Weekend Preview: The five most important story lines this side of the Super Bowl
1. #CoachKback: The four weeks are up.
After seven games on the sideline and more than a month laid up after undergoing surgery on his back, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is headed back to the bench on Saturday afternoon. Duke went 4-3 in his absence, but over the course of the last two games, it seems as if they have started to get some things figured out. That run started after a meeting at Coach K’s house where, among other things, the Duke players had their access to the locker room taken away and lost the right to wear gear with a Duke logo on it.
But the other thing that happened after that meeting is that Duke seems to have made the changes we all thought they needed to make. In their last two games, the Blue Devils have made a concerted effort to run their offense through Luke Kennard, primarily, and Grayson Allen. Without a point guard, their best option is to get the ball in the hands of their best playmakers and let them do what they can do, right? The other change has been that Jayson Tatum has played primarily at the four - when he manages to stay out of foul trouble - while Harry Giles III has been relegated to playing a bit role off the bench.
So it looks like the Blue Devils are starting to figure this thing out.
And, at the same time, one of the greatest to ever do it returns to the sidelines.
Is Duke back to being back again?
2. Maryland has a chance to prove they’re not frauds: Other than Duke, whose season has been nothing short of a soap opera, Maryland is the nation’s most intriguingly confounding team. They’re 20-2, but they haven’t even played a team that is currently ranked or that was ranked at the time that they played. So they’re record is unproven, and the believe in them isn’t helped by the fact that they seem to play down to the level of their opponent, struggling through every game until Melo Trimble finds a way to bail them out down the stretch.
For metrics like KenPom and Sagarin, that heavily value margin of victory and level of competition, this is a good way to get your rating dropped.
RELATED: What should we make of Maryland?
On Saturday, the Terps have a chance to prove themselves to everyone. Playing in their first game that will attract anything close to a national audience - they’re on ESPN, playing No. 23 Purdue is what is the marquee early game of the day - Maryland will have a chance to, more or less, give us our first impression of who they are and what they can be. Are they truly a Big Ten title contender? Are they a team that can get to the Final Four? If they are, they should be able to beat Purdue at home.
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3. Jim Boeheim goes for his 1,000th win on Saturday: Syracuse won for the 999th time with Jim Boeheim as their head coach on Saturday, coming from 17 points down in the second half to knock off N.C. State on the road. They will host No. 9 Virginia this weekend with the chance for Boeheim to win for the 1,000th time in his long, illustrious and - dare I say it - tarnished career.
In the eyes of the NCAA, it is.
Thanks to a ruling that came down last year, Syracuse had to vacate 101 of Boeheim’s 999 wins due to various infractions the program had committed over the course of the last decade. What that means is that beating Virginia on Saturday would give Boeheim 899 career wins in the eyes of the NCAA, who will be watching the Orange closely on Saturday.
“The NCAA has written and sent us a letter. We got a letter right away,” Boeheim told the Syracuse-Post Standard this week. “‘You delete all these, and this is how many wins you have. Period.’ We’re forbidden from saying something in the Dome at any time. Or post anything. Or congratulate in any way.”
So what that means is that instead of being on the verge of being celebrated for becoming just the second men’s Division I coach - and just the fourth Division I coach, period, behind Coach K, Pat Summitt and Tara Vanderveer - to ascend the 1,000 win plateau, Boeheim will find himself just one win away from winning his second 900th game.
And I get it, I guess.
The NCAA’s gotta do what they gotta do, even if vacating wins is the single-dumbest punishment in the history of punishments.
But keep in mind that, with a win on Saturday, Boeheim will be doing something that has only happened once before in men’s Division I basketball.
4. The Pac-12 title race may come to an end Saturday: If No. 5 Arizona goes into Eugene and knocks off No. 13 Oregon on Saturday, the Wildcats will, for all intents and purposes, have basically locked up the Pac-12 title.
They’ll be two games up on Oregon and three games up on UCLA with a home game left against the Bruins while the Ducks will still have to head to Pauley Pavilion for their rematch. At the risk of jinxing a good thing, that’s as close to a lock as you can get for a team that’s sitting pretty with a 21-2 record and a 10-0 mark in the Pac-12 entering the weekend.
And to think, this was supposed to be the year where Arizona came back to earth. Terrence Ferguson went pro in Australia. Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time. Allonzo Trier sat out the first 19 games of the season. Sean Miller was forced to rely on a pair of freshmen guards and a 7-foot forward from Finland to headline a roster with seven healthy guys.
5. Kentucky’s SEC title could be in jeopardy this weekend: The Wildcats have been in a rut the last two weeks. They lost at Tennessee, they lost at home to Kansas, they nearly lost at home to Georgia and their star point guard has a stomach bug. Should I mention that on Saturday, they get the pleasure of tripping down to Gainesville to play No. 24 Florida, a team that currently sits 9th in KenPom’s rankings.
Kentucky is currently tied atop the SEC with South Carolina, a game in front of Florida. A Gator win would, in all likelihood, drop Kentucky out of the top spot in the league standings with just eight games left in league play.