What you need to know for Tuesday, Dec. 5:1. Villanova vs. Gonzaga, Jimmy V Classic, Madison Square Garden: This might be one of my favorite games of the season, let alone the non-conference. Can’t wait. They are two class programs who are run the right way. And they continue to out perform expectations. Both teams played North Carolina in the national title game the two previous seasons. Villanova won at the buzzer. Gonzaga lost in the final few minutes. The Zags and Wildcats are experienced on the perimeter and on the wing, but a bit green inside. Forcing turnovers will be critical, converting at the free-throw line and controlling the backboard could be the difference. The crowd should be juiced at MSG for what could be an Elite Eight type matchup.
2. Syracuse vs. UConn in the nightcap at MSG: It’s kind of surreal to think this game has the headline time but is hardly the story of the event. These two proud programs were once the ticket at MSG. And it may well be a crazed atmosphere. But it’s clearly the undercard event, despite the tipoff slot. Syracuse gave Kansas a game for a spell and knocked off Maryland at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Orange zone can still fluster plenty and will be a chore for the Huskies to decipher. UConn is hardly an offensive juggernaut. The Huskies are still searching for that signature win. They will take one against their once bitter rival. The Huskies desperately could use a win to regain their self-confidence against elite competition. Syracuse has already shown well in these high-level games.
3. Nevada at Texas Tech may not move the meter ratings wise but this game has plenty of power-rating potential. The Wolfpack have handled all hurdles so far, winning away from home and own a quality home win over Rhode Island. The Red Raiders destroyed Northwestern but then lost to Seton Hall at MSG in their other high-profile game. The Red Raiders can defend. Nevada hasn’t had an issue scoring. The Wolfpack won’t get rattled on the road, already winning four true road games this season. Take down the Red Raiders in Lubbock and the Wolfpack resume becomes even more impressive. This would certainly be deemed a quality home win for Texas Tech.
4. Texas A&M vs. Arizona in Phoenix should be a high-level game with plenty of NBA scout buzz. But the onus is on the Wildcats to come up with another quality win. The victory in overtime at UNLV was much-needed for Arizona. Tack on a win over one of the SEC favorites and Arizona would shed its early disappointment tag. The Aggies have already won at USC, beat West Virginia in Germany and have shown no fear about playing anybody, anywhere. The Robert Williams-Deandre Ayton matchup inside should be entertaining to track.
5. SMU-TCU has always been a decent rivalry in the Metroplex, but it has been rare when both teams are worthy of a ranking (in this week's Power 36). The Mustangs beat USC. TCU knocked off St. Bonaventure on a neutral court. This is the start of a tough week for TCU, which follows this game up with a neutral-site game against Nevada at the Staples Center this weekend in Los Angeles. The Mustangs are a much stingier team defensively, allowing just 56 points a game, compared to TCU’s 70. The offensive numbers do favor the Horned Frogs, but the Mustangs have played the tougher competition with games against Western Kentucky (loss), Arizona (win) and Northern Iowa (loss) in the Bahamas. Expect the crowd to fully embrace this rivalry even more because of the increased attention both programs are receiving in early December.