Viewer's Guide: Get ready for early-season championship games

Xavier Johnson(USATSI)
Xavier Johnson and Colorado face Harvard on Sunday in one of the weekend's best games. (USATSI)

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Heading into Friday afternoon, the matchups currently set on paper make the weekend schedule look a little light. However, that’s because the championship games (and in the case of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the consolation games) aren’t set yet. We could see North Carolina-Louisville, Georgetown-VCU, New Mexico-Clemson, Michigan-Charlotte, Michigan State-Oklahoma, and several other noteworthy tilts if things turn out as expected.

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

Best game: Indiana vs. No. 18 Connecticut (7 p.m., Friday, ESPN2). The championship of the 2K Sports Classic is the best game of the weekend . . . for now. The championship games of the other early-season tournaments could be better, but those are yet to be determined. Anyway, Indiana-UConn should be a very good matchup. The key for Indiana will be guarding the perimeter group of the Huskies, especially Shabazz Napier. Also, can Yogi Ferrell initiate offense with Napier and Boatright on him? On the other side, do the Huskies have any answer for Noah Vonleh on the inside?

Second-best game: Harvard at Colorado (4:30 p.m., Sunday, ESPNU). A really good test for both teams. Harvard is 4-0 with mostly regional wins, although the Crimson could push for the top 25 with a road win over the Buffaloes. Meanwhile, Colorado has reeled off five in a row after losing the opener to Baylor. With that said, the Buffs have been terrible from behind the arc and are also defending the perimeter fairly poorly. Getting Brandyn Curry back from injury would be a big boost for Harvard – especially heading into a tough environment. The Siyani Chambers vs. Spencer Dinwiddie battle will be entertaining.

Another one to watch: No. 14 Michigan vs. <span data-shortcode= State" data-canon="Florida Gators" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_TEAM" id="shortcode0"> (5 p.m., ESPN2). I would have put New Mexico and UMass in this slot, but the game had already tipped by the time I posted. As a result, we’ll get to see if Florida State can follow up its shocking blowout of VCU with another good performance. The Seminoles are pushing the ball more than they used to, while also bringing back the defensive prowess that they lacked last season. Michigan bounced back from its road loss to Michigan with an easy win over Long Beach State on Thursday night.

Guaranteed wins: Several ranked teams have stiff tests this weekend, but the following three should cruise. No. 11 Memphis hosts Nicholls State (6 p.m., Saturday, ESPN3). No. 12 Wisconsin welcomes Oral Roberts (8:30 p.m., Saturday, Big Ten Network). And finally, No. 6 Duke should roll past Vermont (6:30 p.m., Sunday, ESPNU).

Potential upset: I honestly didn’t have any good ones jump out at me on Friday’s slate – so I went to the Vegas lines, and picked the one legitimate underdog that has the best chance of winning. That’s South Alabama, playing <span data-shortcode= Miss" data-canon="Southern Jaguars" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_TEAM" id="shortcode0"> (8:05 p.m., Friday). Augustine Rubit is a double-double machine and is capable of carrying the Jaguars on his back.

Five things to keep an eye on:

  1. Jerrelle Benimon got some hype when it beat Temple a couple of weeks ago – and now the Tigers are on a big stage against No. 2 Kansas (8 p.m., Friday, ESPN3)
  2. How does No. 24 North Carolina respond after losing to Belmont last weekend? The Tar Heels face Richmond (12 p.m., Saturday).
  3. Don’t be surprised to see both Boston University and UC-Irvine (8:30 p.m., Saturday) in the NCAA tournament.
  4. No. 17 Oregon is going to be a factor for the Pac-12 title, but San Francisco has size and depth (8 p.m., Sunday, Pac-12 Network).
  5. Fun fact: FIU is tied for the nation’s third-longest winning streak. That could end at South Carolina (1 p.m., Saturday).

Other games to watch:




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