1. Wisconsin at Virginia, ACC-Big Ten Challenge: The Badgers haven’t been able to close out games, losing late to Xavier at home, Baylor and UCLA in Kansas City. But coach Greg Gard isn’t nervous. This team is young and it will find a way to get the ball in the right hands late. Virginia probably isn’t the best team to get right against since it’s defense is so stingy.
The Cavaliers showed in the NIT Season Tip-Off that it has multiple options and doesn’t need to rely on Kyle Guy. This will be yet another tough test for the young Badgers. “We’re young,’’ Gard told NCAA.com. “We lost three games to ranked teams. They were all one possession games in the last two minutes or less. We’re learning on the fly. We will be good in time this year. We are very close.’’
2. Maryland at Syracuse, ACC-Big Ten Challenge: The Terps head North after splitting a pair of games down in Florida, losing to St. Bonaventure but beating New Mexico. The word on the Syracuse zone is that it is as stingy as it has been. That means Anthony Cowan will have to show patience as the lead guard.“We have defended and rebounded well,’’ Maryland coach Mark Turgeon told NCAA.com. “We have to get better with the ball. We’ve had too many turnovers.’’ This would be a huge win for a young, untested Syracuse team that wants to make its mark. Maryland should be a top half Big Ten team. Syracuse’s place in the ACC is still a question. This win would tell us more.
3. South Carolina at Florida International: This game probably doesn’t jump out to most people. But the Gamecocks have flown way under the radar this season after reaching the Final Four. The loss to Illinois State two weeks ago didn't help. Well, they’ve won two in a row and a true road win would continue to build the confidence for Frank Martin’s crew. They don’t have a star — yet. But they are finding themselves without the pressure that they have to get to the NCAA tournament like last season.
4. Alabama State at Cincinnati: OK, I expect the Bearcats to rock this one tonight. And they will. But the Bearcats are such a fun watch, lately, that any opportunity for them to run and produce will be entertaining. This will serve as a prep for a brutal stretch coming up at Xavier and against Florida.
5. Lipscomb at Belmont: Belmont has been playing a great schedule this season. The Bruins started at Washington and lost in the final possessions, beat Vanderbilt and won at Middle Tennessee State. Providence needed a late-bucket to take them down by one. Now comes rival Lipscomb for the first of a home-and-home series over the next week. These are tough matchups that don’t get a lot of pub but are important games in recruiting and ultimately for power rating points and possibly seeding.