Fo, Fo, Fo: Big East elites get No. 1 treatment before heavyweight bout

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fo, Fo, Fo is more than just a  nod to legend Moses Malone . It’s columnist Kyle Tucker’s weekly college basketball rundown: Four No. 1 seeds for the NCAA Tournament, four other dangerous teams and four games he can’t wait to watch. Kyle is out this week, so Alex Martin Smith is lacing up his kicks as a temporary replacement.

You should thank Kyle Tucker for his wisdom. He knew he needed to take a week off at some point, and he knew the editors would grab some random hack off the bench when that happened. Thus, he coordinated his brief absence with the first word from the NCAA Tournament selection committee, making this more of a paint-by-numbers exercise.

The almighty hardwood arbiters announced their top 16 rankings on Sunday. The first “Fo” in this column is set. Let’s take a look:

Fo No. 1 seeds

Virginia (23-2) — Losing an overtime nail-biter to Virginia Tech on Saturday wasn’t nearly enough to move the Cavs from their ACC perch. Virginia carried a 15-game winning streak into the weekend, and held an unblemished 12-0 record in a conference that’s expected to send nine teams dancing. Tony Bennett’s team is 4-0 against RPI top 8 opponents (!) and 8-1 against the top 50. And you shouldn’t expect the Cavs to falter down the stretch; their five remaining regular-season opponents carry an average RPI ranking of 87.6.

Villanova (23-2) — St. John’s woke up last weekend and decided it wanted to play basketball. The previously hapless Red Storm knocked off Duke, then shocked Villanova to drop the Wildcats from its probable No. 1 overall position on the committee’s board. One February upset does not a chink in the armor make … but the SJU game was a sharp reminder that the forthcoming national tournament is not called “March Rationality.” Villanova at least rebounded nicely with an 11-point win over Butler, erasing the sting of a Dec. 30 loss at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

RELATED: See who made this list last week

Xavier (23-3) — We’ll discuss this further in the final “Fo” section, but Xavier is nearing its biggest moment of the regular season. The Musketeers — who boast a handful of strong, not elite, victories — host Villanova on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, FOX). The matchup will either doom them to B-list status or entrench them as a legitimate threat to grab a No. 1 seed. Chris Mack’s team has won eight in a row, including road wins at Butler (98-93, OT) and Creighton (an  ohhhhhh-so-controversial 72-71). Xavier hosts Seton Hall on Valentine’s Day, and can’t afford to be caught looking ahead; the Pirates are on a three-game skid and desperate for a big win.

Purdue (23-4) — The Boilermakers aren’t a shoo-in to win the Big Ten, after all. A 19-game winning streak came crashing down this past week, as Purdue fell to Ohio State (64-63) and Michigan State (68-65) to fall from first to third in the conference standings. Its remaining slate — at Wisconsin, vs. Penn State, at Illinois, vs. Minnesota — is far from intimidating, but Matt Painter’s squad hasn’t been its dominant self for a while now.

Fo mo’ dangerous teams

Cincinnati (23-2) — Make it 16 in a row for Cincy, which leveled Central Florida (by 37) and SMU (by 25) to stay undefeated in AAC play. The competition is about to ratchet up, though: Four combined games against the conference’s three other best teams await, including a pair vs. No. 19 Wichita State. If the Bearcats want to boost their underwhelming collection of top wins and land a No. 1 seed, they’ll likely need to sweep the Shockers (20th in RPI).

Michigan State (24-3) — The Spartans nabbed a much-needed 3-point win over Purdue on Saturday, keeping them alive in the Big Ten regular-season race. They won’t get another crack at Ohio State — the only team in front of them — until the conference tourney, but they still might sneak out a championship in the next couple weeks thanks to a comically weak schedule: at Minnesota, at Northwestern, vs. Illinois, at Wisconsin. Sparty has won eight straight, though each of the team’s past three victories has come by only 3 points.

Rhode Island (20-3) — Strength of schedule is never going to be Rhody’s bag, but the Rams have been steamrolling the Atlantic 10, and their SOS is currently a respectable 29th. Dan Hurley’s team now has 15 consecutive wins and a 12-0 conference record. Ever the balanced mid-major, there’s only one signature win on their résumé — a home “W” vs. Seton Hall — while all three of their losses have come against top-32 RPI teams. If they run the table, expect to see them earn a prime spot in the NCAA Tournament.

St. John’s (13-13) — Noooooobody wants to play the Johnnies right now. They snapped out of an impossibly bad funk to outplay Duke and Villanova in back-to-back games, and — in an effort to rage against the “flash in the pan” tag — SJU also beat down Marquette on Saturday. Shamorie Ponds (33.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists) has been the best player in college basketball over the past two weeks. Who wants to rule out a Big East Tournament run?

Fo games to watch

No. 3 Villanova (23-2, 10-2 Big East) at No. 4 Xavier (23-3, 11-2 Big East) on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX. These are the last two teams with a legitimate shot at the Big East’s regular-season crown. Nova won a 24-point laugher on Jan. 10, in which only one Xavier starter cracked the 10-point mark (Trevon Bluiett managed 11). Bluiett and fellow guards J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin combined to shoot an awful 6 of 28 from the floor that night, while Nova’s trio of starting guards — Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson — shot 19 of 35. The Musketeers will need to sand down that ugly ratio on Saturday.

No. 23 Oklahoma (16-8, 6-6 Big 12) at No. 7 Texas Tech (21-4, 9-3 Big 12) on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. It’s always must-see TV when Trae Young steps on the floor, even if Oklahoma continues to drop games. Texas Tech has won six straight and appears to be trending toward a top seed. But the Red Raiders fell victim to Young’s sensational play in a 10-point loss Jan. 9. Young dished out 10 assists and scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half of that game, while Tech guard Keenan Evans (19 points) got little to no help from his teammates down the stretch.

No. 12 Duke (20-5, 8-4 ACC) at No. 11 Clemson (20-4, 9-3 ACC) on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m. ET on ACC Network. The Blue Devils aren’t quite free-falling, but they’ve quickly slipped from the ranks of the elite. Their forthcoming road trip to Clemson is an opportunity to grab control of their season following close losses vs. Virginia, St. John’s (a shocker) and North Carolina. Clemson, of course, has other plans. The Tigers are 4-0 since an embarrassing 61-36 loss at Virginia on Jan. 23, and guard Gabe Devoe is shooting 61.1 percent from the field in that span.

No. 8 Ohio State (22-5, 13-1 Big Ten) at No. 22 Michigan (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten) on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. The Big Ten is hurting this year, which means its top programs are starving for big wins. Michigan is perhaps the hungriest, as it only has two top-50 RPI victories this season (No. 14 Michigan State and No. 47 Texas). Ohio State won these teams’ first matchup by 9 points in early December, and has won 12 of its past 13 games overall.

Which games are you excited about this week? Let us know in the comments section below.

The post Fo, Fo, Fo: Big East elites get No. 1 treatment before heavyweight bout appeared first on SEC Country.

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