Best College Basketball Games for December 2021

BY MATTY D.

Here are December’s most epic match-ups around the college basketball 2021-2022 season.

These are my choice for the top 4 games in December and why…

4. December 30, 2021 Arizona vs. UCLA

Before the season tipped, it was a foregone conclusion by the “experts” that UCLA would win the PAC-12 conference in convincing fashion. And as Arizona State head football coach would say, “that’s why you play the game.”

Arizona will visit UCLA at the end of the month in what I consider to be the biggest barometer game of the month to figure out how good these teams really are. UCLA got blown out by Gonzaga, which brings up a lot of questions about its previously vaunted defense. Meantime, Arizona has risen from a 80-1 favorite to win it all to the 25 or 35-1 territory. This happened pretty fast. Arizona’s dominant win against Michigan opened a lot of eyes. They also handled a very underrated Wichita State team. One of these teams has built a strong out-of-conference case for having a top seed in the tournament, and it’s not UCLA. This is a true test.

3. December 7, 2021 Villanova vs. Syracuse
Madison Square Garden

You better start Googling Big East Basketball history if you don’t know the significance of this matchup and this location.

2. December 11, 2021 Cincinnati vs. Xavier i.e. “The Crosstown Shootout”

This would be a bad day to physically attend a game, because there’s going to be so much must-see TV drama in your living room. Xavier scraps with Cincinnati in what I consider college basketball’s longest-standing local rivalry with genuine bad blood. The last time tempers really flared up in this one, it involved former Cincy Coach Mick Cronin accusing JP Macura of throwing some F-bombs his way.

And it’s hard to believe that it’s already been 9 years since this all-out brawl at the Cintas Center:

  1. December 11, 2021 Missouri at Kansas
    Allen Fieldhouse

This matchup is what history is made of, literally.  The rivalry between the Jayhawkers of the Free State and the confederate forces of Missouri is well documented.   The hatred lasts to this day.  And Missouri left the Big 12 in recent years to join the SEC.  Without it, there was no natural meeting between these two heated opponents.  With conference re-alignment tearing at the fabric of what makes the regular season great, this is a big win for college basketball that this rivalry is renewed.

More Honorable Mentions and Notes for Upcoming Dates:

Dec 4:  Buffalo Bulls at St. Bonaventure Bonnies 

St. Bonaventure fell hard outside of the top 25 after taking a tough 10 point loss to Northern Iowa.  However, St. Bonaventure should still be everyone’s underdog darling after the way it waxed Marquette (and others) during the “Feast Week” holiday platform.  This Buffalo team was perhaps where St. Bonaventure is ascending to, now.  They are both often overlooked schools in Upstate New York that play for formidable basketball conferences.  Buffalo rose to respectability (and a 2018 tournament game win) under coach Bobby Hurley’s watch.  St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt has been with the Bonnies since the 2007-2008 season and has built a similar threat upstate.  In fact, St. Bonaventure has been considered by some a top 10 mid-major program for a few consecutive years.  This contest could determine who, if, and whether both teams can make a NCAA Tournament with some juice.  

Dec 5:  Richmond vs. Northern Iowa 

It’s not only power 5 conference bubble teams that need to score some out-of-conference wins before the winter officially kicks off.  Richmond and Northern Iowa play each other in a similar, possible, resume building spot.  Richmond was a darks horse candidate to make some noise around the pandemic shortened and canceled seasons.  The same can be said for Northern Iowa.  Big picture, these programs could be on the decline in terms of their bids for an at large in any upcoming tournament.  A game like this could prove otherwise.  

Dec 6:  Iowa vs. Illinois 

Dec 7:  Villanova vs. Syracuse (at MSG) 

Dec 8:  Utah St. vs. BYU 

Dec 9: Iowa vs. Iowa State 

During a week when in-state rivalry let rip, a role reversal might play itself out in the Hawkeye State.  The Cyclones were picked to finished last in the Big 12.  Yet, they found themselves ranked 19th in the AP Top 25 at the start of December.  With Iowa figuring its identity out without graduated Luka Garza, this could be an Iowa changing of the guard.

Dec 10:  Murray State at Memphis 

The school that helped produce the blossoming legend of Ja Morant visits his new home (of the Memphis Grizzlies).  And when it comes to which team has inherited the best new crop of point guard talent, the edge might go to Murray State.  The Racers enter December with only one loss at the top of the Ohio Valley conference.  Memphis, despite having NBA talent, is struggling to run its offense in simple terms.  

Dec 11:  Missouri at Kansas 

This matchup is what history is made of, literally.  The rivalry between the Jayhawkers of the Free State and the confederate forces of Missouri is well documented.   The hatred lasts to this day.  And Missouri left the Big 12 in recent years to join the SEC.  Without it, there was no natural meeting between these two heated opponents.  With conference re-alignment tearing at the fabric of what makes the regular season great, this is a big win for college basketball that this rivalry is renewed. 

Dec 12:  Rutgers vs. Seton Hall

Dec 13:  UMBC vs. Princeton 

Dec 14;  Alabama vs. Memphis 

Dec 15:  UC Irvine vs. USC 

Dec 16: UT Arlington vs. Oral Roberts

Dec 17: St. Mary’s vs. San Diego State

December 18-19: This weekend featured a grand finale of the out-of-conference season.

December 22-25: For college basketball, The Diamondhead Classic is likely the most relevant action around the Christmas holiday itself. BYU has looked awesome at times, but slipped outside of the AP Top 25 ahead of this holiday tournament. Still, the Cougars can score the ball in a variety of ways and come in as the betting favorite. Meantime, a first round matchup between Liberty and Northern Iowa features two mid major programs that have been extremely relevant in the past 3-5 years. A lot of talent has passed through each of these programs, but they remain legitimate threats to pull an upset win, especially in a tournament scenario like this one. Each team retains consistency at the head coaching position. Ben Jacobsen has been leading Northern Iowa since 2006 and Ritchie McCay has made an impact at Liberty almost immediately when getting the job in 2015.

December 30, 2021 Arizona vs. UCLA: UCLA had to pause its activities a week before this game because of COVID-19 issues. Meantime, Arizona drives through a brutal stretch of games around this holiday. The Wildcats play Tennessee after the Vols had ample time to prepare on the heels of Memphis canceling their game in last minute, dysfunctional fashion.

Whichever team, Arizona or UCLA, can navigate the adversity best might find itself as a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament come March.

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