Then Michigan State flew back to the mainland, went to Atlanta and knocked off Kansas in a gritty, high-energy game. That was part of a doubleheader at the Georgia Dome that saw Duke turn away Kentucky. If the season ended with that same Final Four back in Atlanta, it might be a very satisfying conclusion to the season.
It’s still early, but teams seem to be playing at a higher level already. Maybe that’s because of the new NCAA rules that allowed summer instruction with coaches and limited team drills in the fall. If so, that’s a good thing. Let’s see if the trend continues. Here’s a look at five games to watch this weekend.
Wake Forest (1-0) vs. No. 23 UConn (2-0), (Friday, 6:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Connecticut is off to a surprising start and playing great defense. The Huskies traveled to Germany, upset Michigan State and moved into the Associated Press Top 25. For a team that received absolutely no consideration in the preseason polls, that a big jump. UConn backed that up with a home victory over a good Vermont team. The Huskies have held opponents to 34.2 percent shooting. Wake Forest will challenged that statistic as the Demon Deacons shot 63.6 percent in an a 79-67 win over Radford, a school high since 2007. These two teams haven’t played in 21 years (when UConn coach Kevin Ollie was a freshman for the Huskies) and now meet in the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas.
Notre Dame (2-0) vs. Saint Joseph’s (1-0) (Friday, 9:30 p.m., tru TV)
It’s the Big East vs. the Atlantic-10 in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center. The new arena in Brooklyn, N.Y., is already shining with its college basketball lineup and this is a good. The No. 20 Irish unveiled their twin big man attack against Monmouth on Monday. Jack Cooley, 6-9, was a given offensive threat coming into the season and coach Mike Brey played him together with 6-10 Garrick Sherman., a transfer from Michigan State They combined for 38 points and 18 rebounds. Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli has a talented group returning, led by junior guard Langston Galloway, who had 20 points in a 61-35 win over Yale. The Hawks could attract more attention with a win over the Irish.
No. 11 North Carolina (2-0) at Long Beach State (1-1) (Friday, 11 p.m. ESPNU)
Perhaps North Carolina coach Roy Williams enjoys the competition Long Beach State provides the Tar Heels every season. It hasn’t been easy getting past the 49ers the past two seasons – and both games were in Chapel Hill. North Carolina won 96-91 in 2010 and last year the Tar Heels had to rally from five down at halftime to win 84-78. This time the Tar Heels will be the visitors, stopping in on the way to the Maui Invitational in Hawaii. James Michael McAdoo has been the story so far with double-doubles in both North Carolina victories. The Tar Heels open against Mississippi State Monday in Maui. James Ennis and Mike Caffey lead Long Beach in scoring.
Rhode Island (0-2) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (1-0) (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN3)
This is part of the eight-team Hall of Fame Tipoff at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. All eyes will be on Ohio State. The Buckeyes opened with an 82-60 victory over Albany on Sunday, actually a first-round game in the Hall of Fame event. All-America candidate Deshaun Thomas sparked a 17-2 run at the end of the first half that broke the Buckeyes out of an slumber that had coach Thad Matta calling timeouts and begging for some execution (no, not of his players). Of course, this was in Columbus, after Ohio State’s original opener against Marquette on the USS Yorktown was canceled in Charleston, S.C. Now the Buckeyes will be playing in an arena inside a casino. Mohegan Sun has an entrance named for the Wind, but it shouldn’t impact the game.
Florida Gulf Coast (2-1) at No. 9 Duke (2-0) (Sunday, 8 p.m, ESPNU)
This sounds like a cupcake for the Blue Devils, huh? Home, in Cameron Indoor Stadium, against a team from the Atlantic Sun Conference and support from the Cameron Crazies. No problem, right? Not so fast. Florida Gulf Coast improved its record to 2-1 with a 63-51 victory over Miami Tuesday night in Fort Myers, Fla. It was the biggest win in school history for the Eagles, before 4,552 at Alico Arena. Florida Gulf Coast led 32-25 at halftime. Florida Gulf Coast finished with a 40-14 advantage in the paint and won the battle on the boards 40-32. And, yes, Miami is supposed to be a NCAA tournament team from the ACC. Should be interesting to see Duke’s reaction after the win over Kentucky Tuesday.