By Kyle Beery
After a brief holiday hiatus, college basketball returns to your TV in a big way this week. Save a handful of games scattered throughout the rest of the year, non-conference play has largely wrapped up and we’re about to get into conference slates all across the nation.
Here’s a day-by-day look of which games to watch this week and how to watch them.
Wednesday, Dec. 27
Butler (10-3) @ Georgetown (10-1) — 6:30 p.m., FS1
The Bulldogs were up and down throughout non-conference play. Three losses coming against likely tournament teams in Maryland, Texas and Purdue don’t look that bad on the resume considering the Dawgs are in a transition period with new coach LaVall Jordan. But there aren’t really any wins that stand out, aside from a gritty come-from-behind win against former coach Chris Holtmann and Ohio State.
The explosive duo of Kamar Baldwin and Kelan Martin will be a tough matchup for the Hoyas and first-year coach Patrick Ewing who are riding high having lost just one overtime game against rival Syracuse. But this will be Georgetown’s first major test as the Hoyas’ strength-of-schedule ranks outside the top 300 of 351 Division I teams, according to kenpom.com.
Nevada (11-3) @ Fresno State (10-3) — 10:00 p.m., ESPN3
On an otherwise slow night, here’s a good chance to take in some late-night, high-quality mid-major basketball. Nevada started off the season 8-0 before losing three of its last six, including a wild finish against San Francisco in its last outing.
These are two of the favorites to take the Mountain West regular season title this year and they tip-off conference play against each other. The Wolf Pack put their top-20 offense (114.9 points per 100 possessions) up against a Fresno State team that shoots better than 40 percent from three=point range. This will be a tough one for the Wolf Pack, as the Bulldogs have gone 16-1 in Mountain West home games over the last two seasons.
Thursday, Dec. 28
No. 25 Creighton (10-2) @ No. 23 Seton Hall (11-2) — 6:30 p.m., FS1
This is hands-down the best game of the night, and potentially the best matchup of the entire week. Both teams will compete to be among the top three or four teams in a very deep Big East this season, and they get to start a brutal 18-game conference slate against each other.
The Pirates rank inside kenpom’s top 25 for both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions). They have a couple of impressive wins under their belt against Texas Tech and at Louisville, but also a couple of tough losses against Rhode Island and Rutgers. Nonetheless, the Pirates are an explosive team led by Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez.
That trio will have its hands full going up against Marcus Foster (19.5 points per game) and Khyri Thomas (15.3 PPG). They lead an offensive capable of exploding for triple digits on any given night. The Bluejays are coming off a 116-point eruption against South Carolina-Upstate.
Friday, Dec. 29
Louisville (10-2) @ No. 16 Kentucky (9-2) — 1:00 p.m., CBS
In the first meeting between these two rivals in the post-Pitino era, both teams are “struggling” when it comes to the blue-blood standards we expect them to be at every year. And neither team is doing that poorly by any means.
The Wildcats began the year inside the AP top five, but dropped down the polls after last week’s loss against UCLA in New Orleans. Coach Cal’s team is still trying to work out some kinks. They are very young, even by Kentucky standards. But when they heat up, they can really get going, as is evident in the team’s 113.8 points per 100 possessions.
Louisville’s two losses have come at the hands of two very good teams in Purdue and Seton Hall. Aside from those two games, this is really the Cardinals’ first opportunity at a true quality win, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the challenge. David Padgett’s squad is talented, and really pretty experienced. A fiery battle against an in-state rival could galvanize this team heading into ACC play, win or lose.
No. 18. Baylor (10-2) @ No. 22 Texas Tech (11-1) — 8:00 p.m., FOX College Sports
Disclaimer: this one may be hard to find, as not many people get FCS in their cable packages. But if you can find it, watch it.
The much-improved Big 12 could put seven or eight teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, and these two teams could be in the mix to challenge Kansas for the regular season title. Right off the bat in conference play we get to see Baylor’s high-octane offense (five players averaging double figures) go against Texas Tech’s stifling top-10 defense (89.9 points per 100 possessions).
