- Can the Sun Devils continue their hot start? Can Florida stop the bleeding when it takes on Cincinnati? It's another intriguing weekend slate as December heats up.
One of the joys of the first half of the college basketball season is reliably great Friday night hoops. This week is no different, with the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic and a triple-header at Staples Center in Los Angeles kicking off the weekend. Here is our preview of 13 of the best games taking place over the next 72 hours.
St. John’s vs. No. 16 Arizona State (Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, Los Angeles)
Friday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Bobby Hurley might have a contender on his hands in Tempe. The Sun Devils shined over Thanksgiving weekend, beating Kansas State and Xavier to win the Las Vegas Invitational. It’s a busy weekend for the Sun Devils, who will head to Lawrence for a showdown with the Jayhawks after this game in Los Angeles (more on that later). This could be a flag-planting game for St. John’s in its first season in years with legitimate tournament hopes, but the Sun Devils’ scoring, led by senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, will be awfully tough to slow down, especially if Marcus LoVett is unable to play.
Arizona State 81, St. John’s 75
No. 25 USC vs. Oklahoma (Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, Los Angeles)
Friday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN2
The high hopes in Los Angeles have been put briefly on hold after the Trojans lost consecutive games to Texas A&M and SMU in convincing fashion. There’s no shame in losing to either of those teams, but the fact that both games were blowouts has Andy Enfield’s team reeling heading into another tough game with Oklahoma. Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing one of the fastest brands of basketball in the country, led by freshman point guard Trae Young, who’s going to get himself into the National Player of the Year conversation if he keeps playing this way. This should be a fun, up-tempo, high-scoring game between two likely tournament teams.
USC 81, Oklahoma 80
No. 20 TCU vs. No. 22 Nevada (Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, Los Angeles)
Friday/Saturday, 1 a.m., ESPNU
They saved the best for last in the Hall of Fame Classic. That’s to be expected in the showbiz capital of the world, but is a bit of a letdown for the rest of the country, considering this game will tip off technically on Saturday morning in the Eastern and Central time zones. This is Nevada’s last game against a power conference team, which makes it a big one for Eric Musselman’s squad. They’re the best team in the Mountain West, but a win over TCU would go a long way to helping them secure an at-large bid, should they need it. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, remain undefeated, and are coming off an impressive win over SMU at home. The Wolf Pack have the shooting to stick with the country’s 12th-ranked offense in points per 100 possessions.
Nevada 79, TCU 76
No. 1 Duke at Boston College
Saturday, noon, ESPN
Duke and Boston College kick off their ACC seasons this weekend in a game the Blue Devils should handle with ease. The Blue Devils are scoring a ridiculous 122.9 points per 100 possessions, and could be in line for a special offensive season. They can score in so many ways that they’re going to make life nearly impossible for every team they play this season. Boston College can take solace in the fact that they won’t be the only ACC team that fails to slow down Marvin Bagley. And Grayson Allen. And Trevon Duval. And Wendell Carter.
Duke 91, Boston College 72
UCLA at Michigan
Saturday, noon, CBS
The Bruins and Wolverines couldn’t possibly have more diametrically opposed styles. The Bruins rank 22nd in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com. The Wolverines rank 346th out of 351 Division I teams. When the paces are that different, sometimes the tired cliché really can win the day. Whichever team gets the game in its desired pace for the balance of the afternoon will come away with a victory. We give the Wolverines the edge, thanks to home court advantage.
Michigan 74, UCLA 70
Indiana at Louisville
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
This is one of the more intriguing games between two unranked teams you could hope to find on the second weekend of December. It’s far too early to make pronouncements about either of these teams, but Indiana has been likely a little better than expected, while Louisville has been a bit worse than expected. That could make this a sort of moving-day game for both teams, especially Louisville, which won’t play another quality opponent until it visits Kentucky at the end of the month. The calendar may read just December 9 when this game tips off, but it’s an important one for both schools.
Louisville 82, Indiana 68
No. 6 Wichita State at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
The Shockers have been a bit Jekyll-and-Hyde of late, winning at Baylor but then just squeaking past South Dakota State at home. It’s largely a rebuilding year for Oklahoma State, so it would be encouraging to see the Shockers go into Stillwater and handle their business. Gregg Marshall is modulating minutes across the roster, with seven players averaging between 19 and 27 minutes. That’s wise for a team with legitimate national championship hopes. We’ll see those bona fides on display this weekend.
Wichita State 75, Oklahoma State 64
No. 5 Florida vs. No. 17 Cincinnati (Never Forget Tribute Classic, Newark, N.J.)
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Florida is coming off a shocking home loss to Loyola-Chicago and is now riding a three-game losing streak. Turning it around against Cincinnati will be a tall order. Mick Cronin’s slow, grinding style is more effective than ever now that he has his best offensive team of his Cincinnati tenure. If Florida is going to get the pace up, it will have to find a way to make Jacob Evans and Gary Clark inefficient scorers. I wouldn’t bet on the Bearcats struggling again after their ugly loss to Xavier last week.
Cincinnati 72, Florida 66
No. 14 Minnesota at Arkansas
Saturday, 6:45 p.m., SEC Network
Both of these teams like to get up and down the floor, so we should see an entertaining game in Fayetteville on Saturday. Arkansas shoots the three well, and Minnesota has had trouble defending it, so that could be a significant advantage for the Razorbacks. The Gophers are coming off an ugly road loss to Nebraska, and now have a much tougher road test on their hands. Amir Coffey’s size on the wing could be a major problem for Arkansas.
Minnesota 82, Arkansas 80
Alabama at Arizona
Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2
What a great bounce-back win for the Wildcats, who knocked off previously unbeaten Texas A&M earlier this week. They didn’t put on an offensive show, shooting 42.6% from the floor and scoring 1.02 points per possession, but they shut down the Aggies and earned their best win of the season. Collin Sexton will present them with another unique challenge on Saturday, but the Wildcats are in position to put their ugly, three-game losing streak fully in the rearview mirror with a win.
Arizona 75, Alabama 67
VCU at No. 19 Seton Hall
Saturday, 3 p.m.
Seton Hall is putting together a very impressive non-conference résumé, with wins over Indiana, Vanderbilt, Texas Tech and Louisville, three of which were away from home, with one true road victory (Louisville) for good measure. The Rams, meanwhile, haven’t quite been able to get over the hump against top-level competition. This is their last opportunity to do so before beginning conference play, which makes this a crucial game given the lack of quality teams in the Atlantic 10 this year. It’s also likely too tall an order against a Pirates team that is rolling into Big East play as one of the best teams in a loaded conference.
Seton Hall 85, VCU 70
No. 16 Arizona State at No. 2 Kansas
Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Told you we’d get back to Arizona State. This is set to be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend, with the Tra Holder-Shannon Evans backcourt going up against Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick. Kansas is coming off a stunning loss to Washington in which the offense sputtered throughout. The big question for the Sun Devils will be stamina. After playing two nights earlier in Los Angeles, how will they handle a long trip to take on one of the best teams in the country? This is a great opportunity for the Jayhawks to get right.
Kansas 85, Arizona State 73
No. 12 Gonzaga at Washington
Sunday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Washington will try to follow up its massive upset of Kansas by pulling off another against Gonzaga. Both of these teams have let their opponents knock down threes at an alarmingly high rate. The difference, though, is that Gonzaga can also shoot it well from behind the arc, while the Huskies rank 219th in three-point percentage this season. Ultimately, the Bulldogs just have too much offense behind Johnathan Williams and Josh Perkins.
Gonzaga 88, Washington 74