The final day of 2011 features one of the most anticipated games of the college basketball season, a rivalry game that captivates an entire state and is one of the best games in college basketball. #4 Louisville (12-1), fresh off of a lost to Georgetown in their Big East opener, visits #3 Kentucky (12-1) in what should be a spirited battle at Rupp Arena. The Cardinals have played just one road game this season but it was also one of their best efforts as they won at Butler without the then-injured Peyton Siva.
Friday marks the final day of games before Christmas Day, and while the schedule is light there are some good games to keep an eye on. Atop the list is a game at the Las Vegas Classic matching West Virginia (8-2) and #7 Baylor (10-0), with the Bears boasting one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. But to be fair this is their most strenuous back-to-back stretch of the season as they beat Saint Mary's on Thursday night.
What looked to be a routine post-finals Monday in college basketball turned out to be anything but as two ranked teams fell. #10 Marquette went on the road to take on an LSU team that much isn't expected of this season and found themselves in a dog fight. Averaging 81 points per game the Golden Eagles finished the game 22 points below their average in the 67-59 loss to the Tigers, with LSU making the required plays on both ends of the floor late.
Going into Sunday's game at Wichita State, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels were on the tail end of an eight-day stretch that began with a win over then-#1 North Carolina followed by a double-overtime win at UCSB. To say the least this wasn't the easiest way to end that stretch, and Joe Ragland and the Shockers made sure that was the case. Ragland made eight of nine from beyond the arc in scoring a game-high 31 points, and as a team Wichita State shot 12-for-23 from distance in the 89-70 win.
Frank Martin's Kansas State (4-0) may be undefeated on the young season, but it can definitely be argued that this group hasn't been tested. That all changes this evening as the Wildcats play their first true road game of the season, visiting Virginia Tech (5-2) in a game that could have long-term effects on both teams when looking ahead to Selection Sunday.
On paper the matchup between Missouri and California looked to be a good matchup, with both teams fresh off of big wins in the semifinals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City. On the floor however, things got out of hand quickly for the Golden Bears as the Tigers rolled in front of a pro-Missouri crowd. Kim English scored 19 points and tournament MVP Marcus Denmon finished with 18 points and six rebounds as the Tigers won 92-53, and it could be argued that the 39-point margin doesn't do this result justice.
After both teams won their semifinal games at the CBE Classic in blowout fashion, Missouri (4-0) and California (4-0) should have a stiffer challenge on their hands as they play for the championship in Kansas City. Neither team has much of an issue with playing fast. but given their roots in the "40 Minutes of Hell" system used by former coach Mike Anderson the Tigers could be at an advantage if the pace becomes frenetic.
One of the keys in playing against Michigan is to remain composed and execute your game plan. Getting away from what you do well in attempts to get the Wolverines to play a style other than their own more times than not results in a loss. That was the lesson for the Memphis Tigers, who in spite of their athletic talents have some maturing to do before referring to themselves as sure-fire national title contenders. Tim Hardaway Jr.
Monday marks the beginning of one of the most prestigious in-season tournaments as the Maui Invitational begins at the Lahaina Civic Center. The big game of the day: Michigan taking on Memphis, with both teams having designs on bigger things after seeing their seasons end in tough fashion on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament last year. Josh Pastner's Tigers have played just one game on the season but they were impressive in that appearance, beating Belmont 97-81 on Tuesday.