Here is what to know in college basketball for Saturday, December 9:The early games will present plenty of intrigue. UCLA at Michigan is an important gauge for the Bruins on the road. Marquette at Wisconsin, where the Badgers have to figure out how to win close games. Indiana at Louisville, with the Cards searching for their first big win. Nebraska at Creighton -- the Huskers are coming off a home win over Minnesota and coach Tim Miles says they are seeking improvement on shot selection and defensive rebounding.
But let’s expand on five games this evening:
1. Colorado at Xavier, 5 p.m.: The Musketeers lost to the Buffaloes last season in Boulder. That was a stunner at the time. This would appear to be the same if Colorado could pull off the road win. But this is a different Colorado team with better balance and an exceptional freshman point guard. George King is the experienced senior scoring guard. McKinley Wright IV is the first-year point guard who can dazzle you with his speed, decision making and late-game shot making.
Any gray hairs @DomCollier24? @MJBuffsVoice will tell you as the Buffs prepare for Xavier Saturday. pic.twitter.com/X2Y63OBCZo— Colorado Basketball (@CUBuffsMBB) December 9, 2017
Wright was supposed to go to nearby Dayton but once Archie Miller left and there wasn’t a spot for him at Indiana he landed at Colorado. The Musketeers will present plenty of matchup problems at small forward and inside for Colorado. And they have a rocking crowd at the Cintas Center. This is a great test for the young Buffs.
2. Florida vs. Cincinnati in Newark at the Prudential Center, 6 p.m. ET: The Gators are shooting below 20 percent on 3s in their last two losses. Cincinnati normally defends extremely well. The Bearcats dug themselves a whole against Xavier that they couldn’t return from. Two weeks ago, this had the look of a top 10 matchup, an Elite Eight affair. And it still could end up being that if both teams reach their potential in March.
#WeChomp on our way to New Jersey #OneTeam pic.twitter.com/BcKYROFVom— Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) December 8, 2017
If the Bearcats get back to their stingy ways and hold the Gators to 65 and under they hold a huge advantage. Florida needs to get out and run and make perimeter shots to beat the Bearcats. This is suddenly a critical momentum game for both teams in mid-December.
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3. Minnesota at Arkansas, 6:45 p.m.: If you’ve been following this space, then you know how much the Gophers have impressed with the play of Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason and this team’s confidence and coolness down the stretch. But then Miami came into Minneapolis and held court to beat the Gophers.
HYPE TIME! #BeatMinnesota pic.twitter.com/mRDV4jSZFY— Razorback Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) December 8, 2017
A week later, Minnesota stumbled at Nebraska, the kind of game they need to win if the Gophers are going to tackle Michigan State and Purdue for the Big Ten title. Now comes a difficult road test at Arkansas. The Gophers have handled a hostile environment at Providence.
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Experience matters in games like this, but so too, does being sharp on the defensive end. Arkansas is going to be potentially erratic (see: giving up 91 points in a loss at Houston after limiting UConn to 67). The Hogs have played a solid schedule so far and the win over Oklahoma will have shelf life. Getting one more NCAA-bound non-conference win would certainly help the cause.
4. West Virginia at Pitt, 8 p.m.: Forget that Pitt is struggling this season. This game needed to be back on the schedule every year in a true home-and-home. So credit Kevin Stallings and Bob Huggins for making sure it happens. Ultimately, this will be good for both programs. The Mountaineers, led by their do-everything lead guard Jevon Carter, have won eight in a row since opening the season with a loss against Texas A&M at the Armed Forces Classic in Germany. That includes an Advocare Orlando Invitational tournament title, and most recently, the grinder of a win over Virginia.
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Pitt has won four in a row to right itself after an embarrassing loss to Penn State at the Legends Classic (this was before losing to Oklahoma State). Pitt is climbing out of a serious hole and it will take time. There is no false hope that it will suddenly be an ACC contender. But beating West Virginia at home in a rivalry game would do wonders for the self-esteem and overall momentum of the program.
5. Alabama at Arizona, 10 p.m.: Every time you look up, it seems like Alabama and Arizona are playing a quality opponent the past few weeks. No cupcakes here between these two teams. That’s tremendous for the selection committee. But it also doesn’t make it difficult for either head coach to get their squad motivated. They are being challenged and this will be a delight to see how Collin Sexton handles yet another opportunity to showcase himself.
Watch the highlights of today's practice at Arizona's McKale Center! Saturday's tip set for 9 p.m. CT (8 p.m. MT) on ESPN2! #RollTide #BuckleUp #BAMAvsZONA pic.twitter.com/vS7y0apEx5— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) December 9, 2017
Deandre Ayton will be on display for the Wildcats. The two play different positions and won’t guard each other, but their impact should be tracked. If the Wildcats can knock off the Tide, then it continues an in-season revival after losing three in a row in the Bahamas. Arizona has ripped off three straight with wins over Long Beach State, at UNLV and at home against Texas A&M. The Tide play in close games, as in one or two possession games, of late with wins over Rhode Island and Louisiana Tech and losses in the same manner to Minnesota and UCF.