College hoops viewer's guide: Five top 25 battles highlight a huge Saturday

Andy Lyons

Gonzaga/Butler? Yep. Oregon/UCLA? I love it. Missouri/Florida? Fan-friggin-tastic. Ohio State/Michigan State? I would enjoy watching that. Louisville/Syracuse? Hell yes.

College Gameday is back, which means we're hitting the heart of the conference portion of the college basketball season. Need more evidence? We've got five games today featuring a pair of top 25 teams, including a top ten showdown between Louisville and Syracuse, and a top 15 battle between Butler and Gonzaga.

Follow me as we journey through the future of your Saturday.

VMI at Coastal Carolina (11 a.m./ESPNU)

If you're going to watch mid-major basketball before noon on a Saturday, it's probably best that VMI is involved.

Maryland at North Carolina (Noon/ESPN)

The two best rebounding teams in the ACC square off in a game that will have large ramifications for both the winner and the loser. Defending the post will be an issue for UNC, which rotates three players at the center position. None of them are as good as Maryland star Alex Len.

Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Noon/ESPN2)

Outside of the fact that UConn is ineligible for the postseason, these two teams are virtually identical. The X-factor this afternoon might be Husky captain Shabazz Napier, who has been dealing with an injured left shoulder all week. Napier has never missed a game in his college career.

St. John's at DePaul (Noon/SNY/MASN)

Thanks to playing one of the tougher schedules in the country, St. John's and its solid computer rankings actually have a better shot to make a run at the NCAA Tournament than you might think a 10-7 team would. To be a legitimate at-large threat, they can't lose to teams like DePaul.

Harvard at Memphis (12:30 p.m./Fox Sports)

The Crimson are finally starting to adjust to life without Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, winning five of their last six. The biggest reason why is Ivy League Player of the Year candidate Wesley Saunders, who has gone from averaging 3.3 ppg as a freshman to 16.4 this season. This is sort of an odd break in conference play, but it's a game Memphis can ill-afford to drop.

Nebraska at Penn State (1 p.m./ESPNU)

The Big Ten's battle for the bottom features the only two 0-5 teams in the league. I hope Tim Miles tweets during halftime.

St. Bonaventure at Temple (1 p.m./CBS Sports Network)

Temple rolls or I live blog every episode of "Washington Heights" from this point on.

Iowa State at TCU (1:30 p.m./YES/Altitude)

Iowa State is playing its best basketball of the season, and it's no coincidence that Korie Lucious can say the same thing. Lucious has scored in double digits in five consecutive games and has has dished out a combined 17 assists in the Cyclones' two conference wins.

Arkansas at Ole Miss (1:30 p.m./MSG/Fox Sports Southwest)

The more Ole Miss wins, the more Murphy Holloway (15.9 ppg/10.6 rpg) will be deservedly discussed as an SEC Player of the Year candidate.

No. 4 Kansas at Texas (2 p.m./CBS Regional)

Kansas isn't exactly the team you want to see next on the schedule when you're desperately seeking your first conference win. Still, the Jayhawks have failed to score 61 points in their last two games and the health of star Ben McLemore is a question mark. Don't be surprised if the Longhorns hang around for a little bit longer than you might expect.

West Virginia at Purdue (2 p.m./CBS Regional)

I pray that CBS isn't showing this game anywhere outside of Morgantown and West Lafayette.

No. 17 Missouri at No. 10 Florida (2 p.m./ESPN)

Now the fun starts. It'd be nice if Mizzou had leading scorer Laurence Bowers - he's out for the third straight game with an MCL sprain - but the absence of the big man might actually result in even more up-and-down action than we would have been privy to otherwise. You can't hate that if you're an objective viewer.

Also worth noting is that a win by Florida would be Billy Donovan's 400th with the program.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (2 p.m./ESPN2)

Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford dubbed the past six days "Commitment Week," as he urged his team to get back to the basics following a disappointing loss to rival Oklahoma. It could have been "Sleep 19 Hours a Day Week" and I still don't think they'd have any trouble bouncing back against the Red Raiders.

