A Good One: UCLA at North Carolina (Brooklyn, NY) | 12:00 PM, CBS
The Bruins are on a five-game tear since dropping consecutive neutral court matchups to Kansas and Wake Forest before Thanksgiving. For what it’s worth, UNC rebounded from their last-second loss to Texas with a win over lowly Tulane. But Kennedy Meeks is now out, which should give UCLA a decided advantage in the post with Thomas Welch and Tony Parker. Brice Johnson is going to have his work cut out.
KenPom Line: Tar Heels by 6
Matchup to Watch: Justin Jackson vs. Isaac Hamilton
A Better One: Villanova at Virginia | 11:00 AM, ESPN2
I always enjoy these early season “something’s got to give” matchups. Villanova is as efficient, especially from two-point range, as any team in the country. But Virginia has continued to do what they’ve always under Tony Bennett: slow opposing offenses down and protect the paint to prevent dribble penetration. If UVA can force the Wildcats to rely on the three like Oklahoma did on Dec. 7, it’ll be a tough day for Jay Wright & Co. Don’t sleep on Nova’s interior defense either.
KenPom Line: Cavaliers by 4
Matchup to Watch: Anthony Gill vs. Josh Hart
The Best One: Indiana at Notre Dame (Indianapolis, IN) | 1:00 PM, ESPN2
I fear that the common man is not prepared for the amount of points that will be scored in this game. This is a matchup of the 2nd (Notre Dame) and 4th (Indiana) most efficient offenses in the country, and neither team does much to keep its opponents from scoring either (111th and 129th in defensive efficiency). Both squads have won three straight, with the Hoosiers averaging 96 points per game during their streak. And how about this: these teams have eclipsed 80 points a combined 14 times already this season.
KenPom Line: Fighting Irish by 1
Matchup to Watch: Demetrius Jackson vs. Yogi Ferrell
A Good One: Kentucky at Ohio State (Brooklyn, NY) | 2:30 PM, CBS
This game won’t be terribly competitive, but there are too many great athletes on the floor to not at least tune in for an hour or so. The Lyle-Ulis matchup at the PG position is going to be a great one despite their subpar shooting performances of late. Kentucky has been competitive in every game, Ohio State hasn’t, and the Wildcats are far better at every position. But I do like how the Buckeyes match up in the paint… kind of. I don’t think it’ll be a cakewalk for Skal Labissiere down there.
KenPom Line: Wildcats by 10
Matchup to Watch: JaQuan Lyle vs. Tyler Ulis
A Better One: Purdue at Butler (Indianapolis, IN) | 4:00 PM, BTN
What a great year for the Crossroads Classic. Purdue-Butler will tip off immediately after Notre Dame-Indiana (note: different channels!), and it’s been a long time since all four were as entertaining as they look to be this year. This to me is the better of the two games, as Purdue is a very quiet 11-0 behind the nation’s top defense and the Bulldogs have ripped off five straight including a road win at Cincinnati. Butler is tough as hell to beat when the ball is moving and shots are falling. Purdue’s perfect record could be in jeopardy.
KenPom Line: Boilermakers by 8
Matchup to Watch: Andrew Chrabascz vs. Caleb Swanigan
The Best One: Cincinnati at VCU | 3:00 PM, CBS
Things just aren’t the same for VCU under Will Wade—not that they won’t ever be—but boy, “havoc” sure would’ve been a fun component in a matchup with Cincinnati. The 5-4 Rams get a salty Bearcat team that’s just a week removed from its 10-point loss to crosstown rival Xavier. Points come at a premium for VCU this year, and it may take a minor offensive miracle for them to bust out of their two-game skid against a brutally physical Cincy defense. Things can get interesting if JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson can force turnovers in the backcourt.
KenPom Line: Bearcats by 1
Matchup to Watch: Korey Billbury vs. Shaq Thomas
A Good One: Texas at Stanford | 10:30 PM, ESPN2
Texas and Stanford are both unbeaten in December, and aside from the Longhorns track meet with North Carolina, each team has played outstanding defense along the way. The Cardinal were shaky early and are still looking for that elusive marquee non-conference victory. But this is the first true road test for Shaka Smart, and that’s is always a tough task. If Texas can go 12-for-24 from outside like they did against UNC, that’s trouble.
KenPom Line: Longhorns by 1
Matchup to Watch: Marcus Allen vs. Javan Felix
A Better One: Baylor at Texas A&M | 8:00 PM, ESPNU
Be on dual “future opponent watch” for this one. Baylor’s first true road test of the year is a visit to College Station, where the Aggies have lost (get this) just three non-conference games since 2003! The Bears will attempt to challenge A&M’s pace and efficient shooting, which has fueled easily their best offense effort since the Mark Turgeon days. Baylor is a quiet 8-1 behind a weak schedule that won’t get any harder before Big 12 play, so the Bears will need this win on their résumé.
KenPom Line: Aggies by 1
Matchup to Watch: Tyler Davis vs. Rico Gathers.
The Best One: Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Des Moines, IA) | 6:00 PM, ESPNU
Personal bias aside, this is the best team matchup of the evening block and easily the best individual matchup of the entire day. Morris-Washpun should be a sight to behold, and it goes beyond the facilitating and game-managing—both guys have scored in double-figures in every single game this season. We know UNI can play David, and we know Iowa State can play Goliath. But a puzzling 19-point loss to New Mexico has the Panthers sort of in an odd way coming into the Big Four Classic. But they’ve had a week to prepare for the Cyclones, who will need to control the glass and assert their pace in the open court. If the door is left cracked, even a little bit, we know what Ben Jacobson can do.
KenPom Line: Cyclones by 7
Matchup to Watch: Monte Morris vs. Wes Washpun