Men's Basketball Games of the Week 12/19 - 12/22

UNLV at Illinois Game Action

Men’s Basketball Games of the Week 12/19 – 12/22


If it seems like this early-week schedule is a little busier than usual, that’s because it is. With teams not playing over the Christmas weekend (the last games are Friday and the schedule doesn’t resume until Tuesday), some teams are racing to get their games in before the holidays hit. Some teams are playing away from home – far away from home, like Hawaii or Mexico – as a Christmas vacation road trip, but most teams are in the Lower 48 states.


TENNESSEE TECH AT WEST VIRGINIA (7 p.m. Monday at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia)

The smaller Ohio Valley Conference sends one of its better teams up against the Big East in a Monday-night contest. Tennessee Tech (6-4) is off to a decent start despite a weak rebounding attack (33.0 per game); its strengths are a 46.7 shooting percentage and 73.7 points per game. Kevin Murphy leads the way at 21 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for the Golden Eagles, whose current three-game win streak includes victories over East Tennessee State, Lipscomb and Evansville. Tennessee Tech’s losses are against Miami, Appalachian State, Lamar and Duquesne. The Mountaineers (7-2) have top 40 stats that would make Casey Kasem happy; there are no top 10 stats, but West Virginia has a 19th-best 16.6 assist per game average. West Virginia has lost to Kent State and Mississippi State but has a three-game win streak of its own (Kansas State, Miami and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi).


No. 10 MARQUETTE AT LSU (9 p.m. Monday at Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

An early-season non-conference clash will rattle Louisiana on Monday as an undefeated Big East team goes up against one of the SEC’s stronger teams. Marquette (10-0) has a fourth-best 19.5 assists per game and an eighth-best 84.0 scoring average, not to mention 9.2 steals on defense. That’s also a top-50 statistic, enough to make Marquette a team to fear on both sides of the ball. Marquette has beaten Green Bay and Northern Colorado in recent games, and the Golden Eagles can’t take this team lightly with an in-city matchup against Horizon League foe Milwaukee coming up Thursday. Jae Crowder had 19 points and 11 rebounds in place of Darius Johnson-Odom, who was suspended due to unspecified team violations (he will be back for this game). LSU (7-3) has a 39.3 rebound per game average, good for 41st among Division I schools, and its losses have come against Coastal Carolina, Northwestern and South Alabama. Rutgers and Boise State are among the teams LSU has beaten in its current four-game winning streak, and LSU faces North Texas and Grambling State to close out 2011.


WYOMING AT DENVER (8 p.m. Monday at Magness Arena in Denver, Colorado)

Denver and Laramie are only two hours apart on a good driving day, but the schools play in different conferences and don’t always face the same quality opponents. They now have one quality opponent – each other. It has been a super start to the season for Wyoming (11-1), which has overcome weaker scoring and rebounding to post its best start since 1987. Only a 52-44 loss to Green Bay in the third game of the season separates Wyoming from a perfect record. The Cowboys have beaten Colorado, UC-Irvine and Sioux Falls in their last three games. Luke Martinez had 11 points and six rebounds as Wyoming beat Sioux Falls for its first nine-game win streak since 2002-03. Denver (8-2), based in the Sun Belt Conference, sports averages of 16.1 assists per game (30th) and 49.5 percent shooting (17th). That has helped the Pioneers to wins over Northern Colorado and Boise State in the last week. Denver, led by Brian Stafford’s 15.2 points per game, has lost to California and Iona.


DAVIDSON AT No. 6 KANSAS (9 p.m. Monday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri)

About three and a half years ago, Davidson nearly knocked off Kansas for the right to go to the Final Four. Times have changed for Davidson (6-3), which has a 51st-best 77.1 points per game but hasn’t had that level of success since March of 2008. Davidson is trying to break a two-game losing streak that includes defeats to Vanderbilt and Charlotte. J.P. Kuhlman had 13 points and seven rebounds in the loss to Charlotte. Kansas (7-2) lost to Kentucky and Duke earlier in the season but beat Ohio State to extend its current win streak to four games. Keep in mind Ohio State was without star Jared Sullinger for part of the game, so it is hard to tell how the Jayhawks may have fared against a Buckeye team at full strength. Kansas, which has a 29th-best 48.6 shooting percentage, heads into an easier stretch that includes games against Howard, USC and North Dakota following this contest. It is possible Kansas could begin Big 12 play with an 11-2 record and a hot early season.


CHARLESTON AT No. 2 LOUISVILLE (9 p.m. Tuesday at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky)

A Southern Conference team should have no business beating a Big East squad, right? The College of Charleston is no ordinary Southern school; it is a college with experience before in the NCAA tournament. That alone makes this game potentially interesting. Charleston (9-1) has a 47.0 percent shooting mark and 74.9 points per game, both of which are good for a top-third spot among Division I schools. The Cougars’ lone loss is to Central Florida, a future Big East program itself. Its current six-game win streak, dating back to Nov. 25, includes a 71-65 win over Tennessee, so Charleston does have experience beating larger programs. In a 70-68 squeaker over rival Charleston Southern, Antwaine Wiggins’ 18 points and 11 rebounds were big. Louisville (10-0) has 41.3 rebounds per game, 14th in the nation, but it was nine points away from an upset loss to Memphis in its last game (a 95-87 victory). Gorgui Dieng’s double-double of 14 points and 14 boards were key in this contest.


