Here's what you need to know in college basketball for Thursday, Jan. 4:
Game of the night
Houston at Wichita State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Cougars have a chance to show they are a true contender by knocking off the Shockers. OK, that may be asking a lot for a team to come into Koch Arena and win, but Houston could also show extremely well and make a strong statement that they are in the race to stay. Rob Gray has to bust out for Houston to have a chance. He has suddenly gone cool during the American games after scoring 24 in a win over Providence. In the two AAC games at USF and against Temple, Gray is just 7 of 23 from the field. The Shockers won’t let him get open, meaning he will have to create, distribute and attack. Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said last week that the Shockers aren’t defending as well as they have in recent years, so Houston will challenge them quite a bit with Gray and a slew of wings that can squirm to the basket. This should be one of many intense affairs for Wichita State in its inaugural season in the American.
No. 9 @GoShockersMBB hosts Houston in American Home Opener—Thursday (1/4) on ESPN. #watchus— Go Shockers (@GoShockers) January 2, 2018
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PREVIEW | https://t.co/V7FAby468D pic.twitter.com/IqsixDi8Xk
No. 1 on display
Maryland at Michigan State, 8 p.m., ET, FS1
The Spartans are the No. 1 team in the country in the Associated Press poll (the Power 36 had them No. 1 for weeks!). Michigan State is still only scratching the surface as to how good they can become this season. Miles Bridges is leading the team in scoring, but this team is so much more than him. Nick Ward, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Jaren Jackson Jr., have all had moments where they have been the stud -- and that will continue. This team is as balanced a squad as Tom Izzo has had in East Lansing. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he’s essentially starting over after losing Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender for the season. But the good news for the Terps was the play of freshman Bruno Fernando in the win over Penn State. He had 17 and 11 in the win. Maryland could be overmatched, but one thing that is certain about the Terps is that they have great fight.
Matchup of the night
Point guard McKinley Wright IV of Colorado vs. Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II of Arizona State: Arizona State at Colorado, 8:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
The Sun Devils are coming off their first loss of the season — at Arizona. So, how much does that loss steamroll on the road for the Sun Devils in the mountain trip to Colorado and Utah? Well, a lot of that will depend on how the Sun Devils handle one of the quickest point guards in the country. Conversely, Wright has his hands full trying to contain either elite Arizona State guard. All these guards are studs and should make it a quite entertaining game, with the ball moving throughout both teams on the perimeter. Colorado doesn’t have the NCAA resume, but the Buffaloes have the talent to be a spoiler.
Tra on bouncing back at today's media availability. pic.twitter.com/JmOgbGQxP1— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) January 3, 2018
A trip of potential
Arizona at Utah, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Wildcats reasserted themselves as one of the two favorites to win the Pac-12 regular season. But this is a tough trip, heading to the mountain states. Utah is suddenly playing its best basketball of the season, winning both games on the Oregon trip. Justin Bibbins and David Collette were a 1-2 punch in both games. Utah may not have the star power of Arizona, but the team is playing with oodles of confidence. The X-factor, though, is Deandre Ayton. If Ayton continues to be a dominant force, it will be tough to stop the Wildcats. Arizona is soaring right now and this trip will go along way toward showing if both Arizona and Arizona State separate themselves, or allow a team like UCLA to join them in the chase for the title.
Ohio State at Iowa, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
First business trip of 2018.— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 3, 2018
Iowa City, Iowa. pic.twitter.com/drJujUc2lG
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is facing a possible 0-4 start in the Big Ten. McCaffery said the Hawkeyes are lacking consistency at both ends of the court. “We’re really good at times and we’re really bad at times,’’ said McCaffery. Giving up 11 threes to Michigan was surely a recipe for a loss. Ohio State isn’t going to shoot the ball that well, but the Buckeyes could slash their way to a win over Iowa. They can get to the bucket and have the strength and size to be a major factor in the race. Pick up another road win (they won at Wisconsin) and Ohio State will continue to be in the thick of the Big Ten race.