Men’s Basketball Games of the Week 12/17 – 12/29
After a well-deserved break for the Christmas holiday, teams are back in action beginning Tuesday, and for most teams this marks the start of conference play. The Big East tips off Tuesday night, along with the Big Ten and other conferences, and in the next two months we’ll separate the pretenders from the contenders. Until then, enjoy this week’s early games.
No. 22 PITTSBURGH at NOTRE DAME (7 p.m. Tuesday at Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana)
What many fans consider the nation’s toughest regular-season conference gets underway Tuesday as the Big East opens play. Pittsburgh (11-2) invades the Fighting Irish territory with the nation’s 11th-best assist mark (17.6 per game) and the 16th-best shooting percentage (49.3). The Panthers are eager to get back on the right foot after a somewhat embarrassing 59-54 loss to Wagner, one of the top Northeast Conference programs but definitely a mid-major. Pittsburgh had a nine-game winning streak going into the Wagner contest. Ashton Gibbs leads Pittsburgh with 17.2 points per game. Notre Dame (8-5) just came off a lopsided 106-65 win over Sacred Heart, led by Jack Cooley’s 19 points and eight rebounds. Three of Notre Dame’s five losses are to ranked teams (Gonzaga, Indiana and Missouri) so the Irish could have a little trouble on their hands here.
No. 11 WISCONSIN at NEBRASKA (9 p.m. Tuesday at Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Nebraska)
The Badgers travel to Lincoln to welcome the Big Ten’s newest member to conference college basketball in the league opener for both schools. Wisconsin (11-2) enters Big Ten play on a five-game winning streak, capped by a 66-33 win over Savannah State and a 79-45 win over Mississippi Valley State. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin holds up in the Big Ten when it faces ranked schools, as both of its losses came at the hands of top-25 teams (North Carolina and Marquette). Jared Berggren is the team’s leading scorer at 12.5 points per game. Nebraska (8-3) has overcome subpar scoring and rebounding for a good non-league performance, although the Cornhuskers barely beat Central Michigan 72-69 in their last game. Bo Spencer and Brandon Richardson each scored 15 points in the win. Nebraska’s losses are to Oregon, Wake Forest and Creighton.
No. 13 GEORGETOWN at No. 2 LOUISVILLE (7 p.m. Wednesday at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky)
There is never a dull moment in Big East play and there won’t be for these schools, which tip off the league slate with a big matchup in Louisville. The Hoyas (10-1) have solid scoring and shooting at 76.9 points per game and a 48.7 mark, respectively, and that has led to some big wins in the non-league slate. Georgetown’s lone loss was against Kentucky, 67-63, on Nov. 21. Since then the team has won eight in a row, with Jason Clark’s 18 points and five boards keying a 70-59 win over Memphis in the last victory. Louisville (12-0) is one of the nation’s top teams overall, but its rebounding (41.2, ninth in the nation) is especially strong. The Cardinals have only one win against a ranked school (Vanderbilt), but they want a victory here with Kentucky just around the corner on Saturday. Gorgui Dieng recorded his fifth straight double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds in a 70-60 win over Western Kentucky.
VILLANOVA at WEST VIRGINIA (7 p.m. Wednesday at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia)
Another solid Big East matchup can be found in Morgantown as Villanova travels to take on the Mountaineers. Villanova (7-5) has 40 rebounds per game, just outside of the top 20, but it is lackluster in other categories. The Wildcats have dropped three of their last five games against Missouri, Temple and St. Joseph’s, but the Cats topped American 73-52 in their last game. Maalik Wayns had 12 points off the bench for Villanova. West Virginia (9-3) averages 77.2 points a game and is just outside the top 40 in that category, but it is in the top 40 in rebounds, assists and shooting. West Virginia’s five-game winning streak ended at the hands of Baylor in an 83-81 overtime loss despite 28 points and 17 rebounds from Kevin Jones. West Virginia also lost to Kent State and Mississippi State.
No. 18 INDIANA at No. 17 MICHIGAN STATE (7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan)
One of the nation’s resurgent basketball programs continues its renaissance as Big Ten play opens up, but the Hoosiers might want to be careful with this game. Indiana (12-0) hasn’t lost yet this season with a seventh-best 84.8 scoring average and a fifth-best 51.4 shooting mark, but the next three games could bring Indiana back to earth a bit. Indiana won’t let this game be too much pressure because games against Ohio State and Michigan are up after this one. The Hoosiers’ Christian Watford scored 22 points in an 89-47 win over Maryland-Baltimore County last week. As for Michigan State (11-2), the Spartans have overcome back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Duke and racked up 11 wins in a row, the latest coming in a 90-81 victory over Lehigh. The Spartans have the sixth-best rebounding mark in the country at 41.9 per game. Draymond Green picked up his seventh double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds against Lehigh.
