There's a matchup of two great coaches in Pittsburgh, a matchup of two great players in Salt Lake City and a mismatch on tap at Cameron Indoor Stadium (Kyrie Irving not included). It's not the best weekend of college basketball I've ever seen, I admit. But it's way better than the one we'll experience in two weeks.
Let's do the Friday Look Ahead.
Best game of the weekend: Jamie Dixon and Bruce Pearl are two of the nation's best at consistently coaching basketball teams that are better than the sum of their parts. As evidence I submit the fact that Dixon has made seven consecutive NCAA tournaments at Pittsburgh and Pearl has made five straight at Tennessee, and neither has had a player selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. That's an astonishing achievement to consider heading into Saturday's showdown between the No. 3 Panthers and No. 11 Vols. It's also why countless schools have tried to hire Dixon over the past three years, and why Tennessee is willing to stick by Pearl despite his NCAA troubles. Simply put, both men are very, very good at their jobs.
Another interesting matchup: Games like this weekend's game between Arizona and No. 21 BYU are often described as a "matchup between All-American candidates" even when the All-American candidates won't actually match up at all. It's silly but it sounds good. So I get it. Which is why I would like to use this space to point out that National Player of the Year candidate Derrick Williams (Arizona forward) will matchup against National Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette (BYU guard) in Salt Lake City on Saturday. Will they actually match up and guard each other? Rarely, if ever. But I bet you'll watch anyway because of how I sold it to you.
Yet another interesting matchup: The only game featuring two undefeated teams besides Tennessee-Pittsburgh is UNLV-Louisville, and it's a game that'll help settle the debate about the Cardinals. Are they or aren't they for real? With wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech, I already know UNLV is legitimate and worthy of its No. 20 ranking in the latest AP poll. But Louisville? The Cardinals have a season-opening win over a Butler team that has subsequently lost three times, and that's pretty much it. So I'm not sold yet. But it'll be difficult not to convert if Louisville handles UNLV at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday, and by convert I mean rank the Cardinals in Sunday night's Top 25 (and one).
Guaranteed to be a blowout: The only thing worse than losing your best player to a toe injury in the middle of the season like Duke lost Irving is losing your best two players to allegations of sexual assault in the preseason like Saint Louis lost Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed. The good news for Duke is that it still has Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. Meantime, Saint Louis has losses to Portland and Austin Peay. So don't expect a down-to-the-wire finish when the top-ranked Blue Devils and Billikens meet Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But you should still watch every second (because it's on CBS).
Guaranteed to be an upset: Would you accept Texas A&M over No. 21 Washington as an "upset" pick? It would be an unranked team over a ranked team (but it's possible the Aggies will be favored because the game is in College Station). If you reject that, then I'll just take Tennessee over Pittsburgh (and I'll need you to ignore what I might've said in my preview of the game with Jason Horowitz). Pearl came through for me two weeks ago against a Big East team. I suppose I can lean on him again in this time of need.
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Player trying to keep rolling: Oklahoma State's Marshall Moses had never even averaged nine points through three seasons heading into this season, but now he can't stop scoring 30. The senior forward got 30 points and 18 rebounds against La Salle last weekend, then backed that effort by taking 12 shots and making 12 shots to finish with 31 points in Wednesday's win over Tulsa. He became the first OSU player to score at least 30 in consecutive games since Bryant Reeves in 1995. Moses has a chance to extend the streak to three games Saturday when the Cowboys play Missouri State.
Player trying to get rolling: Steven Gray is not the reason Gonzaga has lost two straight games, but he sure isn't helping. The senior guard was 5 of 22 from the field in losses to Illinois and Washington State. He committed eight turnovers, too, which means Gray gave the ball away nearly twice as many times as he put the ball in the basket. That wasn't good enough against the Illini or Cougars. It won't be good enough Saturday against No. 23 Notre Dame, either.
Three things you need to know
1. Bill Self's fourth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks will play their final game without McDonald's All-American Josh Selby on Saturday. It'll be against Colorado State. Selby will then debut next weekend against Southern California. The NCAA suspended the 6-foot-2 guard for KU's first nine games because he accepted extra benefits while in high school.
2. Irving's injury has the Freshman of the Year debate now focused on two players: Kentucky's Terrence Jones and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. Jones is averaging 20.0 points and 10.5 rebounds for the 17th-ranked Wildcats heading into Saturday's game against Indiana. Sullinger is averaging 18.1 points and 9.9 rebounds for the second-ranked Buckeyes heading into Sunday's game against Western Carolina.
3. Memphis forward Wesley Witherspoon had surgery Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. The 6-9 forward was averaging 13.0 points and 4.6 rebounds for the 13th-ranked Tigers. He's expected to miss around seven games, including nationally televised showdowns with No. 9 Georgetown (Dec. 23) and No. 11 Tennessee (Jan. 5).
Final thought: So I was looking at the upcoming slate of games, trying to figure out where I might go and when and I stumbled upon something I'm certain most of you know already, but I absolutely did not: Christmas is on a Saturday this year.
That means we've got this weekend of college basketball and next weekend of college basketball, and then the next weekend is totally empty except for four games in the Diamond Head Classic on Saturday (Dec. 25) and Richmond-Seton Hall on that Sunday (Dec. 26). Can I really build an entire Friday Look Ahead around a total of five games? Honestly, I doubt it. But I bet it would be funny if I tried, and, depending on how much eggnog I drink, I just might.