With finals week over Saturday can be seen almost as a celebration of that fact with a number of games on the schedule with national ramifications. Tops on the list would be North Carolina taking on Texas in Jerry Jones' new palace in front of a possible attendance of about 70,000. Outside of their win over Pittsburgh Rick Barnes' Longhorns haven't been tested thus far so it will be interesting to see how his freshmen handle the atmosphere. North Carolina is also a young team but they've already played against Ohio State, Syracuse, Michigan State and Kentucky; how much of a factor that is on Saturday remains to be seen.
Five Longhorns are averaging double figures in scoring but it's a pair of upperclassmen leading the way in Damion James (15.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg) and Dexter Pittman (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg). James has done a better job of not camping out behind the arc too often while Pittman continues on the road to one of the bigger transformations in college basketball. These two will be a physical test for the Tar Heels' front line of Deon Thompson, Ed Davis and a host of freshmen who also stand to see playing time.
But the matchup that will likely determine the game comes in the backcourt, where UNC's Larry Drew II will most likely see a lot of Texas freshman Avery Bradley. Bradley, as a freshman, is already one of the country's best on-ball defenders and is a likely candidate to guard the sophomore in order to slow down the Carolina floor general. Drew II has an assist/turnover ratio of 2.3/1 with an average of just under seven assists per game.
The key for Texas will be to take away North Carolina's secondary break and avoiding foul trouble in the frontcourt; the Heels may be younger up front but they do have more bodies to call upon. The winner picks up an important win that will have a major impact on their NCAA Tournament resume in regards to seeding come March. As for other key games on the schedule Xavier visits Butler in a contest that both teams could use when it comes to building up their at-large profile. It works to the Musketeers' advantage that the Atlantic 10 has gotten off to such a good start while the Bulldogs go into the relative anonymity of Horizon League play soon.
Stanford/Northwestern, Temple/Seton Hall, Michigan/Kansas, Western Kentucky/Louisville, Gonzaga/Duke and Memphis/Massachusetts are just a sample of the number of games on the slate that will have an impact on March and thus provide college basketball fans with an early Christmas present.
Noon ESPN Michigan at Kansas
Noon BTN IPFW at Michigan St
2p CBS UCLA at Notre Dame
2p ESPN North Carolina vs. Texas
2p ESPN2 Xavier at Butler
2p BTN Stanford at Northwestern
2p CSS Mississippi St at Houston
4p CBS Gonzaga vs Duke
4p ESPN2 Western Kentucky at Louisville
4p ESPNU Delaware State at Ohio State
4:30p FSN Tennessee at USC
6p ESPN2 Memphis vs. Massachusetts
6p MTN Illinois St at Utah
6:30p CSS UAB at South Alabama
7p ESPNU Illinois at Georgia
7p SNY/MASN Old Dominion at Georgetown
8:30p BTN NC Central at Indiana
9p ESPNU Gardner-Webb at Penn State
9p CSS Kansas St vs Alabama
9p MTN Creighton at New Mexico
4p Stephen F. Austin at Arkansas
6:30p Richmond vs. Florida
6:30p UAB at South Alabama
6:30p San Diego St. at Arizona St.
7p Temple at Seton Hall
7:15p San Diego at Southern Illinois
7:30p Charleston at Clemson
8p Missouri St. at Saint Louis
8:05p Texas Tech at Wichita St.
10p Portland at Washington
ONE PREDICTIONTexas over North Carolina: This will be a close contest due in large part to the unpredictable shooting backdrop and the Tar Heels' early-season schedule that has prepared their youngsters for such a contest. But the improvement of Pittman in both skill and stamina will ultimately give Texas the advantage. Damion James vs. Marcus Ginyard is another entertaining matchup to watch but the Carolina guards outside of Larry Drew II have at times been a bit careless with the basketball. Look for the Longhorns to win by seven.