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. As for the Bearcats, Mick Cronin has a good team that can be even better provided Yancy Gates play consistent basketball.
He's had a tendency to fade in and out of games and that's not going to get it done when you've got the talent to take over games. However, despite the historically physical nature of these two programs guard play will tell the tale at Fifth Third Arena. Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn have the ability to not only take over a game themselves but to also get their teammates easier looks, and that quality will come in handy against a Pittsburgh squad that's rather physical defensively. Look for this game to come down to the wire and whoever gets to 60 first will have the upper hand.
As for the games out west, Nevada's trip to New Mexico State and Utah State visiting Louisiana Tech stand out. The Wolf Pack can score with the best of them and in Luke Babbitt they've got a versatile forward who can be tough to stop once he gets rolling. NMSU will run and look to make this a high-scoring game, which could play right into the hands of Armon Johnson and the rest of the Wolf Pack. Utah State's trip to Ruston will be a clash of styles; Stew Morrill's Aggies are consistently among the nation's most efficient offensive teams and the number of sets they run rival that of an NFL playbook.
Tai Wesley, Jared Quayle and Nate Bendall are all versatile players who lead the Aggies, and they'll need to be at their best in order to avoid an 0-2 league start. Louisiana Tech has plenty of talent with Magnum Rolle, Olu Ashaolu and Kyle Gibson leading the way but do they have the chops to defend Utah State? If so the Bulldogs have the ability to make a statement in regards to the WAC race while handing USU their second loss in conference play.
7p ESPN Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
7p ESPNU North Carolina at College of Charleston
9p ESPNU Alabama A&M at Jackson State
11p ESPNU Nevada at New Mexico State
7p Hofstra at George Mason
7p Siena at Loyola (MD)
7p Northeastern at VCU
8p Utah St at Louisiana Tech
9p Mississippi St at Western Kentucky
Cincinnati over Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh drew one of the most hated travel plans in college basketball: the Big East's Saturday afternoon road game followed by another one on Monday night. Cincinnati played on Saturday night at Rutgers but they at least got a night to sleep in their own beds. Look for the Panthers to remain close but the travel could be what catches up to them in the second half. Bearcats by five.