College basketball on the first Monday of the new year provides nearly sixty games to whet the appetite with key contests in the Big East and WAC grabbing the headlines. Pittsburgh, fresh off of their win at Syracuse on Saturday, takes on Cincinnati in the Queen City in a matchup of teams undefeated in conference play. The return of Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown has added much-needed experience and depth of Jamie Dixon's rotation, something they were in need of in order to navigate the Big East.
It was billed as the college basketball game that would drag people away from college football on New Year's Day, and the matchup between West Virginia and Purdue had the look of a stellar contest on paper. But in the flesh the Boilermakers put together a virtuoso performance in whipping the Mountaineers in West Lafayette 77-62. And to be fair the game really wasn't that close despite WVU going into the locker room down by just five (37-32) at the half.
Saturday will feature one of the game's biggest rivalries when Louisville visits Kentucky in Lexington. The two fan bases are at each other's throats for 365 days a year with the winners owning bragging rights for the following year. Expect Rick Pitino, who's been a polarizing figure in the state ever since he took the Louisville job following a tough time with the Celtics which was preceded by an outstanding run in Lexington, to get an earful at Rupp Arena.
The first few days of the Big East conference schedule certainly haven't lacked drama, with Seton Hall, Marquette and Cincinnati all having opportunities to knock off more established programs. But the difference between the Bearcats and the other two schools is that they were able to take full advantage of their opportunity, knocking off #10 Connecticut 71-69 at Fifth Third Arena. Lance Stephenson passed his first conference test with flying colors, scoring 21 points and knocking down two free throws with seven tenths of a second remaining to provide the final margin.
The final day of the decade also offers conference openers in both the Big Ten and Pac-10 with the best matchup being Ohio State visiting Madison to take on Wisconsin. Bo Ryan's club has been dominant during his tenure at the school in Big Ten home games, boasting a record of 61-5 in those games. Trevon Hughes is arguably playing the best basketball of any point guard in the conference and with the Buckeyes still without Evan Turner points could be even tougher to come by.
Sandwiched in between an instant classic of a league opener at Seton Hall and a showdown on New Year's Day at Purdue maybe a letdown of sorts was expected from West Virginia. Not to mention the presence of an underdog in Marquette looking to serve notice that they'll be better than the 12th-place spot predicted by the Big East's coaches and it wouldn't have been a huge shock if the Mountaineers fell.
The game of the night on Wednesday may be the Big East opener for both Connecticut and Cincinnati, with the highly-touted Lance Stephenson (Cincinnati) and Ater Majok (UConn) getting their first taste of Big East play. Immensely talented players have made their marks in the conference since its inception but not everyone is 100% ready for that first taste of the Big East's physical nature. But maybe "Born Ready" and Majok are different; at the very least they'll have some talented teammates who have been through the ringer to lean on.
Tuesday sets up to be an intriguing evening, complete with some important non-conference games along with conference play in some leagues getting underway. The Big Ten will have its first conference games on Tuesday with title contender Purdue visiting an Iowa team that looks to be the worst in the conference. But Iowa City is a dangerous place to visit so expect Matt Painter's squad to be completely focused on this one instead of looking ahead to their home game against West Virginia on Friday.
For the second time this season a Big Ten team had a victory tempered by the loss of their best player. First it was Ohio State's Evan Turner, who broke two vertebra in his lower back in a blowout win over Eastern Michigan. The Buckeyes have been able to navigate the waters following his loss outside of a close defeat to Butler due to the many other options at Thad Matta's disposal. But the loss of Maurice Creek could loom even larger for Indiana, who beat winless Bryant 90-42 at Assembly Hall.