Xavier hosts Villanova in top-5 matchup on Saturday
By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
Villanova and Xavier were among the four teams to earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA’s preliminary rankings before Selection Sunday.
One will get knocked off its perch this weekend.
One of the biggest games of the Big East season — maybe of the college basketball season — will played in Cincinnati on Saturday, when No. 3 Villanova faces No. 4 Xavier.
The Musketeers (23-3, 11-2) have been on a roll since losing consecutive games in early January, winning eight straight. Xavier moved up to No. 4 in the AP poll this week and was picked as the third overall seed and No. 1 in the Midwest Region by the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee in its initial rankings.
Villanova spent five weeks at No. 1 and appeared to be rolling toward the Big East regular-season title. That changed last week, when the Wildcats suffered a surprising loss to unranked St. John’s.
Villanova (23-2, 10-2) fell to No. 3 in the AP Top 25, but was the No. 2 overall seed behind Virginia and slotted as the top seed in the East Region. The Wildcats bounced back with an 11-point victory over Butler after the St. John’s loss.
“The loss made it obvious we had to get back to playing Villanova basketball,” Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo said.
The loser of Saturday’s game could end up losing their No. 1 slot, but there’s still plenty of time before Selection Sunday on March 11.
Villanova plays Providence and Xavier hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday.
DUEL IN THE DESERT
The rivalry between Arizona and Arizona State had been lopsided for roughly three decades before the Sun Devils became one of college basketball’s biggest surprises this season.
Even with its rise in stature, Arizona State still didn’t measure up to the Wildcats in the first meeting, becoming the last undefeated Division I team to lose.
That was in Tucson. For the rematch on Thursday, the Sun Devils play at home and have some momentum.
“This time, I’m sure they’re very confident and they should be, but I thought the last time they were very confident,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “You can tell Bobby Hurley has done a really job of instilling that confidence in them, that belief in them.”
In the first meeting, Arizona took advantage of its size inside and withstood a late charge to win 84-78, ending the best start in Arizona State history.
The Sun Devils (19-6, 7-6 Pac-12) continued to have trouble with bigger teams before finding some answers the past two weeks. Arizona State has won three straight, including victories over Southern California and UCLA last week.
Arizona (20-6, 10-3) has lost two of its past four games, both to unranked teams, but still leads the Pac-12 by two games.
RED RAIDERS AND SOONERS
Texas Tech (21-4, 9-3 Big 12) has steadily worked its way up the AP Top 25 and remained at No. 7 this week. Not surprisingly, it earned the Red Raiders a spot among the top 16 teams in the NCAA’s preliminary rankings at third in the East Region.
Oklahoma also was among the top 16, which came as a surprise to some college basketball fans.
The Sooners were the talk of college basketball early in the season, racking up wins while dynamic freshman Trae Young put on a show every time he took the court. Oklahoma has since cooled off as teams have found a way to make life more difficult for Young, leading to three straight losses and six in eight games.
The Sooners (16-8, 5-6 Big 12) dropped to No. 23 in the AP poll, but were the committee’s No. 4 seed in the Midwest based upon their early season victories.
The two teams meet Tuesday in Lubbock.
Sunday has four games involving ranked teams and three of those are ranked vs. ranked.
The first two involve a rivalry game, No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan, and an up-and-comer against a blue blood, No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson.
Later in the afternoon, No. 19 Wichita State plays at No. 5 Cincinnati in a key AAC game. The Bearcats have yet to lose in conference (12-0) and hold a three-game lead.
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