College basketball weekend viewing guide: Kentucky-North Carolina headlines solid slate

It’s beginning to look a lot like … the end of non-conference play in college basketball. That means signature victories will be even more highly valued than usual this weekend.

MUST WATCH

No. 21 North Carolina at No. 1 Kentucky (Saturday – Noon/CBS)

There are very few games left on Kentucky’s 2014-15 schedule that you can circle as potential losses, but this is certainly one of them. North Carolina has been a bit of a disappointment so far, sure, but the Tar Heels are one of the handful of teams in America with talent that at least somewhat resembles UK.

There’s also some added intrigue here when it comes to how Kentucky is going to adjust to life following Thursday’s awful news that junior forward Alex Poythress is done for the year because of a torn ACL. Does John Calipari abandon the platoon system? Does he throw Derek Willis into the mix? We don’t know, but Saturday will likely go a long way in determining where the Cats go from here.

No. 13 Utah vs. No. 10 Kansas (Saturday – 3:15 p.m./ESPN)

This is technically a neutral site game in Kansas City, but there will be nothing neutral about the vast majority of the fans in attendance. KU has played at least one game in the City of Fountains in every season since 1997-98, and has lost just twice in those games over that span. The Utes are no stranger to hostile environments, however, after already playing at San Diego State and BYU in the season’s opening month.

Your second paragraph reason to watch: Delon Wright.

No. 14 Iowa State at Iowa (Friday – 8 p.m./Big Ten Network)

The state of Iowa is off to a pretty remarkable start in 2014-15, and this is the game everyone in the state looks forward to every year.

The Cy-Hawk rivalry was dealt an unexpected blow earlier this week when it was announced that Iowa State star Bryce Dejean-Jones had been suspended after police broke up a loud party at his apartment where marijuana was also found. Dejean-Jones is still expected to travel with the team to Iowa City, where I’m sure he won’t hear anything from the home crowd.

Also likely to be the subject of some shouts from the Iowa student section is Cyclone star Georges Niang, who told reporters that Iowa was “the Cyclone State” following Iowa State’s 85-85 win in Ames last December.

“I’m expecting the worst, but I love it,” Niang said this week. “I did it to myself, so I can handle all that they dish out.”

If you want a glimpse of just how intense this rivalry is, take a look at the pictures and read Jay Bilas’ Twitter takes on Thursday night’s game between the team’s respective managers.

Photos from tonight’s Iowa State-Iowa Managers Game via @HawkeyeBRay. Iowa wins 77-59. pic.twitter.com/5xXBiP2bMe

— Matt Weitzel (@BigWeitz) December 12, 2014

Your MVP of tonight’s contest… @jc_nichols. pic.twitter.com/PNy75We8n9

— Matt Weitzel (@BigWeitz) December 12, 2014

It should be a memorable evening inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

SHOULD WATCH

No. 9 Gonzaga at UCLA (Saturday – 10 p.m./ESPN2)

Some people still feel weird about calling this a battle of West Coast powers, but it’s hard to refer to it as anything else.

This is a huge game for Gonzaga both in terms of their eventual NCAA Tournament seed and their perpetual battle for national respect. The Zags feel like they blew a massive opportunity in an overtime loss at No. 3 Arizona week, and losing to a talented, but unranked, UCLA squad would leave them awfully thin in the quality win department heading into West Coast Conference play.

The Bruins have a starting five that has been just about as good as any in the country so far, but their top four reserves are averaging just 7.1 minutes of court time per game. That could be a huge factor against a Gonzaga team which claims depth as one of its biggest assets.

UCLA has won 21 straight home games against non-conference opponents, while Gonzaga is just 13-14 in road non-conference games since 2003.

No. 23 Northern Iowa at VCU (Saturday – 7 p.m./NBC Sports Network)

We expected this to be a game featuring a top 25 team, we just thought it would be the hosts and not the visitors.

On the heels of a 9-0 start, Northern Iowa finds itself ranked in both major polls for the first time since February of 2010. Still, the Panthers can’t claim a win over any team as well-regarded as VCU, even after the Rams’ disappointing 5-3 start.

