College hoops fans will get an early Christmas present on Saturday when they're treated to a loaded slate of games, highlighted by top 15 showdowns between Ohio State and Kansas and Missouri and Illinois.
College basketball fans have waited patiently over the past two weeks as major coach after major coach has used "finals" and "the holidays" as excuses for his team's time away from the court or the absence of quality opponents.
That patience pays off today.
Seventeen games on Saturday will feature top 25 teams, including showdowns between No. 7 Ohio State and No. 9 Kansas, and the Braggin' Rights game between No. 10 Illinois and No. 12 Missouri.
There's never been a better excuse to be less active on the Saturday before Christmas.
Here's your full guide to it all:
No. 3 Syracuse vs. Temple (Noon/ESPN2)
Syracuse pays its first visit of the season to its home away from home, Madison Square Garden, in order to take part in the fantastically-named Gotham Classic. I'm not hoping that Bane sings the national anthem, I'm expecting Bane to sing the national anthem. Anything less and the entire Saturday will be ruined before it even gets started. Also, few teams in college basketball need a giant win more than Temple. The Owls were rolled by Duke on national television two weeks ago and are coming off an extremely embarrassing loss to Canisius.
McNeese State at No. 23 North Carolina (Noon/ESPNU)
The "will they even make the tournament" rumblings are starting to pop up across America after the Tar Heels' 85-67 loss to Texas earlier this week. UNC will look to break out of its shooting slump (27.1 percent from three over its past two games) against a veteran McNeese State team that has won five straight. This is Carolina's final game against what should be an overmatched opponent, as they host No. 21 UNLV in a week before beginning ACC play.
Murray State at Dayton (Noon/CBS Sports Network)
Murray State puts its 16-game road winning streak on the line as it heads to UD Arena for a nooner with the Flyers. Dayton only lost one non-conference home game from 2007-11, but they dropped two last year (Buffalo and Seton Hall) and two already this season (Weber State and Illinois State). Isaiah Canaan against Kevin Dillard (assuming his back spasms don't keep him off the court) will be one of the better guard matchups you'll see this month.
American at Georgetown (Noon/MASN/CSS)
Thirty years ago, American upset a Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown team that was coming off of a national championship. It's hard to envision history repeating itself on Saturday, but the Hoyas have had a tendency to let less talented teams hang around for far longer than they should. It would be nice to see them find the gas pedal in their final tune-up before Big East play. Unless you don't like Georgetown, in which case it would be nice to see them keep pumping the brakes in their final tune-up before Big East play.
Coppin State at Iowa (1 p.m./Big Ten Network)
Remember that one time Coppin State was a 15 seed and upset South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, well if you were thinking about watching this game, go ahead and watch that game instead. And if you can't find a complete replay of the game online, your time still will have been put to better use searching for it than it would have been watching Iowa/Coppin State on the Big Ten Network.
Tennessee Tech at No. 24 Oklahoma State (1 p.m./Fox Sports Southwest)
Tennessee Tech has dropped five of eight and just lost to Auburn by 19. Seriously, start Binging that South Carolina/Coppin State game. Little known fact: Danny Singletary, the Coppin State guard who dropped a game-high 22 points in the upset, actually signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks the next year and played six years of professional baseball. Unless your Marcus Smart crush is at an especially heightened state this afternoon, you can probably skip this one too.
Texas at No. 20 Michigan State (2 p.m./ESPN2)
In three short days Texas has notched its biggest win of the season (the 18-point thumping of North Carolina), found out that star Myck Kabongo is suspended for the season, and then found out that Kabongo's suspension has been reduced to the seemingly arbitrary number of 23 games. So they...have momentum heading into this game? I can't really figure it out.
