Men's Basketball Games of the Weekend 12/30 - 1/1

Pittsburgh at Notre Dame game action

Men’s basketball Games of the Weekend 12/30 – 1/1


The 2011 portion of the current basketball season comes to an end this weekend when the calendar turns to 2012. Unlike last weekend, when Christmas meant a shortage of strong basketball games, there is no such shortage on the horizon this weekend. The Big Ten and Big East have a few solid games, but a couple of the mid and high-major conferences feature early-season showdowns. 


GEORGE MASON AT CHARLESTON (7 p.m. Friday at TD Bank Arena in Charleston, South Carolina)

A high-major showdown to watch takes place down south when George Mason visits the College of Charleston. George Mason (8-4), which won its only Colonial Athletic Association game so far, is just inside the top 50 with a 47.4 percent shooting mark. The Patriots have gone 2-2 over their last four games, with losses to Virginia and Duquesne and wins over Radford and Manhattan. Ryan Pearson scored 25 points and Mike Morrison grabbed 11 rebounds in George Mason’s 81-61 win over Manhattan. Charleston (10-2), one of three teams currently in first place in the Southern Conference’s South Division (along with Georgia Southern and Davidson), has lost to Central Florida by 11 points and Louisville by seven. Andrew Lawrence, who had 18 points and seven assists in a 77-70 win over Coastal Carolina, is Charleston’s top threat.


No. 21 MURRAY STATE AT EASTERN ILLINOIS (8 p.m. Friday at Lantz Arena in Charleston, Illinois)

With Indiana and Louisville tasting defeat for the first time this week, there are only four unbeaten teams left in Division I college basketball. Three – Syracuse, Baylor and Missouri – are top schools, and the fourth is a high-major program out of the Ohio Valley Conference.  Murray State (13-0) has ridden a 48.5 shooting mark, good for 27th in the country, to an unbeaten season that has included wins over San Francisco, Dayton and Memphis, to name just a few. Donte Poole scored 15 points in Murray State’s last victory, a 78-54 win over Tennessee-Martin. Eastern Illinois (6-5) plays its first OVC game of the season on Friday, and the Panthers have had some difficulties this season despite a 26th-best 16.1 assists per game. Despite 20 points and seven rebounds from Alfonzo McKinnie, Eastern Illinois lost its last game when it fell 64-60 to Maine. Eastern Illinois has also lost to Western Illinois, Northwestern, Central Arkansas and Indiana State.


OAKLAND AT SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (8 p.m. Friday at Frost Arena in Brookings, South Dakota)

It’s still fairly early in the season, but a key Summit League matchup is on tap Friday in South Dakota when Oakland’s Golden Grizzlies come to campus. Oakland has an 8-7 overall record and 2-1 mark in Summit play, and this includes losses to ranked schools like Alabama and Michigan. Oakland can make some noise in the league if it can knock off SDSU and then beat Oral Roberts on Jan. 3. Until then, Oakland is on a three-game losing streak that includes losses to Arizona, Western Michigan and North Dakota State. Reggie Hamilton had 24 points and three assists in the NDSU loss. The Jackrabbits (11-4, 3-0) are vulnerable, as evidenced by a 97-93 win over IUPUI in a game that shouldn’t have gone to overtime. IUPUI now has a 6-8 overall record. Minnesota, Georgia, Nebraska and North Dakota have beaten South Dakota State, which averages 79.3 points a game thanks in part to scorers like Chad White.


WEST VIRGINIA AT SETON HALL (9 p.m. Friday at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey)

The Big East is already off and running and Seton Hall hopes to avoid an 0-2 start in league play by beating visiting West Virginia. The Mountaineers (10-3, 1-0) are coming off a spectacular 34-point effort by Darryl Bryant that helped secure an 83-69 win over Villanova in the league opener. It also got West Virginia back in the win column following a bitter 83-81 loss to Baylor. The Mountaineers are in the top 50 in all major offensive categories, including a 29th-best 16 assists per game. Seton Hall (10-2, 0-1) has a shooting percentage of 46.2, good for 78th in the country, and the Pirates aren’t as dominant as West Virginia in some areas. Still, Seton Hall has only lost to Northwestern and Syracuse, the latter loss coming in a 75-49 setback on Dec. 28 despite Jordan Theodore’s 14 points. There are no gimme games in the Big East and the one following this one, Connecticut, is no exception.


No. 2 LOUISVILLE AT No. 5 KENTUCKY (12 p.m. Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky)

On the heels of Louisville’s first loss of the season comes the annual challenge for bragging rights in the state of Kentucky. The Cardinals picked up 17 points from Kyle Kuric in a 71-68 loss to Georgetown, a loss that spoiled Louisville’s unbeaten record. Still, Louisville is 12-1 this season and the roof is by no means caving in. Louisville’s 40.5 rebounds per game could be a key against Kentucky’s big freshman players. A word of note: Louisville seems to struggle against other ranked teams, as evidenced by its overtime win against Vanderbilt, 62-60, earlier this season. Kentucky is also 12-1 entering this game, having picked up 18 points and four assists from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in an 86-64 win over Lamar. This game should be quite entertaining, regardless of the outcome.


