Here's what you need to know for Thursday, Dec. 21:
1. UConn at Arizona: Huge. Huge. Huge game for the Huskies. UConn (7-3) desperately needs something good to happen prior to the start of American Athletic Conference play, which will begin on Dec. 30 against Wichita State. The Wildcats (9-3) are playing the best basketball in the Pac-12, outside of their rival Arizona State. Arizona is hot and healthy again. How the Huskies will handle DeAndre Ayton (20.3 points per game) will be a huge chore. Rawle Alkins is healthy and scoring, while Allonzo Trier (21.7 points per game) has a bone bruise in his knee. The Huskies will need a monster game from Jalen Adams and Terry Larrier, and Christian Vital will need to board. The Huskies don’t have a resume win outside of Oregon on a neutral court in Portland, and even now it’s hard to know where the Ducks will land in the Pac-12. This is the first of two games on the road for the Huskies in a three-day period as UConn has to go from Tucson to Auburn, Ala., for a Saturday game. A split of the two games would be cause for euphoria. Getting swept with Wichita looming could be catastrophic.
2. Gonzaga at San Diego State: The Bulldogs don’t quit with quality games. Ever. This will be yet another chance for a road/neutral win that will pad the resume. Why was Saint Mary’s billed as the favorite in the WCC? This is once again the Zags' conference to lose. BYU will push for a top two finish, too, but still must beat Gonzaga to do so. The Aztecs played a strong schedule with games against Arizona State, Georgia, Washington State (when the Cougars were playing well), as well as rival San Diego and California. All good games for San Diego State. The Georgia win will have shelf life. But nothing would compare on its schedule to a win over the Zags. An at-large isn’t happening. This is about positioning for seeding, if they can get in the field, and overall helping the Mountain West.
3. Kansas at Stanford provides the Jayhawks with another chance to shed the bad vibes of the “crappy” five days Bill Self speaks of when they lost to Washington and Arizona State. The win at Nebraska was welcomed overwhelmingly, while the win over Omaha was needed. This road win could help continue the confidence. This Jayhawks team will be different if they get two more bigs added to the roster in Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa. Self said on the March Madness 365 podcast that he hopes to know soon. Stanford has struggled this season at 6-6, but has played a lofty slate. Travis Reid is delivering each game and will be a tough matchup for the Jayhawks at that position. But the perimeter is where Kansas has the edge and should exploit.
4. Tennessee Tech at Indiana: This normally wouldn’t rank as a must-win, but it’s hard not to see the Hoosiers desperately needing this one after losing to Fort Wayne at home. The Hoosiers lost their momentum from the win over Notre Dame by falling to the Mastodons for the second straight season. Tech is coming off a win over Chattanooga and beat New Mexico and Lipscomb. The Golden Eagles can shoot the basketball, but they must be able to crash the glass. Juwan Morgan may need another terrific effort for the Hoosiers to escape against a one-bid league team in a buy game. The Hoosiers need a comfortable win. If they get it against a team that should show well in the OVC, it could do wonders for their confidence after being rocked this week.
5. Southeast Louisiana at Notre Dame: Really? Well check out the video of Mike Brey requesting the Irish get to 100 points for him for Christmas. The Irish put up 97 in the win over Dartmouth. After the manner in which they lost to Indiana (late!!!), the Irish need some good vibes going into the holidays to show they can score in bunches and in a variety of ways.