No. 7 Arizona at Arizona State (2:30 p.m./Fox Sports)

The Sun devils narrowly missed out on a statement win over Oregon last Sunday, but there's another shot waiting this weekend against their in-state rivals. This also has the potential to be a showcase game for freshman Jahil Carson (17.1 points/5.2 assists), the self-proclaimed best point guard in the Pac-12. This is an almost equally important contest for an Arizona team whose status as a legitimate top ten squad is still being questioned across the country.

Eastern Kentucky at Jacksonville State (2:30/Fox Sports South)

With just one day of rest after losing at Belmont (their first OVC loss of the season), Eastern Kentucky is back on the road at Jacksonville State. Tired legs are the only things that might keep them from a W.

Columbia at Cornell (3 p.m./NBC Sports Network)

I sang in the a capella group, "Here Comes Treble."

Akron at Kent State (3 p.m./ESPNU)

The best rivalry in the MAC is back, but it's becoming a tad one-sided. For the first time in two decades, Akron has won four straight over Kent State, a streak that appears likely to be prolonged today thanks to the Zips' clear advantage inside.

No. 6 Syracuse at No. 1 Louisville (4 p.m./ESPN)

The granddaddy of them all...and by all, I mean college basketball games being played on Jan. 19.

The Cardinals have yet to really be challenged in Big East play, but that figures to change this afternoon against a Syracuse team that will be without James Southerland for a second straight game. The Orange took care of U of L twice last season, but had been 1-7 against the Cards in Big East play before that. Despite that lopsided record, the vast majority of those contests were competitive.

These have been the best two teams in the Big East over the past five years or so, and recently their meetings have started to take on a big-time conference rivalry game feel. It's a shame that rivalry will end after this season before being resumed in the ACC in two years.

Also worth noting is the crazy fact that this will be the first time that Louisville has ever played a home game as the No. 1 team in the country. This Cardinals don't seem like the type of team that will let something like that effect their play, but you never know until the ball goes up.

No. 21 Oregon at No. 24 UCLA (4 p.m./CBS)

This is a huge opportunity in the national spotlight for a pair of teams that the country isn't sold on one way or the other. Oregon is nationally ranked for the first time since 2007 and 4-0 in conference play for the first time in 39 years. Still, 80% of average college basketball fans can't name more than one player on Dana Altman's team. Almost all of those 80% know who Shabazz Muhammad is, but most haven't seen him on TV since November. His Bruins are also ranked and unbeaten in Pac-12 play, but they don't have a win right now that anyone could point to as justification that they belong among the nation's elite.

No. 12 Creighton at Wichita State (4 p.m./ESPN2)

It's a shame that this game is being played in the same time slot as the two above it. It's the early game of the year in The Valley as the 16-2 Shockers host the 17-1 Bluejays. The good news for Wichita State is that they'll have 2012 MVC Newcomer of the Year Carl Hall in uniform for just the second time this season. Hall, who had been out with a thumb injury since the beginning of the year, played 23 minutes against Illinois State on Wednesday. The big man will be shouldered with the task of at least attempting to help slow down Creighton star Doug McDermott.

Villanova at Providence (4 p.m./MASN/MSG)

Villanova is coming off the worst offensive performance (43 points in a loss to Pitt) in the 27-year history of The Pavilion. Providence has had its own issues with scoring in recent weeks, and has dropped six of its last seven. Basically, I'm saying you don't have to watch if you don't want to.

Oklahoma at No. 16 Kansas State (4 p.m./Altitude/YES)

The Sooners are 3-0 in the Big 12 and riding a five-game winning streak that includes a surprise victory over rival Oklahoma State. The fact that Oklahoma upset K-State twice last season should be enough to keep the Wildcats from looking ahead to next week's showdown with Kansas.

Mississippi State at Tennessee (4 p.m./Fox Sports Southwest)

Don't watch this game. Just don't do it.

