For those a little late to the party: Welcome to basketball season.
College football is over, and conference play has started. For the casual fan, this is when the basketball lightbulb goes on.
This weekend won’t have a true headline game, though. Those occurred Tuesday when Ohio State visited Michigan State and Baylor visited Iowa State.
We’re still watching the Buckeyes, even if their loss in overtime to the Spartans knocked them from the ranks of the undefeated. Ohio State will face Iowa, home of the other major storyline in the Big Ten. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s bout with the referees brought on a one-game suspension and may have cost his Hawkeyes a signature win in Madison. They’ll try to regroup against Ohio State.
Beyond that, here’s all you need to know for the weekend ahead.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 11-12
Game of the Week:
Iowa at Ohio State (Sunday, CBS, 1:30 p.m.)
Ohio State just missed another miracle comeback Tuesday against Michigan State. The same team that overcame an eight-point deficit in the final minute to beat Notre Dame outscored the Spartans 20-3 down the stretch to force overtime. Ohio State suffered its first loss of the season, but somehow no lead is safe even against a team without the most scoring punch in the country. Against the Spartans, the Buckeyes forced overtime on hustle, mainly in the form of Aaron Craft. Iowa will have Fran McCaffery back from his one-game suspension as the Hawkeyes still have to prove they’re a top-tier Big Ten team. Iowa’s three losses have come by thin margins against the three best teams on their schedule — Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin.
North Carolina at Syracuse (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Adding an 0-2 start in the ACC to bizarre non-conference losses, North Carolina is putting together a puzzling NCAA Tournament resume. Given the up-and-down results, undefeated Syracuse has every reason to be concerned. North Carolina, though, will have to shoot better than 35 percent from the floor as the Heels did against Miami and Wake Forest.
Best Coaching Matchup:
SMU at Louisville (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Rick Pitino vs. Larry Brown, not a bad matchup early in the existence of the American Athletic Conference. Louisville, though, needs a win more than the coaching storyline. The Cardinals finally got production from Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, but it didn't matter as Louisville shot 39.1 percent from the floor in a Thursday home loss to Memphis. After defeating Connecticut on Saturday, SMU may be in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but this is the Mustangs’ only chance for a big statement until a Feb. 1 game against Memphis.
Team in Trouble:
Xavier at Creighton (Sunday, 3 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The worst was avoided for Creighton after potential player of the year Doug McDermott and guard Grant Gibbs sustained injuries against DePaul, but neither will be available against Xavier. McDermott has a shoulder sprain and Gibbs is out with 4-6 weeks with a dislocated kneecap. Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat will need to carry the load for a bit.
Tricky Road Trip:
Duke at Clemson (Saturday, 2 p.m., ACC syndication)
Duke came back from its loss to Notre Dame to pound Georgia Tech 79-57. Freshman Jabari Parker still only played 21 minutes after being benched late for defensive lapses against the Irish. Meanwhile, Clemson is quietly one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking seventh in defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.
Under the Radar Game to Watch:
Saint Louis at Dayton (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN2)
In Saint Louis’ two losses, the Billikens gave Wisconsin and Wichita State fits. Opponents have been able to shut down Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett, but Saint Louis has been a stout defensive team for the second consecutive year. With an 83-80 win over Ole Miss on the road last week, Dayton is showing signs that its performance in the Maui Invitational was no fluke.
Others to watch:
Kansas State at Kansas (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Wildcats have defeated Gonzaga, George Washington and Oklahoma State since Dec. 21. KU’s freshmen have all the NBA upside, but Kansas State’s rookies aren’t so bad, either. Marcus Foster leads the Wildcats in scoring, and point guard Jevon Thomas is working his way into the rotation after becoming eligible.
Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall, is working his way into the national player of the year conversation after an outstanding performance in a win over a top-10 Baylor team on Tuesday. Oklahoma has lost two of its last three, including home games against Louisiana Tech in overtime and Kansas. Still, Oklahoma may be good enough to give Iowa State trouble in Norman in an off game.
Florida at Arkansas (Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN2)
The enthusiasm for Arkansas’ season probably dimmed a bit after the Razorbacks’ ongoing road problems resurfaced in a 69-53 loss at Texas A&M. The Hogs were a different team in Fayetteville last season, and now they face Florida and Kentucky in back-to-back road games. Freshman Bobby Portis and sophomore Michael Qualls have been two of the league’s surprise players this season.
Villanova at St. John’s (Saturday, 1 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Villanova has been one of the season’s surprises, and St. John’s has been one of the season’s disappointments. The talented Red Storm lost big on the road to Xavier and Georgetown last week and will have to hope a return to Madison Square Garden against Villanova and a light schedule thereafter turns the tide.
Minnesota at Michigan State (Saturday, 2:15 Big Ten Network)
Minnesota is one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten this season behind veteran guards Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (no relation). Michigan State played a poor half against Penn State on Tuesday, came back to win by 26 and pound Indiana on Saturday and then nearly coughed up a 17-point lead at home against Ohio State. This may be one of the great coaching mismatches in college basketball this season with the 31-year-old Richard Pitino up against Tom Izzo.
Virginia at NC State (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2)
No game is a must-win in early January, but this is a key game for both teams in the ACC. Virginia seems to have the same problem that landed the Cavaliers in the NIT a year ago by losing in ways they shouldn’t — on the road to Green Bay, in a blowout to Tennessee. NC State has surprised behind high-scoring sophomore T.J. Warren, but the Wolfpack need to change course after recent home losses to Missouri and Pittsburgh.
Maryland at Florida State (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Point guard Seth Allen’s return from a broken left foot has given Maryland’s offense a shot in the arm at times, but Allen is still working his way into becoming a full-time player. Florida State has one of the best defensive teams in the country, but the Seminoles haven’t shown the consistency in the offensive side of the court to be true ACC contenders.
Arizona State at UCLA (Sunday, 10 p.m., ESPNU)
Arizona State star point guard Jahii Carson has seen his numbers dip in recent games, but backcourt mate Jermaine Marshall has proven capable of carrying the scoring load. UCLA nearly handed Arizona its first loss of the season with a second-half rally before coming up short in a 79-75 loss.
For those a little late to the party: Welcome to basketball season.