The first Saturday of the new year proved to be far more exciting than anticipated, much to the detriment of ranked teams who took their show on the road. Removing #7 Missouri and #20 Marquette, who both lost on the road to ranked opponents (more on both of those games below), five ranked teams lost to unranked opponents with four of the losses coming on the road. The Big East provided the most intrigue, with #8 Connecticut and #9 Georgetown falling on the road while #10 Louisville lost in double overtime at home. So which of the three defeats is most concerning?
To understand the funk that Pittsburgh and Villanova are currently mired in, it may take this fact about the two teams they lost to on Thursday night. This is the first time as members of the Big East (since 2005-06 for both) that DePaul and USF have won conference games on the same night. Yes, allowing that to sink in underlines the gravity of the situation for both the Panthers and Wildcats, as both teams are in need of some answers at this point in time.
There's just one game between Top 25 teams on the schedule tonight, and it should be a good matchup of teams looking to further cement themselves as Big Ten title contenders. #12 Indiana (13-1) is 10-0 at Assembly Hall this season, and their wins over Kentucky and Ohio State are the most impressive pair of victories that any team in America can claim.
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.
The matchup between #10 Florida and Rutgers on Thursday night was hyped up due to the return of Mike Rosario, who transferred from the New Jersey school following two seasons in New Brunswick. But his return was a subplot in what turned out to be one of the best games of the calendar year, with the focus by the end being Mike Rice's young guards. Eli Carter led the way with 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while Myles Mack knocked down some big shots late in regulation and during the overtime periods to lead Rutgers to the 85-83 double overtime victory.
It can be argued that Vanderbilt's trip to #13 Marquette is the big game of the day on Thursday, especially when considering a Commodore resume that could use some added bulk. But there's also the first-ever conference game as a member of the West Coast Conference for BYU (11-3), and they're jumping directly into the fire thanks to the league schedule-makers. Dave Rose's Cougars visit Saint Mary's (11-2) in the league opener for both teams, and there are some very good individual battles to keep track of in Moraga.
Plenty of teams have pre-Christmas letdowns, when they allow their minds to wander a bit against teams they're expected to beat. But in a lot of those cases the favored team is able to bounce back and do enough to eventually win the game. But that wasn't the case for #15 Pittsburgh, who turned the ball over 18 times against a team in Wagner that was talented enough to make them pay for those errors.
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.