Here's what to know around college hoops on Saturday, Dec. 16:
1. The best event of the day: Crossroads Classic, Indianapolis: Indiana-Notre Dame and Butler-Purdue. This yearly event of the four highest-profile Division I programs in the state rarely disappoints. Four fantastic fan bases. Four programs that traditionally are relevant.
Three of the four should be in the NCAA tournament this season, with Indiana the one rebuilding of the four. An Indiana win would certainly do wonders for the Hoosiers self-esteem. The Irish need to regain their early-season swagger from Maui. Purdue has been rolling of late, and seems to be on a mission to make the tough Bahama trip a blip on a season-long campaign. Butler has won five in a row and its defense has been stellar of late.
2. The game of the day: Oklahoma at Wichita State. Freshman Trae Young has delivered on every aspect of his preseason hype. He’s leading the country in scoring. He’s a dish dynamo. And he’s a great interview (listen here). So, too, is Wichita State’s Landry Shamet (watch here). The Shockers and Sooners should provide plenty of star power at Intrust Arena. And expect the building to be rocking, with a sea of Shockers’ fans in black and yellow. This will be a tremendous non-conference home atmosphere. Enjoy it.
3. The in-state rivalries on display: Seton Hall-Rutgers; Drake-Iowa; Northern Iowa-Iowa State; Utah-BYU; Northwestern-DePaul. Rutgers expects a full house and could make a huge statement for the Big Ten by beating one of the Big East’s best this season. The win would signify a sharp upturn for Steve Pikiell’s crew. The Hall have not been rattled much at all this season.
The matchups in the state of Iowa could be a breakthrough day for the Missouri Valley. Drake has a hidden national gem in senior Reed Timmer, who will thrive on this stage. Iowa has to get some momentum heading back into the Big Ten. Iowa State has flown under the radar in non-conference play while the Panthers are a possible Valley title team. Utah and BYU don’t play the home-and-home anymore and the series was almost put on hold indefinitely. But cooler heads prevailed and one of the nastier in-state rivalries returns in what should be a wild game in Provo. Northwestern is rolling offensively and it’s defense is playing the best it has in weeks. But the competition will increase. DePaul needs something positive for its new home court. Beating Northwestern would certainly suffice.
4. The return of Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews: The Rams’ top player and first-team all-A-10 wing is expected to be back against the College of Charleston after missing the past six games with a fractured wrist. The Rams went 4-2 without him. URI is currently sixth in the nation in turnover margin at a plus 6.4, forcing 18.6 a game. Their strength of schedule is currently seventh in the country. Getting Matthews back means the A-10’s best will be at full strength for the start of conference.
5. Five more games to watch:
Cincinnati at UCLA — The Bruins are desperately searching for a quality win again after losing a huge lead at Michigan while the Bearcats seemed to have righted themselves with a win over previously undefeated Mississippi State after losing two in a row.
Florida vs. Clemson in Sunrise, Fla. — The Gators’ win over Cincinnati got them feeling good again. The 3s still aren’t falling as much like they were in Portland, but the offense seems to be getting healthier again. Clemson has a quality win over Ohio State on the road in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and a gaudy 8-1 record. But they still need more meet on this resume to be taken seriously.
Syracuse at Georgetown — The Orange zone is long, athletic and swallowing teams. Tyus Battle discussed it here. The Hoyas have played an incredibly soft schedule and this is the one shot to improve the resume, while a true road win will do wonders for the Orange.
Virginia Tech at Kentucky — The Hokies will come right at Kentucky. They won’t wilt. This will be a quality test for Kentucky at home. Hamadou Diallo is starting to evolve into a reliable threat. Shots will be contested at both ends of the court. This should be a physical game.
Georgia at Massachusetts — The Minutemen stunned Providence at home. This is a rebuilding season in Amherst. But it may be ahead of schedule. So, here come the Bulldogs, who can continue to build on their quality profile with a true road win.