The topsy-turvy 2019-20 college basketball season enters a new month ready to likely show the same unpredictability as the first three months.
How unpredictable? Five of the top 16 seeds in Friday’s ESPN Bracketology report by Joe Lunardi were not ranked in the preseason AP top 25, and eight of them have never won a national championship.
The unranked quintet in the preseason (current projected seed in parentheses) were San Diego State (1), Dayton (2), Florida State (3), West Virginia (3) and Butler (4). Those teams still are seeking their first national titles, along with Gonzaga (1), Baylor (1) and Seton Hall (2).
Six teams have made it to a national championship game, with Butler advancing to the final in back-to-back years, 2010 and 2011. The others are Gonzaga (2017), Seton Hall (1989), Dayton (1967), Florida State (1972) and West Virginia (1959).
Here’s a look at Saturday’s games:
Xavier at No. 10 Seton Hall, 11 a.m., Fox29
One week away from next Saturday’s Wells Fargo Center showdown against Villanova, the Pirates (16-4, 8-0 Big East) are one of the nation’s hottest teams, winners of 10 straight.
They didn’t play their best Wednesday night but still found a way to defeat DePaul, 64-57. Of course, it helps to have All-America candidate Myles Powell on your team. Powell scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half, including 11 straight at one point, to make everyone forget the fact that he shot 7-for-21 from the field and missed five free throws.
Meanwhile, the Musketeers (13-8, 2-6) have struggled in league play after being picked in the preseason to finish third. They lost to Marquette, 84-82, in double overtime Wednesday night.
No. 9 Duke at Syracuse, 8 p.m., ESPN
Exciting games usually happen when these teams play at the Carrier Dome. The Orange won the first meeting between the schools as fellow ACC members in 2014, and picked up another victory in 2017 when the Blue Devils were ranked No. 7. Duke evened its record at 2-2 in upstate New York last year with a 75-65 win.
The Blue Devils (17-3, 7-2) are coming off a 79-67 win over Pitt in which Vernon Carey had 26 points and 13 rebounds. The Orange (13-8, 6-4), who saw a five-game win streak snapped at Clemson, boast one of the ACC’s top scorers in Elijah Hughes, who is averaging 19.3 points.
No. 13 Kentucky at No. 17 Auburn, 6 p.m., ESPN
The Wildcats (16-4, 6-1 SEC) might have been looking ahead Wednesday night to this game when they struggled to beat lowly Vanderbilt, and now get to play the Tigers (18-2, 5-2) for the first time since last year’s NCAA Midwest Regional final won by Auburn, 77-71, in overtime. Kentucky junior forward Nick Richards is averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds in his last nine games. Both teams come in on four-game winning streaks.
No. 14 Michigan State at Wisconsin, 1 p.m., Fox29
The Spartans (16-5, 8-2) are keeping pace with Illinois for first place in the Big Ten but have a big test ahead on the road against the Badgers (12-9, 5-5), who come into this game shorthanded. Kobe King, the team’s second-leading scorer, announced Wednesday that he intends to transfer. In addition, junior guard Brad Davison will sit out a one-game suspension for a flagrant foul he committed late in Wisconsin’s loss to Iowa.
No. 25 Rutgers vs. Michigan at Madison Square Garden, 4:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The Scarlet Knights (16-5, 7-3) enter the weekend one game behind the Big Ten co-leaders but, for all their success, are only 1-5 away from the RAC. Still, if the saying “defense travels” is true, they should be in good shape, allowing 60.8 points per game (15th in Division I) and having a 37.6 field-goal percentage defense (13th). The Wolverines (12-8, 3-6) snapped a four-game losing streak Tuesday night, but the status of point guard Zavier Simpson, who sat out Tuesday’s game for a violation of team rules, is uncertain.
Texas Christian at No. 1 Baylor, 4 p.m., ESPN2
It’s been a big season thus far for the Bears (18-1, 7-0), the only team in the nation with five wins against AP Top 25 opponents. They have been playing stifling defense, with their 58.3 points allowed per game ranking fifth nationally, and showing balance on offense. The Horned Frogs (13-7, 4-3) started their Big 12 season 3-0 but have lost three of the last four.
What else is happening?
No. 3 Kansas (17-3, 6-1) will carry a five-game winning streak into its home game against Texas Tech (13-7, 4-3), which is coming off a hard-fought win against No. 12 West Virginia. The Jayhawks want to keep up with first-place Baylor in the Big 12, while the Red Raiders need wins to stay off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Sixth-ranked Louisville (18-3, 9-1), winner of nine straight, will take on North Carolina State (14-7, 5-5). The Cardinals’ Zavier Simpson scored 37 points Tuesday night at Boston College and is the ACC’s top scorer with an 18.7-point average. The Wolfpack lost Monday at home to North Carolina to fall to “last-team-in” status in the latest NCAA bracket projection. And when was the last time a loss to the Tar Heels was considered a bad loss?
Expatriate of the week
Maryland freshman Donta Scott, who helped Imhotep Charter win three consecutive PIAA Class 4A state championships, has started the Terrapins’ last 10 games. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds, with a high of 13 points in a Jan. 18 game against Purdue. Scott’s AAU teammate, 6-6 freshman guard Hakim Hart of Roman Catholic, is averaging 1.5 points in 14 games with the Terps.