LSU at Marquette (2 p.m./ESPNU)
The Golden Eagles suddenly find themselves looking for answers after an embarrassing 49-47 loss to Green Bay in which they could muster just 16 second half points. They're hoping that one of those answers will come in the form of the return of Todd Mayo, who has been reinstated by the NCAA (academics) and will suit up for the first time this season on Saturday. Mayo, the younger brother of NBA star O.J. Mayo, has shown flashes of brilliance during his time at Marquette, but was also sent home at one point this past summer because he needed to "think about whether he wanted to be part of the team."
Florida State vs. Charlotte (2 p.m./CBS Sports Network)
Charlotte won its first nine games and was one of the most pleasant surprises in college basketball before they were dealt a 77-46 beatdown by Miami two weeks ago. They're now 11-1 and looking for redemption in their second shot at an ACC opponent. The Seminoles, conversely, have been one of the country's biggest disappointments. Star guard Michael Snaer will return to the court after sitting out FSU's last game because of a "disciplinary issue."
Wofford at Xavier (2 p.m./Fox Sports Ohio)
Xavier, your opponent, WOFFORD. No, but seriously, the Musketeers should win.
Arizona State at Texas Tech (2 p.m./Fox Sports West)
Both teams like to get up and down the floor, Arizona State is just a lot better at it. Sun Devil point guard Jahii Carson (17.9 ppg) is quietly having one of the best freshman seasons in the country.
UMBC at DePaul (2 p.m./MASN)
Don't look now, but the oft-clowned upon Blue Demons have won six straight. If they take care of business today and a week from now against Loyola (IL), they'll be riding an eight-game winning streak into Big East play. Cleveland Melvin (17.4 ppg/8.0 rpg) has fallen back out of love with the outside shot and has returned to terrorizing opponents in the paint.
George Mason vs. Richmond (3 p.m./NBC Sports Network)
Virginia has followed in Indiana's footsteps with the first annual "Governor's Classic," a double-header at the Richmond Coliseum that will feature the state's four best teams. The Spiders have never lost to George Mason (5-0) inside the Coliseum.
Loyola Marymount at Saint Louis (3:30 p.m./Fox Sports Midwest)
Kwamaine Mitchell is still out with a foot injury, which means we'll be robbed of a showdown between he and LMU star Anthony Ireland. The Lions stunned then-No. 25 SLU a year ago in Los Angeles.
No. 9 Kansas at No. 7 Ohio State (4 p.m./CBS)
Saturday's main event is a rematch from last year's Final 4 in which Kansas defeated Ohio State for the second time that season to move on to the national championship game. So that means whichever team wins this game will beat the other in a national semifinal and then have a shot at cutting down the nets in Atlanta. I was never very good at theories or probabilities.
The actual storylines are abundant here. Kansas has perhaps the country's top shot-blocker in Jeff Withey, while the Buckeyes counter with maybe the nation's best on-ball defender in Aaron Craft. DeShaun Thomas has lived up to his preseason All-American status, while Ben McClemore appears to be on the precipice of stardom. Also, Bill Self and Thad Matta are a pair of pretty good coaches.
You should be watching this.
Marshall at Kentucky (4 p.m./ESPN2)
This looked like one of those diamond in the rough non-conference games before the year started, but Kentucky has already lost more games than it did all of last season, and Marshall has gone from at-large hopeful to 7-5 underachiever. It's hard to see the Thundering Herd having a shot to spring the upset without DeAndre Kane (15.0 ppg/8.0 apg), who will likely miss his third straight game because of a hand injury.
Ole Miss vs. Indiana State (4 p.m./ESPNU)
The first game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu is...well it isn't that great, but this should still be a pretty solid Christmas-week tournament to watch over the next three days.
Southern at Texas A&M (4 p.m./Fox Sports West)
Johnny Manziel was going to make an appearance, but then he bought courtside seats for the Bulls/Hawks game. Probably a sexier option.
Wright State at No. 11 Cincinnati (4 p.m./Fox Sports Ohio)
Wright State has played and lost to Cincinnati eight times, and only one of those defeats has come by les than 18 points. This is not a great Raider team, but they're going to keep this game close. I called Butler over IU last week, and this week I'm calling...Wright State to keep things close with Cincinnati. Can't go big all the time or you'll wind up broke...or really rich, I guess. That should be in a high school yearbook.
