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Bracket Bits: Weekend’s top UTR matchups

Dave2015The headliners are easy to find.  This weekend we get Villanova at Kansas and Gonzaga at North Carolina, among others.  Exciting stuff, for sure.  But we’re also blessed with a variety of less-neon-heavy matchups that could, come March, be equally important as teams compile resumes.  So, without further ado, here we go with this weekend’s picks for best UTR (Under-The-Radar) matchups ….

Tennessee at Memphis – Coming off an exciting, last-second victory over Gonzaga, the Volunteers head West on I-40 to take on what should be an energized group of Tigers.  Having dropped all of its “up” games to date, Memphis needs a major resume boost heading into AAC play in January.  Rivalry games are always good, but there could be a little extra juice in this one thanks to the current high in Knoxville.

Purdue vs. Notre Dame – Given the depth of this year’s conference, a top-half finish in the Big Ten is no guarantee for Purdue.  Something else to chew on: the Boilermakers are 1-4 vs. the top teams on its schedule (based on NET rankings), 0-4 vs. Group 1 NET teams (through Thursday’s games), and 2-4 in games played outside Mackey Arena.  Notre Dame opened as a projected bubble team and nothing has changed that outlook.

NC State vs. Penn State – The Wolfpack have breezed to an 8-1 start thanks to a non-conference schedule ranked above 300.  Their loss? A four-point defeat at Wisconsin in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.  On paper, that looks pretty good, as does a victory over Vanderbilt.  But the jury is still out on NC State.  As for Penn State, the Nittany Lions’ victory over Virginia Tech has been overshadowed a bit by a close loss to Indiana at home, plus sidesteps against DePaul and Bradley.  Editor’s note: had mentioned at first this game was at Penn State; it’s in New Jersey.  My apologies.

Utah at Kentucky – If I told you that UK’s best NET-rated victory is UNC-Greensboro, followed by Southern Illinois, you would think?  Exactly.  Which is why the Wildcats’ matchup against an average Utah team seems all the more important.  It’s especially true considering UK’s next three opponents: North Carolina (in Chicago), at Louisville, at Alabama.  Nothing easy about that trifecta.

Davidson vs. Temple – Davidson dropped its only Top 100 NET game to date (a 21-point set-back to Purdue on a neutral floor) so this is a nice opportunity for the Wildcats to grab one against a potential at-large contender from the AAC.  Temple has road wins against Missouri and Saint Joseph’s and a close loss to A10 contender VCU.  Most think Davidson will be in the A10 mix, too, so here’s a chance to balance the W/L sheet in that regard.

LSU vs. Saint Mary’s – Much like Kentucky, LSU has missed on its early chances to grab a non-conference win of note, losing close games to Houston and Florida State, and absorbing a double-digit loss to Oklahoma State.  Beating the Gaels on a neutral court may not move the needle, but a loss certainly could.  The Tigers follow with a home game against Furman.  Any momentum before January would certainly be welcome.

Baylor at Arizona – Baylor enters the weekend 0-2 vs. Top 100 NET opponents.  Between now and January they get shots against Arizona (road) and Oregon (home).  An already tough NCAA-tourney climb through the Big 12 will be that much tougher if the Bears can’t find at least one meaningful victory outside the league.  Meanwhile, the Wildcats have been solid but un-flashy; their resume includes a nice win over Iowa State in Maui and a road win at Connecticut, but also a loss last weekend at Alabama – and we have no idea how that may look down the road.  Point is … a meaningful outcome for both teams.

Enjoy your weekend of college hoops!


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