There may be other highly anticipated nights in the regular season the next few weeks. But none figures to be better than tonight, when three marquee matchups highlight the college basketball schedule. Any of these six teams are strong enough to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Here’s the skinny on the trio of must-see games:
No. 12 Georgetown (18-4) at No. 2 Syracuse (23-1)
At stake: Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim needs one more victory to pass Dean Smith for sole possession of third place on the Division I all-time wins list.
Breakdown: The Hoyas, who have won five of six games, have held four Big East opponents under 50 points this season. Last Wednesday, Georgetown held Connecticut to 44 points. The Hoyas also held South Florida, which committed turnovers on nine straight possessions, to 45 points. But Syracuse leads the Big East in scoring offense … Georgetown’s freshmen have played in hostile venues at Alabama, Louisville and Pittsburgh this season. Tonight they’ll play in front of some 26,000 fans.
Who needs it more: Georgetown. Syracuse is on its way to being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Orange has just one loss, and it came at a suddenly red-hot Notre Dame and without 7-foot center Fab Melo. The Hoyas already have four wins over top 25 teams, but a win here — easier said than done — will go a long way toward helping the Hoyas distinguish themselves from the cluster of teams behind Syracuse in the standings.
No. 7 Kansas (18-5) at No. 6 Baylor (21-2)
At stake: The winner will claim a share of first place in the Big 12 with Missouri, which has already beaten both teams. Kansas has earned at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title for seven straight seasons.
Breakdown: When the two teams met three weeks ago, Kansas’s inside-outside combination of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor dominated the Bears, totaling 55 points as Kansas won by 18. Robinson, a national player of the year candidate, is the only Big 12 player averaging a double-double. Baylor big man Perry Jones III scored 18 points in the first Kansas game despite tweaking his ankle.
Who needs it more: Kansas. Let’s be honest, both teams really need a win here. The Jayhawks have lost two of their last three games, most recently a 74-71 defeat at Missouri. They have not lost consecutive games in more than six years, a span of 227 games. Baylor started the season 17-0 before losing to Kansas and Missouri. They can ill-afford to be swept by the Jayhawks if they have designs on winning their first Big 12 championship.
No. 10 Duke (19-4) at No. 5 North Carolina (20-3)
Breakdown: Since the stunning 90-57 loss to Florida State, North Carolina has won five straight by an average of 13.8 points. The Tar Heels average an ACC-best 84.1 points. The problem for Duke — a big problem — is that the Blue Devils are last in the ACC with opponents shooting 43.8 percent.
Who needs it more: North Carolina. The Tar Heels could be the most talented team in the nation. They need to show they are in the same class as Kentucky and Syracuse on the court. To do so, they can’t afford to lose at home to a Duke team that is searching for leadership and on-court consistency. Don’t get me wrong, Duke needs this game very much as well because it doesn’t want to fall any further behind North Carolina and Florida State in the standings. But while the Blue Devils are capable of a deep NCAA tournament run, no one is confusing them for Syracuse or Kentucky right now.
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