Virginia vs. Old Dominion (5:30 p.m./NBC Sports Network)
The second game of the Governor's Classic features Virginia against an Old Dominion team that is just 1-10. It's a bit shocking to see that record attached to a program that had been in the midst of such a solid period of sustained success.
No. 12 Missouri at No. 10 Illinois (6 p.m./ESPN2)
The co-showcase game of the day is a Braggin' Rights battle that has more cachet than anyone would have predicted before the season. The Fighting Illini are one of eight unbeatens remaining in America, while Missouri's only loss came at the hands of No. 5 Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Both teams are still getting the suspicious eye from the bulk of the country, but the victor on Saturday will undoubtedly do a lot to quell the concerns of casual onlookers.
Illinois guard Brandon Paul has emerged as one of the trendy early favorites for national Player of the Year, but he hasn't seen pressure like Missouri's or gone up against on-ball defenders like Phil Pressey or Auburn transfer Earnest Ross. I'm also interested to see how much Frank Haith utilizes Jabari Brown. The former five-star recruit became eligible earlier this week and scored 12 points in 20 minutes against South Carolina State in his debut. He'll be thrust into a larger role for Mizzou this season thanks in large part to the dismissal of Michael Dixon.
No. 18 San Diego State vs. San Francisco (6 p.m./ESPNU)
The second game of the Diamond Head Classic features a San Francisco team that just a couple of weeks ago looked good enough to spoil the dream final of San Diego State/Arizona here. The Dons have dropped three straight since an 81-65 win over St. John's, including a 10-point loss to Holy Cross on their home floor earlier this week.
Lafayette at No. 13 Minnesota (7 p.m./Big Ten Network)
The Gophers shouldn't have much trouble handling business here, and will head into Big Ten play with just one loss for the second time in the Tubby Smith era.
No. 8 Florida vs. Kansas State (8 p.m./ESPN2)
K-State will be playing its annual game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City against a Florida team that's still stinging from its final minute collapse against Arizona a week ago. The Wildcats are 8-2 but have looked totally overmatched in their two games against ranked opponents, a 71-57 loss to Michigan and a 68-50 drubbing at the hands of Gonzaga. The primary concern for Billy Donovan and Florida is getting star guard Kenny Boynton out of his current funk. The school's all-time leading scorer has been ice cold in December, going 9-for-40 from the field and just 3-for-27 from three-point range.
Davidson at Drexel (8 p.m./NBC Sports Network)
The preseason favorites in the CAA, Drexel has been one of the biggest disappointments in mid-major basketball this season. The Dragons are a shockingly bad 3-7 and have scored 70 or more points just once.
No. 5 Louisville vs. Western Kentucky (8:30 p.m./ESPNU)
The two in-state foes will resume their friendly rivalry at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Western Kentucky is riddled with injuries and turned the ball over 32 times in a 32-point loss to VCU earlier this week. That wouldn't seem to bode well against a Louisville team that is No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rankings, but the Hilltoppers always seem to find a way to play the Cards tough.
Milwaukee at Wisconsin (9:15 p.m./Big Ten Network)
The Panthers have lost eight of their last nine, and only one of those defeats came in single digit form. Also, 9:15? Really, BTN? The next time you're feeling this desperate for attention just go the loud muffler route like the rest of the 16-year-olds.
No. 4 Arizona vs. East Tennessee State (10:30 p.m./ESPNU)
The Wildcats should have little trouble in their Diamond Head Classic opener against the 2-7 Buccaneers. Tim Smith is not walking through that door.
Miami vs. Hawaii (12:30 a.m./ESPNU)
Miami has been getting a lot of "second best team in the ACC" love in the days since North Carolina's loss to Texas. This tournament is as much of a chance as they could hope for to justify those assertions before the start of conference play.