Top-ranked Duke visits N.C. State on Saturday. Second-ranked Michigan travels to Ohio State the following day. Those two games, along with a Big Ten showdown between Indiana and Minnesota, highlight the weekend's action:
1. Duke at NC State, 12 p.m. EST, Saturday
Storyline to watch: If top-ranked Duke wasn't already on upset alert heading to Raleigh to face a talent-laden NC State team, the Blue Devils certainly are now that they're missing one of their top players. Ryan Kelly, Duke's sweet-shooting starting forward, will miss the next couple weeks with a right foot injury, meaning the Blue Devils will have to turn to unproven guys like Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy to fill the void. How those guys are able to defend C.J. Leslie will be a matchup to watch, but there are others that may turn out to be more crucial. Can Richard Howell defend Mason Plumlee without getting into instant foul trouble? And will Lorenzo Brown's length and quickness bother Quinn Cook? Those should be fun duels to watch within what promises to be a very intriguing game. (Predicted winner: N.C. State)
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2. Minnesota at Indiana, 12 p.m. EST, Saturday
Storyline to watch: What projected to be a fairly routine win for the Hoosiers before the season began suddenly looks like one of the premier conference showdowns of the Big Ten season now that Minnesota is surging. The Gophers routed Illinois in Champaign earlier this week to take a 3-0 Big Ten record into Bloomington. Indiana is defending better right now and is very tough to beat at home, but Minnesota has some attributes that could pose a threat to the Hoosiers. They have big, athletic guards, they defend capably and they attack the boards. The backcourt trio of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman is playing well, and Trevor Mbakwe is beginning to regain his former explosiveness around the rim. (Predicted winner: Indiana)
3. Michigan at Ohio State, 1:30 p.m. EST, Sunday
Storyline to watch: Could the final four unbeaten teams all fall in a mere five days? Wyoming and Arizona lost Wednesday and Thursday nights, Duke has a difficult road test at NC State on Saturday and Michigan will be tested in Columbus. The venue will be an advantage for Ohio State, but right now the Wolverines are simply playing better. They boast one of the nation's most explosive offenses headlined by national player of the year candidate Trey Burke, much-improved Tim Hardaway Jr. and sweet-shooting Nik Stauskas. Ohio State's perimeter defense is stingy, but the Buckeyes lack that wealth of scoring talent. In fact, they're still looking for a capable No. 2 and No. 3 scorer behind Deshaun Thomas. Aaron Craft is an elite defender, a great leader and a quality pass-first point guard, but the first half of the season has shown he's less effective when counted on to be a scoring threat. (Predicted winner: Michigan)
4. Arizona State at Oregon, 9 p.m. EST, Sunday
Storyline to watch: Arizona State (14-2) has been the Pac-12's most pleasant surprise so far this season, following up an 11-2 non-conference season with three straight wins over Utah, Colorado and Oregon State to start league play. A soft non-conference schedule helped the Sun Devils amass their gaudy record, so a road game against an Oregon team coming off a victory over Arizona should provide a good barometer for how good Arizona State actually is. The biggest reason for the Sun Devils' improvement has been the arrival of point guard Jahii Carson, a high-flying freshman who has allowed Herb Sendek to play an uncharacteristically up-tempo style. That has helped slashing wing Carrick Felix, who has thrived at that tempo and contributed scoring, rebounding, steals and blocked shots. The point guard matchup is especially fun in this game. It will be Carson against Dominic Artis in a matchup of speedy freshmen. (Predicted winner: Oregon)
5. Missouri at Ole Miss, 5 p.m. EST, Saturday
Storyline to watch: This is a golden opportunity for an Ole Miss team looking to grab the marquee wins needed to earn its first NCAA tournament bid of Andy Kennedy's tenure. The Rebels get Missouri without starting forward Laurence Bowers, who will miss at least a week as a result of a sprained knee suffered against Alabama in the Tigers' SEC opener. Ole Miss took a step toward legitimizing itself with a convincing road win at Tennessee earlier this week, but the Rebels will need at least a couple wins over the SEC's top three teams to contend for an at-large bid in March. Though Ole Miss is 12-2, it has losses against Middle Tennessee State and Indiana State on its resume and its best win prior to this week came against Rutgers. What must the Rebels do to get a win? Keep Phil Pressey out of the lane, keep Alex Oriakhi off the boards and get an efficient shooting night from Marshall Henderson. The 6-2 guard leads the team in scoring but averages 14.1 shots per game. (Predicted winner: Ole Miss)
Others to watch:
Georgetown at St. John's (11 a.m. EST, Saturday): The Hoyas, off to an 0-2 start in league play, desperately need to bounce back with a big road win.
UCLA at Colorado (2 p.m. EST, Saturday): If the Bruins can survive the altitude and some difficult defensive matchups on the perimeter, they'll leave 4-0 in the Pac-12 and likely regain a spot in the AP Top 25.
North Carolina at Florida State (2 p.m. EST, Saturday): The 'Noles need this to continue to make amends for a poor non-conference performance. The Heels need this to avoid falling to 0-3 in ACC play.
Colorado State at San Diego State (8 p.m. EST, Saturday): Are the Rams catching San Diego State at the right time? It's never easy to win at sold-out Viejas Arena, but the Aztecs may be without Xavier Thames (back) and J.J. O'Brien, who took a hard fall on Wednesday at Fresno State.
Saint Louis at Temple (6 p.m. EST, Saturday): A matchup of Atlantic 10 contenders pits surging Saint Louis against a Temple team trying to avoid an early 0-2 hole in league play. The Owls lost their opener to Xavier on Thursday.
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