By Kyle Beery
Tuesday, Jan. 2
Butler (12-3, 2-0 Big East) @ Xavier (10-1, 2-0) — 7 p.m., FS1
After a pair of wild wins last week to open Big East play — erasing a 20-point deficit at Georgetown on Wednesday and knocking off previously undefeated and top ranked Villanova Saturday — LaVall Jordan’s Bulldogs are back on the national radar. Their brutal start to the conference slate continues Tuesday on the road against the rival Musketeers, who are coming off a wild come-from-behind win of their own against DePaul.
Butler got huge games from Kelan Martin (24 points, 4-for-4 three-pointers), Paul Jorgensen (23 points, 4-for-7) and Kamar Baldwin (19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) against the Wildcats and look to carry that momentum into the Cintas Center. The Dawgs won both regular season meetings against Xavier last season, but the Musketeers won when it mattered most, coming out on top in a close game in the Big East Tournament.
Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura have the Musketeers ranked inside the AP top five with the season’s lone loss coming against now-No. 4 Arizona State on a neutral floor. Macura had 19 points and came up big late on the defensive end in Saturday’s 16-point rally as Xavier pulled off another magical escape against a lowly opponent at home this season.
There have been many a close battle between these two rivals over the years and the Bulldogs have gained a lot of confidence over the last couple months after a shaky start to the Jordan era. This has all the potential to be another classic in this series.
No. 16 TCU (12-1, 0-1 Big 12) @ Baylor (10-3, 0-1) — 7 p.m., ESPN News
TCU saw a late double-digit lead bleed away and suffered its first loss of the season against a very, very good Oklahoma team on Saturday. Jamie Dixon’s team is now tasked with regrouping and heading to Waco to face a Baylor team that — despite getting whooped at Texas Tech — is a top-40 team according to kenpom.com.
The Bears’ lone home loss of the season came against the top-10 Wichita State Shockers back in early December and they could be in jeopardy of another one Tuesday. The Horned Frogs have a high-octane offense, but struggle a bit on defense — just look at Saturday’s 90-89 loss against the Sooners.
No. 18 Texas Tech (12-1, 1-0 Big 12) @ No. 10 Kansas (11-2, 1-0) — 9 p.m., ESPN
We’ve got a good Big 12 double-dip on the docket Tuesday. All signs have pointed towards Kansas having a good shot at a 14th straight regular season conference title. The Jayhawks went crazy against Texas last week and Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick reminded us that the road to the Big 12 still runs through Lawrence.
The Red Raiders make that trip to Lawrence Tuesday and after Friday’s drubbing of Baylor, Keenan Evans and co. may be up to the task of pulling the upset. Kansas hasn’t lost conference home games in back-to-back seasons in more than a decade.
Tuesday’s honorable mention
Auburn (12-1) @ No. 23 Tennessee (9-3, 0-1 SEC) — 7 p.m., ESPNU
No. 22 Arkansas (11-2, 1-0 SEC) @ Mississippi State (12-1) — 9 p.m. SEC Network
Wednesday, Jan. 3
No. 12 North Carolina (12-2, 1-0 ACC) @ No. 24 Florida State (11-2, 0-1) — 7 p.m., ESPN
Florida State is coming off a near-upset of Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and UNC just dodged a near upset from Wake Forest. The Seminoles’ offense is humming — as we saw at Duke over the weekend when they scored 93 points — and they have a pretty staunch defense… that didn’t show up one bit as they allowed 100 points in that same game.
This should be a pretty fast-paced, up-and-down game, as both teams average more than 74 possessions per game. The Heels have won six straight against Florida State, so the Noles will be itching to put a halt to that streak.
Oklahoma State (10-3, 0-1 Big 12) @ No. 7 Oklahoma (11-1, 1-0) — 9 p.m., ESPNU
OK, if you haven’t seen Trae Young play yet, clear your schedule for this one. The freshman guard is putting up jaw dropping numbers. Through 12 games, he’s averaging 29.6 points and 10.7 assists per game. He’s scored more than 30 points in five games this season, making his 31-point, 12-assist performance in 27 minutes against Northwestern seem mundane.
Young is soliciting conversation about possibly being the best freshman guard in the history of college basketball. His breakout season continues in the basketball version of Bedlam against a Cowboys team that is, oh, by the way, pretty good. And they’re not even in the discussion as one of the conference’s top teams. The Pokes let an opportunity for a major upset against West Virginia slip away last week, but as we saw in their win over Florida State, this team is capable of pulling off a few big wins that could land them in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Wednesday’s honorable mention games
St. John’s (10-4, 0-2 Big East) @ Creighton (11-3, 1-1) — 8 p.m., FS1
No. 17 Kentucky (11-2, 1-0 SEC) @ LSU (9-3) — 8:30 p.m., SEC Network
Thursday, Jan. 4
Houston (12-2, 2-0 AAC) @ No. 9 Wichita State (11-2, 1-0) — 7 p.m., ESPN
We were all so busy anticipating two Wichita State-Cincinnati matchups in the Shockers’ first year in the American that we overlooked this early-conference slate meeting. While the Shockers have sputtered a bit at times this season, they’re still an elite team with a plethora of good guards.