BUTLER AT GONZAGA (9 p.m. Tuesday at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington)

A team like Butler (5-6) might not be included in a heavy-duty matchup against an NCAA darling, but Butler proved on Saturday it’s still a force to reckon following its last-second 67-65 win over Purdue. The loss broke Butler’s three-game losing streak and prevented the Bulldogs from suffering the humiliation of losing to all the teams in the state (its losses are to Evansville, Louisville, Indiana, Valparaiso, Xavier and Ball State). Andrew Smith’s tip-in with one second to go was the difference in this game. Gonzaga (7-2) has wins over Oral Roberts and Arizona in the last five days, the latter win triggered partially by Elias Harris’ 25 points and eight rebounds. Butler could pull a shock if Gonzaga isn’t prepared, so keep an eye on this game and don’t be surprised if it’s featured as an upset on that night’s sports highlights.


TEXAS AT No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA (7 p.m. Wednesday at Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina)

Two top programs from the Big 12 and the ACC meet in what could be one of the showcase games of the week. The teams both have 9-2 records, and Texas averages 80.3 points per game (19th overall) and pulls down 39.5 rebounds (37th). Texas currently has a seven-game win streak following a pair of early season losses to Oregon State and North Carolina State. Texas is coming off a 77-65 win over Temple, led by 23 points from J’Covan Brown. The Tar Heels are in the top 10 in three categories, scoring (sixth, 85.3), rebounds (fourth, 42.5) and assists (third, 19.5). North Carolina has a three-game winning streak with victories over Evansville, Long Beach State and Appalachian State. The game with the Mountaineers, a 97-82 win, was surprisingly close, but Tyler Zeller’s 31 points and 10 rebounds helped North Carolina pull out the victory.


OKLAHOMA STATE AT ALABAMA (9 p.m. Wednesday at BJCC Arena in Tuscaloosa, Alabama)

Two teams that have had trouble winning as of late face off in Alabama Wednesday night. The Cowboys (6-4) have a pair of two-game losing streaks, one of which they are on right now. Oklahoma State has lost to Pittsburgh and New Mexico in the last week, but both losses were by 10 points or less. In the 66-56 loss to New Mexico, Jean-Paul Olukemi (16 points, five rebounds) was the only player to break out with a higher score. Oklahoma State has also had problems with dishing off the ball; its 10.5 assists per game rank near the bottom among Division I schools. Alabama (8-3) has dropped three of its last four games following an impressive start. This month the Crimson Tide lost to Georgetown and Dayton, beat Detroit and then dropped a 71-58 decision to Kansas State even though JaMychal Green had 20 points and nine rebounds. Alabama has games remaining against Jacksonville and Georgia Tech before launching into SEC action.


NORTHWESTERN AT No. 22 CREIGHTON (8:05 p.m. Thursday at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska)

The Big Ten and Missouri Valley Conferences meet up for a non-league game that showcases one of the hottest teams in the nation no one knows about. Creighton (8-1) leads the nation in assists per game (21.2), is fourth in scoring (86.3) and seventh in shooting percentage (50.8). With sharp marks like that, you might ask what team could possibly beat Creighton? The answer is St. Joseph’s, with an 80-71 defeat on Dec. 10. Its last game against Houston Baptist was a resounding 97-62 win, paced by 25 points from Doug McDermott and 18 points and 14 rebounds from Gregory Echenique. McDermott’s 24.1 points per game rank second in the nation among Division I scorers. Creighton faced Tulsa on Monday. Northwestern ranks 11th in the nation in assists per game (17.8) and is 10-1. After a loss to Baylor, the Wildcats have topped Texas Southern, Central Connecticut State and Eastern Illinois. John Shurna leads Northwestern at 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds.


ILLINOIS AT No. 12 MISSOURI (9 p.m. Thursday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri)

The home of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues hosts an interstate rivalry showdown between two top teams that could be the most entertaining showdown of the Christmas week. Illinois (10-1), which faces Cornell on Monday, comes into the game having just dropped its first contest against UNLV. In the 64-48 loss Mike Moser had 17 points and 11 rebounds but the Illini had trouble putting away a Runnin Rebels squad that has snagged top-25 teams for upset victories. This is the last game for Illinois before Big Ten play begins on New Year’s week. The reason Missouri (11-0) is off to such a hot start has to do with its scoring (87.9) and shooting percentage (52.6), which is good for second and third in the country, respectively. Granted, beating Navy, Kennesaw State and William and Mary in the last three games isn’t the hardest schedule, but the Tigers are doing something right and this is kind of a home game for Mizzou. Marcus Denmon (19.6 points, 5.3 rebounds) is the team’s leading player.