Eight things to know for a huge 3-day college hoops and New Year's weekend
It'll be a fun run to '17: Duke sans Allen, a big Louisville-Indiana game and the Big 12 owns Friday
Talk about a really fun New Year's Eve weekend.
First, we've got the final loaded Friday until we get to March. Then, before the College Football Playoff gets rolling Saturday, there's a group of terrific games to get your NYE festivities going, so that should be pretty damn nice. You want to kiss 2016 goodbye? You'll be plenty entertained on the hoops front.
On Sunday, bask in the glory of a new year amid those hopes, dreams, resolutions and promises that should be dashed by the time we get to Valentine's Day. As you feel fresh and ambitious, you can still cave to your inner couch potato because there's even more college basketball to pair up with the final week of the NFL's regular season.
Here's what you can look for this festive weekend. Scroll to the bottom for a true viewer's guide.
1. History in the Big East
I already told you earlier this week that you need to respect the Big East. Now comes the biggest game of the week: Villanova (13-0) at Creighton (13-0). Villanova has had the best 2016, statistically speaking, of any program in the sport's history. Creighton is somehow the most underrated team in America.
Saturday's 1 p.m. ET tip (on FS1) represents only the second time in Big East history -- not the new Big East, but forever -- that two undefeated teams will face off in league play. The only other time this happened was on Jan. 3, 1989, when Georgetown (9-0 at the time) and Seton Hall (12-0) clashed. So this is a pretty big and pretty cool moment for the conference. A Villanova win would be huge for its pursuit of an unprecedented fourth straight regular-season title. If Creighton wins, the Bluejays finally will get the nation's attention.
2. Louisville or Indiana will be in vexed heading into 2017
Virginia just dumped Louisville 61-53 at the Yum! Center in the ACC opener for each. That's a rough loss, but Virginia will once again will vie for a very good NCAA Tournament seed. It's tough to take an L at home in league play, but it's as respectable a loss as you could absorb (style points and margin of defeat aside).
The Hoosiers just got beat 87-83 at home in their Big Ten opener by ... Nebraska. Now that's rough. Nebraska could finish the season less than .500. The Hoosiers are immediately behind the 8-ball in conference play.
We have an interconference matchup on a neutral court in Indianapolis with each school needing a win to maintain a pace toward a No. 1 or No. 2 NCAA seed. The loser almost certainly need to win their regular-season league title in order have a chance at a No. 1 seed.
3. Undefeated Watch
Nova-Creighton eliminates one unbeaten, but Baylor and USC are in tough spots, too. I think we'll be at three or fewer unbeatens by the time we get to midnight Saturday. The Bears or the Trojans, if not both, will get picked off. Hard to see USC stealing one at Oregon, where the Ducks are favored by 7 points (which could fluctuate slightly before tip).
4. Duke plays first game of Grayson Allen suspension
Allen's tripping habit landed him an indefinite suspension. Those who may not be paying attention believe this first game of that ban, at Virginia Tech, is an expendable one. Not really sure about that. Virginia Tech has played Duke well -- and beaten 'em -- in Blacksburg over the past decade. Buzz Williams' team is 11-1, but has yet to face a top-20 team. So it's an interesting test for the Blue Devils.
Duke can be fine without Allen, who has been better than many realize. I want to see how Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles perform in this game. Duke has had more than a week's rest, and Giles should be ready and able to handle more than 15 minutes of play. Luke Kennard will also try to keep his push for national player of the year going. You'll want to watch (noon Saturday, ESPN2).
5. The Big 12 owns Friday
No league has had a better nonconference winning percentage than the Big 12. Now we'll see these teams slam into each other, and it starts with some compelling games Friday.
- I'm not sure anyone thinks 11-1 TCU is for real, but the Horned Frogs open with a mammoth test. Kansas is coming to town (9 p.m ET, ESPN2). Josh Jackson will have many great games in the Big 12. Will this be one of them?
- West Virginia-Oklahoma State is an awesome, awesome game. WVU is right behind Creighton among the nation's most underrated teams, and OSU is no joke. Brad Underwood is already making big gains there. This could be one of the three most-entertaining games this weekend.
- How about a desperate Oklahoma team trying to take one on its home floor vs. undefeated Baylor? This one's a tough call. Want to see how Kadeem Lattin shows up. Jordan Woodard-Manu Lecomte could be in for a nice battle, too.
6. Big test for Northwestern's hopes for a 1st NCAA bid
The Wildcats visit Michigan State. Sparty just stole one at Minnesota. While there's plenty of intriguing college hoops this weekend, I'd rank this game in my top-five most anticipated watches. From Michigan State's standpoint, a 2-0 start would be a warning sign for Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin in the Big Ten race.
But Northwestern (12-2) is thinking Big Ten success, too, and if the Wildcats can win at the Breslin Center on Friday (6 ET, Big Ten Network), they would have wins over Michigan State, Dayton, Wake Forest and Texas. There still would be a lot to prove, but Wildcats fans officially would be allowed to start pricing NCAA Tournament tickets.
7. Arizona can put UCLA, Oregon on notice with road wins
The Wildcats are playing at California. And Cal could use a good win after failing to beat Virginia in Berkeley a week ago. The Arizona-Cal winner would enter 2017 feeling like it will give UCLA and Oregon a run. Arizona's the better team, but a better team on the road. Cal's Ivan Rabb, a preseason first-team All-America pick by many, has fallen short of expectations.
Arizona gets another shot at Stanford on Sunday. Splitting would be fine, but a Bay Area sweep would be huge for Sean Miller. It's a tough ask. I'd expect a 1-1 return to Tucson.
8. Your New Year's Eve Weekend guide
The storylines are laid out. All that's left is planning your viewing this weekend, starting Friday (all times ET):
Amp yourself up for a huge weekend with a bevy of nice college hoops games.
4:00: West Virginia-Oklahoma State on ESPNEWS
6:00: Northwestern-Michigan State on Big Ten Net
7:00: Baylor-Oklahoma on ESPN2
9:00: Kansas-TCU on ESPN2
10:00: USC-Oregon on Fox Sports 1
11:00: Arizona-California on ESPN2
You'll have more than enough time to get all your basketball viewing in before you head to that party you kind of don't even want to go to.
11 a.m.: Xavier-Georgetown on Fox Sports 1
Noon: Duke-Virginia Tech on ESPN2
12:30: Louisville-Indiana on CBS
1:00: Villanova-Creighton on Fox Sports 1
2:00: Florida State-Virginia on ESPN2
While you maybe nurse that hangover and maybe get a second-screen going while watching all of the sports.
2:15: Michigan-Iowa on Big Ten Net
4:30: Marquette-Seton Hall on Fox Sports 1
7:00: Ohio State-Illinois on Big Ten Net
8:00: Arizona-Stanford on Pac-12 Network
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