 meetings with the Buffs and 29 in a row against Colorado at Allen Fieldhouse. What gives Colorado hope is this is not the same program Kansas used to beat up on year after year in the Big 12. Led by guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker and NBA prospect Andre Roberson, the Buffs have beaten Baylor, Murray State and Colorado State already this season. A win at Allen Fieldhouse would be a different class of victory, however. The Jayhawks are still working out the kinks on offense, but a defense led by rim protector Jeff Withey is already playing at a high level. (Predicted winner: Kansas)

3. Virginia Tech (7-0) at West Virginia (3-3), 4 p.m. EST

Storyline to watch: In the past few weeks, Virginia Tech has emerged as an early-season surprise team by taking down Iowa and Oklahoma State in Blacksburg. Now the Hokies have to prove they're good enough to also beat credible teams away from home. West Virginia is off to a disappointing start, but the Mountaineers still boast plenty of talent headlined by center Deniz Kilicli and guard Juwan Staten. The question will be whether Bob Huggins can draw up a defense to slow down Virginia Tech's Erick Green, who is having an All-American caliber start to the season. Green has scored 20 or more points in all seven of the Hokies' games, the Hokies lead the ACC in 3-point shooting and points per possession and they get to the foul line more than any other ACC team. (Predicted winner: West Virginia)

4. UNLV (6-1) at Cal (6-1), 6 p.m. EST Sunday

Storyline to watch: UNLV's 6-1 record masks some early-season issues that have kept the talented Rebels from playing to their potential so far. A lack of a true point guard has hampered their offense, as has the tendency of Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt to fire contested jumpers at will even early in the shot clock. They're also currently without forward Mike Moser, who is day-to-day with a hip flexor. The Rebels still compete well on defense and turn missed shots and turnovers into transition buckets, but perimeter stoppers Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall will have a tough challenge Sunday. Justin Cobbs, Allen Crabbe and Brandon Smith may be the Pac-12's premier backcourt. (Predicted winner: Cal)

5. Temple (6-0) vs. Duke (8-0), Saturday, 3:15 p.m. EST

Storyline to watch: A year ago, Temple upset Duke 78-73 in Philadelphia thanks to superior guard play. Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall give the undefeated Owls hope of a repeat Saturday, but the Duke team they'll face is playing much better than last year's version ever did. The Blue Devils have amassed the best resume in the nation so far this season, defeating Kentucky, Ohio State, Louisville, VCU and Minnesota. The addition of rangy, athletic Rasheed Sulaimon and the superior play of Quinn Cook gives Duke a perimeter gives Duke a better chance of containing Temple's guards, while the development of Mason Plumlee provides an interior advantage for the Blue Devils. (Predicted winner: Duke)

Other games to watch:

UCLA (5-3) at Texas (5-3), Saturday: A once-promising matchup of national powers has now lost much of its luster because neither the Bruins nor Longhorns have lived up to expectations.

• Wisconsin (6-3) at Marquette (5-2), Saturday: One of the nation's best intrastate non-conference rivalry games pits two teams that have been hard to figure so far this year.

• Colorado State at Illinois-Chicago, Saturday: Was Illinois-Chicago's win at Northwestern a fluke? It will be easier to take the Flames seriously as a Horizon Contender if they also upset a Colorado State team coming off a loss to rival Colorado.

Mississippi (6-0) at Middle Tennessee State (6-2), Saturday: This would be the Rebels' best win if they're able to defeat the Sun Belt-contending Blue Raiders on the road.

• Arizona at Clemson, Saturday: With Milton Jennings back and K.J. McDaniels and Devon Booker playing well, Clemson could pose a challenge for a Wildcats team that is both unbeaten and unproven.

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