Fri. 2:00 pm: Charleston @ Tennessee: To be honest, I’m not sure if this can even qualify as an Upset Special with the way that Tennessee has been playing of late. After knocking off then-No. 3 Pitt in Pittsburgh in early December, the Vols lost three straight games — to Oakland, Charlotte, and USC — before barely hanging on against Belmont and UT-Martin.
Believe it or not, Charleston may actually be the best team Tennessee has played since Pitt. Andrew Goudelock is a mid-major superstar, a scorer that is capable of going for 30 on any given night against any opponent. Jeremy Simmons is solid in the post. Antwaine Wiggins and Donavan Monroe are capable perimeter players. This is a group that has nearly knocked off Maryland, UNC, Clemson, and URI this season (all of those losses are by seven points or less) and also beat UNC last season. Outside of those four games, the Cougars are undefeated, with impressive wins over Coastal Carolina, East Tennessee State, and Davidson.
There are a number of issues plaguing the Vols right now, but one of the problems they have had of late is that they have been allowing perimeter players to get into a rhythm. That wasn’t true against Pitt or Villanova, when Melvin Goins and Scotty Hopson were terrific defensively. If Goudelock gets into a rhythm, anything can happen.
Fri. 12:00 pm: Northwestern @ No. 11 Purdue: First things first — this is all contingent on John Shurna being in the lineup for Northwestern. The Big Ten’s leading scorer had to leave their last game against Mt. St. Mary’s with an ankle injury, and he only made it back to practice on Wednesday. That said, with Shurna in the lineup, I think this is a pretty good matchup. JaJuan Johnson is an all-american, but he’s not a bruiser like a Jared Sullinger is. That’s good for a Northwestern frontline that is far from overpowering. Offensively, they move the ball really well, which is what you need to do against a team that plays the kind of man-to-man defense Purdue does. We finally get a chance to get a sense just how good Northwestern is. If their threes are falling, they have a shot at getting this win.
Sat. 3:30 pm: No. 15 Notre Dame @ No. 5 Syracuse: Is Notre Dame for real? It sure looked that way when they manhandled Georgetown on Wednesday night. I like the way the Irish matchup against the Syracuse zone. They have shooters, especially up front, and they have a lineup that is versatile enough to play really big or really small. They have two legitimate playmakers in the back court and some excellent shooters on the perimeter. They will have trouble with Rick Jackson inside, but who won’t this season? A road game against a very good Syracuse team this early in Big East play will be a good guage for the Irish.
Sun. 3:00 pm: Tennessee State @ No. 22 Memphis: Tennessee State is pretty good this season. They are currently sitting in second in the OVC with a win over Morehead State. The team ahead of them, Austin Peay, took the Tigers to overtime. The win over Lipscomb aside, I’m not in a place where Ican trust this young Memphis team to come out ready to play on a nightly basis.
12:00 pm: No. 12 Kentucky @ No. 20 Louisville: Its hard for me to discern the difference between a game that is a must-watch for college hoops die-hards and a game that is a must-watch for the casual fan. That said, I’m certain of the fact that when these two teams that the court, your eyes need to be on the TV screen. I could delve into the reasons why, but its much easier to point you in the direction of Matt Jones who does a great job dissecting this rivalry.As far as this particular game is concerned, Louisville might be in some trouble. Raheem Buckles needed surgery on his finger and will be out, Jared Swopshire looks to be done for the season, and Mike Marra and Elisha Justice are both out as well. What was once a deep, versatile Louisville team is now one that will be playing their run and gun style with a seven man rotation. If the Kentucky freshmen can handle the Cardinal press, they should be fine. One thing to keep an eye on — neither team is deep. With all the shenanigans of last season’s matchup, a tight whistle and foul trouble could end up playing a major role.
Fri. 4:00 pm: No. 13 Minnesota @ No. 19 Michigan State: Watching the Golden Gophers play this season, I’ve been struck by how much they resemble a typical Michigan State team. They have a number of big, strong front court players that can attack the back boards, they have a couple of talented playmakers in their back court, and their wings are either insanely athletic or dead-eye shooters. The Gophers may be a touch overrated at No. 13 in the country, but this is a very good basketball team, especially with Al Nolen back in the fold. Michigan State has been disappointing this season, but they always seem to turn things around in the new year. Can it start a day early this season?