No. 15 MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 8 BAYLOR (9 p.m. Wednesday at American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas)
One of the Southeast Conference’s top teams meets up with a top Big 12 school in The Dallas Showcase. Since Baylor’s home base is Waco, this isn’t exactly a home game for Baylor, but Texas is mad about its basketball so the Dallas fans will embrace Baylor. Mississippi State (12-1) has been unstoppable since a 68-58 loss to Akron on Nov. 9, including back-to-back wins over Texas A&M and Arizona. The Bulldogs coasted to an 82-67 win over Northwestern State behind 24 points and 14 points by Arnett Moultrie. Baylor (12-0) has the nation’s eighth-best shooting percentage (50.2) and is in the top 40 in all other offensive categories. That has helped generate big wins, although Baylor’s unbeaten string nearly fell when it had a heck of a time downing West Virginia. Eventually Pierre Jackson’s eight-point run in regulation and overtime lifted Baylor to an 83-81 victory.
NEW MEXICO at NEW MEXICO STATE (9 p.m. Wednesday at Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico)
The schools may be in different conferences, but if you live in a state with two competing universities, you know what it’s like to have bragging rights when your team wins. It is a rematch and for New Mexico, a chance to even the score. Both teams are having solid seasons, especially New Mexico (10-2). The Lobos, out of the Mountain West, have a 30th-best 39.3 rebounds per game and a 15th-best 17.2 assists. However, one of its two losses came earlier this year at the hands of New Mexico State, 62-53. The Lobos shot 28 percent during that game and 36.8 percent from behind the 3-point line as the Aggies ended a seven-game losing streak to New Mexico. The Lobos beat Missouri-Kansas City 87-62 as Jamal Fenton had 16 points and eight assists. The Aggies (8-4), paced by Wendell McKines’ 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, have won three in a row after a three-game losing streak.
No. 9 FLORIDA at RUTGERS (7 p.m. Thursday at Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, New Jersey)
Although conference play opens up for most schools this week, there are still some non-league matchups worth mentioning. Florida (10-2), one of the top teams in the SEC, have the sixth-best scoring average in the nation at 85.8 points per game, and the team is also in the top 20 in rebounds and assists. Its losses, against Ohio State and Syracuse, were by a combined 12 points. Florida won the state bragging rights game over Florida State, 82-64, behind Bradley Beal’s 21 points. Rutgers (7-5) has won three in a row following two losses to LSU and Princeton. The Scarlet Knights topped Stony Brook and NJIT in their last two games, and freshman Myles Mack was key in the NJIT game with 16 points.
PENN STATE at No. 16 MICHIGAN (7:30 p.m. Thursday at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Another potentially solid Big Ten matchup opens conference play Thursday when the Nittany Lions travel to face Michigan. Penn State (8-5) has gotten off to a strong start despite lackluster scoring and shooting statistics; it has 37.5 rebounds per game, but that’s only good for 84th in the nation. The Lions lost three in a row to Ole Miss, Lafayette and Duquesne before getting back on the right track; in a 74-67 win over Cornell, Tim Frazier scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Michigan (10-2) has won five in a row following a loss to Virginia, including recent victories over Alabama A&M and Bradley. In a 77-66 win over Bradley, Evan Smotrycz led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
VANDERBILT at No. 14 MARQUETTE (9 p.m. Thursday at Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Another top SEC-Big East crossover game takes place as the Commodores visit Milwaukee to face Marquette. Vanderbilt (8-4) picked up 27 points from John Jenkins in an 89-58 win over Lafayette, and that high score helped keep Vanderbilt’s 76.8 point scoring average up. Two of Vanderbilt’s four losses came in overtime against Xavier and Louisville, but the team has won two in a row and is on a slight roll. Junior Cadougan’s 15 points enabled Marquette (11-1) to top Milwaukee 64-50 in a battle of two city schools, and it was a perfect rebound game for the Golden Eagles. They started out with 10 wins in a row before a 67-59 loss to LSU. This will be a strong test for both schools before they enter conference play and take on other tough programs.
OKLAHOMA at CINCINNATI (9 p.m. Thursday at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio)
Big 12 faces Big East in a strong non-conference matchup before the New Year’s weekend. Oklahoma (9-1) comes into this game averaging 42.2 rebounds and 78.7 points per game, good for a respective fifth and 30th in Division I. The Sooners are on a five-game winning streak following a loss to Saint Louis, including an impressive 83-48 win over South Carolina State. Steven Pledger led the way with 22 points and five rebounds as Oklahoma overcame a weak 28.6 percent from 3-point range in the victory. Cincinnati (9-3) has recovered from its loss and subsequent brawl against crosstown Xavier, and the Bearcats have a four-game winning streak. Sean Kilpatrick led the way with 21 points in a 95-60 win over Chicago State.
BRIGHAM YOUNG at SAINT MARY’S (11 p.m. Thursday at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, California)
There’s nothing like a game between two of the top teams in the West Coast Conference to kick off league play, correct? Brigham Young (10-3), which also had a game against Cal State-San Marcos on Tuesday, took a two-game winning streak into this week following wins over Buffalo and UC-Santa Barbara. Matt Carlino had 22 points and six assists against UCSB in this game. The Gaels (11-2) average 16 assists per game, good for 17th in the nation, and they got back into the win column with a 77-61 win over Missouri State behind 17 points and eight points from Matthew Dellavadova. Saint Mary’s losses came against Denver and Baylor.