Here's what you need to know for Saturday, Dec. 30:
1. The Game of the Day is Arizona State at Arizona (9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network). Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said on the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365 that this would be the toughest game to date for the Sun Devils. That’s saying something after ASU already played Xavier and Kansas. How the Sun Devils handle Deandre Ayton inside will be a major factor.
But how Arizona defends the free-flowing, unconscious shooting of the guards will be the deciding factor. Hurley said he is not worried when the Sun Devils get down by double figures. The Sun Devils' guards, led by Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, show no fear about shooting themselves back into the game. They want to push it. This should be one of the best games of the conference season — in any conference. The best news is that they play twice.
2. The Headliner is Oklahoma at TCU (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2), where Trae Young, the leading scorer and assist maker in the NCAA, is the hottest ticket. But he’s got plenty of help. This Sooners team continues to evolve into an elite group and is pushing for top five status. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said on the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365 that Oklahoma should be the pick to win the Big 12.
Well, TCU is still one of three undefeated teams in the country. So, how will the Horned Frogs handle Young & Co.? They haven’t had to handle this type of guard yet this season, especially since Jaylen Adams wasn’t healthy when the Frogs beat St. Bonaventure in Niceville, Fla., earlier in the season. If Oklahoma wins this game it will make a HUGE statement about where the Sooners stand in the conference. A win by TCU would do wonders for the Horned Frogs' self-esteem and their national perception.
3. The Hidden Gems are Tennessee at Arkansas (1 p.m. ET, SEC Network) and Saint Mary’s at BYU (4 p.m. ET, ESPNU). Bud Walton is sold out. Arkansas and Tennessee each have quality wins and if the season were over today, they both have the look of being NCAA-bound. But there is a lot of work to do and nothing is for certain in the SEC. The Vols and Hogs have the goods to produce a high-level, late-possession game.
The Gaels and Cougars are once again the two teams that can challenge Gonzaga in the WCC. This is round one of what should be two entertaining games in the conference. Neither team has the NCAA resume now. And that’s why it’s critical for one of them — if possible — to create separation. Winning this game puts one of the teams a step ahead of the other in the quest to chase Gonzaga.
Provo, UT pic.twitter.com/IxEOAfFBpC— Saint Mary's Hoops (@saintmaryshoops) December 29, 2017
4. The Conference Debut is Wichita State at UConn (Noon ET, CBS). The Shockers open the American Conference on the road at UConn. Wichita State is getting healthy with Markis McDuffie back in the lineup. He was able to play against Florida Gulf Coast last week, logging nine minutes and making two shots while grabbing five boards. The Huskies have struggled against every high-level opponent outside of Oregon.
UConn got word that Alterique Gilbert is done for the season, so the Huskies need some good news. A win over Wichita State would completely reset their season. But the Huskies must match the Shockers’ toughness, physicality and overall defensive effort, even if Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall says this Shockers team isn’t defending as well as his previous teams. UConn fans should celebrate the arrival of an elite program in the American and bring it Saturday afternoon. The Shockers are used to being the team everyone loves to beat — in the Valley. And it will translate to the AAC on day one.
5. The favorites on display...
Florida State at Duke (2 p.m. ET, CBS): The ACC preseason choice to win Blue Devils have been staring at an 0-1 record in the standings for weeks after losing at Boston College. The Seminoles have one loss, as well, on a late possession to Oklahoma State. Florida State has the length to defend Duke, but the Blue Devils’ offense was scorchingly good against Evansville.
Villanova basketball: The team where every player reaches his full potential
Villanova at Butler (4 p.m. ET, CBS): The Bulldogs came back and beat Georgetown to open the Big East. But Georgetown is no Villanova. Butler will need to play its best game of the season to win, even at home. No team seems to be as locked in and unfazed this season as Villanova. Starting with two games on the road? So what. Nova is ready.
Texas A&M at Alabama (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2): The DJ Hogg suspension comes at a tough time for the Aggies as they start the SEC on the road in Tuscaloosa. A full, healthy Texas A&M would likely be the reset favorite in the SEC. But after the way Kentucky played against Louisville Friday, one would have to wonder if the preseason predictions should stick. Kentucky has had zero drama while the Aggies have been filled with it this season. Alabama has the stud in Collin Sexton to upend the Aggies, and the erratic Tide need as many quality wins as possible. This would certainly qualify.