After a slow week, we're going to get rewarded with a big-time Saturday in college basketball. Put off the Christmas shopping until Sunday, when the schedule lightens. From noon until, well, into the evening, we've got a pretty great slate of games, all of them non-conference matchups with plenty of reasons to watch. Did this sneak up on you? That's even more fun. Who needs meaningless bowl games? College hoops has you covered for nearly 12 hours on Saturday.
Here are the most notable and important storylines, games and stats to track.
1. Kentucky-Carolina is the game of the weekend
You can read a longer preview right here, but yeah, this one's set up to be terrific. It's the nightcap of the CBS Sports Classic, which begins at 3 p.m. ET with UCLA-Ohio State. The Bruins alone will be reason enough to tune in, but my suspicion is that UCLA will get to 12-0 with some ease.
North Carolina playing Kentucky (a 5:45 ET tip on CBS) is a much harder game to forecast. We don't know if UNC point guard Joel Berry will be on the floor (ankle), and maybe Kentucky takes advantage. Kentucky's in need of a signature win; the Wildcats lack that, to date. North Carolina could also boost its profile and have a top-five resume in the sport with a victory over UK.
It's all going down in Las Vegas at the brand new T-Mobile Center. Gary Parrish will be in the building. It's two top-10 teams with a good mix of veterans and one-and-done stars. The game should be fast-paced and finish in the 80s, if not the 90s. You should definitely be molding your afternoon and evening around watching this one.
2. Undefeated watch
There are six undefeated teams left. Five of them play this weekend, and four of them are in highly favored scenarios. Here are the deets:
- UCLA-Ohio State at the CBS Sports Classic
- Jackson State-Baylor at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday
- Oral Roberts-Creighton at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday
- Troy-USC at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday
- Gonzaga-Tennessee at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday
Villanova doesn't play again until Wednesday vs. American.
Baylor, Creighton and USC are near-locks to keep a bagel in the loss column. Maybe Ohio State shows up and stuns UCLA, but I'm not seeing that happening. Gonzaga has a tricky one. That game against Tennessee is in Nashville, and the Vols nearly picked off UNC in Chapel Hill last weekend. Gonzaga's the much better team, but keep an eye on that one. It's the only game on Sunday of any real intrigue.
3. The battle for Indiana
This weekend also features the Crossroads Classic, an annual Indiana doubleheader at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. All four teams are NCAA Tournament caliber this season, and not only that, but Indiana, Butler, Purdue and Notre Dame are all tracking toward 4 seeds or better. Really, really good basketball happening in the Hoosier State this season.
Indiana-Butler (5 ET) could wind up being a fantastic game. It's too tough to pick. Butler's been better than a lot of people realize. Indiana would have a really interesting set of wins and losses if it got picked off here. Some of this game will be happening as Kentucky-UNC is going down. Be sure to have a multi-screen setup going. Told you: it's a really good weekend!
Purdue-Notre Dame (2 ET) is nothing to pass over, either. The Fighting Irish nearly took down No. 1 Villanova last weekend, and Purdue knows that feeling very well. These teams combine for three losses, two of them coming at the hands of VU. Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson should enter the Player of the Year discussion if ND pulls off a win and he pulls off another double-double.
4. Bob Huggins will join a rare club
You gotta make time to read this column from Parrish. He humanizes himself, takes us back to his younger days, a time when he loathed Bob Huggins. And now he -- like so many in the sport -- loves Huggins. West Virginia hosts UMKC on Saturday, and Huggins is going to get win No. 800. Very few coaches hit that mark, and Huggins' path to eight-hundy is unlike any coach who's ever done it. Impressive.
In retrospect, the most underappreciated aspect to Huggins' career is the true rebuild he put together at Cincinnati. From the 1950s until the late 1970s, Cincinnati was a top-20 college basketball program. But it was going on a decade-plus of an NCAA Tournament drought when Huggs took the UC job in 1989. He soon turned the program around and once again turned it into a top-25 program. I think that resurrection is lost on a lot of people these days because of how long ago it was.
5. Most intriguing game you didn't know about
Arizona-Texas A&M at noon ET. The game's happening in Houston. Both teams are still very mercurial. We don't really know how good Arizona is, and A&M might be a top-three team in the SEC, but look at the Aggies' schedule. Go check it out. Losses to UCLA and USC -- both undefeated teams. One good/OK win vs. Va. Tech.
So we should get some answers. The reason to tune in is a great freshman big man battle. I drive the Lauri Markkanen train. He's unquestionably playing like a lottery pick so far this season. There aren't three other players in college basketball with Markkanen's combo of height, shooting stroke and skill set.
