Welcome to 2018, which means welcome to conference play around the country. Here’s what we’ll be watching:
Can’t Miss College Basketball Games
*All times CST
Friday, January 5
Wisconsin’s Big Ten slate started on Tuesday in an easy win against the Indiana Hoosiers at the Kohl Center. The Badgers had a bit of a rough go in non-conference play. That shouldn’t hurt them too much as they look to right the ship and settle in a rotation in the second half of the season.
Who says #Pac12AfterDark only applies to football? The Oregon Ducks have the weight of expectation bearing down upon them despite losing important players from last season’s Final Four squad. Payton Pritchard, Elijah Brown and Troy Brown head down the road to Corvallis on Friday night to take on the Beavers.
Saturday, January 6
Michigan hasn’t lost in a month. Illinois picked up some huge wins towards the end of 2017, defeating the Missouri Tigers and escaping the Grand Canyon Antelopes. The way Illinois performed against Michigan the last few times these teams played likely had a significant role in former head coach John Groce’s firing. This time it’s Brad Underwood vs John Beilein in the Big Ten Round 1.
This will be UNC’s second straight road game against a ranked conference opponent. UNC versus Virginia games are always tactical battles. The Tar Heels like to run and gun behind star guard Joel Berry. Virginia likes to slow down the pace and try to grind out each and every possession. This is a quality basketball game early on Saturday.
Florida Gators at Missouri Tigers @ Noon on CBS
Florida is a much better team than their record shows. A brutal non-conference schedule took its toll on the loss column. Missouri (as Illinois fans saw first hand in Braggin’ Rights) is a big, talented team capable of playing lock-down defense and getting baskets in bunches.
Butler was at the top of the college basketball world, at least for a short while after taking down No. 1 Villanova. The Bulldogs followed that win up with a close loss to another elite Big East team, the Xavier Musketeers. Seton Hall has won four straight since their in-state debacle against Rutgers. This is a really, really good match up this weekend.
It’s hard to come up with an argument against the Big 12 being the nation’s top conference. Oklahoma’s Trae Young and West Virginia’s Jevon Carter are two of the best players in college basketball, and both will be going toe-to-toe and guarding one another for long stretches in this game. That alone is worth watching.
No. 2 Duke Blue Devils at N.C. State Wolfpack @ 7 on ESPN
Under 24 miles separates these two campuses on Tobacco Road in North Carolina. Duke goes into this game playing with some much-needed rest. The Blue Devils did not play a mid-week game last week, and this match up against the Wolfpack will be Coach K’s first contest of 2018. N.C. State was blown out by Notre Dame on Wednesday by thirty points.
It seems like it was eons ago the Kentucky Wildcats lost to UCLA in New Orleans. Since then Kentucky’s gone on to beat Louisville by 29, Georgia by five and LSU by three. Typical of a young John Calipari squad, this Kentucky team often takes time to develop throughout the course of the season. Tennessee on the road represents another early SEC challenge.
TCU is for real after besting the Baylor Bears on Tuesday night. Jamie Dixon leaving the Pitt Panthers a couple of years ago to turn TCU into a potential basketball power is paying off. Kansas lost at home to Texas Tech on Tuesday night. That’s three home losses already this season for Bill Self’s team. All Big 12 eyes on this one.
Sunday, January 7
Michigan State is getting better and better, and that should come as no surprise given who their coach is and how much experienced talent exists on this team. Ohio State still has a ton of question marks especially in their backcourt. An early season win or loss won’t make or break either team, but the Buckeyes have a golden opportunity to knock off one of the country’s best at home.
No. 24 Florida State Seminoles at No. 15 Miami Hurricanes @ 5 on ESPNU
If Florida State were to beat Miami on Saturday, they’d be kings of Sunshine State. FSU already took down the Florida Gators on the road this season. Can they make the Florida sweep and beat the ‘Canes on Saturday? Leonard Hamilton’s teams usually rise to the challenge in big ACC games. FSU knocked off UNC last Wednesday night.
Both Iowa and Maryland had extremely different starts to the Big Ten season. First it was Maryland beating Penn State. Then it was Iowa putting up little fight, down most of the game in a loss Michigan on Monday. Maryland already looks like a tournament team. Iowa has a ways to go. Who comes out on top?