Here's what you need to know in college basketball for Tuesday, Jan. 2:
1. The game of the night: Butler at Xavier, 7 p.m. ET, FS1
The Bulldogs are coming off a thrilling win over then-No. 1 Villanova. They are 2-0 in the Big East with a road win at Georgetown. Can you imagine if they were to beat Xavier at Cintas to go to 3-0? That would be something and would catapult the Bulldogs to the top of the conversation for a Big East regular-season title and much more. But let’s slow down. Butler should go into this game extremely loose. All the pressure is on the Musketeers. Xavier has to hold serve. Butler would not be expected to win. The Bulldogs may not need to hit 15 3s, but they better shoot well if they want a chance against the physical, balanced and resilient Musketeers.
2. The Big Ten is back:
The Big Ten played two games in early December, took a three-week hiatus for non-conference and now is going to go full speed all the way to the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in late February and early March.
So here you go for Night 1:
Indiana at Wisconsin, 7 p.m., ET ESPN: The Badgers’ only chance to go to their 20th-straight NCAA tournament is to win all of their home games and steal probably four on the road. That puts the pressure on this one to start against the Hoosiers. Wisconsin must shoot well, especially from the perimeter, and that means Brevin Pritzl burying shots. Indiana has Juwan Morgan and the Badgers don’t. Defending him will be critical for their chances.
Off to Madison pic.twitter.com/eIWgBKMD5f— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) January 1, 2018
Michigan at Iowa, 7 p.m., ET ESPN2: The Wolverines are in my second tier of the Big Ten with the chance to creep up into the top three. The offensive output of Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has been a huge burst for the Wolverines. Iowa is finally healthier and playing well, winning five in a row, including wins over Drake and Colorado. Luke Garza and Tyler Cook are becoming go-to players for the Hawkeyes. Let’s see if they can defend their homecourt and be a spoiler during the race.
Penn State at Maryland, 7 p.m. ET BTN: What’s up with Penn State? Rider was a last-second loss, but the Nittany Lions have lost two of their last four home games (the other was Wisconsin). Penn State needs to steal a road win back. How it plays at Maryland could be a huge barometer as to where this team will land. The Terps are having to reshuffle the lineup after losing Ivan Bender and Justin Jackson for the season. But the 1-2 punch of Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan is still enough to keep this team in the middling mix in the league.Nebraska at Northwestern, 9 p.m. ET, BTN: The Wildcats haven’t defended well the past two weeks (part of that has to do with going against Trae Young and Oklahoma). Northwestern can hit the reset button with this game against Nebraska. NU went 1-1 in the early December Big Ten games but was right there with Purdue at Mackey to go 2-0. So, if Northwestern wants to make sure it gets back to the tournament then it must win its home games as a base. The uncertainty of guard Bryant McIntosh (MRI on his left knee revealed no major ligament damage) is a major cause for concern. But the Wildcats are deep enough to where they can absorb a short-term loss on the court or even in minutes lost during a game. Nebraska is still a work in progress and after three relatively easy wins following the brutal late loss to Kansas, the Huskers need to decide if they are a pretender or contender for a bid. Let’s see how they fare at Allstate Arena.
3. TCU needs to avoid a slide at Baylor, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNNews: The Horned Frogs lost to Oklahoma and Trae Young over the weekend. Baylor fell at Texas Tech, and nobody wants to start in an 0-2 hole. Both of these teams have the goods to challenge for a top three finish in the Big 12. This could be a critical game determining where they land.
4. The game to watch could be ... Auburn at Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The Vols took Arkansas to overtime at Bud Walton. They lost in a late-possession game to North Carolina and won at Wake Forest. This Tennessee team is so close to busting out a big run of wins. Auburn is the surprise team so far in non-conference play. The SEC opener at Tennessee will be a strong indicator if the Tigers should be taken seriously in the race for a top three SEC finish.
5. Four more to track:
Alabama at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The Tide are coming off a win over a depleted Texas A&M and needs to continue to rack up road wins for a blossoming resume.
Texas Tech at Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Red Raiders probably fancy themselves a challenger to the Jayhawks in the Big 12, especially after beating Baylor. Kansas took a strong surge from Texas and swatted the Longhorns back. This is where the Jayhawks start to get into a second gear — the start of Big 12 play.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: 68 fearless predictions for the rest of the season
Florida at Texas A&M, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Gators opened SEC play with a win over Vanderbilt. The Aggies lost to Alabama. They have dealt with a slew of suspensions. Starting 0-2 won’t cancel them out to challenge for the SEC title. But it will start to raise serious questions. The Gators have the look of a team that has gone through its mid-season slump and is ready to lock in again as a major player.
Arkansas at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The Hogs beat Tennessee and are in that small group of real SEC title contenders. Win in Starkville and they should be considered a real threat to challenge for a top three finish.