Saturday's college basketball slate provides us with a few incentives to push off our last-minute holiday shopping until Sunday or Monday. Two matchups between top 15 teams highlight a busy college hoops weekend, the first a rematch of last year's Final Four and the second an inter-state rivalry game.
1. Kansas (9-1) at Ohio State (9-1), Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
Storyline to watch: The rematch of last year's Final Four matchup between Kansas and Ohio State will feature only a few of the same faces. Gone are Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor for the Jayhawks and Jared Sullinger and William Buford for the Buckeyes. What hasn't changed, however, is the primary storyline: Can Ohio State solve Kansas' stingy defense? The Buckeyes feature one of the nation's most prolific scorers in DeShaun Thomas, but Kansas has not allowed another opponent to shoot 40 percent from the field since its mid-November loss to Michigan State. Spearheading that defensive surge has been senior center Jeff Withey, whose ability to block shots without fouling has made him the favorite for defensive player of the year. Withey has averaged 5.4 blocks per game, the most in the nation. Predicted winner: Kansas
2. Illinois (12-0) vs. Missouri (9-1), Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
Storyline to watch: For the first time in a few years, the annual Bragging Rights game will feature two teams in the Top 15 nationally. Illinois has ridden Brandon Paul's sizzling start to an undefeated record that includes a Maui Invitational title and an impressive win at Gonzaga, while Missouri has survived the dismissal of shooting guard Michael Dixon and now has transfer Jabari Brown as a capable fill-in. What could determine the winner of this game is whether Illinois' undermanned frontcourt can hold its own against the Missouri duo of Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi. Illinois' backcourt is one of the nation's deepest and most talented, but the Illini need their big men to contest Bowers' mid-range game and keep Oriakhi out of the low post and off the glass. Predicted winner: Missouri
3. Florida (8-1) at Kansas State (8-2), Saturday 8 p.m. ET
Storyline to watch: In five previous games at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Kansas State is 4-1, including last year's win over Alabama. Nothing the Wildcats have shown so far this season, however, suggests they're capable of beating Florida to earn a fifth win in six years. Kansas State has been overwhelmed by both of the other two top 15 teams it has faced so far this season, falling convincingly to Gonzaga in Seattle and to Michigan in Madison Square Garden. For its third chance to be any different, the Wildcats must guard the 3-point line on defense and find a way to solve Florida's stingy defense. The key will be Rodney McGruder, who has struggled to find his rhythm in Bruce Weber's offense but scored 26 points in his last game. Predicted winner: Florida
4. Diamond Head Classic, Saturday to Monday
Storyline to watch: If Arizona, Miami, San Diego State and Ole Miss can each avoid upsets in opening-round play on Saturday, then the Diamond Head semifinals and title game could turn out to be very intriguing. Since getting guard Durand Scott back, Miami has toppled Michigan State, blown away UCF and Charlotte and played as well as any team in the ACC besides Duke. The Hurricanes definitely have the firepower to challenge an Arizona team that is unbeaten and fresh off a signature win over Florida. In the other potential semifinal, Ole Miss would be out to validate its 7-1 record with its first win over an NCAA tournament caliber opponent. San Diego State will trying to avoid an upset, reach the title game and perhaps take a shot at wresting the title of best team in the West away from Arizona. Predicted winner: Arizona over San Diego State in Monday's title game
5. Texas (7-4) at Michigan State (10-2), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Storyline to watch: Texas restored hope that it can contend for an NCAA bid without Myck Kabongo by routing North Carolina in Austin on Wednesday night. Three days later, we'll find out whether that win had more to do with the Longhorns finally starting to jell or the Tar Heels simply not being that good. What will determine if Texas can be competitive is the barometer for the Longhorns in every game: turnovers. They're averaging 18 per game in Kabongo's absence this season, but they limited that to 13 against the defensively challenged Tar Heels and also benefited from finding a third scorer to complement guards Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis. Forward Jonathan Holmes contributed 15 points and eight rebounds, including a pair of big 3-pointers. Predicted winner: Michigan State
Other games to watch:
BYU (8-3) at Baylor (7-3), Friday, 9 p.m. ET: BYU can't win a road game against a team of Baylor's caliber unless erratic point guard Matt Carlino plays to the level he's capable. Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies have carried the Cougars, but so far that hasn't been enough against the best teams on the schedule.
Stanford (7-4) at Northwestern (8-3), Friday, 9 p.m. ET: If Stanford can't win in Evanston, it will enter conference play without a noteworthy victory. The Cardinal had defended well prior to its loss at NC State on Tuesday, but its perimeter shooting has been among the worst in the nation.
Murray State (9-1) at Dayton (8-3), Saturday, 12 p.m. ET: The Racers catch a break with Dayton point guard Kevin Dillard dealing with back spasms. That's a bummer for fans, however, because the point guard matchup between Dillard and Isaiah Canaan would have been fun to watch.
Temple (8-2) vs. Syracuse (10-0), Saturday, 12 p.m. ET (New York): Atlantic 10 contender Temple couldn't handle Canisius earlier this week. That doesn't bode well for the Owls facing a Syracuse team that has great size and length on the interior to go with playmaking guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams.
Florida State (6-4) at Charlotte (11-1), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET: Charlotte's 11-1 record is gaudy, but its lone loss came by 31 points against the best team it has faced this season (Miami). Here's another chance for the 49ers to validate their record ... and for the Seminoles to rebound from what has been a disappointing start.
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