The Cougars quietly went 10-2 in non-conference play with wins over Arkansas, Wake Forest and Providence. Scoring 113 points per 100 possessions, Houston’s efficient offense could be poised to get a big win in Wichita Thursday to strengthen its NCAA Tournament resume.
Maryland (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten) @ No. 1 Michigan State (14-1, 2-0) — 8 p.m., FS1
The Spartans are up to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll after Villanova’s loss at Butler. They have scored 102 points or more in four straight games and that offense is rolling. But the defense is on fire, too. Sure, the schedule has been pretty easy over the last few weeks, but Michigan State is allowing 88 points per 100 possessions, ranking second in the country behind only Virginia (surprise, surprise)
Miles Bridges and Co. resume Big Ten play Thursday against a Maryland team hurting for a resume-boosting win. Despite a solid 12-3 start to the season, the Terps just lost stars Ivan Bender and Justin Jackson for the rest of the season.
Thursday’s honorable mention
No. 14 Arizona (11-3, 1-0 PAC 12) @ Utah (10-3, 2-0) — 9 p.m., ESPN
Friday, Jan. 5
Northwestern (10-5, 1-1 Big Ten) @ Penn State (11-4, 1-1) — 8 p.m., FS1
Much like Maryland, the Wildcats are in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament one year after they made the dance for the first time in school history. Expectations were high and they haven’t quite lived up to them this year.
Penn State, on the other hand, had pretty low expectations heading into the year and the Nittany Lions are quietly creeping into bubble conversations. Pat Chambers’ team still has some strides to make offensively, but they are a very solid defensive team, ranking inside the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions). On a slow Friday in college hoops, this is the top game of the day, worthy of a view if you don’t have any plans.
Northern Kentucky (9-5, 2-0 Horizon) @ Oakland (11-4, 1-1) — 9 p.m., ESPNU
Mid-major alert! The top two teams in the Horizon League square off in an important game for the Golden Grizzlies. Billed as a potential bracket buster in the preseason, Oakland hasn’t gotten off to the greatest of starts. Greg Kampe’s team has played a pretty tough non-con slate with the likes of Kansas, Syracuse and Michigan State. But they’ve also lost a few games (Toledo and Green Bay) that have prevented them from rising to that true bracket buster level.
Nonetheless, this is a fun team to watch. Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn, Martez Walker and Jalen Hayes are three of the best players in the conference, and the Grizzlies still have time to get back on track. Friday’s game is a good starting point.
Saturday, Jan. 6
No. 12 North Carolina (12-2, 1-0 ACC) @ No. 8 Virginia (12-1, 1-0) — 1 p.m., ESPN
This could really be a marquee matchup if the Tar Heels survive their trip to Tallahassee on Wednesday. It’s one of the top offenses in the country against the top defense in the country. What more could you ask for to start your Saturday?
No. 7 Oklahoma (11-1, 1-0 Big 12) @ No. 6 West Virginia (13-1, 2-0) — 7:15 p.m., ESPN
You were too lazy to watch Trae Young and the Sooners earlier in the week? Well good news, here’s another opportunity. Added bonus: it’s against one of the best teams in college basketball.
The Mountaineers have won 13 straight since losing the season opener to Texas A&M in Germany. Jevon Carter is one of the grittiest players in the country and he has a pretty good supporting cast. This will be a must-watch.
No. 10 Kansas (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) @ No. 16 TCU (12-1, 0-1) — 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Think there are too many Big 12 games on this list? Well, that’s because it’s one of the most entertaining conferences in the country. We’ll learn a lot about TCU this week. If they can win at least one of these two games, we’ll know they’re a real threat in the league. If they can win both, we’ll know they’re a real threat nationally.
Kansas will be out for revenge as the Horned Frogs were the ones who knocked the Jayhawks out of the Big 12 Tournament last spring.
Saturday’s honorable mention:
No. 21 Seton Hall (13-2, 2-0 Big East) @ Butler (12-3, 2-0) — 2:30 p.m., FS1
No. 22 Arkansas (11-2, 1-0) @ Auburn (12-3) — 6 p.m., ESPNU
No. 17 Kentucky @ No. 23 Tennessee — 9 p.m., SEC Network
Sunday, Jan. 7
No. 1 Michigan State (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) @ Ohio State (11-4, 2-0) — 4:30 p.m., CBS
Yet another opportunity to see the Spartans. This time, it will be against the Buckeyes, who are looking to build on their resume to give coach Chris Holtmann a shot at the NCAA Tournament bubble in his first season in Columbus.
The Buckeyes aren’t quite a contender in this league yet, but they have weathered some good competition and close games that could come in handy down the stretch of the season.
No. 24 Florida State (11-2, 0-1 ACC) @ No. 15 Miami (12-1, 1-0) — 6 p.m., ESPN
As previously mentioned, the Seminoles are capable of scoring buckets in bunches. And the Hurricanes are one of the better defensive teams in the country. As you wind down your weekend and are maybe getting sick of NFL playoffs, check this one out.
Miami senior Ja’Quan Newton can flat out play, but he’s been a little off as of late, especially when the Canes laid an egg against New Mexico State in their only loss of the season. It will be interesting to see if he can get things going in a big rivalry game.