Games to Circle on your Calendar (January edition)

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2014 non-conference play was part-naughty and part-nice: Duke over Wisconsin, NJIT over Michigan, and Kentucky over everyone in their path. Now that conference play is underway we recall the old maxim: “familiarity breeds contempt”. CHD’s Jon Teitel brings you an expanded viewing guide for January: the top games of the month, who has the toughest schedule, and the single best day of the month. Drink a champagne toast to college basketball while enjoying a great 2015: Happy New Year!


Top-20 games of January:

top 20

1. West Virginia at TCU (1/3): The Horned Frogs went 0-18 in Big 12 play last season, so they might be a home underdog to the Mountaineers even if they enter the game 13-0
2. Notre Dame at North Carolina (1/5): The Irish were a single point away from perfection in non-conference play, but their first real test of the season comes on the first Monday of ACC play
3. Villanova at St. John’s (1/6): An overtime win over Syracuse allowed the Wildcats to go undefeated in non-conference play, but the Red Storm have been rolling this season as they hope to win an NCAA tourney game for the first time since 2000
4. Kansas at Baylor (1/7): The Bears lost a pair of games to the Jayhawks last year by double-digits, but revenge is best served when you defense is allowing 55 points per game.
5. Iowa State at West Virginia (1/10): The Mountaineers have a great offense and were a single point away from perfection in non-conference play, but they will have to bring their ‘A’ game to avoid getting blown away by the Cyclones
6. Virginia at Notre Dame (1/10): Once and for all we can figure out the key to winning games: the Cavaliers’ top-ranked defense that allows only 46 points per contest or the Irish’s top-5 offense that averages 86 points.
7. Baylor at TCU (1/10): Both of these schools are still pissed that they will not be playing in the college football playoff championship game on 1/12, so hopefully they can channel their fury into a good old-fashioned Texas throw-down
8. Iowa State at Baylor (1/14): If the Bears can survive a 3-game stretch against two ranked teams (Oklahoma/Kansas) and a road game against an undefeated opponent (TCU), their reward is a visit from the highest-ranked team in what is arguably the most competitive conference in the country
9. Utah at Arizona (1/17): The Utes are 0-7 against the Wildcats since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, and the key to breaking the streak might be the health of Jordan Loveridge’s knee
10. Duke at Louisville (1/17): The Blue Devils beat the Cardinals in the Bahamas in 2012 before losing to them in the 2013 Elite 8 in Indianapolis, and now that Rick Pitino is in the ACC he finally gets to host Mike Krzyzewski on his home court
11. Kansas at Iowa State (1/17): The Jayhawks have the toughest strength of schedule in the nation, and it will only grow stronger after trying to become the first team to break the spell of “Hilton Magic” since they recorded a 7-point win over the Cyclones more than 365 days ago
12. West Virginia at Texas (1/17): The bad news is that the Longhorns only have 3 homes games in January; the worse news is that all 3 opponents are ranked in the top-20
13. Texas at TCU (1/19): …and then two days later they have to travel across the state to play a Horned Frog team that should be a bit peeved about its 0-5 record vs. the Longhorns since joining the Big 12 in 2012
14. Kansas at Texas (1/24): …and then five days later we get to see all three current Big 12 players who were in last year’s McDonald’s All-American Game (Cliff Alexander/Kelly Oubre of the Jayhawks and Myles Turner of the Longhorns)
15. TCU at West Virginia (1/24): For a conference that does not even have a football championship game, the Big 12 regular season Basketball Invitational is just a delight!
16. Washington at Utah (1/25): Neither of these teams have made the NCAA tourney since 2011, but there is a good chance that both of them will be ranked by the time this game rolls around
17. Texas at Iowa State (1/26): Longhorn point guard Isaiah Taylor has stated that his broken wrist will be fine by the time conference play starts, and if all goes well then he could be the difference maker in this game that might very well decide the regular season conference title
18. Duke at Notre Dame (1/28): The Blue Devils have four straight road games against top-20 teams during the final two weeks of January, and Coach K might need a litle “Luck of the Polish” to beat his former assistant Mike Brey
19. Kansas at TCU (1/28): The Horned Frogs have not won an NCAA tourney game since 1987, and a home date against the 10-time defending Big 12 champ is exactly the kind of test that prepares a team to win in March
20. Maryland at Ohio State (1/29): The Terps have beaten the Buckeyes only once in five chances since 1934, and if you like freshman guards then you will love Melo Trimble vs. D’Angelo Russell

Best non-conference game of the month:

Duke at St. John’s (1/25): There are very few non-conference matchups to pick from after New Year’s but this one should be fantastic. Coach K is 15-3 vs. the Johnnies during his tenure at Duke, but two of the three losses have occurred during his last five trips to Madison Square Garden. Jahlil Okafor has been unstoppable in the paint as a freshman, but if there is one big man who can alter some of his shots it is Red Storm C Chris Obekpa (3.8 BPG).  As for Justise Winslow’s high school, I have no idea where their loyalty will lie:

duke sj

Toughest schedule of the month:

ok st Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had a solid non-conference schedule that included Oregon State, South Carolina, Memphis, and Maryland. They will ease into Big 12 play with a home game against Kansas State…followed by six games against ranked teams over a 25-day span, including a double dose of Bedlam:
a. 1/6 at Iowa State
b. 1/10 vs. Texas
c. 1/13 at Kansas
d. 1/17 at Oklahoma
e. 1/27 vs. Baylor
f. 1/31 vs. Oklahoma

Best single day of the month:

best day 1/31: Make sure you finish your Super Bowl party planning by 1/30 because 1/31 is the day to sit in front of a bunch of TVs at a bar. Two great conferences plus one of the best mid-major games of the year = ending the month with a bang:
a. North Carolina at Louisville: Last month marked the 25th anniversary of Rick Pitino’s infamous first game at Kentucky against Roy Williams (Kansas set a school record by beating the Wildcats 150-95), and these Hall of Fame coaches will finally face each other as conference rivals
b. Duke at Virginia: …although the game of the year in the ACC will be a rematch of the 2014 ACC tourney final, and if these two are still undefeated then it could be the game of the year in the world of college basketball
c. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: Bedlam Round one takes place two weeks earlier, but the Cowboys will be hungry to win Round Two after getting swept by the Sooners last season
d. TCU at Iowa State: The Horned Frogs will bring their top-10 defense to Ames to test it out against the Cyclones’ top-10 offense
e. Texas at Baylor: The Longhorns swept the Bears in the regular season last year before Baylor got revenge in the Big 12 tourney semifinals, so these teams should know exactly what to expect from each other
f. Wichita State at Northern Iowa: The Panthers’ #23 ranking is the 2nd-highest in school history, and if they can shock the Shockers then they might not lose again until heading to Wichita for the regular season finale