The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 are getting in some early marquee games that will impact their league title chases.
Each conference has a pair of games featuring two ranked teams this week. Those games highlight the week ahead for AP Top 25 squads as the league regular-season play pushes into its second heavy weekend.
In the ACC, a week that began with No. 13 Notre Dame’s win at No. 18 North Carolina on Monday night will include a pair of big Saturday games.
Fifth-ranked Louisville (13-1, 1-0) travels to No. 18 North Carolina (11-4, 1-1), then No. 3 Virginia (13-0, 1-0) visits No. 13 Notre Dame (15-1, 3-0) that evening. As for the league’s other ranked team, second-ranked Duke (13-0, 1-0) plays two road games against in-state opponents, first traveling to Wake Forest on Wednesday then to North Carolina State on Sunday.
The week could be particularly big for the Fighting Irish, who beat UNC 71-70 on Monday night to reach 3-0 in league play for the first time — Big East or ACC.
“I always said my goal was could we create an identity in this league like we had in the Big East,” coach Mike Brey said. “I was very proud of our consistency. We’ve not yet done that in this league. We’re still earning our stripes every day.”
In the Big 12, No. 12 Kansas (11-2) plays its league opener at No. 21 Baylor (11-2, 0-1) on Wednesday then No. 14 West Virginia (14-1, 2-0) hosts No. 17 Iowa State (10-2) in the Cyclones’ first Big 12 game Saturday.
WILDCATS RETURN: Kentucky (13-0) has had plenty of time to focus on improving in practice. Now the top-ranked Wildcats are returning to the court after a week off.
Kentucky, the unanimous No. 1 for the fifth straight week, hasn’t played since a 58-50 win against Louisville on Dec. 27. The Wildcats open Southeastern Conference play at home against Mississippi on Tuesday night.
“We’ve had a little bit of a break here,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said, “and I’m anxious to see how we respond.”
BIG EAST MATCHUP: There’s one other meeting of ranked teams this week. Eighth-ranked Villanova (13-1, 1-1) faces No. 24 St. John’s (11-3, 0-2) in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
Both teams are looking to rebuild some momentum. Villanova suffered its first loss over the weekend to Seton Hall, which debuted in the poll at No. 19. St. John’s had the biggest slide of the week, down nine spots after losing to Seton Hall and then Butler.
MONARCHS’ DEBUT: No. 25 Old Dominion (12-1, 1-0 Conference USA) is in the poll for the first time in program history. The Monarchs take the court as a ranked team for the first time on Thursday night against Marshall.
FOLLOWING UP: Oklahoma, ranked No. 16, is coming off a dominating 70-49 win at No. 10 Texas on Monday night for the program’s first road win against a top-10 team since 1993. The Sooners (11-3, 2-0) don’t play again until Saturday’s against Kansas State.
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