College basketball today: Georgia will try to keep up with Kentucky's youth in SEC opener
One last time in 2017, here's a look at what you need to know for Dec. 31:
1. The Game of the Day is Georgia at Kentucky (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Wildcats played their best basketball of the season in the win over Louisville on Friday. The beauty of the Wildcats is, on any given night, a different player can be the star. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played the star role against the Cardinals, exploding for 24 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and just one turnover in 33 minutes. But Gilgeous-Alexander might not be the go-to player against the Bulldogs Sunday, which makes the Wildcats so dangerous, because the question becomes: whose big game is next?
The bigger question will be: Can Georgia’s Yante Maten, who is having an all-SEC/MVP type start to his season, dominate the post for the Bulldogs? He’s averaging 20.2 points and 9.3 boards a game, but he will need help. The perimeter must play its best game of the season to win at Rupp. Georgia has had a solid non-conference resume to put itself in position for a possible bid. Now, the chore will be to come out and beat its fellow elite teams in the conference. Do it on the road, and it adds even more value to the Dawgs' profile.
2. The Rivalry, St. John’s vs. Seton Hall (5:00 p.m. ET, FS1): The Red Storm have been struggling mightily since the new Big East was formed. This is their chance to re-create a much-needed rivalry within the conference. The Red Storm need to push Seton Hall, which has surged recently under Kevin Willard and have the goods to challenge for a top-three finish.
The hope is that this game has meaning in the standings and offers up the necessary intensity that an in-conference regional rivalry must bring to the table. Oh, and starting 0-2 in the league isn't an ideal plae to start conference play: the Red Storm got beat at home by Providence.
3. The surprise team is Washington: The Huskies face UCLA (8:00 p.m. ET, Pac 12 Network) tonight after stunning USC on Friday. Well, maybe it shouldn’t have been such a shocker after the Huskies beat Kansas in Kansas City. USC, though, was fresh off a win in the Diamond Head Classic earlier in the week. The Huskies have to be taken seriously as a possible NCAA bid contender with road/neutral wins like Kansas and at USC. Take down UCLA and it’s all on for Washington.
The Bruins are starting to click, with distractions firmly behind them. Beating Kentucky in New Orleans and starting the league off with a win over Washington State is creating quite a good vibe around the program. How the Bruins manage the Huskies' zone will be worth watching. A 2-0 Washington start — with both wins on the road — could alter the Pac-12's hierarchy.
4. The need for a quality win, Virginia Tech at Syracuse (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Both teams have gaudy records at 11-2. But peel back the curtain a bit, and each is in desperate need of another win against a possible NCAA team. The good news is there are oodles of chances in the ACC, so why not start out in game numer one? Syracuse has the win over Maryland at home. That may be it for quality wins, with neither Georgetown nor UConn looking like tournament locks. Syracuse missed out on an opportunity to knock off possible A-10 top two finalist and NCAA team St. Bonaventure.
The Hokies’ win over Washington is looking better after the Huskies knocked off Kansas and USC. But the odds are not looking good for Iowa or Ole Miss to be in the field. The Hokies played very well into the final few possessions at Kentucky. A road win at Syracuse would enhance the resume quite a bit. Syracuse needs to hold serve with a brutal stretch awaiting on the road: at Wake Forest, Virginia and Florida State, with a home game against Notre Dame in the next four.
5. The hidden gem is Drake at Southern Illinois (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN 3): Southern Illinois beat Northern Iowa, 56-53, on the road, for a significant win in the race for the Valley title. The Salukis made nine 3s and held the Panthers to just 5 of 20.
Instant highlight | Clutch after clutch.— Saluki Basketball (@SIU_Basketball) December 29, 2017
Marcus Bartley’s personal 9-0 run early in the second half gave SIU the lead for good. #Salukis hit seven second-half 3-pointers.
Drake is coming off a squeaker over Bradley, 66-64, behind Graham Woodward and Ore Arogundade making 3s. Drake has the senior leadership to make a run for the Valley title. This race seems to be wide open, and the winner of this game will have an early edge.