CF contributor Austin Narber primes you guys for the first major basketball weekend of the 2015-16 season.
A Good One: Tennessee at Butler | 1:30 PM, FS1
Butler is 7-1 with wins over Temple and Cincinnati away from home. This is the best offensive team of Chris Holtmann’s tenure and perhaps even better than any that Brad Stevens coached in his six years there. Tennessee is looking to bust a two-game slump and notch the first quality win of the Rick Barnes era. They’ll need to beat the Bulldogs on the glass to have a chance.
KenPom Line: Bulldogs by 11
Matchup to Watch: Roosevelt Jones vs. Armani Moore
A Better One: Marquette at Wisconsin | 12:30 PM, ESPN2
This will be game three of a seven-game home stand for Wisconsin, which has recorded as many impressive victories as it has head-scratching losses. Western Illinois and Milwaukee have both knocked off the Badgers at the Kohl Center, and Marquette can certainly draw a crowd down the road to Madison. The young Eagles are looking for their seventh consecutive win and should be a tough test for a very thin Wisconsin squad.
KenPom Line: Badgers by 8
Matchup to Watch: Ethan Happ vs. Luke Fischer.
The Best One: Ohio State at Connecticut | 11:00 AM, CBS
UConn only has a win over Sacred Heart since Thanksgiving, and it’s no secret that things have been rough for Kevin Ollie lately. Defensively, this team reminds me a lot of the one that won a national title two years ago as a 7-seed, and they’ll get an underwhelming Ohio State squad in this one. The Buckeyes have no quality wins so far and are the fifth least experienced team in the country. Both teams lean on a strong interior presence, which should be fun to watch.
KenPom Line: Huskies by 8
Matchup to Watch: Daniel Hamilton vs. JaQuan Lyle
A Good One: Utah at Wichita State | 2:30 PM, ESPN2
This is a pretty deep Wichita State team that hasn’t done anything particularly outstanding so far this season, but the Shockers missed the services of star PG Fred Van Vleet for their three toughest games (and went 0-3 in those games). Utah’s lone blemish so far is getting blown out by Miami in San Juan. The Utes are big and led by seven-foot All-America candidate Jakob Poeltl, who will be a hell of a test for a far less talented Tom Wamukota.
KenPom Line: Shockers by 3
Matchup to Watch: Rashard Kelly vs. Kyler Kuzma.
A Better One: Cincinnati at Xavier | 4:30 PM, FOX
Be on “future opponent” alert for this one, and have your popcorn ready because this is arguably the best crosstown basketball clash in the country. Unbeaten Xavier is playing like a future 1-seed (no, really) despite starting three underclassmen, but facing Cincinnati is like diving head first into a wood-chipper. Mick Cronin preaches defense—top 25 in overall efficiency each of the last six seasons—and is a two-point loss to Butler away from having the Bearcats undefeated as well. If not for Texas-UNC, this would be the game of the day.
KenPom Line: Musketeers by 6
Matchup to Watch: Edmond Sumner vs. Troy Caupain.
The Best One: North Carolina at Texas | 4:15 PM, ESPN
I can’t get a beat on Texas this season. The Longhorns are ultra-talented but lost three of their first five and needed OT to beat UT Arlington in Austin. I think it’ll take some time for Smart to impose his style of play, but Texas is deep and experienced and will probably figure things out soon enough. This Tar Heel team will wear you out on the interior on both ends of the floor. How Texas’ guard play fares as a response will be key—and they’ll have Marcus Paige to deal with.
KenPom Line: Tar Heels by 4
Matchup to Watch: Cameron Ridley vs. Brice Johnson.
A Good One: Oregon State at Kansas (Kansas City) | 7:00 PM, ESPN
Kansas is Kansas. And whether it’s at Phog Allen Fieldhouse or a “semi-home” arena like the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks are going to be a tough out. Fortunately, Oregon State matches up well in terms of size and has been playing sneaky sound defense in Wayne Tinkle’s two years at the helm. Each team comes in with a loss but has utilized two completely different styles of basketball to get there. The Beavers will try to slow down and stifle the run-and-gun Jayhawks, and I’m anxious to see if they succeed in their peskiness.
KenPom Line: Jayhawks by 10
Matchup to Watch: Frank Mason vs. Gary Payton Jr.
A Better One: UCLA at Gonzaga | 9:00 PM, ESPN2
UCLA is a lot like Texas in that it will probably take another month or so to get a read on them. Aside from dominating then-No. 1 Kentucky wire-to-wire in a 10-point win, the Bruins have very blah showings against mediocre opposition, including a home loss to Monmouth. This is a game Gonzaga can completely dominate in the paint offensively. Despite its decent size, UCLA is 117th nationally in defensive efficiency and doesn’t force turnovers. I’m particularly excited to watch this Wiltjer-Parker dogfight. Both guys will wind up with First or Second Team All-American honors in March.
KenPom Line: Bulldogs by 8
Matchup to Watch: Kyler Wiltjer vs. Tony Parker.
The Best One: Oregon at Boise State | 6:00 PM, CBS Sports Network
Boise State hosting a de facto “game of the night” in basketball is weird. The Broncos like to chuck it, and this is a strangely balanced team for Dana Altman, something he hasn’t really had since his Creighton days. An improved effort defensively should be the difference for the Ducks, but Boise State has just one non-conference home loss since 2011. One. They’ll be a tough assignment.
KenPom Line: Ducks by 1
Matchup to Watch: Anthony Drmic vs. Elgin Cook.