The first weekend of the New Year is likely the last weekend of non-conference games for most schools across the country. It's your last chance to see unusual matchups before being relegated to exciting Big East basketball for some or the less exciting SWAC basketball (unfortunately) for others.
Noteworthy Non-Conference Collisions
South Carolina at Baylor, Friday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN360.com
Frenetic, track meet, rabid are a few apropos words to describe Friday's game between the Bears and Gamecocks. Baylor uses a three guard set to move the ball around in order to get an open look for three or an open lane to the basket. The Bears will also look to able to push the ball in transition because of their overall speed.
The Gamecocks who are off to a solid 9-2 start and are coming off a tough loss to still undefeated Clemson. USC will provide on the ball pressure that shouldn't be hard to overcome for Baylor since Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn are extremely strong ball-handlers.
Baylor should win this game comfortably, but South Carolina boasts the most explosive player in the SEC, Devan Downey. The Gamecock guard dropped a career high 37 points on Clemson and if hot again, will keep USC in the game long enough for someone else to step up.
Tennessee at Kansas, Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN
Kansas needs this game. The Jayhawks have to pick up a victory against Tennessee in order to gain momentum heading into conference play and to have a marquee "W" on their resume come selection Sunday.
The SEC needs Tennessee to win this game. This conference has been embarrassed enough times this year already that another loss to a major conference opponent in one of the league's last conference games would leave a black and blue mark that'd last through March.
Xavier at Virginia, Saturday at 2 p.m.
Xavier is trying to get back on track after a couple hard losses to Duke and Butler. A game against a weak ACC team wouldn't be a big resume builder, but would at least prove to be a self-esteem booster.
Virginia will really take any win it can get at this point. The Cavaliers' ultimate goal this year is probably to make some kind of postseason tournament so a win against Xavier would go a long ways in at least getting them into the NIT or CBI.
Xavier should pick up a fairly easy win against Virginia, but after how easily Duke picked apart the Musketeers, nothing is a certainty.
Virginia freshman Sylven Landesberg has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the ACC and has shown the ability to single-handedly take over games. A career night in Landesberg's short career will be necessary for the Cavaliers to have a chance to claim victory.
Wake Forest vs. BYU, Saturday at 8 p.m.
This could be as good a game you'd ever want to watch, but can't because it won't be on national television. BYU has won an astounding 54 consecutive games in its own building, the Marriott Center.
At 11-1, BYU enters the game one win away from jumping into the polls. A strong trio of scorers, Jon Tavernari, Lee Cummard, and Jimmer Fredette will anchor the Cougar attack.
Wake Forest will counter with its own trio of young, but extremely talented stars. Coach Dino Gaudio has two stellar sophomores, guard Jeff Teague and forward James Johnson are as good inside-outside combination you're going to find east of the Mississippi. Add in superfrosh Al-Farouq Aminu and the Demon Deacons can run with anyone.
Wake will need something to neutralize BYU's incredible home court advantage and that something will likely be the Demon Deacons' depth and versatility. Dino Gaudio can throw a gigantic lineup at you with five solid towers that stand 6'9'' or taller, but also has a nice array of guards that can create a formidable three guard lineup.
Kentucky vs. Louisville, Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on CBS
The Bluegrass rivalry is lacking a little pop in terms of eye-popping good teams. If this game was played two days later, it'd likely be a matchup of unranked teams as the 18th-ranked Cardinals are coming off another loss. Louisville is the prototypical group of athletes who play outstanding defense, but cannot operate its halfcourt offense.
Kentucky has shown it can score, and especially shoot with anybody, but the 'Cats turnover problems (over 18 per game) will be a major nuisance for Bill Gilispie. Louisville needs turnovers to score easy points in its deadly fast-break offense.
If Kentucky provides Louisville with the turnovers, Ashley Judd can count on a loss.
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