College basketball weekend headlined by Big East, Big Ten showdowns

Projecting the NCAA tournament field

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North Carolina hosts Duke in men’s basketball Saturday, an event that would normally qualify as appointment television for college hoops fans. It’s on ESPN at 6 p.m. ET in case you’re interested, but in an indication of just how wacky the season has been to this point, it doesn’t come close to making this week’s Starting Five preview of the college basketball weekend. Another matchup in the Atlantic Coast Conference does make the cut, but the headliner is in Big East territory.

Here’s the quintet of games to watch:

No. 13 Seton Hall at No. 12 Villanova

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, Fox

The Wildcats might have had an opportunity to pull even with the Pirates atop the league standings, but that scenario was snuffed out by Kamar Baldwin’s buzzer beater at Butler on Wednesday night. Villanova can now only pull back to within a game. The Hall, meanwhile, has a chance to grab a commanding three-game lead and keep its name in the discussion for a top NCAA seed. There’s nothing wrong with Villanova’s offense, with the backcourt tandem of Collin Gillespie and Saddiq Bey continuing to light it up. But a takeover guy like Pirates guard Myles Powell can always provide an answer. The Wildcats might also not be as successful going inside with Seton Hall’s Romaro Gill (3.6 blocks per game) protecting the rim.

Seton Hall guard Myles Powell drives to the basket against Villanova guard Collin Gillespie  during the second half of the 2019 Big East conference tournament final at Madison Square Garden.

No. 9 Maryland at No. 21 Illinois

Friday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1

The Friday night special in the Big Ten finds the Terrapins in search of that rarest of commodities, a conference road victory. The Fighting Illini are in decent postseason shape but would like to protect their home court for a potential seed booster. Adding to the intrigue is both teams are tied for the conference lead with each sporting 8-3 records. Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr. is capable of heating up at any time, though the Terps are at their best when he’s getting Jalen Smith involved as well. Illinois has a fine inside-out combo of its own with Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu.

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