Off to a good start in Southern Conference play, Western Carolina now begins a rugged stretch of its schedule, a trio of games against the league’s best teams.
The challenge begins Saturday at league leader East Tennessee State (15-4, 6-0), a 4 p.m. start on ESPN3. The defending SoCon tournament champion Buccaneers appear to be the favorites again this season and are the league’s hottest team, on a nine-game winning streak.
After a non-conference home game Thursday vs. Southern Wesleyan, the Catamounts (8-10, 4-2) resume league play at Furman (4-2) and at Wofford (4-1).
Three consecutive road games against the conference’s top squads will let WCU know where it stands as far as being competitive for a first-division finish.
The team should be well rested – a quirk in the schedule this time of year has Saturday’s trip to Johnson City as the Cats’ only game in a 10-day stretch. East Tennessee by 12.
Georgia Tech (10-8, 3-2) at No. 15 North Carolina (15-4, 4-2), 2 p.m. on ESPN2 – A modest three-game winning streak has helped the Tar Heels recover from a 1-2 start in ACC play.
With injured transfer Cameron Johnson playing himself back into shape, the Tar Heels have added a talented, veteran player to the roster than needed it.
With this home game and visits from N.C. State and Pittsburgh on the upcoming schedule – along with winnable road games at Virginia Tech and Clemson – UNC has a chance to go on a real run before the Feb. 8 showdown with No. 5 Duke.
The Yellow Jackets were on a nice four-game winning streak, including three ACC wins, before losing to No. 2 Virginia on Thursday night. North Carolina by 10.
Pittsburgh (8-11, 0-6) at No. 5 Duke (16-2, 4-2), 4 p.m. on MY 40 - After beating the Panthers by 35 points in Pittsburgh just 10 days ago, how ugly could this get?
Athletically, perhaps no team in the country can match up with Duke’s impressive collection of freshmen who seem to have it all – strong post play, solid perimeter shooting, the ability to slash to the basket.
But that’s all on offense, and the Blue Devils’ ability – and mostly their interest – in playing defense will be the key to their national title hopes.
Pitt basketball is a mess, on a six-game losing streak with all the defeats by double digits. Duke by 28.
Notre Dame (13-6, 3-3) at No. 20 Clemson (15-3, 4-2), 4 p.m. on ESPN2 – Ranked in the AP Top 25 for five straight weeks after a 14-1 start, the Tigers are about to find out if they are for real.
The next three games include trips to No. 2 Virginia and Georgia Tech and a home game against North Carolina, who beat the Tigers 87-79 earlier this week.
The Fighting Irish’s promising start was derailed when leading scorer and preseason Player of the Year Bonzie Colson went down with a broken foot.
The team has lost three straight but is still playing tough, losing by one to North Carolina and dropping a double-overtime decision to Louisville. Clemson by 4.
No. 25 Miami (13-4, 2-3) at N.C. State (13-6, 3-3), noon on Fox SportSouth - The inconsistent Wolfpack have struggled on the road (0-3) in conference play but have impressive wins against Duke and Clemson at home.
The Hurricanes were ranked as high as No. 6 earlier this season but have dropped their last two, vs. Clemson and Duke. N.C. State by 1.
No. 2 Virginia (17-1, 6-0) at Wake Forest (8-10, 1-5), 6 p.m. on ESPNU – No contest, right? The league’s best team through the early part of the schedule, the Cavaliers are on an eight-game winning streak and haven’t allowed an ACC opponent to score more than 61 points.
Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons are on an ugly slide that includes four straight losses and six defeats in their last seven games.
Which makes you wonder if this is a classic “gotcha” game when an overwhelming favorite gets shocked by a huge underdog? Probably not. Virginia by 9.
UNC Asheville (11-9, 4-3) at Liberty (12-8, 3-4), 2 p.m. on MY 40 – After winning a share of the Big South Conference title with a 15-3 mark last season, the Bulldogs have already lost three league games this year before the halfway mark of league play.
Asheville got spanked on national TV Thursday night, an ugly 85-58 romp by Winthrop.
The Flames are also smarting, letting a 13-point second-half lead get away Thursday night in a loss at High Point. Liberty by 5.
Last week 5-0 overall, 4-1 against the spread. For the season: 15-2 overall, 11-6 against the spread.
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