Today's Specials: Showdown in Cincinnati heats up winter break

Cashmere Wright (1) and Cincinnati look to remain undefeated on Thursday when New Mexico comes to town. (US Presswire)

It’s been a slow few days in the college basketball world -- although Arizona vs. San Diego State on Christmas night was must-see action. Thursday slowly gets back into the swing of things, with a showdown in Cincinnati highlighting the 11 games on the schedule.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP poll.

Best game: New Mexico Lobos at No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats (9 p.m., ESPN2). This game lost some luster when New Mexico lost at home to South Dakota State over the weekend, but it’s still a heckuva showdown for Christmas Week. Cincinnati is 12-0, although the two upcoming games against the Lobos and Pittsburgh will be telling. New Mexico has only the one loss to Nate Wolters and SDSU. The battle on the perimeter between Cinci’s Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright, and New Mexico’s Kendall Williams and Tony Snell will be excellent -- although big Bearcats guard Ja’Quon Parker can slow down Snell.

Second-best game: Rhode Island Rams at St. Mary's Gaels (10 p.m.). Rhode Island started off with five straight losses under Dan Hurley, but the Rams have won four of their last six and continue to look better. A trip to Saint Mary’s is too tough a test for Hurley’s boys, though. The Gaels have not been at their best yet this season, but Matthew Dellavedova and company can really score. Defensively, they’re not very stiff -- but Rhode Island won’t be able to exploit those weaknesses.

Another one to watch: Florida International Golden Panthers at Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8 p.m., ESPN3). An early test in the Sun Belt for both teams. Florida International has been up and down in Richard Pitino’s first season at the helm, but the Golden Panthers could have a tough time at defending tournament champion Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have lost three in a row, and their top two scorers have been hampered by injuries. T.J. Price has a sprained ankle, and Jamal Crook has a broken foot. Could FIU get the upset? 

Guaranteed win: Jack Murphy will continue to turn around Northern Arizona Lumberjacks , but Thursday at Brigham Young Cougars (9 p.m., BYUTV) won’t be a shining moment for the program. The Lumberjacks will have trouble scoring on the Cougars, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to stop them either. With that said, take a look at freshman guard Dewayne Russell for Northern Arizona.

Potential upset: South Dakota State Jackrabbits is still the favorite in the Summit, but Western Illinois Leathernecks has been a surprise. The Leathernecks have won five in a row, and now get a visit from Oakland Golden Grizzlies (8 p.m.). Travis Bader is averaging better than 20 points per game for the Golden Grizzlies, and they could try to speed up Western Illinois. Oakland has the firepower to get a key road win.

Three things to keep an eye on:

  1. Since beating Temple, Canisius Golden Griffins is getting some buzz out of the MAAC. Billy Baron and the Golden Griffins host Alcorn State Braves (7 p.m.).
  2. Some people thought Loyola Marymount Lions had the pieces to pull an upset or two in the WCC, but the Lions have been inconsistent. They host Morgan State Bears (10 p.m.).
  3. Tons of abbreviations involved in IPFW Mastodons at IUPUI Jaguars (7 p.m.).
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