Inside the Bracket: Games to track before New Year’s
In four days, it’ll be 2013, and the race to Selection Sunday begins takes on added meaning. But these four days are packed with key games. Here’s a look at some games we’ll be paying close attention to through New Year’s Eve …
Friday, December 28
Baylor at Gonzaga – The last time Gonzaga hosted a potential NCAA team on its home floor, Illinois left The Kennel with an 11-point victory. And while the visiting Bears have a headscratching loss to College of Charleston (and one at home to Northwestern), they do have a road win at Kentucky.
Missouri at UCLA – Will this be a season-changing moment for UCLA? The Bruins have largely underachieved, and have yet to post a high-caliber victory (Texas is questionnable – although the Indiana State win looks better). Missouri’s new pieces are coming together and Jabari Brown has added some outside scoring punch. Come March, it’s not a stretch to think this Mizzou team could actually be better than last year’s.
Saturday, December 29
Kentucky at Louisville – One of the nation’s best rivalries. That said, this game will tell us more about where UK is than Louisville. The Wildcats’ best win is over Maryland in November, and while there are no “bad” losses, Big Blue Nation grew a bit restless after falling to Baylor at home. Gorgui Dieng is expected to return for the Cardinals.
Virginia Tech vs. BYU (at Salt Lake) - A defacto home game for the Cougars, this has mid-season bubble-game written all over it. Tech has the better overall resume to date, but the Hokies have lost three of five – including a home game to Georgia Southern.
UNLV at North Carolina – If the Tar Heels come up short, a spot in our January 7 bracket would be very questionnable. Thus far, UNC has been non-competitive in its three biggest games – all losses (Butler, Indiana, Texas). Defense has been the biggest issue as the Heels lead the nation in assists, and rank third in both points scored and rebounding.
Ohio at Oklahoma – Both teams need something noteworthy outside conference play. Last chance to make that happen.
South Dakota State at North Dakota State – What a way to open Summit League play. NCSU and SDSU are a combined 20-7, and the visiting Jackrabbits are coming off a win at New Mexico.
Sunday, December 30
Illinois State at Indiana State – In a very competitive Missouri Valley, both “State’s” could be bubble teams by March. Illinois State has received more pub thus far, but the crew from Terre Haute is coming of wins over Ole Miss and Miami-FL in Hawaii.
Northern Iowa at Wichita State – Along with the two squads above, UNI and WSU are likely to remain in the at-large picture. Conference road games (and wins) are always at a premium.
Monday, December 31
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh – This is Pitt’s toughest opponent since losing to Michigan in New York. It’s only the second true road game for Cincinnati. The Bearcats should be in a fiesty mood after the home loss to New Mexico.
Indiana at Iowa – It”ll be tough for Iowa to make the NCAA tourney without winning big games at home. As for Indiana, the Hoosiers have yet to play at true road game. A Hawkeye victory likely seals them a spot in our opening 2013 bracket.
Michigan State at Minnesota – Right now, the host Gophers are several spots higher on the s-curve. The Spartans are always tough on the boards, but can they find enough scoring? This will be one of many big-time battles in a loaded Big Ten.
New Mexico at St. Louis – For a variety of reasons, the Billikens have dropped from the national spotlight. This is a good chance for Saint Louis to re-entergize its season.
Enjoy a great long weekend of hoops.