PROVIDENCE AT No. 13 GEORGETOWN (2 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Center in Washington D.C.)

Another huge early Big East contest takes place in the nation’s capital over the weekend. Providence (11-3, 0-1) doesn’t get much talk in conference circles despite its good record and a strong 39.3 rebounds per game (good for 36th in the country). The Friars dropped their Big East opener to St. John’s, 91-67, as their seven-game winning streak came to an end. Gerard Coleman scored 20 points in the loss. Providence can’t treat this game lightly, not with this game and a contest against Syracuse following it up. Georgetown (11-1, 1-0) has a 48.7 shooting mark, good for 22nd in the country, and the Hoyas also rank in the top 50 in points per game. When it comes to ranked teams Georgetown has beaten Memphis, Alabama and Louisville, and Markel Starks accounted for 20 points in the Hoyas’ win over Louisville. Georgetown is on a roll, but the Big East is tough.


ILLINOIS AT PURDUE (4 p.m. Saturday at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana)

Six teams sport 1-0 records in Big Ten play, and these teams are among those successful in conference openers this week. One team will move to 2-0 following this game and further entrench itself in the Big Ten race. The Fighting Illini (12-2, 1-0) lost twice to UNLV and Missouri in the past two weeks, and they needed double overtime for an 81-72 win over Minnesota as Brandon Paul scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds. Illinois is not in the top 100 in any of the offensive categories, so that could pose trouble as it goes up against stronger schools. Purdue (11-3, 1-0) had a more difficult time against Iowa as it won 79-76 behind 16 points and 11 rebounds by Robbie Hummel. The Boilermakers have lost to Alabama, Xavier and Butler, but they have a two-game winning streak.


No. 4 OHIO STATE AT No. 18 INDIANA (6 p.m. Saturday at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana)

Even though Indiana struggled at times in its Big Ten opener against Michigan State, the Hoosiers still showed signs of a team that isn’t going away any time soon. In short, it’s not exactly Bobby Knight’s best team, but Indiana coach Tom Crean has done a great job bringing Indiana back into the national spotlight. Ohio State (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) will provide a huge test for the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes began Big Ten play with a resounding 87-54 win over Northwestern, keyed by 28 points and nine rebounds by William Buford. Jared Sullinger also added 17 points and 14 boards. Indiana’s Christian Watford scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Indiana’s 80-65 loss to the Spartans. Indiana has a sixth-best 50.5 shooting mark and an eighth-best 83.3 points per game.


No. 20 CREIGHTON AT WICHITA STATE (6 p.m. Saturday at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas)

The Bluejays are off to a strong start in the early part of the season, and that start usually carries over well into Missouri Valley Conference play. Creighton (10-2, 0-1) is in the top 10 in three categories, and it leads the nation in assists per game (20.6). It is also fifth in shooting percentage (50.6) and sixth in points per game (84.3). Despite 19 points and 12 rebounds by Doug McDermott, Creighton still lost its MVC opener 77-65 to Missouri State, breaking a modest three-game winning streak. Wichita State (10-2, 1-0) got 14 points and 10 rebounds from Garrett Stutz in a 90-51 win over Bradley to open up MVC play. Wichita State is 13th in rebounds (40.6 per game) and 14th in scoring (80.3), and it has a eight-game winning streak coming into this game. The Shockers lost back-to-back contests against Alabama and Temple back in November but have been strong ever since.


GONZAGA AT XAVIER (8 p.m. Saturday at Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio)

Two teams very familiar to NCAA tournament action play on the last day of the year. Gonzaga (10-2) dropped back-to-back games to Big Ten opponents when it lost to Illinois and Michigan State, but the Bulldogs have won five in a row since then, including a 90-51 win over Portland behind 19 points from Kevin Pangos. Xavier (9-3) picked up 21 points and seven assists from Tu Holloway in an 87-77 win over Southern Illinois. The win broke a three-game losing streak to Oral Roberts, Long Beach State and Hawaii, but that likely stemmed from suspensions and distractions after the brawl against crosstown Cincinnati. Whoever wins this game might get a small RPI boost that could pay off at tournament time.


CINCINNATI AT No. 22 PITTSBURGH (7 p.m. Sunday at Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

After a day of NFL action, what better way to unwind than a nice college basketball game between two football-crazy cities? Cincinnati (10-3) has not had its first Big East game yet, and it nearly coughed up another game when it fell 56-55 to Oklahoma. Dion Dixon had 18 points in the narrow victory. Cincinnati is riding a five-game winning streak entering this contest. Pittsburgh (11-3, 0-1) had 13 points and 12 rebounds from Talib Zanna but dropped its Big East opener 72-59 to Notre Dame. The Panthers also lost to Long Beach State and Wagner.