Here's what you need to know for Friday, Dec. 29:
1. The game of the day is Louisville at Kentucky, which never, ever disappoints. Well, this game has a twist. No Rick Pitino. Instead, David Padgett gets to go into Rupp Arena. This is a fan rivalry at this stage, more than anything else. The fan bases wish nothing more than to see their team win. Still, as Kentucky coach John Calipari said two weeks ago during a sit-down interview with NCAA.com, it doesn’t matter who the head coach is on either side.This game comes at a time of need for both programs. Kentucky needs some positive momentum and simply to defend well after losing to UCLA last Saturday in New Orleans. The Wildcats are still looking for a consistent playmaker and to find their go-to guy when they need a basket most (there are plenty of candidates). On the Louisville side, Ray Spalding is coming off a terrific performance against Grand Canyon, scoring 21 points and grabbing 16 boards. Who emerges as the star Friday? Spalding, Deng Adel or Quentin Snider for Louisville? Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo or Quade Green for Kentucky? Or someone else? This is a game that makes memories in the Commonwealth.
2. The game of the night is Kansas at Texas. The Longhorns could shock the Big 12 by sending the 13-straight conference champs off to an 0-1 start. Kansas’ weakness is inside depth (until Silvio De Sousa gets cleared). Texas’ strength comes from Mo Bamba inside. But the X factor has been one of the most consistent and unheralded players this season — Dylan Osetkowski. Texas’ leading scorer, Andrew Jones, who has missed the last four games with a fractured wrist, will be a game-time decision, according to the Longhorns. If he’s back and effective that is a game changer for Texas. Kansas has never wavered in big-time situations, especially in the league. This is Shaka Smart’s most important Big 12 game to date, but there’s likely going to be plenty more big games this season for a team that has the look, feel and potentially solid resume to be in the field.
3. Is Oklahoma State a contender or pretender? The Cowboys host West Virginia in the Big 12 opener. This is a Cowboys team that beat Florida State, handing the Seminoles their only loss of the season. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said on the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365 that maybe the only reason Oklahoma State was picked 10th in the conference was because no one knew how the Cowboys would fair in Mike Boynton's first season. Well, Huggins said, he would end that speculation right now, adding how impressed he was with the Cowboys after watching them on tape. He praised Jeffrey Carroll, too. Oklahoma State could start upsetting teams projected to finish ahead of the Cowboys in the standings with a win over the Mountaineers. West Virginia starts out at OSU and at Kansas State. A sweep or split would do wonders for its chances for a top-two Big 12 finish.
4. Baylor at Texas Tech is a separation game. These two teams seem awfully similar so far this season. Baylor and Texas Tech have had some wins that should warrant NCAA consideration. The question will be who can garner more road wins in the Big 12. That’s where the separation could occur come March. These two could be like a lot of Big 12 teams this season, which end up splitting the two games against each other in conference play. This feels like a complete toss-up game.
5. Does USC have staying power? Let’s see if the Trojans have it after winning the Diamond Head Classic Monday night in Honolulu. The Trojans seemed to have turned their season around with the wins over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State, the latter one against a team that had just given Miami it’s first loss of the season. Bennie Boatright scored 33 points and made six 3s in the win over the Aggies. Will Washington’s zone give him those looks? The Huskies have the length in their zone to be disruptive and enter their Pac-12 opener as more than a spoiler in the conference. The Huskies should have visions of a top-five finish and they could sniff a tournament bid with their win over Kansas as proof they have it in them to win high-level games in conference play.