It’s a trap!
We might not have a bunch of powerhouse battles, but this weekend features multiple teams in “trap games” as they prepare for significant showdowns in the near future.
They can’t afford to get caught looking ahead.
Next week, Virginia’s campaign to prove that it is Duke’s greatest threat in the ACC and also a contender in the early “best team in America” conversation will continue when it hosts No. 9 Virginia Tech, its chief rival, on Tuesday. A matchup against a fumbling Clemson squad seems to pose a minimal threat to a Cavaliers team that forces turnovers on one in five defensive possessions.
Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter are future pros. Kyle Guy has made 48 percent of his 3-pointers. Virginia looks ferocious and a win over the Hokies would extend the momentum for a program that has put the loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the NCAA tournament behind it.
Everything points toward a lopsided victory for Virginia. The Tigers, who’ve played top-25 defense, have lost two in a row. They’re coming off a Sweet 16 run and they’ve fallen short of expectations. They’re desperate. They’ll put up a fight.
Entering the week, the Wolverines boasted one of America’s best defenses, an offense that rarely commits turnovers and a terrifying lineup that features three athletic, 6-foot-6ish wings (Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews).
Michigan, which reached the national title game last season, is a more versatile team this season. A Jan. 19 road trip to Madison to face Wisconsin could help the Wolverines maintain their spot atop the Big Ten’s standings. But they can’t look past Northwestern. Yes, the Wildcats are 1-4 in Big Ten play, but they lost two of those games (Michigan and Indiana) by a combined four points. In a 62-60 loss to Michigan on Dec. 4, Vic Law and Dererk Pardon combined to score 39 points. Plus, Northwestern committed only nine turnovers and made 50 percent of its shots inside the arc.
Michigan will probably win. But John Beilein won’t overlook the Wildcats.
Entering the season, Iowa State’s matchup at Baylor looked like a trap game between matchups against Kansas and Kansas State, which was coming off an Elite Eight run. But Kansas State has suffered from Dean Wade‘s injury. So this becomes the trap game for a Cyclones team that will face Texas Tech in Lubbock on Wednesday.
Iowa State has to develop a consistent efficiency throughout the season to compete for the Big 12 title, which is still Kansas’ crown to lose. An Iowa State team that beat Kansas by 17 points last week but couldn’t beat Makai Mason and Baylor this week, knows it can’t look ahead.
Kansas State launched the greatest comeback in school history with a 21-point come-from-behind win against West Virginia on Wednesday night. The Wildcats don’t have Wade, but they continue to play top-10 defense. So this could be a game that puts Iowa State back on the winning path or a game that leads to a three-game losing streak (if it loses at Texas Tech next week) and diminishes its shot at a Big 12 title.
Texas Tech’s defense has been tremendous this season. No team in America has been better. And Jarrett Culver (19.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.9 APG, 40 percent from the 3-point line) is a projected first-round pick.
But Texas has amassed just a 5-5 record since a win over North Carolina in late November. The Longhorns made 46 percent of its 3-pointers in that game, far off its season average (32 percent). They did show their potential, though.
Could Kerwin Roach lead a Texas team that also has played top-10-level defense to a win over Texas Tech before the latter prepares for a game against Iowa State that could impact the pecking order in the Big 12? Anything can happen in college basketball.
No. 1 Duke at No. 13 Florida State (2 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN)
With Trent Forrest, Terance Mann, M.J. Walker and PJ Savoy, Florida State has a collection of big wings who won’t face significant problems with Duke’s size. Plus, Mfiondu Kabengele (6-10) and Christ Koumadje (7-foot-4) can limit the action around the basket.
Virginia made 44 percent of its 3-point attempts in a win over Florida State last weekend. But the Cavaliers made only 39 percent of their shots inside the arc. Could a talented Duke team that has made only 32 percent of its 3-pointers be forced into taking more shots from beyond the arc against Florida State?
We’ll see. It’s Duke’s second true road game of the season, and Leonard Hamilton’s squad has forced turnovers on nearly one-quarter of its opponents’ possessions.
It could make for an interesting ACC matchup — or another sign that Florida State is just not in the same class as Virginia and Duke.
No. 7 Kansas at Baylor (4 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN)
Dedric Lawson (31 points, 14 rebounds, three steals) was unstoppable. It was an emotional effort and a rebound from a lopsided loss to Iowa State.
Still, Kansas has not proven it can be a great team without Azubuike.
And Makai Mason and Baylor just knocked off Iowa State. Perhaps the Bears think Kansas is vulnerable in a post-Azubuike world. But the Jayhawks, until proven otherwise, remain the team to beat in the league. A dominant win over a team like Baylor would solidify that.