It's December, time for tree decorating, menorah lighting, crowded malls, large holiday meals ... and for college basketball to offer up the last few marquee non-conference matchups before March.
Yet, over the past few seasons, conferences have increasingly scheduled their league openers for the final days of the calendar year. That means there are now more choices than ever during an already busy 31 days.
And when I say "busy," I'm not just talking about holiday fun and days off, for December also brings the end of the semester for many schools, featuring reading days and exams, resulting in a sporadic schedule for a two-week span. If you're putting off your holiday shopping, you may want to take note of these days and make plans to avoid your television and brave your local shopping destination instead.
Since there are quite a few intriguing December matchups that didn't make the cut for this list (well, except for during the aforementioned exam week), bookmark Blogging the Bracket and visit each day (or follow @Dobber_BtB_SBN on Twitter) for a more complete rundown of televised games. For now, here's my pick for each of the next 31 nights.
Wednesday, Dec. 1: Michigan State at Duke, ESPN (9:30 p.m. ET)
The Big Ten/ACC Challenge closes with the National Championship Game that wasn't from last season, thanks to Butler (even though the actual final may have been even better).
Thursday, Dec. 2: Arizona State at Baylor, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
This matchup may be the highlight of the final Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. The Sun Devils will look for a big win to rebound from a disappointing trip to Alaska over the weekend, but the Bears' LaceDarius Dunn, Quincy Acy, and Perry Jones III will give them fits.
Friday, Dec. 3: St. Joseph's at Villanova, ESPNU (8:30 p.m. ET)
The East Coast version of the Holy War, a key Big Five matchup, is the highlight of a quiet evening.
Saturday, Dec. 4: Kentucky at North Carolina, CBS (12:30 p.m. ET) or Wichita State at San Diego State, The Mtn. (10 p.m. ET)
With the Butler-Duke rematch looking like it won't live up to expectations, I offer you two choices on the first busy Saturday of the season (from a TV perspective anyway). Early in the day, you can catch a matchup of college basketball's true bluebloods, or, if you're more adventurous, you can wait until the evening to see two of the best teams from outside of the Big Six conferences meet.
Sunday, Dec. 5: Temple vs. Maryland in Washington, MASN/FSN (8 p.m. ET)
In the final game of the BB&T Classic, the Atlantic 10 favorites take on Jordan Williams and the Terps in their backyard.
Monday, Dec. 6: Portland at Washington, FSN Northwest/FCS Pacific (10 p.m. ET)
The Pilots will look to upset the Huskies on a slow Monday evening.
Tuesday, Dec. 7: Jimmy V Classic: Kansas vs. Memphis and Michigan State vs. Syracuse at New York, ESPN (7, 9 p.m. ET)
Once again, the Jimmy V will have a Final Four feel, but at the moment, the Jayhawks look the most complete of this quartet, and that's with freshman point guard Josh Selby still serving an NCAA suspension.
Wednesday, Dec. 8: SEC/Big East Invitational: Kentucky vs. Notre Dame at Louisville, ESPN (9:30 p.m. ET)
The young, but talented Wildcats, led by the dynamic Terrence Jones, welcome the Fighting Irish to their second home court, Freedom Hall.
Thursday, Dec. 9: Georgetown at Temple, ESPN or ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
Just a few days after taking on Maryland in the Nation's Capital, the Owls welcome the Hoyas to Philadelphia for another game that should impact tournament seeding.
Friday, Dec. 10: Utah at Michigan, Big Ten Network (6:30 p.m. ET)
Both of these teams are looking to rebound from disappointing 2009-10 campaigns, but the Wolverines are looking to avenge a 16-point loss the Utes handed them in Salt Lake City.
Saturday, Dec. 11: SEC/Big East Invitational: Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh at Consol Energy Center, ESPN (3:15 p.m. ET)
The Panthers and Volunteers meet just a few short week after each claimed an early season trophy in New York.
Sunday, Dec. 12: Clemson at Miami, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (6:15 p.m. ET)
These two teams, who are likely to find themselves on the bubble come March, open ACC play.
At this point, exam week begins for many schools, so for the next few weeknights, the pickings get pretty slim.
Monday, Dec. 13: Green Bay at Wisconsin, Big Ten Network (8 p.m. ET)
The Badgers lost to the Phoenix in overtime last year, in a game played just across the street from Lambeau Field.
Tuesday, Dec. 14: Oakland at Tennessee, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
Big Keith Benson and the defending Summit League champions will look to stun the Volunteers in Knoxville.
