With the non-conference portion of the season winding down, this week could be the last chance for some teams to show the NCAA tournament selection committee and the rest of the college basketball world they are for real. There are also several conference games that could catapult certain teams into the season.
Here are some key matchups to keep an eye on.
Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Rutgers (9-2) at No.9 North Carolina (9-3)
This will be the ultimate test for Rutgers center Hamady Ndiaye. Ndiaye blocked a career-high 10 shots in a 66-42 win over St. Peter’s last week. Tonight he will face a rugged North Carolina frontcourt led by Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller. All three are scoring in double figures. Last year it wasn’t even close as the Tar Heels blasted the Scarlet Knights, 97-75.
Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.
No.5 Syracuse (12-0) at Seton Hall (9-2)
While the Orange have been the story on the east coast, Seton Hall has turned some heads with a great start. Close losses to Temple and West Virginia and the play of Jeremy Hazell have some people thinking the Hall is for real. But it’s time for Seton Hall to win one of these games. An early-season win over a ranked opponent will be just what the doctor ordered.
Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.
No.20 Texas Tech (10-1) at No.19 New Mexico (12-1)
This matchup is really more important for No.13 New Mexico than it is for 23rd-ranked Texas Tech. While Texas Tech coach Pat Knight is beginning to pick up steam and separate himself from his legendary father Bobby, the Lobos need the win to prove they are for real, especially after a bad loss to Oral Roberts last week. Outside of a win against then 16th-ranked Texas A&M on December 12, they haven’t beaten anyone of note. New Mexico’s dynamic duo of Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez is averaging a combined 32 points per game.
Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.
No.10 Connecticut (9-2) at Cincinnati (8-3)
This is a nice early-season test for both teams. A win for Cincinnati would certainly keep it in the headlines. A win for No.11 Connecticut would justify its lofty ranking. Not to say that the Huskies aren’t good, but they’ve been inconsistent this season. Too much emphasis is placed on the backcourt of Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker. This could also be a coming out party for highly touted freshman Lance Stephenson. Stephenson has played within himself so far. He’s averaging 12 points on 47 percent shooting.
Thursday, 2:00 p.m.
No.15 Ohio State (10-2) at No.23 Wisconsin (10-2)
Ohio State is a different team without leading scorer and rebounder Evan Turner. Somehow they’ve remained in the rankings. Even without Turner the 17th-ranked Buckeyes almost knocked off Butler. But Thursday night will present a huge test for Ohio State. Its amazing Wisconsin, with wins over Duke and Maryland, wasn’t ranked in the AP poll last week. Okay, they have a bad loss to Wisconsin Green Bay, but the Badgers are still a talented team that plays sound defense.
Thursday, 4:00 p.m.
No.14 Tennessee (9-2) vs. Memphis (8-2)
This is an absolutely enormous early-season non-conference game for Memphis. Yes, Memphis. The Tigers need to move out from Calipari’s shadow and prove they can be a top-flight program on their own. A two-point loss to Kansas was encouraging, but that good feeling was doused by a tough setback to UMass. Elliot Williams (20.1 ppg, 4.5 reb, 3.7 ast) has been the be-all, end all for the Tigers. Someone else, preferably backcourt mate Doneal Mack, needs to step up and offer help. The Volunteers are a little weaker than their record suggests. A 20-point loss to USC last week proved it.
Thursday 8:00 p.m.
St. John’s (10-2) at No.13 Georgetown (9-1)
Is No.14 Georgetown overrated? Some people think so. Is St. John’s for real? Most aren’t convinced. This game should answer at least one question. If the Red Storm can pull off the upset, that will be at least two quality wins (Temple was the other). If St. John’s can’t get the win, you’ll continue to hear “Same ‘Ol Storm”. Georgetown plays excellent team defense, so St. John’s can’t afford to be sloppy with the ball or to sit on the perimeter and launch three after three. St. John’s went 13-for-28 from long range in an 80-44 win over Bryant last week. Hopefully they won’t head to Washington D.C. thinking they can do that again. Injury note: St. John’s could have Justin Burrell (right ankle sprain) for the game.
Friday 2:30 p.m.
No.6 West Virginia (10-0) at No.4 Purdue (11-0)
This is one of those games that has “NCAA Tournament committee game” written all over it. Devin Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler and Kevin Jones form the best 1-2-3 combo in the Big East. They are talented enough to carry the sixth-ranked Mountaineers to the Final Four. As for No.4 Purdue, this is a game that will keep them fresh in the minds of the national media. Early-season wins over Tennessee, Wake Forest and Alabama has people believing in Purdue.
Dayton (9-2) at No.19 New Mexico (12-1)
While this may not be considered a marquee matchup on a large scale, Dayton could score a lot of points with the national media with a win. The Atlantic 10 already has several wins over ranked teams to boast. Another win would had another rung to their belt. New Mexico needs to win, especially if they fall to Texas Tech.
Check back tomorrow for Saturday’s matchups