Meanwhile A&M freshman Robert Williams is probably the most underrated first-year player in America. There's plenty of talent in this game. Big man Tyler Davis and shooting specialist D.J. Hogg are also worth watching for A&M, while Arizona has freshmen Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins coming into their own.
This one is really tough to project. Can't wait to watch it.
6. Don't blow a big chance, Northwestern
There are only five original Division I teams that have never -- neva eva -- made the NCAA Tournament: St. Francis (NY), Army, William & Mary, The Citadel ... and Northwestern. The Wildcats are different from the group because, of course, they have long paid rent in a premier conference.
Some think this is finally the year for NU.
I'm not convinced.
But the Wildcats can start to believe with a win on Saturday at (semi) home against Dayton. Chris Collins' team is 8-2, which is good, but the two losses came to the two best teams it's played: Butler and Notre Dame. The non-con strength of schedule is 299th. Not that great. So prove yourself against a solid Dayton team. The game is in your city, at the United Center. Big-time opportunity here. It's a 7 p.m. ET tip.
7. Critical weekend for the puzzling Atlantic 10
It's a critical weekend for the A-10, which would struggle to get three teams into the NCAAs if the tournament started today. The league could really use some non-conferences wins -- or, rather, avoid damaging losses. Here's the rundown:
- Middle Tennessee at VCU. Middle is no joke. Could be a top-three mid-major team in America this season. VCU has graduated from the mid-major label. This game is going down in Richmond. VCU cannot afford to lose this and still have a viable at-large profile.
- Dayton vs. Northwestern. We covered this above, but for as big as it is for NU, Dayton's not clear of resume criticism at this point. The Flyers might wind up, again, as the best team in the league. Dayton will invariably get picked off in conference play a few times, so having the best possible out-of-league record will be huge by proxy to the A-10 teams that garner wins over the Flyers in January and February.
- Davidson vs. Kansas. This game is happening in Kansas City. The Jayhawks are a double-digit favorite, but what a chance for Davidson to pick one off here. This would be a mammoth win and one of the bigger upsets of the season if it were to happen. It would be a boon for the league, too. But Carlton Bragg is off suspension for KU, and the Jayhawks haven't lost since opening night. Davidson is 5-3 and looking at its first three-game losing streak since 2013.
- St. Bonaventure vs. Niagara. It's not an appealing game, but Bona has put itself in a tough spot already. The non-conference isn't that good, and the team has no more opportunities against would-be tournament competition. So now you just can't afford to lose games like this, and this one's on a neutral in Buffalo.
- Texas Tech at Richmond. OK, here's the gotta-have-it game. The Spiders are only 5-3 and haven't beaten anyone even remotely good. A win here doesn't even put them in the top 60 candidates for at-large bids, but it's a start. A small start. Win this, finish up non-league play with road wins over James Madison and Oral Roberts, then finish top five in the A-10 ... maybe you've got a case. But you have to win this game.
- Holy Cross at Rhode Island. The Rams can't and won't lose this. But they're they most underrated team in America now because they're 6-4 with four losses to good and/or teams they had to play on the road. They lost to Duke at Mohegan Sun (in Connecticut). They lost on the road to Valpo, Providence and Houston. If URI was truly a top-25 team, it would have won at least one of those, but still, the Rams can win the A-10. They might need to in order to warrant at-large selection, but don't sleep on this team, which has once again been faced with injury concerns.
8. Georgetown-Syracuse should be emotional
The return of what I think is a top-five rivalry in college basketball. Syracuse going to the ACC severed this series, but at least it's in a home-and-home situation once again. And Saturday's game is going to be especially special. Syracuse will be paying tribute to the late Pearl Washington, who died only a few weeks after the end of last season. Brain cancer took him at the age of 52. The loss hit Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim in a heavy, heavy way.
Washington is/was maybe the most influential, beloved and important player in the history of the program. He tortured the Hoyas during his time in the 1980s, so it's only appropriate that a game like this takes the time to remember him and all he did for Syracuse, the Big East and this rivalry. The celebration -- a joyous one -- will take place at halftime.
Then the Orange and Hoyas will continue to do battle in the Carrier Dome, and hopefully we get a good game. It's a noon tip. Georgetown's had a lot of troubles this year, including the recent transfer decision of Isaac Copeland, a former five-star recruit who just couldn't get it going under John Thompson III. Syracuse hasn't been as good as advertised either. It'd be a great thing to see these teams bring out the best in themselves to start off Saturday.