Top-3 in college basketball, Arizona and Purdue are on a collision course

Dec 11, 2023, 11:52 PM | Updated: Dec 12, 2023, 8:29 am

Zach Edey, Purdue basketball...

Zach Edey #15 of the Purdue Boilermakers high-fives teammates during a Discount Tire Hall of Fame Series game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Coca-Cola Coliseum on December 09, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Top-ranked Arizona is headed for a showdown with No. 3 Purdue on a neutral floor in Indianapolis on Saturday.

If neutral can be about 70 miles from the Boilermakers’ campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.

That should hardly bother the Wildcats, though, who solidified their hold on No. 1 in the AP men’s college basketball poll Monday by receiving all but one of 63 votes cast by media members. They were downright dominant in a 98-73 blowout of No. 23 Wisconsin last weekend, which Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd called “the best team we’ve played to this point.”

Bold statement, considering Arizona already played a true road game against No. 22 Duke.

The Blue Devils, ranked second at the time, gave the Wildcats all they could handle that night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in one of the first marquee games of the college basketball season. The Wildcats not only prevailed but served notice to the basketball world that they would be contenders for the national championship in Lloyd’s third season on the sideline.

“We spend a lot of time talking about our Arizona basketball legacy,” Lloyd said. “We take it really serious.”

The Boilermakers, who were ranked No. 1 before ceding the top spot to the Wildcats with a loss to Northwestern, have similarly high hopes of contending for a title. And outside that lone blip in their Big Ten opener, reigning national player of the year Zach Edey and the Boilermakers have lived up to the expectations, including their run to the Maui Invitational title that included wins over 10th-ranked Gonzaga, No. 12 Tennessee and seventh-ranked Marquette in the title game.

In other words, they won’t be intimidated by a matchup with the nation’s top-ranked team in Indianapolis, either.

How evenly matched are the two teams meeting Saturday? Consider the fact that Arizona and Purdue (9-1) are the only teams in the nation that are ranked in the top nine for both adjusted offense and defense, according to the metrics at KenPom.

Both seemed to be getting better by the week, too.

Arizona-Purdue clash in big weekend for college basketball

Most of the nation’s top teams are on a hiatus until the weekend so that players can focus on final exams. But that means a big slate of high-profile matchups on Saturday, headlined by that Arizona-Purdue at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Just down the road in Bloomington, Indiana faces second-ranked Kansas in the return game of their home-and-home series. The Jayhawks rolled to an 84-62 win last year in Allen Fieldhouse in a game that was never very close.

Two of the nation’s bluebloods will square off in Atlanta when ninth-ranked North Carolina continues its brutal nonconference schedule against No. 16 Kentucky. The Tar Heels are coming off a loss to No. 5 UConn and face No. 11 Oklahoma afterward.

A couple of Top 25 teams planned to have premier nonconference matchups only for their opponent to fail to hold up their end of the bargain — at least so far. That’s the case for No. 8 Creighton, which faces an Alabama team that has lost three of its last five, and sixth-ranked Baylor, which faces a Michigan State team that has lost five of its first nine games. (The Crimson Tide, by the way, get to face Arizona just four days after taking on the Bluejays.)

Start the weekend off right

That packed slate of Saturday games is preceded by the other marquee game of the week, when fifth-ranked UConn heads across the country to play No. 10 Gonzaga on Friday night in Seattle in a matchup of teams that have been tested plenty this season.

The Huskies have defeated Indiana, Texas and North Carolina along with a close loss to Kansas, while the Bulldogs have beaten UCLA and Southern California while losing games to Purdue in Maui and Washington just last weekend.

Start the weekend off right

Northwestern, the only team to deal Purdue a loss, plays its first game this season as a ranked team on Wednesday night against Chicago State. It continues its path toward Windy City superiority on Saturday when it takes on DePaul.

“Our whole focus right now is winning basketball games,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins, who joked that his daughter has been the one keeping a poll watch this season. “We know were in a stretch right now that is really critical to our season.”

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