Fri. 4:00 pm: Washington @ UCLA: This game will be very important when it comes to the Pac-10 race. The way the UCLA played in the second half against a better-than-expected Washington State team only reaffirmed my belief that the Bruins have a shot at making a run through the Pac-10 this season. If they are going to win the conference, however, protecting their home court is vital. You would be remiss to say anyone other than the Huskies are the favorite in the league, and they also happen to be very tough to beat at home. UCLA needs to win this game if they are going to win the league.
Fri. 4:00 pm: Florida @ Xavier: Three months from now when we are all holding our mock brackets with outlandish predictions of who made and who missed the cut for the NCAA Tournament, this is going to be a game we all talk about. Xavier’s has had some serious issues with injuries this season, as they are down to just three back court players. Florida, on the other hand, has had issues with their back court play. Maybe Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton really aren’t all that good as a back court tandem.
Sun. 6:00 pm: No. 24 Wisconsin @ No. 25 Illinois: There are a lot of really good early season matchups in the Big Ten this season. This is one of them. Its hard to imagine two teams with such similar roster makeups — excellent point guard and quality, finesse big men — playing such differing styles. Illinois is the more talented team, but Bo Ryan has seemingly gotten his players to buy into his system more than Bruce Weber has. You may not love Big Ten hoops, but this game will be a dandy.
- 6:00 pm: No. 2 Ohio State @ Indiana: Tom Crean has been so disappointed with his front court that he’s threatened to start five guards. That could be a problem with Jared Sullinger coming to town.
- 6:00 pm: South Florida @ No. 4 UConn: UConn will have a chance to get their first Big East win and rebound from a shellacking at the hands of the Pitt Panthers.
- 6:00 pm: Washington State @ USC: You don’t want to start conference play 0-2. It will be interesting to see which of these two teams is the real deal.
- 8:00 pm: Seton Hall @ Cincinnati: Believe it or not, but this is probably undefeated Cincinnati’s toughest test of the season.
- 10:00 pm: Oklahoma State @ Gonzaga: The game itself is mediocre, but any reason I have to link this is a good one.
- 11:00 am: West Virginia @ Marquette: Marquette always seems to be involved in a dogfight, while West Virginia is a team that is currently reeling without the leadership of Da’Sean Butler.
- 12:00 pm: San Diego @ NC State: One of these days, Tracy Smith has to return to the Wolfpack lineup, right?
- 2:00 pm: Valpo @ Butler; UIC @ Cleveland State: Butler looks like they are back on track this season with a win in the Diamond Head Classic, but Norris Cole and Cleveland State appear to be legit this season. Can CSU unseat Butler atop the Horizon?
- 2:00 pm: New Mexico @ Dayton: Both teams really, really need this win.
- 5:30 pm: Boston College @ South Carolina: Bruce Ellington vs. Reggie Jackson is worth two hours of your New Year’s Da recovery.
- 7:00 pm: St. John’s @ Providence: A couple of Big East sleepers square off.
- 10:00 pm: Arizona State @ Oregon: If ASU gets swept by the Oregon schools (they just lost by 22 to Oregon State) we might as well write them off.
- 1:00 pm: Gonzaga @ Wake Forest: I bet the Zags didn’t expect Wake Forest to be so bad when they signed on for this game.
- 3:00 pm: High Point @ Coastal Carolina: For Big South fans, this game could have a lot of meaning later in the season.
- 4:00 pm: Penn State @ Michigan: The teams may not be all that good, but Talor Battle and Darius Morris are fantasy studs this season.
- 4:30 pm: Charleston @ Morehead State: Andrew Goudelock and Kenny Faried. Yes, please.
- 5:00 pm: Davidson @ Vanderbilt: I wanted to call this game an Upset Alert. Couldn’t bring myself to do it.
- 5:30 pm: LSU @ Virginia: Yuck.
- 6:00 pm: Charlotte @ Georgia Tech: Ditto.
- 7:45 pm: Miami FL @ No. 1 Duke: Hangover from Coach K’s 880th win? Hangover from New Year’s Eve? Nah…
- 10:00 pm: Arizona @ Oregon State: Most believe Arizona is the second best team in the Pac-10. Hopefully, they won’t pull an Arizona State.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.