2008 is fast approaching, but before we wave goodbye to 2007, there are some very good games in college basketball on this four-day weekend. The action kicks off tonight with two matchups of great Mid-Majors. First up is Butler vs. Southern Illinois. These two perennial mid-major powers were both picked as potential Sweet Sixteen teams this season. While Butler has lived up to that prediction, Southern Illinois has not. The typical amazing pressure defense is still there, but the Salukis have struggled to score more than 60 points against quality opponents. Additionally, without Jamal Tatum who graduated last year, Southern Illinois lacks a go-to scorer in crunch time. However I think the Salukis will pull off what will surely be called an upset, but really is just a hotly contested game between two tourney teams, because they can shut down Butler’s vaunted outside shooters. This game will have all the intensity of a Sweet Sixteen game, so if you are one of the 3,000 people that gets ESPNU, be sure to watch it.
The other interesting matchup of mid-majors that sadly will not be on TV is San Diego State vs. Sam Houston State. Yes the Bearkats, whom I wrote about three weeks ago, are still undefeated, but are facing a stiff test at SDSU. The Aztecs have been a bit disappointing this year, but still have formidable athletes who would not look out of place in a BCS conference. I think the homecourt atmosphere and sheer athleticism of SDSU will be too much for the Bearkats, but I certainly hope that they prevail and keep this great season for the Southland Conference rolling. Join me after the jump for the next three days of matchups
Saturday brings us a bevy of really interesting match-ups, which start with Tennessee vs. Gonzaga. Tennessee has really been hitting its stride lately, especially after going on a 15-2 run to end its win at Xavier last Saturday. On the other hand, Gonzaga has been sputtering. The Zags have all the pieces now that Josh Heytvelt is back, yet somehow the sum of the team as a whole is less than the sum of the parts. Plus, Gonzaga has been suspect down the stretch in close games; witness their 4-point loss to Oklahoma last week. This will be a great game which comes down to the wire, so Gonzaga will have to finally play well in the closing minutes to win.
At the other end of the day, Arizona goes to the FedEx Forum to play Memphis, who are fresh off their impressive win over Georgetown. While Arizona has been finally coming together, they are still suspect on defense, especially the fast break. San Diego State kept their game close last week with fast breaks against the Wildcats. That is not good news for Arizona, as Memphis is the best fast break team in the nation. If Arizona doesn’t take care of the ball early in the game, they could find themselves run out of the building before Budinger and Bayless can even get into an offensive flow.
Other games in brief: Dayton will look to sure up its at-large profile by beating Pittsburgh at Pitt in what should be a very physical, Big East style game. Miami faces its last non-conference test as it plays a depleted Winthrop team. West Virginia finally plays a borderline NCAA Tournament quality opponent when Oklahoma comes to Morgantown. This should actually be an excellent game which will be immediately followed by Dayton-Pitt and then Arizona-Memphis. 6 hours of heaven for college hoops fans.
Sunday and Monday bring two more match-ups that will be extremely significant come Selection Sunday. First off, Missouri visits Mississippi State. Mississippi State simply must have this game if they have any remaining hope of an at-large bid, while Missouri needs another BCS Conference win as it has whiffed on several good opportunities for resume-building wins. The point guard battle between Stefhon Hannah and Jamont Gordon should be reason enough to tune in.
On Monday, Kansas State plays an important non-conference game against Xavier. The Musketeers looked to be solidly into the tourney field after beating Indiana, but recent losses to Arizona State and Tennessee mean that Xavier needs one more good non-conference win to feel comfortable. Kansas State is in dire need of a point guard, but Michael Beasley has been carrying this team to an 8-3 record.
Finally, Eddie Sutton will attempt to ring in the new year with victory 799 as San Francisco plays Utah Valley State. I’m sure you all will be tuning in. Have a happy, healthy, and safe New Years everyone.