More examples of the strange and unusual during the past college basketball week:
Saturday’s early action includes the fourth annual “NCAA March Madness Bracket Preview" (12:30 p.m. on CBS3), which will reveal the nation’s current top 16 seeded teams, four in each region, as determined by the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee.
Here’s a look at some big games Saturday:
Minnesota at No. 22 Penn State, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
The Nittany Lions (17-5, 7-4) have won five straight. Their last loss, a 75-69 decision at Minnesota on Jan. 15, was marked by postgame chirping in the handshake line between the teams’ two best players, the Lions’ Lamar Stevens and the Golden Gophers’ Daniel Oturu.
“We’re definitely tough competitors,” Stevens, a graduate of Roman Catholic, said Thursday during a session with the media. “But I’m focused on, my team is focused on, getting everybody ready, getting myself ready. Sometimes within a game, stuff like that happens, but I don’t let it trickle down or stick with us.’
Penn State enters Saturday’s action one game behind the winner of Friday night’s contest between Big Ten co-leaders Maryland and Illinois. The 6-foot-10 Oturu has been outstanding for the Gophers (12-10, 6-6), averaging 19.6 points and leading the league in rebounding (11.3) and field-goal percentage (58.6).
No. 7 Duke at North Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN
So how much do you think Duke fans are enjoying the struggles of the Tar Heels this season?
Then again, how much better will Carolina (10-12, 3-8 ACC) feel if it can pull off the upset against its rival?
According to ESPN, these two teams are 50-50 in their last 100 games, and each has the same number of points, 7,746. But this isn’t a normal season. The Tar Heels have struggled, especially after freshman guard Cole Anthony required knee surgery and missed 11 games.
Now with Anthony back, the Heels still can’t find their stride. He has scored 42 points in two games since returning, but went just 5-for-22 in a 16-point performance during a loss at No. 8 Florida State. Coach Roy Williams has relied on his inside players in Anthony’s absence, and now has to find a way to mesh the two styles.
For the Blue Devils (19-3, 9-2), coach Mike Krzyzewski picked up his 500th win in ACC games, regular season and tournament, in a 63-55 victory over Boston College earlier this week.
No. 18 Louisiana State at No. 11 Auburn, noon, ESPN
After the stumble by LSU (17-5, 8-1) at Vanderbilt, Auburn (20-2, 7-2 SEC) can move into a first-place tie with a victory. Auburn has done well in close games, going 8-0 in contests decided by six points or fewer, with three of those games having gone into overtime.
Senior guard Samir Doughty (Math, Civics and Sciences) is averaging 15.5 points to lead Auburn. He had 23 in Tuesday’s night 79-76 win over Arkansas, including two clutch free throws in overtime.
No. 2 Gonzaga at St. Mary’s, 10 p.m., ESPN
The Zags (24-1, 10-0) just keep winning. Their 85-67 victory Thursday night over Loyola Marymount was their 16th in a row and 37th straight in West Coast Conference regular-season games. However, the Gaels (20-5, 7-3) defeated Gonzaga in last season’s WCC Tournament championship game. Senior Jordan Ford averages 21.4 points and 2.6 made threes for St. Mary’s.
Virginia at No. 5 Louisville, 4 p.m., ESPN
The defending national-champion Cavaliers (15-6, 7-4 ACC) continue to play terrific defense, leading the nation in points allowed (50.4 per game) and field-goal percentage defense (35.4). But they’re 347th among Division I’s 353 teams in scoring (56.0). The Cardinals (20-3, 11-1) have shown balance at both ends, ranking third in the ACC in scoring and second in points given up.
No. 16 Michigan State at Michigan, noon, Fox29
It hasn’t been a good stretch for the state’s two Big Ten representatives. With their loss to Penn State, the Spartans (16-7, 8-4) dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season. The Wolverines (13-9, 4-7) have lost three straight home contests, shooting less than 40% in all three. The Spartans won the teams’ last meeting, 87-69, on Jan. 5.
No. 3 Kansas (19-3, 8-1) continues to chase top-ranked Baylor in the Big 12 race, but the Jayhawks can tie a significant record Saturday. A victory at Texas Christian (13-9, 4-5) would give them 20 wins for the 31st consecutive season, tying the NCAA record held by North Carolina (1971-2001).
Meanwhile, the Bears (20-1, 9-0), winners of 19 straight, have a home contest against Oklahoma State (11-11, 1-8). Their four-week stand at No. 1 in the Associated Press poll is tops of any teams this season.