Now that we’ve hit conference play in college basketball, let’s have a look at three matchups coming up this weekend that could begin to shape conference title races:
(1) Duke at (20) North Carolina State (Saturday, 12:00 EST)
With three wins over top 5 foes on the season, this matchup would seem to be an easy win for top ranked Duke. Not so with the news that senior forward Ryan Kelly is out indefinitely with an injury to the same foot that caused him to miss last season’s ACC and NCAA tournaments. This is a must win game for both teams as N.C. State looks to continue its return to national prominence in year two under coach Mark Gottfried while this game is only one of two against currently ranked ACC teams for Duke the rest of the way (the other game being against N.C. State at Cameron Indoor Stadium).
(8) Minnesota at (5) Indiana (Saturday, 12:00 EST)
In what might be the statement game of the season so far, coach Tubby Smith brings his Golden Gophers team to Bloomington to take on Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Both teams come into this game with one loss, with Minnesota falling to top ranked Duke early in the season and Indiana losing to Butler in Indianapolis in mid-December. The return of Trevor Mbakwe along with the steady play of sophomore guard Andre Hollins has led Minnesota’s rise to their first top ten ranking since 1996-97. For Indiana, center Cody Zeller and guard Victor Oladipo have led the way so far at both ends of the court. Indiana’s depth, with five players averaging at least 11 points per game, will make this a challenge for Minnesota, but if Mbakwe and Minnesota’s other front line players can get Zeller into foul trouble, don’t count out the Golden Gophers in this one.
(14) Butler at Dayton (Saturday, 2:00 EST)
After missing the NCAA tournament a season ago, coach Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs are on the rise this season following their 88-86 overtime win over then top ranked Indiana in Indianapolis about a month ago. Since the win over Indiana, the Bulldogs have beaten SEC contender Vanderbilt on the road 68-49 and opened conference play with a 72-66 win over St. Joseph’s on Wednesday night. Sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke, who transferred to Butler from Arkansas last season, keys the offensive attack for the Bulldogs with help from post players Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith. This game is a big opportunity for Dayton coming off of a 12 point loss at VCU to open conference play. The Flyers will need senior guard and leading scorer Kevin Dillard to step up and score as well as possibly contain Clarke on the perimeter in order to avoid an 0-2 start in Atlantic 10 play.