A trio of top ten teams facing road tests, my momentary disdain for ESPNU and Stew Morrill's equine likeness highlight the Thursday evening that will be in college hoops.
Illinois at No. 13 Michigan State (7 p.m./ESPN)
If Illinois loses this game, which they likely will, the Illini will fall to 2-6 in Big Ten play. Their next three games? Against a Wisconsin team they already lost to by 23, against No. 3 Indiana and at No. 23 Minnesota. A team that won its first 12 games and spent multiple weeks ranked in the top 10 is staring a potential 2-9 conference record directly in the face.
Connecticut at Providence (7 p.m./ESPN2)
The Friars are struggling, but man, how much does Jim Calhoun regret not recruiting Ryan Gomes? Am I right?
Drexel at George Mason (7 p.m./NBC Sports Network)
A college hoops Monet. This looked about ten times more attractive three months ago than it does today.
Penn State at Iowa (8 p.m./ESPNU)
You're not even trying, ESPNU. I've looked past the even-numbered start time, I've looked past the fact that for some reason you won't come in on my bedroom TV, but I can't do this tonight. If you don't have time -- check that, if you don't have the decency to put forth any semblance of effort, then we don't have a future...and maybe we never really had a past.
No. 8 Arizona at Washington (9 p.m./ESPN)
The defending Pac-12 regular season champions (that's Washington) have dropped three straight and are pulling out all the stops for their shot at a top 10 win. We're talking identical t-shirts, camp outs where the head coach brings pizza; all that stuff you notice during the seven-second pregame montage. Why this game matters to the rest of the country: Bill Walton. You get a natural contact high every time they go more than six minutes without a stoppage in play.
Arkansas at Alabama (9 p.m./ESPN2)
These teams are nearly identical statistically, but Alabama is the only one with a real shot at the NCAA Tournament. That shot will take a huge hit if the Tide doesn't take care of Mike Anderson's team at home tonight.
No. 9 Butler at Saint Louis (9 p.m./CBS Sports Network)
These old rivals haven't met as conference foes since they both played in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. Follow-up: There was a Midwestern Collegiate Conference (it later became the Horizon League).
Oregon State at California (10 p.m./ESPNU)
Craig Robinson is Barack Obama's brother-in-law by the third TV timeout or you all get to split my next pay-check.
Utah State at Idaho (10 p.m./MASN)
Utah State was 14-1 before losing Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed to injury, now they've lost four straight. Also, have we talked about how Stew Morrill looks likes a horse? Ok, good. Because he looks like a horse.
No. 7 Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount (11 p.m./ESPN2)
There are few things I love more about the months of January and February than post-midnight West Coast college basketball. Drop step me to sleep, Kelly Olynyk.