After losing to top 15 teams Villanova and Virginia by a combined 41 points, VCU finds itself in desperate need of a signature non-conference win before starting Atlantic 10 play. To make that happen, they’ll need to take care of business against an UNI squad that shot 54 percent from the field against them last year on their way to a 77-68 victory.

Michigan at No. 3 Arizona (Saturday – 5:15 p.m./ESPN)

Sure, this had a lot more panache before Michigan went all NJIT and Eastern Michigan on us, but those shocking losses don’t change the fact that the Wolverines have the pieces to be the first team to take down Arizona this season. To become the first to beat Sean Miller’s team on its home floor since Feb. 20, 2013, they may need to borrow some of their fan base’s focus and intensity.

WORTH WATCHING UNLESS YOU HAVE A VALID EXCUSE

No. 16 Oklahoma at Tulsa (Saturday – 2:30 p.m./CBS Sports Network)

Exactly one week after taking down Creighton, Frank Haith’s Tulsa squad was inexplicably defeated at home by the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savage Storm. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because the Savage Storm (I just wanted to type it again) plays in Division-II.

“I can’t put a finger on the lack of effort today,” Haith said afterward. “We’re going to fix it by Saturday.”

Fixing a lack of effort may not be enough to take down in-state rival Oklahoma, which has one of the nation’s best players in Buddy Hield, and which has already taken down Butler and UCLA.

USC Upstate at No. 19 Maryland (Saturday – 11 a.m./Big Ten Network)

I’m serious.

South Carolina Upstate (8-2) went on the road and knocked off Georgia Tech last Saturday, and will be taking on a Maryland team that is still playing without star Dez Wells. This is one of those sneaky games for the Terps that could derail what has been an overwhelmingly positive start. You’re not going to draw any significant national praise for beating the Spartans, but you’ll get crushed if you lose. As unfair as that may be, you just have to find a way to get the job done.


Temple at No. 7 Villanova (Sunday – 2 p.m./Fox Sports 1)

Temple still isn’t where it expects to be in terms of its program standards, but it’s still lightyears ahead of where it was a season ago. While Nova could potentially make this one ugly, it’s still a Big 5 tilt featuring a top 10 team. That’s worthy of your time.

Florida State at No. 25 Notre Dame (Saturday – 7 p.m./ESPN2)

If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t have anything else significant going on Saturday night. So settle down for an actual Power 5 conference game from the Joyce Center. Believe it or not, this will actually be the second game of the ACC conference season, as NC State knocked off Wake Forest back on Dec. 2.

IF YOU WANT TO JUST CHECK THE BOX SCORE, THAT’S OKAY … BUT CHECK THE BOX SCORE

Saint Mary’s at Creighton (Saturday – 2 p.m.)

The up-and-down Jays will look to extend their homecourt winning streak to 25 against a Saint Mary’s team that appears capable of making it back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus.

Dayton at Arkansas (Saturday – 2 p.m./ESPN2)

Dayton has won five in a row since losing to UConn in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but Arkansas, despite all its road struggles, remains nearly unbeatable inside Bud Walton Arena.

Cincinnati at Nebraska (Saturday – 9 p.m./Big Ten Network)

Earlier this week, we discussed Nebraska’s surprising struggles, which climaxed with a home loss to Incarnate Word on Wednesday. Tim Miles might need a win this weekend more than any other coach in the country.

No. 15 Butler at Tennessee (Sunday – 2 p.m./ESPNU)

Interim head coach Chris Holtman taking a Butler team with already low preseason expectations and carrying them to a top 15 ranking might be the best story of the season so far. The Bulldogs will have an opportunity to build on that by going on the road and knocking off a Tennessee team that is coming off of a big win over Kansas State, and which has had eight days to prepare for this game.

Louisiana Tech at Syracuse (Sunday – 4 p.m./ESPNU)

Both teams are being viewed as underachievers to this point, but Syracuse is likely the only one of the two with a legitimate shot at earning an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, which means the Orange need this win way more.

December 12, 2014 by : Posted in Uncategorized No Comments

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