All excited about the NFL playoffs, aren’t you? Got your TV time all planned out for Saturday and Sunday? Well, before the football games both days, college basketball will provide some solid entertainment in the form of opening acts. The two-hour period Saturday, featuring Duke at North Carolina State and Minnesota at Indiana both tipping at noon, might be the most intense time frame of the college basketball season to this point. Get some fresh batteries for the remote control.
Here are five games you don’t want to miss (all times ET):
No. 1 Duke (15-0, 2-0) at No. 20 North Carolina State (13-2, 2-0) ( Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN)
You may have forgotten about this, but when the Associated Press preseason poll was released, North Carolina State was No. 6 and Duke was No. 8. The perception of both teams changed quickly, based on November results. Duke beat Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, Louisville and Ohio State by Nov. 28. The Wolfpack played poorly (a real stinker) in a 76-56 loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 and two games later lost at Michigan 79-72 (pretty respectable based on what we now know about Michigan). So look at this matchup any way you want. Remember the Wolfpack leads the nation in field goal percentage (53.0) and Duke will not have senior forward Ryan Kelly (13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 52.1 3-point FG %).
No. 8 Minnesota (15-1, 3-0) at No. 5 Indiana (14-1, 2-0) ( Saturday, 12 p.m., Big Ten Network)
May I suggest picture-in-picture and liberal use of the swap button on your remote? This is a gigantic game in the Big Ten and it tips at the same time as the ACC battle between Duke and North Carolina State. Minnesota has become the more remarkable team story in college basketball. Tubby Smith’s team lost to Duke 89-71 on Nov. 22. That’s the only blemish for the Gophers, who started conference play with home wins over Michigan State and Northwestern and then rolled at Illinois Wednesday night. Senior forward Trevor Mbakwe had 19 points and 11 rebounds against the Illini. Indiana is on a five-game winning streak. Big Cody Zeller averages 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Hoosiers.
Connecticut (11-3, 1-1) at No. 17 Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0) (Saturday, 2 p.m., SNY, Big East Network, ESPN3)
There won’t be any better backcourt matchup this weekend than the one this game provides. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey calls his guards, Eric Atkins and Jarian Grant, the best combo in the country. He’s biased, of course, but the Irish duo is very good. And they execute Brey’s style to perfection. They control tempo, they are poised, and Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in assists per game (19.5). UConn will counter with the speed of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. Coach Kevin Ollie wants them to push and attack, which they did Tuesday in a 99-78 win over DePaul. Don’t overlook Notre Dame big man Jack Cooley and UConn stretch forward DeAndre Daniels, who had a career-high 26 point against the Blue Demons.
UCLA (13-3, 3-0) at Colorado (11-4, 1-2) (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Colorado snapped a two-game losing with a 66-60 win over USC Thursday night – unless, of course, you count that overtime loss at Arizona as a win because of the officials’ error at the end of regulation. The Buffaloes didn’t respond well to that controversial loss, losing their next game at Arizona State, but they are 7-0 at home this season. Forward Andre Roberson didn’t start against USC but had 11 points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes. Freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad (18.5 ppg) was held to six points Thursday in a 57-53 win at Utah, the sixth consecutive win for the Bruins. Larry Drew II (12 points) hit a driving layup just ahead of the shot clock with 9 seconds remaining.
No. 2 Michigan (16-0, 3-0) at No. 15 Ohio State (12-3, 2-1) (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS)
The No. 2 Wolverines finally had to grind one out for a change on Wednesday, when they defeated Nebraska 62-47. Michigan has had only one other 16-0 start in the history of its program. That was in 1985-86, when the Wolverines went into Columbus and beat Ohio State to improve to 14-0. Michigan is averaging 80.8 points a game and had scored over 90 in three of the four games before beating Nebraska. On the other hand, Ohio State has been struggling to find offense, shooting 46.2 percent from the floor and averaging 75.9 points. Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft has seen his field goal percentage drop to 39.8 percent from 50 percent last season. He has 70 assists with only 21 turnovers, but can he slow down Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke?