Two sets of Pac-10 road warriors
Texas at Memphis, Monday, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: This is the first gut check for the Longhorns since losing to Tennessee and Duke. Texas is likely going with a new lineup, using Daniel Gibson more at shooting guard and freshman A.J. Abrams at the point. The Tigers continue their national-best preconference schedule by playing yet another big-name program, one that was ranked No. 2 earlier this season.
George Washington at Temple, Wednesday, 6 ET: The Colonials couldn't hang with NC State's system in Raleigh. OK, so that game could end up hurting the seeding process, but this one means more with the chance to get off to a good start in the A-10 title chase. The Colonials will have to dictate tempo if they want to get out of Philly with a win.
Villanova at Louisville, Thursday, 7 ET, ESPN2: Wow, what a Big East opener! This is how it should be for a conference. The Cards and Wildcats are perfect for each other, both teams heavy with guards who have a propensity to drive to the hoop. This should be one of the best Big East games of the season, and it's not even the first full week of January.
Michigan State at Illinois, Thursday, 9 ET, ESPN2: Once again, a conference that gets it and is opening with a bang. This has turned into one of the best rivalries in the country. Illinois is up to the challenge of taking on the Spartans for the Big Ten title. Anyone who just handed it to MSU in the preseason (like ... me!) didn't give the Illini enough credit.
UCLA at Arizona, Thursday, 10:30 ET: The Wildcats are on a tear and the Bruins are coming off a disappointing home loss. Arizona can take what would appear to be a commanding lead over UCLA in the Pac-10 title race with a win here and a two-game lead over the Bruins and a head-to-head win over Washington in Seattle.
Give Ohio State credit for winning the close games so far this season, none more amazing than the second-half comeback that stunned LSU Saturday. In their four tight contests this season (Butler, Saint Joseph's, Iowa State and LSU), the Buckeyes have done two things very well: shoot the 3 and make free throws. A lot of little things have fallen into place just right for Thad Matta's team so far this season (of course, it helps to play eight of your first 10 at home), but that might lead to plenty of good things in the Big Ten.
|'Eyes on the prize|
|4 close games||Other 6 games|
Rocking The Rim
It's hard to divine much about Louisville from its early schedule, but we can tell you that the Cardinals are one of only two Big East teams (along with Syracuse) with three players averaging six or more rebounds per game. This is interesting because they open Big East play against Villanova, which doesn't have anyone averaging that many boards.
On Thursday, the Wildcats will have to match up with 6-foot-8 Juan Palacios and 6-11 David Padgett, as well as deal with hustling leading scorer Taquan Dean, the Big East's leading rebounder from the guard position (6.3 rpg). Dean, in particular, has established himself as someone who, despite being only 6-foot-3, has a nose for the ball. We'll see if he can outplay Randy Foye, who is second in the conference in guard rebounding (5.8 rpg) and who nearly had a triple-double Saturday in what was considered an off day for him.
Matchup of the week
The rivalry between Michigan State and Illinois began in 1951 with four straight Illinois wins, but since then only twice have the Illini been able to put together a streak that long against the Spartans. They'll try to make it three straight wins against MSU on Thursday night on ESPN2 and try to keep their 29-game home-court win streak alive as well. The 97 meetings between these two teams have been fairly even, with Illinois winning 50 times. The last three games haven't been close, so we'll leave those out as we relive some of the more memorable contests between these squads since the early '90s.
|This is the only time the Spartans' current seniors have beaten the Illini. Then-freshman Paul Davis had 15 points, eight rebounds and five steals in the win. This one looked like it was going to be an Illinois rout, as the Illini led 15-2 and were up by 14 late in the first half, but couldn't hang on to pick up a road win.|
|Tom Izzo called his team dysfunctional after it lost at home to Illinois for the first time in five years. Frank Williams scored 22 points in the win for the Illini, including a key shot clock buzzer-beating 3-pointer late in the game to help clinch the win.|
|This was the first of five straight Spartans wins in this rivalry, the second-longest win streak for them in the series (MSU won 10 straight from 1974 to 1978). It was a nail-biter, though, against an Illini team that entered 0-4 in the Big Ten. Jason Klein had 15 points in the win, which wasn't assured until a halfcourt heave from Cory Bradford just missed at the buzzer.|
|Mateen Cleaves put on one of the best offensive performances in the history of the rivalry, scoring 17 of what was a career-best 27 points in the first seven minutes of the second half. That enabled Michigan State to rally from eight points down at halftime for a win that allowed them to take over a share of first place in the Big Ten from the Illini.|
|Then-Spartans assistant head coach Tom Izzo got credit for designing the buzzer-beating play that won this game: a give-and-go resulting in a Kris Weshinskey uncontested layup at the horn, capping a bizarre final 15 seconds in which both teams missed out on chances to take the lead. Shawn Respert, a decoy on the final play, scored 28 points in the win.|
In the bonus
Two seasons ago, Division III Carnegie Mellon came reasonably close to beating D-I Robert Morris, losing by 13 points in a game that was single digits for the majority of the contest.
The Tartans might have had a better chance were they not without one key player, who was out with what head coach Tony Wingen termed "an academic injury." No, that wasn't a clever term for failing tests or cutting class. Turns out the kid cut his hand up working on a project for his mechanical engineering class. That's not the type of thing you'll see too often in college basketball at any level.
Carnegie Mellon defeated Princeton last week, the highest-profile win for a Division III program over a Division I in a long time. The Tartans (10-0 entering Monday's action, by the way) are one of a few teams at that level that try to take a shot at knocking off one of the big boys every year, figuring "Why not?" The Division I schools may look at it as an easy win, but the Division III squads take these games quite seriously. A loss doesn't hurt them too much. Win and you wind up like forward Nate Maurer, sitting at your first-ever postgame press conference, with national media in attendance, asking your coach, "What are we supposed to say?"
Carnegie Mellon is not a basketball power by any stretch of the imagination -- this start is the best in team history (not bad for a squad that was picked fourth in the University Athletic Association). Wingen says his graduation rate for four-year players (the measurement used by most Division I schools) is 100 percent, and that dates back to his first year, 1990. Among last year's eight graduated seniors, four are in grad school or law school, three are professional engineers and one is even playing basketball professionally in England. They'll all hear a lot about this win -- one that started a seven-game road trip on the right foot.
"If this wasn't the biggest win in school history, it's right up there with any of them," Wingen said. "It was fantastic. To prepare to win, carry out the game plan to perfection, and actually win the game, it was like winning a championship."