California at Stanford (4:30 p.m./Fox Sports)

Chasson Randle and Allen Crabbe sharing a floor is never a bad thing.

Hofstra at George Mason (5 p.m./NBC Sports Network)

George Mason now has a winning record both overall (10-7) and in CAA play (3-2) now...so there's that.

Pennsylvania at Saint Joseph's (5 p.m./ESPNU)

It's a Big 5 game, it's at The Palestra, it's on national television, but Penn is really, really bad this year.

No. 11 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State (6 p.m./ESPN)

This is an interesting matchup of a team that has never looked too impressive in victory or too unimpressive in defeat (Michigan State) against one that has looked like an eventual national champion one game and an NIT team the next (Ohio State). The talent advantage is clearly on the side of the Buckeyes, but Tom Izzo has a history of finding ways to win against good teams that are prone to scoring droughts.

Also, don't gamble on Big Ten games. No one has any legitimate idea about what's going to happen in any of them.

Georgetown at South Florida (6 p.m./MASN/SNY)

Georgetown needs a win to further its effort to prove that it wasn't a complete fraud when it cracked the top 15 earlier this year. South Florida, meanwhile, just needs a win. The Bulls (9-7, 0-4) are the only team in the Big East without one.

UNLV at Colorado State (7 p.m./NBC Sports Network)

The Mountain West has been so good for the past two weeks that it almost feels like a foregone conclusion that this one will come down to the wire. Khem Birch and the Rebels are riding high after a huge road win over San Diego State earlier this week, but they have their work cut out for them against the Rams and star big man Colton Iverson. The Rebs were torched by a far less talented center (Alex Kirk) in their loss to New Mexico ten days ago, so post defense should be of the utmost concern this evening.

No. 25 Marquette at Cincinnati (7 p.m./ESPNU)

There are three undefeated teams remaining in the Big East. Two, Louisville and Syracuse, were expected to be here. The third, Marquette, was not. A road win at Cincinnati isn't quite going to convince the college basketball world that the Golden Eagles have the potential to win the conference, but it wouldn't hurt.

Wisconsin at Iowa (8 p.m./Big Ten Network)

The Badgers are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the country, and a win in Iowa City away from earning a national ranking.

Evansville at Indiana State (8 p.m./Fox Sports Midwest)

If a team other than Creighton or Wichita State is going to earn The Valley's auto-bid, you have to think it will be one of these two. The Sycamores have hung with (and beaten) some of the best teams in the country, and Colt Ryan can single-handedly shoot the Aces into just about any game they play.

Rutgers at No. 20 Notre Dame (8 p.m./SNY/MASN)

The Irish, losers of two straight, have suddenly lost their touch from behind the arc and are struggling to find other ways to put the ball in the basket. They've also been outrebounded in three straight games, including their most recent loss to St. John's in which they allowed the Red Storm to snag 15 offensive boards.

No. 8 Gonzaga at No. 13 Butler (9 p.m./ESPN)

The first Gameday game of the year has turned out to be as high-profile a tilt as anyone at ESPN could have hoped for. Gonzaga is still the name that's probably most synonymous with mid-major basketball, but the 'Zags still haven't been able to do what Butler has done twice now: make a Final Four.

It's a shame that Rotnei Clarke is still recovering from the neck sprain he suffered last week, but there will be more than enough star power on the floor to make this one worthy of a late-night viewing session.

Kentucky at Auburn (9 p.m./ESPNU)

Not a bad alternative during breaks in the Butler/Gonzaga action. Auburn has been shooting the ball surprisingly well recently, including hitting 11 treys in its loss to Arkansas earlier this week. Kentucky is still looking to find its groove, and there's no better opponent for that to happen against than a Tiger program they have absolutely dominated for decades. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 86-17, and have only lost once since 1990.

Utah at Washington (11 p.m./ESPNU)

Utah is bad, but it's college basketball on television. That still means something.

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