Wednesday, Dec. 15: Akron at Minnesota, Big Ten Network (8:30 p.m. ET)
The Golden Gophers will try not to overlook the Zips, a team who typically contends in the MAC but who has struggled this season.
Thursday, Dec. 16: Oral Roberts at Missouri, Mizzou Sports/FS Midwest/ESPN3 (8 p.m. ET)
Two Summit League teams in this list in one week? Yes, and the Golden Eagles have already grabbed a win at Utah.
Friday, Dec. 17: Tennessee at Charlotte, CBS College Sports (8 p.m. ET)
This is the rematch of the first game the Volunteers played after four players were arrested on drug and gun charges on New Year's Day. There shouldn't be that much drama around the team for this one, and, given how the Vols have played with all the off-the-court issues the program has encountered over the past year, it wouldn't matter anyway.
Saturday, Dec. 18: Orange Bowl Classic: Florida vs. Kansas State in Sunrise, Florida, FS Florida/FS Kansas City (5:30 p.m. ET): This is a day full of neutral site showcases, spanning from the Bahamas to Southern California. I'll be checking out this matchup between Big 12 and SEC contenders in person. The Gators may need to boost their resume with an upset, but they actually lost to Richmond in this event last season.
Sunday, Dec. 19: Arizona at NC State, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (4:45 p.m. ET)
Derrick Williams and the Wildcats head across the country to take on freshman phenom Lorenzo Brown and the Wolfpack.
Monday, Dec. 20: Morgan State at Syracuse, Big East Network/TWCS/SNY/ESPN3 (7 p.m. ET)
The two-time defending MEAC champion Bears will look to stun the Orange at the Carrier Dome.
Tuesday, Dec. 21: UNLV vs. Kansas State at Kansas City, ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
The Wildcats will look to grab a second straight win over the Runnin' Rebels, after grabbing a 15-point win at the Orleans Arena last year, a victory that helped put Frank Martin's team on the map.
Wednesday, Dec. 22: Texas at Michigan State and Missouri vs. Illinois in St. Louis, ESPN2 (7, 9 p.m. ET)
If you need a break from holiday festivities, check out this doubleheader pitting Big 12 and Big Ten contenders against each other.
Thursday, Dec. 23: Diamond Head Classic Semifinals, ESPNU (6:30 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 (10 p.m. ET)
The bracket of this event is set up for Mississippi State and Baylor to meet in semifinal 1 (but the Bulldogs will need to watch for Washington State on Wednesday) and Butler vs. Florida State in semi 2.
Friday, Dec. 24: Cancun Governor's Cup Final, ESPN2 (9:30 p.m. ET)
The Honolulu event takes the day off for the Hawai'i Bowl, so the game of the day takes place south of the border, where Mississippi is the favorite a wide-open field.
Saturday, Dec. 25: Diamond Head Classic Final, ESPN2 (9:30 p.m. ET)
Thursday's winners meet for the final exempt tournament crown of the season.
Sunday, Dec. 26
There are no games on the schedule, so take this opportunity to return that sweater you can't quite squeeze into your dresser.
Monday, Dec. 27: Connecticut at Pittsburgh, ESPN2 (8:30 p.m. ET)
The Big East opens conference play with a game that features two of the best stories of the early season.
Tuesday, Dec. 28: Long Beach State at UC Santa Barbara, ESPNU (11 p.m. ET)
Two Big West contenders jump head first into the conference slate.
Wednesday, Dec. 29: Mississippi State at St. Mary's in Las Vegas, ESPNU (11 p.m. ET)
This game was a late addition to the schedule, designed to give the Bulldogs one more late non-conference test with Renardo Sidney in the lineup, and to help speed up Dee Bost's return to the lineup in SEC play. It will be a good test, as the Gaels are one of the most offensively efficient teams in the country.
Thursday, Dec. 30: Temple at Villanova, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
The Wildcats host the Owls in Nova's final Big Five game of the season. It's just too bad they won't play this one at the Palestra.
Friday, Dec. 31: Minnesota at Michigan State, Big Ten Network (4 p.m. ET)
While 2010 closes with a mini-marathon on ESPN2, you may want to flip over to see Tubby Smith's surprising Golden Gophers face their second straight Big Ten road test (following their conference opener at Wisconsin).
On Jan. 1, you'll be able to ring in the New Year with my picks for the month when conference play really picks up steam.