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Critical Hoops Saturday in the ACC—and Nationally

Conference play is well underway and this weekend is a big one in the ACC. What games should you watch?

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar officially closed on the 2016 college football season, conference races in college basketball are just heating up. And while every weekend brings monster matchups when you have a league as stacked as the ACC, this Saturday is particular critical for teams near the top of the standings.

Keep in mind, there’s more than just bragging rights on the line. Seeding for the ACC Tournament (which might be more difficult to win than the NCAA Tournament this year) and the Big Dance in March are significantly impacted by what happens in January and February.

With FSU inserting itself into the top 10, what happens around the conference and national landscape is worth keeping up with as the Seminoles jockey for position. Rogner will still put up a preview and game thread, but we can use this one to discuss all the other action around the country.

Around the ACC:

  • Florida State, tied for first in the ACC at 4-0 with Notre Dame, travels to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels of North Carolina. UNC sits at 3-1, so a home win would put the Heels and ‘Noles tied at 4-1. Even more critical, this is the only matchup between the two teams during the regular season thanks to unbalanced scheduling. Meaning the winner has an early leg up on tie-breakers used for ACCT seeding purposes. Game tips at 2pm on ESPN.
  • The under-card for the UNC/FSU clash is the Duke Blue Devils traveling to Kentucky to take on the Louisville Cardinals. Both of these teams rank in the top 15 nationally, and both sit at 2-2 in the ACC. Like the battle in Chapel Hill, this is the only regular season meeting between the two, making it a critical showdown as both teams look to secure a double-bye in the ACCT. The game tips at high-noon on ESPN.
  • UVA, also at 2-2 in ACC play, travels south to face the Clemson Tigers. Clemson is a top 30 team nationally according to advanced metrics, but has started off just 1-3 in the league. Littlejohn Coliseum, fresh off a sparkling (and expensive) makeover, is always a difficult place to walk out of with a W, so don’t be surprised if the Tigers spring the upset. This nooner can be found on the ACC Network and Watch ESPN.
  • Another Noon game, Miami travels north to visit Pittsburgh and the Oakland Zoo. The ‘Canes are 1-2 in league play, while the Panthers are 1-3, so both teams desperately need a win as they fight for NCAAT bubble positioning. Like UVA/Clemson, this game can be found on the ACC Network and Watch ESPN.
  • While FSU races up and down the court with UNC, another big game will be taking place in Blacksburg, Virginia. Notre Dame, tied at the top with a 4-0 start, invade Cassell Coliseum to do battle with the Virginia Tech Hokies. VT, a team that’s already beaten Duke at home this season, sits at 2-2 in the ACC and is looking to move up into the top quarter of the standings. Meanwhile, a win by ND and a loss by FSU means the Irish will be in sole possession of first place. Of course, the Irish visit Tallahassee on Wednesday, January 18th in what could be a battle for league supremacy. Tip is set for 2pm on ACCN and Watch ESPN.

Games with National Implications:

As mentioned, FSU is competing for seeding with teams around the country, meaning lots of national games will have tournament implications for the Seminoles over the next six weeks. On tap for this weekend:


  • Minnesota @ Penn State (ESPN U) - The Golden Gophers are 15-3 and one of FSU’s signature victories. So all wins by them are good. But conference road games are never easy and Penn State is better than they’ve been in the past.
  • Villanova @ St. Johns. (FS1) - Get a look at a potential competitor for a 1 or 2 seed as the defending champs look to keep rolling.


  • Xavier @ Butler (FS1) - Yes, you’ll obviously be watching the ‘Noles. But if you need a flip-back channel, check out this game. This Big East showdown features two top-15 teams, both of which could end up as a 5 or 4 seed...or maybe even a 3, depending on how teams like FSU fare.
  • Iona @ Quinnipiac (ESPN3) - The joys of the RPI. Iona is hovering around the top 100—some days in, some days just outside—and having another top 100 non-con win is always a plus. Iona could make a decent leap with a road victory.


  • West Virginia @ Texas (ESPN 2) - Texas doesn’t have a great record, but they do have talent. Meanwhile, West Virginia might be the one team in the country I’d rather FSU avoid come March. Their press defense is turning teams over at a historic rate this year and they are nearly as deep as the ‘Noles. The Mountaineers will likely battle FSU for NCAAT seeding all season.
  • Baylor @ Kansas State (ESPNU) - Baylor received their first number 1 ranking in program history this week and were promptly obliterated by West Virginia in Morgantown. They look to rebound—and hold onto their grip on a number 1 seed—against #25 K-State.


  • Maryland @ Illinois (ESPN2) - Another big RPI game. Illinois has been hovering around the top 50 mark and FSU needs them to stay there. A win over Maryland would be huge, not to mention avoiding the crippling home loss.
  • UCLA @ Utah (Pac-12 Network) - UCLA and FSU are currently battling for a spot on the 1/2 seed line, so all losses by Lonzo Ball & Co. are good. Speaking of Lonzo Ball, if you haven’t seen him goodness he is spectacular. But winning on the road against Utah is never an easy task—just ask Andy Enfield who’s top 25 USC team just got smoked by 22 in Salt Lake City on Thursday.


  • St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga (ESPN 2) - This should be a whale of a game. These WCC titans both come into the game ranked in the top 25 and neither one likes the other all that much. So just for your viewing pleasure, you should tune in. On top of that, Gonzaga is the nation’s last remaining undefeated team and serious contender for a 1 seed. Which means any loss by the ‘Zags, a team that doesn’t have many chances to lose in conference play, is huge to offset future losses by the Seminoles—which are sure to come in the rugged ACC.