College Basketball’s Hybrid Weekend of Important In and Non-Conference Games

BY MATTY D.

It’s the season of giving and college basketball is delivering in its last weekend before Christmas.

The schedule for Saturday, December 18th features critically important games in-conference and out of conference.

Let’s start with the much-maligned Memphis Tigers. They have caught criticism because brining on two 17-year-olds (who re-classified in high school) top NBA prospects hasn’t jived yet. After a four game losing streak, they stopped the bleeding with a season saving resume building win against highly ranked Alabama. Today, they have another important regional and non-conference matchup. They catch Tennessee as a 5 point underdog.

Tennessee just recently played Texas Tech in a game that was probably the ugliest watch of the season among top 50 teams. Although Texas Tech has retained its toughness epitomized by since departed coach Chris Beard, neither team could score the ball. Texas Tech won, but it wasn’t pretty. If the Red Raiders show any signs of those same offensive struggles, they’ll get run out of the gym against Gonzaga. The Zags are one of America’s best offenses.

And let’s spend some time with Conference USA. This conference never gets any credit, despite pulling upsets repeatedly in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. You’ve heard of the Hilltoppers because Western Kentucky is always dangerous. Last year, North Texas beat Purdue outright in the field of 64. This year, LA Tech is a real threat with big man Kenneth Lofton, Jr.

On this date, Conference USA gets a chance to prove itself again. UAB is a favorite hosting West Virginia. LA Tech battles with LSU. And Western Kentucky hosts Louisville. No one should be surprised if the conference nets a 2-1 record there.

Meantime, one conference is diving into its conference season full steam ahead. And that’s the Big East. Friday night Creighton blew Villanova out of its gym to immediately shake up the power structure of the conference. On Saturday, Providence has an opportunity to validate its own strong start. They open up conference play, surprisingly as a 6.5 point underdog, against UCONN. Ed Cooley is doing it again. His Friars have started the season 10-1 with wins against top 50 (if not top 25) teams Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Texas Tech. The Friars only loss is to (embattled) Virginia.

A night cap to keep an eye on is the Oregon Baylor game. At first glance, this looks like it should be a blowout for Baylor. But true college basketball fans know better. Oregon has embraced a litany of transfer students and they’re paying the price of patience for that decision. Coach Dana Altman has to, once again, prove his worth as a top coach when it comes to development and continue grooming this group. Right now it’s mixed bag of talent that hasn’t clicked. Meantime, Baylor lost four starters from its national championship team and hasn’t missed a beat. They’ve surprised a lot of people being voted this week as the #1 overall team in the AP Poll.

Friars wrap up their pregame prep prior to their first game in Hartford since 2008.Photo Courtesy: Providence Friars Men’s Basketball/Twitter.

Thanks for reading this article. Follow CBBEyeTest on Twitter, where author Matty D. shares his observations and predictions. Ahead of every Saturday, he shares his picks against the spread. The current record for his “Suspect Spread Saturday” series is 13-6-1 early in this 2021 season.