JOE SULLIVAN | ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images/File 2015
Exams are over and teams are ready to play real games again. There are some sensational matchups this weekend that will affect national rankings. It starts with the incredible idea of No. 1 Michigan State playing at Northeastern. Truly amazing that it’s even taking place.
Then there’s the doubleheader at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Saturday where Indiana will face Notre Dame and Purdue will play Butler. In New York and Brooklyn you have your choice of Utah-Duke, North Carolina-UCLA and Kentucky-Ohio State on Saturday and Pitt-Davidson on Sunday. Wichita State and Seton Hall meet across the river in Newark; and although you’d probably skip it, St. John’s plays NJIT in Jamaica Queens Sunday afternoon too.
Lots of games I’d like to see this weekend:
South Carolina at Clemson: The Gamecocks are 9-0 but this is their first road game and it’s a big rivalry.
Southern at Louisiana Tech: Both are serious contenders in their leagues (SWAC and Conference USA). Should also be uptempo and entertaining.
Mississippi at Memphis: A minor rivalry because of geography but Mississippi has been playing well (including a victory at UMass); the Rebs can win here too.
Fullerton State vs. Oregon State in Portland: This is what’s left of the Far West Classic, which used to be an eight-team, post-Christmas tournament. Fullerton has lost its last two after opening 6-0; Oregon State can’t afford to lose to a Big West team.
Michigan State at Northeastern: Incredible that Tom Izzo brings the No. 1 team in the country to Boston to play NU; if the Spartans are paying attention, they’ll win. If they’re not, NU is capable of an upset.
Utah vs. Duke at Madison Square Garden: The Utes failed on their trip to Wichita State but could really clarify how good they are by beating the Dookies. This is the second trip of the season to New York for Duke, which won’t play a true road game until Saturday, Jan. 2 at BC.
Auburn at Xavier: X will probably roll but it’s been unseasonably warm this December so I want to see Auburn coach Bruce Pearl sweat through his suit.
Georgia Tech at Georgia: The Yellow Jackets are 7-2 and might be better than expected; a road win in Athens will affirm that.
Wichita State at Seton Hall: Injuries have hurt the Shockers but point guard Fred Van Vleet is back and they’ll be looking to win big in beautiful, downtown Newark, NJ.
Villanova at Virginia: An outstanding matchup between two well-coached teams; the home court will most likely decide it.
North Carolina vs. UCLA in Brooklyn: Stating the obvious, it’s two of the top 5 all-time great basketball schools meeting. Should be close too but I think UCLA has found some magic in the last few weeks. I’m not sold on the Tar Heels.
Indiana vs. Notre Dame in Indianapolis: The first of a great doubleheader in a great arena. The Irish should prevail.
Creighton at Oklahoma: I want to see the Sooners again because I’m wondering if they can repeat their performance against Villanova, which was a smashing victory.
Northwestern at DePaul: Two downtrodden programs that are almost assuredly thinking this can be a victory. Northwestern is playing better in the second season under Chris Collins.
Cincinnati at VCU: Nice road trip for the Bearcats but this game is nothing but trouble.
Butler vs. Purdue in Indianapolis: The second half of the Indiana doubleheader. Both these teams could go far in the NCAA tournament. I’m thinking the Boilers in OT.
South Dakota State at Florida Gulf Coast: Two smaller programs that are really good; I love to see a matchup like this.
Northern Iowa vs. Iowa State in Des Moines: State championship implications. Honestly, Iowa State was just lucky to beat Iowa; this will be another close game.
New Mexico State at UTEP: A favorite rivalry game of mine.
Tulsa vs. Oregon State in Portland: Two interesting matchups for Oregon State in the Far West Classic.
Tennessee vs. Gonzaga in Seattle: The Vols are undefeated at home and winless on the road, but the team I saw play Butler has a chance against a Gonzaga squad that’s having its problems.
Texas at Stanford: The Longhorns have to use their upset win over North Carolina as a springboard and not backslide by losing this road game.
Pitt vs. Davidson at Madison Square Garden: This is part of the ACC’s deal with the Atlantic 10. Because the ACC is moving its tournament to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2017 and kicking the A-10 out, the leagues agreed to play some games. Davidson will run the Panthers out of the gym.
Monmouth at Rutgers: It’s really difficult to accept that Rutgers is a big underdog in its own gym against the Fightin’ Springsteens from the Jersey Shore but they are. Monmouth has already beaten UCLA and Georgetown on the road this season.
Hofstra at Stony Brook: The CAA favorite vs. the America East favorite.
Evansville at Fresno State: Weird matchup, right? I find that irresistible.
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