Madison Square Garden is the marquee arena for college basketball. It will be the site of this week’s marquee game in the AP Top 25, if not one of the best match-ups of the non-conference season.
On Tuesday night, No. 4 Villanova will face No. 12 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic, pitting two of the nation’s top programs.
Gonzaga had to restock its lineup after reaching the national title game last April, yet have not seen much of a drop-off.
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Led by Johnathan Williams and Josh Perkins, the Zags (7-1) are still one of the nation’s most efficient teams at both ends of the floor.
Gonzaga opened the season with four straight routs, including 86-59 over Ohio State. The Zags missed on an opportunity to face top-ranked Duke at the PK80 Invitational after losing to No. 5 Florida in Portland, but bounced back with wins over Texas, Incarnate Word and Creighton.
Gonzaga has five players scoring in double figures, led by Williams at 15.9 and Perkins at 14.3.
”At every position they are operating at a high level,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ”They have depth and are probably as efficient an offensive team as we have played. It’s definitely going to be the best team we have played this year.”
The Zags could say the same thing about Villanova.
The Wildcats were picked to win a record fifth-straight Big East title and are loaded with talent. Jalen Brunson was picked as the conference’s preseason player of the year and has been playing like it, matching Mikal Bridges for the team scoring lead at 17.9 points per game, with 4.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Villanova (8-0) has rolled through its non-conference schedule – its closest game was an eight-point win over Western Kentucky in the Bahamas – and will get its first real test against Gonzaga.
”Obviously a great team, great program, unbelievable toughness and just resolve to win,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
A must-watch game.
CONTRAST IN STYLES
Villanova-Gonzaga won’t be the only game worth tuning in for Tuesday night.
Also on the schedule is No. 15 Virginia at No. 18 West Virginia in a contrast in styles.
The Cavaliers are patient on offense, working the ball around until they get the best shot possible. The Mountaineers try to pressure teams into mistakes with their relentless Press Virginia full-court prets.
West Virginia (7-1) is one of the nation’s top-scoring teams so far this season, averaging 89.6 points per game, while Virginia (8-0) is scoring 70.5 points per game.
Something has to give.
RANKED VS. RANKED
Two other games this week will feature ranked teams squaring off.
On Saturday, Florida (5-1) will face another stiff test during a tough non-conference schedule when it faces No. 17 Cincinnati, which is looking to bounce back from a lopsided loss to No. 12 Xavier. The Gators are looking to bounce back as well after losing to Florida State 83-66 Monday night.
The next day, surprising Arizona State, which moved up to No. 16 in this week’s poll, travels to Allen Fieldhouse to face No. 2 Kansas in what should be a fun game to watch.
Arizona (5-3) dropped out of the poll for the first time since 2012 after three straight losses, but has an opportunity to get back among the ranked if it can beat No. 7 Texas A&M (7-0) in Phoenix Tuesday night.
Texas Tech fell out of the poll this week after losing to Seton Hall, which moved into the rankings at No. 19. The Red Raiders were the top team in the others receiving votes category and have a resume-building opportunity when they play No. 22 Nevada on Tuesday. The Wolf Pack are ranked for the first time since 2007.
Florida State (7-0) could be ranked after beating Florida as well, if it can handle Loyola (Md.) and Tulane the rest of the week.
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