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  • The early tournaments are done, Thanksgiving is behind us. But there's no break in the action as the calendar turns to December.
By Michael Beller
December 01, 2017

The dawning of December means the early portion of the season is behind us. Thanksgiving tournaments and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge are in the rearview mirror, pushing the season into its more natural rhythm. Three non-conference games featuring top 25 teams all take place between Friday night and 2 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday afternoon, so there won’t be any time to catch your breath this first weekend of December.

No. 25 Creighton at No. 15 Gonzaga

Friday, 10 p.m., ESPN2

The weekend kicks off with a bang with these two teams meeting in Spokane. Much of the focus will be on the backcourts, where Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas will square off with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. Johnathan Williams, however, could be the difference maker. Creighton struggled with Terry Maston in its loss to Baylor, its only reversal of the season thus far. Williams gets his points in similar fashion, putting the onus on the Blue Jays frontcourt to slow him down.

Gonzaga 78, Creighton 71

No. 11 Cincinnati at No. 21 Xavier

Saturday, noon, FS1

This is always a fun matchup, but even more so when both teams are good. The Bearcats have yet to lose this season, but they haven’t really been tested. Xavier, meanwhile, dropped a neutral-floor game to Arizona State, but also owns wins over Baylor and at Wisconsin. Mick Cronin’s team is always among the defensive leaders, and it’ll need to be to slow down Trevon Bluiett, who’s already having a fantastic senior season. If the Bearcats can figure out a way to keep him in check, their balanced scoring attack could get them over the hump.

Xavier 66, Cincinnati 65

Indiana at Michigan

Saturday, 12:30 p.m., CBS

A conference game in early December? No, this isn’t a typo. The Big Ten is playing its tournament at Madison Square Garden one week earlier than usual, which forced the conference to move a week’s worth of conference games up a month. This is a big game for a couple of teams that could go either way in the Big Ten. There are no guarantees in the conference behind Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota and possibly Northwestern, which makes any game between two of the teams in the middle of the conference filled with postseason implications. The Hoosiers opened some eyes with their play against Duke earlier this week, but the Wolverines are simply the better team here.

Michigan 72, Indiana 63

No. 8 Wichita State at No. 16 Baylor

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU

The game of the weekend. Baylor followed up its championship in the Hall of Fame Classic, which included wins over Wisconsin and Creighton, with a tough loss at Xavier. Wichita State came up one point short last week on a neutral floor against Notre Dame, its toughest game of the season thus far. The difference in this one could come on the glass, where the Shockers have been excellent on both ends of the floor to start the season. In the end, the bet here is it’ll also be too much Landry Shamet for the Bears.

Wichita State 73, Baylor 65

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Providence at Rhode Island

Saturday, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network

The battle for supremacy in the Ocean State doubles as a flag-planting game for both teams. Providence has taken care of its business this season, with its only loss to a Minnesota team that is going to be a monster in the Big Ten. Rhode Island has a win over Seton Hall, played a better-than-you-currently-realize Nevada team tough on the road, and dropped a neutral-floor game to Virginia. By percentage, the Friars and Rams are two of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. Providence will enjoy a major size advantage in this game, something it will need to try to slow down Jared Terrell.

Rhode Island 78, Providence 74

No. 2 Kansas vs. Syracuse (in Miami)

Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN

The Jayhawks and Orange kick off this year’s Hoophall Miami Invitational, which is a two-game event, but not a tournament (Miami and Princeton play in the nightcap). This game features two of the 20 remaining unbeaten teams in the country, which isn’t a huge surprise for at least one of them. The Jayhawks have embraced small-ball and been ruthlessly efficient in doing so. Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman are all shooting at least 50% from behind the arc on at least 24 attempts. With Devonte’ Graham directing the show, this is one of the best, most entertaining offenses in the country. Sorry, Syracuse, we’ll give you more love later in the season.

