After a quiet week due to Christmas, we have two monster games (on CBS Saturday afternoon!). There's a battle between two top-10 unbeatens – but that's basically the undercard to arguably the best rivalry in college basketball. The rest of the slate is just OK, but with those two headliners, it's going to be a good weekend.
Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.
Best game: No. 6 Louisville at No. 18 Kentucky (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS). Heading into the season, this looked like a possible 1 vs. 2 matchup, one of the most-hyped matchups in the rivalry's history. Instead, Louisville lost to North Carolina and sort of fell from the nation's focus, while Kentucky has already lost three games and is still learning how to compete as a cohesive unit. On Saturday, the struggles go out the window; this is going to be a terrific game. Offensively, Kentucky loves to crash the offensive glass and get to the free-throw line; Louisville has to force turnovers with its pressure and also force the Wildcats to settle for outside jumpers. Keeping Julius Randle from getting paint touches is a factor. Louisville is excellent at creating offensive with its defense, and the ability of Russ Smith and co. to get out in transition will be a huge key. Getting Willie Cauley-Stein or Randle in foul trouble would also help.
Second-best game: No. 8 Villanova at No. 2 Syracuse (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS). It's hard to imagine a game between two top-10, unbeaten teams is relegated to “second-best” status, but that's how it is when Kentucky and Louisville play. Anyway, this one should be terrific. Villanova has been one of the more surprising teams this season, but the Wildcats will need to be more consistent from 3-point range against the Syracuse zone. Moreover, they will need to take care of the ball and not allow the Orange to get points in transition. On the other side, Villanova is playing as stingy of defense as anyone in America – will Tyler Ennis be able to create offense in the half-court? It will be interesting to see how Villanova matches up with C.J. Fair; could James Bell get the duties?
Another one to watch: No. 25 Missouri at North Carolina State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2). This one got a little more interesting last week, when North Carolina State knocked off Tennessee on the road – showing it could win some games this season. The Wolfpack have won seven in a row since a home loss to North Carolina Central, and T.J. Warren is playing like one of the best scorers in the country. Meanwhile, Missouri lost its first game of the season last weekend, falling by one on a neutral court to Illinois in a rivalry game. Jordan Clarkson has emerged as one of the better point guards in the nation, and he needs to play well against NC State. The key for the Tigers will be guarding inside the arc – the Wolfpack get almost two-thirds of their points off 2-pointers.
Guaranteed wins: There's a bunch of options, but let's look at the four unbeaten teams that are essentially guaranteed to enter next week without a loss. No. 3 Ohio State hosts Louisiana-Monroe (Friday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network); No. 4 Wisconsin welcomes Prairie View A&M (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU); Toledo is home against Coppin State (Saturday, 2 p.m.); and No. 12 Oregon faces Morgan State (Sunday, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network). No. 10 Wichita State should beat Davidson (Sunday, 3 p.m.), but it's not a lock.
Potential upsets: There aren't too many obvious ones, so we'll go with two that could happen. BYU travels to Loyola Marymount in both teams' WCC opener, and it won't be an easy win for the Cougars (Saturday, 4 p.m.). Anthony Ireland against the Cougars' backcourt should be fun. Meanwhile, Rhode Island has taken some time to mesh its newcomers and veterans, but the Rams could come together in time to get a win over Southern Miss (Saturday, 2 p.m.).
Five more must-see games:
Nebraska at Cincinnati (Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN2): Cincinnati's offense seems to be awakening lately, and Nebraska will have to keep the Bearcats off the offensive glass.
Wake Forest at Xavier (Saturday, 5 p.m., FOX Sports 1): The Skip Prosser Classic. Gregg Doyel wrote a column about who Prosser is, and what this game means.
Providence at No. 23 Massachusetts (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU): The two New England teams are a combined 20-3 this season, but the Minutemen might wear down Providence.
Boston College at VCU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., FOX Sports 1): This game looked much better back in October. Now, Boston College could struggle mightily against VCU's pressure.
Alabama at UCLA (Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2): UCLA has dropped two of its last four, to Missouri and Duke. The Crimson Tide would be its best win of the season.
Other games to watch:
- Northern Kentucky at No. 19 North Carolina (7 p.m., ESPNU)
- St. Katherine at No. 20 San Diego State (10 p.m.)
- Jackson State at No. 17 Memphis (12 p.m., ESPNU)
- Eastern Washington at No. 15 Connecticut (1 p.m., ESPN3)
- Belmont at Indiana State (1:05 p.m., ESPN3)
- Eastern Michigan at No. 9 Duke (2 p.m., ESPN2)
- UC-Irvine at Arizona State (2 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
- New Orleans at No. 5 Michigan State (4:15 p.m., Big Ten Network)
- Santa Clara at No. 24 Gonzaga (8 p.m., ESPNU)
- Georgia at No. 21 Colorado (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
- Savannah State at No. 13 Florida (3 p.m., ESPN3)
- Canisius at Notre Dame (5 p.m., ESPN3)
- Georgia Tech at Charlotte (7 p.m.)