The three combined losses between these two teams have all come against teams that are now ranked in the AP Top 25. Neither team, however, has any overly impressive wins, so this will be a good measuring stick to see just how good these teams really are.
Saturday, Dec. 30
No. 19 Tennessee (10-3) @ Arkansas (9-2) — 1:00 p.m., SEC Network
The Vols’ only two losses this season have come against top-ranked Villanova and North Carolina, which was ranked No. 7 at the time. Rick Barnes has a pretty experienced team that will make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth. They square off against a Razorbacks team with a ton of experience from last year’s squad that nearly beat UNC in the round of 32.
Both teams should have very strong resumes by the end of the year and Saturday’s conference opener has the potential to be a defensive battle, something fans could get used to seeing in the SEC this year.
No. 24 Florida State (11-1) @ No. 4 Duke (12-1) — 2:00 p.m., CBS
The Seminoles were dealt their first loss of the season at the hands of Oklahoma State a week ago, falling from the ranks of the unbeaten, but this is still a marquee matchup as the Noles open ACC play. This game pits Florida State’s experienced roster against two of the nation’s top freshmen in Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr.
Bagley (21.1 PPG, 10.9 RPG) has wowed all year long, collecting double-doubles in 10 of the team’s 12 games. He went off for a combined 82 points and 45 rebounds in the three-game Phil Knight Invitational last month. Bottom line, he is electric and it will be fun to watch him go against the Seminoles.
No. 12 Oklahoma (10-1) @ No. 10 TCU (12-0) — 2:00 p.m., ESPN2
If you haven’t watched Trae Young, here’s your chance to do so. Young (28.7 PPG) leads the country in scoring. He hit 8-of-13 three-pointers in the Sooners’ 104-78 rout of Northwestern last week and had 43 against Oregon in the Phil Knight Invitational.
He and the Sooners face perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the year thus far, the undefeated TCU Horned Frogs. Hats off to the Frogs for riding a 17-game winning streak dating back to last year’s NIT title run, but they haven’t played a very challenging schedule, save a neutral floor game against Nevada. But no slouch of a team can put up 116.7 points per 100 possessions. This one has all the makings for a Big 12 football-esque shootout. If you like points, be sure to watch this.
No. 3 Arizona State (12-0) @ No. 17 Arizona (10-3) — 9:00 p.m., PAC 12 Network
Right along with TCU, Arizona State has come out of nowhere to be one of the biggest stories of the season. The Sun Devils are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, yet already nearly matched last year’s win total in non-conference play, including a big upset of Kansas..
ASU can put up points in bunches, thanks to seniors Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, who are shooting a combined 41 percent from three-point range. The Sun Devils, however, struggle a bit on the defensive end, allowing 101 points per 100 possessions. That could bode well for the rival Wildcats, who have the ability to keep pace offensively with the Sun Devils but are a little more stout defensively.
After Arizona had a bit of a fall from grace, losing three straight in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Wildcats have rebounded nicely by winning seven in a row. Now that Allonzo Trier is back in action, this team is starting to look like the team that was billed as a top-five team in the preseason. This should be a fun shootout in the desert.
Honorable mention games:
Boston College (10-3, 1-0 ACC) @ No. 9 Virginia — 2:00 p.m., ACC Network
No. 1 Villanova (12-0) @ Butler (10-3) — 4:00 p.m., CBS
Saint Mary’s (11-2) @ BYU (11-2) — 4:00 p.m., ESPNU
Temple (7-4) @ Houston (10-2) — 6:00 p.m., ESPNU
Sunday, Dec. 31
St. John’s (10-2) @ No. 23 Seton Hall (11-2) — 2:30 p.m., FS1
Chris Mullin has a very talented and quietly experienced bunch that could make a run at getting the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in three years. Shamorie Ponds and Marcus Lovett squaring off with Delgado, Rodriguez and Carrington will be a classic Big East battle worthy of a watch if you’re not enticed by any week 17 NFL games.