We’re officially done with the college football season, meaning my man crush on Tim Tebow can subside, and also we can now all turn our full attention to college hoops. Some surprises early in conference play (BC over UNC??) have made these early-conference match-ups that much more important for a few teams. Here’s a look at some games to keep an eye on.
Saturday, Jan. 10
12 p.m. ESPN #21 Louisville at #17 Villanova
This one is huge for both teams because with little room for error in the hotly-contested Big East, neither team can afford a slipup. The Cards entered conference play with a road win over South Florida, and are led by the play of versatile forwards Earl Clark and Terrence Williams. However, the Cards have been very inconsistent this season, and appear to lack the killer instinct one would expect from a Rick Pitino team. ‘Nova on the other hand, is led by a great inside-outside combo in Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham, yet they’ve struggled in their first two Big East games, dropping a road decision to Marquette and needing overtime to escape Seton Hall. Look for a tough game, but Villanova should win at home here.
12 p.m. #22 West Virginia at #15 Marquette
Yet another tough match-up between two Big East team. Despite the loss of lottery pick Joe Alexander, the Mountaineers have been tough again this season, thanks to the shooting of Alex Ruoff and the emergence of Da’Sean Butler as a scoring threat. Freshmen Daryl “Truck” Bryant and Devin Ebanks have also been solid contributors, and like many Bob Huggins teams, they make you earn every point. Marquette, seemingly for the 10th straight year, is following the lead of guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. The Eagles are also getting big-time play for Lazar Haywood inside, but they still remain vulnerable to teams with a lot of size. Look for the veteran leadership of the Eagles to propel them to the victory here.
1 p.m. CBS Kansas at #12 Michigan State
Another tough non-conference matchup for Kansas, who has already played Washington, Syracuse, Arizona, Temple and Tennessee. The Jayhawks lean heavily on veterans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, but have a bevy of newcomers who are starting to make names for themselves. Twins Marcus and Markeif Morris are formidable front-court options, and Tyshawn Taylor is another in a long line of talented KU swingmen. The Spartans have battled their own challenges, having faced Maryland, Oklahoma State, North Carolina and Texas already this season. State has won 8 in a row since a throttling by UNC, led by versatile forward Raymar Morgan and ultra-quick point guard Kalin Lucas. The Spartans also boast incredible depth, with 10 players averaging at least 8 minutes per game. Look for the home crowd to be the difference for an inexperienced Kansas squad, as the Spartans rack up another win.
1 p.m. ESPNU Providence at #10 Georgetown
The Friars enter this game in a surprising tie atop the conference standings, led by a balanced attack and one of the game’s best young coaches in Keno Davis. Seven players average at 8 points per game, and they’re a veteran bunch that doesn’t get rattled. The Hoya meanwhile, opened conference play with a huge road win over UConn, but have since dropped two straight to Pitt and Notre Dame. The Hoyas have a terrific starting five, but lack quality depth, and have a tough time coming back from deficits, given their deliberate style of play. This one is huge for them, as they can’t afford to drop to 1-3 in the conference with eight games remaining against teams currently ranked. Look for the Hoyas to get back on their feet with a win here.
Sunday, Jan. 11
8 p.m. #3 North Carolina at #4 Wake Forest
This one should be a real treat, with one of the country’s most veteran teams going up against a young, upstart squad looking to make a name for themselves. The Heels somehow managed to drop a home game to Boston College last Sunday, but there’s still no question this is the team to beat. With Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson up front, Ty Lawson running the point and Danny Green and Wayne Ellington on the wings, these Heels are loaded with as much talent as any team in recent history. Coming off that loss, they should be uber-focused for this one. Wake has as much young talent as any team in the country, with super sophomores Jeff Teague and James Johnson, as well as freshman Al-Farouq Aminu. What they lack in experience, they more than make up for in athleticism and confidence. The Deacons have the size to bother Hansbrough down low, and the quickness to match up on the perimeter with Lawson and company. Had UNC come into this one undefeated, I would likely have picked Wake to pull the upset. But with the Heels playing angry and refocused after their loss, I expect them to be up for this game, and they should get a tough road win.