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Mike Lopresti | | December 17, 2021

10 men's basketball games over the holidays you can't miss — with songs to match

Andy Katz breaks down the last 7 undefeated men's teams

It’s beginning to look a lot like . . . Kentucky vs. Louisville? Well, that does seem to always happen this time of year, just like big guys in red suits at shopping malls. To get in the spirit of the season — with special emphasis on the seven remaining unbeaten teams — here are some compelling games over the holidays, with songs to match.

Santa Clause is coming to town 

And so is No. 1 Baylor. That’s Oregon’s task — and opportunity — Saturday. What’s with the Ducks? The disappointing 6-5 record includes defeats of all sizes — 32 points to BYU, 29 to Houston, consecutive last-second losses to Arizona State and Stanford. It has been an unexpected slog.

Baylor, meanwhile, is top-ranked and 9-0, while stacking up some astonishing numbers. Two examples: Since the start of last season, the Bears have led by double digits in 36 of 39 games. They’ve also won eight games in a row against top-10 opponents.

Normally, a trip to Oregon would be extremely hazardous, but it’s hard to tell this season. Then again, the Ducks are 4-1 in Eugene, where the exotic court design seeks to give visitors the foreboding sense of being lost deep in the woods. Taking out the No. 1 team in front of the home crowd would ease a lot of the recent pain.

Blue Christmas 

Ah yes, COVID scheduling is back. UCLA and Ohio State had to scrub games this weekend because of positive tests. UCLA was supposed to play North Carolina, and Ohio State was due to meet Kentucky. Sooo, in one of this ad hoc matches the pandemic has so often produced, it’ll be an all-blue Saturday night in Las Vegas with Kentucky vs. North Carolina. Two of three winningest programs of all time on the same court is not a bad Plan B.

By the way, seven games have already been cancelled or postponed on Saturday. Echoes of last winter, with probably more to come.

MORE GAMES: December's top conference matchups to watch

If We Make It Through December 

San Francisco is 10-0 but the upcoming weekend trip to the Phoenix area is a step up in weight class. The Dons play Grand Canyon on Saturday, and the Antelopes are 9-2. Then Arizona State the next day. The Sun Devils might be only 5-6 but are coming off three consecutive wins by a total of eight points, so they’re feeling good karma. If San Francisco makes it through this weekend unbeaten, maybe it’s time for the top 25.

Joy to the World

My, how life is good when the shots are going in. Colorado State is 10-0 and second in the nation in field goal and 3-point percentage and fourth in free throws. That comes in handy when there is a rally to stage. The Rams have erased double-digit deficits in three of their victories. If they beat Tulsa Saturday, they will take a spotless record to Alabama on Tuesday. When this season began, who saw that game as a top 25 clash?

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

Not that Arizona will get the chance to find out this year. Nobody scores like the Wildcats, who have used a 91.7 scoring average and 28.6 scoring margin to roll to a 10-0 start. But they’d better pack their offense for the trial by fire that’s ahead — a triple jump through three ranked opponents on the road in 12 days. First, Tennessee next Wednesday. Then, UCLA on Dec. 30. Finally, USC on Jan. 2. The Trojans are 11-0 and ranked No. 10, but have yet to play a ranked opponent. This will be their chance.

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Consider Iowa State, DePaul, Minnesota, East Carolina and Air Force. They have at least two things in common. One, they’re all off to great starts with a combined record of 44-6. Two, they were all picked to finish last in their conferences, so not a lot of faithful voters came to them. With the user-friendly transportation portal revamping rosters everywhere, preseason ratings have become less reliable than a Ouija board. DePaul’s pre-Christmas week includes Creighton on Monday and No. 16 Seton Hall on Thursday, so the 9-1 Blue Demons in particular will get the chance to provide their bona fides.

SEASONS GREETINGS: 4 holiday wishes for March Madness contenders

My Favorite Things 

Presumably, one of those for John Calipari is beating Louisville. He’s never lost to the Cardinals in Rupp Arena, and that’s where Kentucky and Louisville will be Dec. 22. It’s not a clash of high rankings like in some past years, but that shouldn’t matter when they get a whiff of one another. It’s an interesting holiday season for Kentucky. The North Carolina blind date Saturday, then Louisville, then Missouri to open SEC play, then High Point on New Year’s Eve, meaning Tubby Smith will be back in Rupp Arena. They owe him a warm welcome. One of those national championship banners is his, in case anyone has forgotten.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

But not where they’re playing the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. All the other in-season tournaments have gathered around the Thanksgiving table, but this one will be decided Christmas night, quite possibly between 9-1 Wyoming and 8-2 BYU. Ever been to Laramie or Provo in the winter? Then you’ll understand why both teams won’t mind spending the holiday in Hawaii.

POLLS: Baylor takes No. 1 spot in Andy Katz's new Power 36

Nuttin’ For Christmas 

That’s what offenses often get against LSU. A whole lot of nuttin’. The 9-0 Tigers lead the nation in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, and are second in steals. They recently smacked around Wake Forest by 14 points for the only blemish so far on Wake’s 10-1 record. LSU has yet to take that defense out for a spin against a ranked team, but come Dec. 29, they’ll be at No. 13 Auburn.

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

Baylor is traveling to Iowa State for a game the next day. Baylor is 9-0, Iowa State 10-0. If both teams are still unbeaten, think how much fun that could be; the defending national champions against the team picked to finish last in the Big 12. The next day could conceivably be Arizona and USC and two more unbeatens. That'd be starting 2022 with more than just Auld Lang Syne.

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