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College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 4-5

Sam Dekker

Sam Dekker

Finals are finished. The holiday break has ended. And conference play is beginning.

Time for college basketball to take center stage.

The first two Saturdays of January have had plenty of eventful games -- last week brought us a meeting between undefeated Villanova and Syracuse, plus Kentucky and Louisville.

This week may be just as interesting. A showdown between two Big Ten contenders is the headliner in the league but not the only key game in the league. Lawrence, Kan., will host an intriguing conference game, but it might not be the best Big 12 game in the state of Kansas.

Those aren’t the only games this week. Here are our picks of the top games you need to keep an eye on Saturday and Sunday.

College Basketball Viewer’s Guide: Jan. 4-5

Game of the Week:
Iowa at Wisconsin (Sunday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
An early matchup between Iowa and Wisconsin pairs two unlikely contenders for the Big Ten crown. Iowa has delivered — and more — on its promise to be one of this season’s teams on the rise, and Bo Ryan may have his best team in several years in Madison. Two intriguing storylines to watch: Iowa ranks 20th in the nation in possessions per game, and Wisconsin ranks 335th. Also, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff will make his debut in Madison after transferring within the conference but not without some consternation. Uthoff is averaging 10.9 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Hawkeyes.

Interesting Non-Conference Game:
San Diego State at Kansas (Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CBS)
Kansas has pulled out of a funk in which it lost three of four games to Villanova, Colorado and Florida. The Jayhawks have returned to Lawrence to pick up three quality home wins over New Mexico, Georgetown and Toledo. A game against Mountain West contender San Diego State will wrap up a brutal non-conference schedule. The key in the last three games for Kansas has been the Jayhawks’ ability to spread the wealth beyond just Andrew Wiggins. The Aztecs may be the toughest opponent in this four-game homestand, though. San Diego State’s only loss came in the second game of the season to Arizona.

Tricky Road Trip:
Michigan State at Indiana (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS)
Michigan State rallied to outscore Penn State 39-16 in the second half of a 79-63 win Tuesday and turn around for a second Big Ten road trip, not an easy task when that trip is to Bloomington. Indiana is coming off an 83-80 overtime heartbreaker at Illinois, but point guard Yogi Ferrell showed he may be ready to carry the Hoosiers through the Big Ten season with 30 points against the Illini.

Trending Teams:
Oklahoma State at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNU)
Oklahoma State will be without starting forward Michael Cobbins and backup point guard Stevie Clark in its conference opener. That hit on depth may hurt the Cowboys on the road against an Kansas State team that is starting to look like an NCAA contender. The Wildcats need freshman point guard Jevon Thomas (six assists, no turnovers in his debut vs. George Washington) to lift the offense in a major way.

Pressure Situation:
SMU at Connecticut (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU)
Opening American Athletic Conference play 0-for-Texas is not a good look. The Huskies already lost 75-71 to Houston this week and now face the better of the AAC’s Lone Star State team. Larry Brown has SMU in Tourney contention, but the Mustangs are also coming off a loss, to Cincinnati on Wednesday. UConn made our list of teams in the New Year that could be in trouble thanks to its its undersized lineup.

Game to Watch to Make you Feel Smart:
Oregon at Colorado (Sunday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Neither teams are traditional Pac-12 powers, and neither have the same fanfare of No. 1 Arizona. But the Pac-12 may be the strongest conference in the country this season, and Oregon and Colorado are major reasons why. Three transfers (Joseph Young from Houston, Mike Moser from UNLV and Jason Calliste from Detroit) lead Oregon in scoring while Colorado continues to thrive with the inside-out duo of Spencer Dinwiddie and Josh Scott. Get to know both teams before March.

Others of Note

Cincinnati at Memphis (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
Cincinnati has quietly won five in a row, including Pittsburgh and SMU. The Bearcats need a good showing on the road to be taken more seriously. 

Pittsburgh at NC State (Saturday, noon, ACC syndication)
T.J. Warren is a star (23.9 points, 7.8 rebounds), but we’re still not sure how serious a factor NC State is in the ACC race.

St. John’s at Georgetown (Saturday, 1 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
At 9-4 with a 10-point loss to Xavier on Tuesday, talented St. John’s is one of the nations big disappointments.

Butler at Xavier (Saturday, 2 p.m., Fox Sports Net)
Butler’s three losses have come by a combined seven points to Oklahoma State, LSU and Villanova. The Bulldogs and first-year coach Brandon Miller have our attention.

Duke at Notre Dame (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Notre Dame’s famed homecourt advantage has been anything but this season, and now the Irish are without Jerian Grant. A rough first ACC season may start Saturday.

Virginia at Florida State (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2)
Looking for the No. 3 team in the ACC after Syracuse and Duke? How about Florida State? The Seminoles are stout on defense again.

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