Pregame Shootaround: Quiet Sunday has some games with big early-season conference implications

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GAME OF THE DAY: Illinois at Nebraska, 8:30 p.m.

Better teams play on Sunday and there might even be a better matchup of two teams. No game on Sunday, however, means as much to both team’s early conference season as this one does. With Illinois and Nebraska both at 1-2 in the Big Ten, both teams could desperately use a win. Illinois is in the midst of starting the Big Ten schedule with four out of five games on the road and they’re coming off of a huge home win at Maryland despite missing senior guard Rayvonte Rice. The Huskers knocked off Rutgers with an easy win in their last game and will look to build momentum before seeing Wisconsin this week. Both of these teams have NCAA Tournament aspirations and a win here would be a nice tournament resume builder

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: Cal at UCLA, 7:30 p.m.

Remember what I said in the game above about both teams being desperate for a conference win? It’s the same feeling in this Pac-12 contest as in-state rivals Cal and UCLA square off. Unlike the Big Ten game however, the NCAA Tournament dream isn’t as large here with Cal under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin and UCLA free-falling to a 9-7 start. But Outside of Arizona and Utah, Pac-12 basketball teams have been all over the place and a win here would put one of these teams back at .500. The Golden Bears picked up a great win over Washington but then lost to Washington State and USC. UCLA lost five straight before beating Stanford in OT.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Wichita State at Loyola, 5:00 p.m.

The Shockers are always going to have a tough time on the road in the Valley, but Loyola is 12-3 and has seen some very tough competition already in the conference with back-to-back road games at Northern Iowa and Evansville. This is the end of a key three-game stretch for the Ramblers and they’ve love to go 2-1 after a win at Evansville. For Wichita State, it’s business as usual and they have a 24-game MVC win streak on the line here.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

  • The best team to play on Sunday is No. 2 Duke traveling to N.C. State. PNC Arena has not been kind to the Blue Devils in recent years. Besides the Wolfpack taking two of the last three from Duke, the Blue Devils saw their season end there at the hands of Mercer in the NCAA Tournament last season.
  • Two top-ten teams have winnable conference road games as No. 4 Wisconsin travels to Rutgers and No. 7 Arizona heads to Oregon State. But if Kentucky has taught us anything about this conference season, it’s that you can’t take any nights off or take any team for granted.
  • Florida State travels to Syracuse for an intriguing ACC clash. The Orange have been dancing with fire a little bit in the early conference season with some close wins while the Seminoles could use a win over a good team on the road.
  • Stanford travels to USC for a Pac-12 nightcap. If you need an excuse to get away from the Golden Globes to watch this game, focus on how good the Cardinal’s backcourt of Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown are and how they’re adjusting to playing without freshman forward Reid Travis.