Kansas 84, Syracuse 69

No. 4 Villanova at Saint Joseph’s

Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN2

No Josh Hart and no Kris Jenkins has proved to be no problem for Villanova thus far. Jalen Brunson has stepped up his scoring, shooting a remarkable 65.8% from the floor. Mikal Bridges is just behind him, knocking down 57.7% of his field goal attempts. Brunson and Bridges could very well be the most dangerous outside-inside combo in the country, especially with Bridges making 17 of his 35 three-point attempts on the season. Villanova should continue its Philadelphia dominance with ease.

Villanova 82, Saint Joseph’s 68

No. 14 USC at SMU

Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPNU

The Mustangs have had an odd couple of weeks, sandwiching a win over Arizona between losses to Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky. A home tilt with the Trojans is a chance for them to show they’re more the team that beat the Wildcats, and less the team that lost to two schools unlikely to do much damage this season. For USC, it’s a chance to get right and wash out the taste of a tough home loss to Texas A&M, which looks like it might be one of the best teams in the country. USC’s pace might be too much for SMU to handle.

USC 70, SMU 64

Arizona at UNLV

Saturday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network

The Wildcats probably didn’t plan on an early December matchup with UNLV being one of the weekend’s games to watch, but after three straight losses, punctuated by a 25-point drubbing at the hands of Purdue, they have something to prove. For what it’s worth, UNLV’s win over Utah is more impressive than anything Arizona has achieved early on this season. The Wildcats need to get right in this one, with games next week against Texas A&M and Alabama. If their slide continues—and yes, they broke their losing streak earlier this week against Long Beach State, but you know what we’re saying—we might have to significantly recalibrate expectations for this team.

Arizona 79, UNLV 64

UCF at No. 24 Alabama

Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPNU

The season isn’t quite a month old, but it’s safe to say Collin Sexton is living up to the hype. UCF, on the other hand, was expected to be a player in the AAC this year, but has instead has played some of the most dreadful offense in the country. The Knights are 207th in points per 100 possessions, 331st in effective field goal percentage and 337th in turnover rate, according to kenpom.com. Alabama has an interesting week ahead with games against Rhode Island and Arizona. They should go into it with the tailwind of a win this weekend.

Alabama 71, UCF 59

Seton Hall at No. 17 Louisville

Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN2

This is a nice bounceback opportunity for Louisville, which dropped a road game at Purdue earlier this week. That was the Cardinals first real test of the season and they failed it miserably, shooting 31.7% from the floor and scoring 0.78 points per possession. As good as Purdue is, that doesn’t inspire much confidence for an offense that was always going to be a work in progress. Seton Hall is another good defensive team, and it has the size in Angel Delgado, Michael Nzei and Desi Rodriguez to make life tough for Deng Adel and Ray Spalding. Still, this should be a game in which the Cardinals get things back on track, especially since they’re at home.

Louisville 75, Seton Hall 72

Northwestern at Purdue

Sunday, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network

Alright, Boilermakers, we’ll give you a pass for that loss to Western Kentucky. Just don’t do something like that again. Since dropping the game to the Hilltoppers, the Boilermakers picked up wins over Arizona (by 25 points) and Louisville (by nine points). The most anticipated season in Northwestern history, meanwhile, is off to a rocky start. The Wildcats have lost all three games they’ve played against major conference teams (Creighton, Texas Tech and Georgia Tech). Bad offensive rebounding and average three-point shooting is a bad mix for any team, especially one with Northwestern’s personnel. Led by Vincent Edwards and Carsen Edwards, Purdue has been one of the most efficient teams in the country. This has the look of another discouraging game for the Wildcats. Both teams open their Big Ten seasons on Friday, when Purdue visits Maryland and Northwestern hosts Illinois.

Purdue 80, Northwestern 65

Tennessee at Georgia Tech

Sunday, 6 p.m., ESPNU

The Volunteers have been one of the biggest surprises of the season. After beating Purdue in overtime last week, behind 22 points from Grant Williams, they took a 12-point lead into halftime against Villanova. The Wildcats eventually came back to win, but Rick Barnes’s team is going to be a player in the SEC. If they can speed up Georgia Tech on Sunday, the Vols will have a shot at a resume-building road win. Ben Lammers is the one truly consistent scoring threat for the Yellow Jackets, which makes containing him key for the Volunteers.

Tennessee 64, Georgia Tech 58

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