Friday, March 21 2014 7:28 AM EDT2014-03-21 11:28:45 GMT
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(RNN) - Let's talk about the Syracuse-Villanova game for a minute because you know you're thinking about it.
Or maybe you're thinking about more pressing matters like New Year's Eve celebrations, ending world hunger or curing AIDS. But are those subjects really more important than watching the Orangemen and Wildcats play on Saturday?
(Company lawyer on Line 2) OK, so maybe a basketball game of any magnitude isn't quite as important as some of those other things. But it's close, right?
Anyway, I have someone here I would like you to meet. Shake his hand firmly and smile. Don't worry about forgetting his name because you'll hear it a lot.
Folks, meet Tyler Ennis, who at this point might be a better Canadian product than Andrew Wiggins. Yup, I just said that.
You may have heard of Ennis already, given his pre-college hype and this newfangled thingamajiggy called YouTube.
So far, the true freshman is just as good as advertised, tied for eighth in the country in total steals (first in the ACC) and third in the ACC in assists.
Forgive him if he isn't all that talkative, but he has a lot going on this weekend. His team is 11-0, ranked second in the country and playing another 11-0 team on Saturday, No. 8 Villanova.
In an added twist, Dylan Ennis - Tyler's brother - is averaging nine points as a sharpshooting bench player for Villanova. But Tyler Ennis isn't excited about that, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Perhaps his most telling stat is a 4.5 assist-turnover ratio, making him the only freshman in the top 10 in the country in that category.
So far, the frosh has been unflappable. But so far, he hasn't faced a team quite like Villanova.
Remember way back when (meaning 2009) when the Wildcats' four-guard offense victimized opponents and landed them in the Final Four? It seems like a long time ago because the seasons since then have included two first round exits in the NCAA Tournament and a 13-19 record in 2011.
'Nova beat the Wiggins-led Kansas and a ranked Iowa team, but aside from that, the competition has been mediocre at best and they have not set foot in hostile territory.
"This is a new test for this group," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "That's what you go through in a season. It's the first real road game outside of Philadelphia for us. It's the first time in the [Carrier] Dome for some of these guys. The first time this group is playing in a game of two undefeateds."
The Wildcats are among the top 10 in the nation in scoring margin, they do a good job of distributing the ball and they're deep. Six different players average at least nine points a game or more, and nine players average at least 12 minutes.
Senior guard/forward James Bell's 15.4 points per game is more than double his career average, and he is also leading the team in rebounds. Considering that type of production was more hoped for than expected from Bell this year, it lets you know what kind of challenge this team presents.
Friday games (all times eastern)
Northern Kentucky at No. 19 North Carolina, 7 p.m.
The hits just keep on coming for North Carolina, and I don't mean those of the Motown variety.
The team announced earlier this week it will not seek reinstatement for guard P.J. Hairston, whose indefinite suspension and then dismissal from the team closed nearly half a year of investigations related to impermissible benefits he allegedly received in the offseason.
Joel James is out until at least the first of the year with a sprained knee ligament, and let's see, what else?
Oh yeah, there's that other serious injury to the muscle that allows you to shoot free throws, which is hampering everyone on the team. Let's just say they're so far down the list in free throw shooting I got tired of looking.
I hope it's not too much of a stretch to say the Tar Heels (8-3) can roll into conference play on a three-game winning streak with wins over Northern Kentucky (4-7) and UNC-Wilmington (6-7) on New Year's Eve.
Wake Forest at Xavier, 5:30 p.m.
Do you really trust Wake Forest, a team playing its first true road game of the season after struggling with teams from non-power conferences?
The question answers itself. And if you're still not sure, consider the Deacons (10-2) have won just three road games under Jeff Bzdelik. Thuh-ree.
Both these teams are young, but at least you know what you're getting from Xavier (9-3). The Musketeers are barely adequate shooters, but they can score in streaks. They play hard defense, and they battle you every time the ball clanks off the rim.
Center Matt Stainbrook is good for a 10/8 game with a block or two almost every night, and he's surrounded by a bunch of scrappy, interchangeable role players.
Wake's uber-rebounders Devin Thomas, Travis McKie and Tyler Cavanaugh will be rendered useless if the Musketeers are dropping shots.
Boston College vs. VCU, 6 p.m.
How bad are things for the Eagles (4-8) this season? They lost to Auburn.
I really could stop there, but I need to reach the word minimum for this game preview.
Last year, the Eagles looked like a young, long-limbed squad with potential. This year, it could turn into a race to keep anyone from beating them by 30.
The Rams (10-3) seem to have kicked their defense-turns-into-offense groove into high gear. They scored 31 unanswered points… Thirty-one… in a 30-point win over Virginia Tech last weekend.
Oops! Didn't mean to mention that margin of victory.
NC State vs. No. 25 Missouri, 8 p.m.
The Wolfpack (9-2) has won seven straight after an embarrassing home loss to North Carolina Central, and Missouri (10-1) took its first loss from Illinois.
Mizzou coach Frank Haith has said he wants to get more guys into the playing rotation, but this may not be the best game to do that.
Among the many bodies NC State can throw at opponents, I would like to point out the sometimes overlooked Lennard Freeman. He's in a virtual tie for the team lead in rebounds with T.J. Warren, who leads the team in scoring. Freeman also has the highest shooting percentage among the seven players who have played every game this season. We're talking about a guy who is the fourth or fifth option on the floor.
This is the absolute statement game for NC State before it enters conference play.
The top-heavy Tigers have a trio of players in double digits, led by Jordan Clarkson and his nearly 20 points per game, and the rest is anyone's guess. Johnathan Williams III can give people trouble in the middle, but as a rebounder and shot blocker, not so much as a scorer.
If the Wolfpack comes out sharp, the Tigers' tongues may be dragging the floor by halftime.
Also on deck
Virginia Tech vs. UNC-Greensboro, 12 p.m.
Duke vs. Eastern Michigan, 2 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Canisius, 5 p.m.
I was going to yawn and drive past this game, and then leading scorer Jerian Grant had to go and get himself caught up in an "academic matter" that led to his withdrawal.
What is it with Notre Dame's team leaders getting in academic trouble around the time of final exams? The football team's quarterback, Everett Golson, was suspended this past spring and now this.
Grant's loss probably won't cost the Fighting Irish (8-4) this weekend - probably - but on the other side of that contest with the Golden Griffins (8-4) is their first conference game. Against Duke. Ugh!
Georgia Tech at Charlotte, 7 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets and 49ers are a lot more alike than you may realize - strong rebounding aided partly by iffy shooting.
Charlotte (8-3) has a 6'9" forward named Willie Clayton who is a double-double waiting to happen, but his teammates have trouble getting him the ball.
The Jackets (8-4) don't have quite as much trouble feeding post players Robert Carter Jr. and Daniel Miller, but they take questionable shots from the perimeter.
Tech should take no shame in playing a conservative game, especially considering this is the warmup for next week's conference opener.
Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
Need something to help you get through two weeks of March Madness? Try playing Basketball Cliche Bingo. Mark off the words or phrases that are overused during each game of the tourney.More >>
Don't like basketball? Need something to help you get through two weeks of March Madness? Try playing Basketball Cliche Bingo. Mark off the words or phrases that are overused during each game of the tournament.More >>