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Bracket Bits: Top 5 matchups of New Year’s weekend

Dave2015New Year’s weekend is a cornucopia for college sports fans – bowl games on the turf and bracket games on the hardwood.  Whether because of rivalry or projected importance, here are my Top 5 matchups of New Year’s weekend …

Arizona State at Arizona (Saturday, Dec. 30) – The Pac-12 title could end up being decided by these in-state rivals.  ASU has been this season’s biggest surprise. Arizona stumbled out of the gate, but has since righted the ship, winning seven straight against teams that include UNLV, Texas AM, and Alabama.  Thus, the winner gets an early leg-up in what could be a two-horse Pac-12 race.  The return game in Tempe is February 15.  Circle that one, too.

Louisville at Kentucky (Friday, Dec. 29) – One of the biggest rivalry games in college hoops.  This year, it happens to be that much bigger because both the Cards and the Cats are searching for an identity – and a notable non-conference win for their resume.  To date, Louisville is 0-2 against the potential NCAA-level teams on its schedule (losses to Purdue, Seton Hall); Kentucky is 1-2 against the same metric (losing to Kansas/UCLA and beating Virginia Tech).  Both the ACC and SEC gauntlets will be tough.  The winner enters league play with an added boost – and a chance to gloat.

Baylor at Texas Tech (Friday, Dec. 29) – How good exactly are the Bears and Red Raiders?  One game won’t tell us, obviously, but in an ultra-competitive Big 12, it’s a great fire-starter.  Baylor’s non-conference schedule currently ranks around No. 290.  Best wins: Creighton and underwhelming Wisconsin.  There’s no shame in losing to Xavier or Wichita State, but the Bears’ profile will be stamped by its Big 12 performance.  Although the Red Raiders’ overall NC SOS is better (around 195), their best wins are Nevada (very good), Northwestern and Boston College (maybe not as much).

Oklahoma at TCU (Saturday, Dec. 30) – Trae Young is must-see TV, but beyond his exploits, this game is particularly big for the Horned Frogs.  For starters, it’s at home. Secondly, the Sooners will be the highest-profile opponent TCU has faced – even with its solid NC slate (wins over St. Bonaventure, Nevada, SMU).  As for OU, with a road win at Wichita State already in hand, another impressive road tally before 2018 would be quite a feat.

Saint Mary’s at BYU (Saturday, Dec. 30) – For all of its preseason fanfare, Saint Mary’s road to the NCAA tournament (other than winning the West Coast Conference tourney) likely resides on the outcomes of four games: two each against BYU and Gonzaga.  This is the first of those.  On an otherwise uninspiring non-conference slate, SMC lost its top two games: Georgia and Washington State (they did win at Cal).  While it might not have the flare of some other weekend get-togethers, it’s an important trip for the Gaels.

Enjoy the action this weekend.  A New Year’s bracket update is right around the corner.  Then begins our weekly trek toward Selection Sunday.

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