Friday marks the final day of games before Christmas Day, and while the schedule is light there are some good games to keep an eye on. Atop the list is a game at the Las Vegas Classic matching West Virginia (8-2) and #7 Baylor (10-0), with the Bears boasting one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. But to be fair this is their most strenuous back-to-back stretch of the season as they beat Saint Mary's on Thursday night.
In each of North Carolina's last two games sophomore forward Harrison Barnes shot 4-for-12 from the field and scored nine points. Some may have been concerned given the fact that those performances came against Appalachian State and Nicholls State, ignoring the fact that the Tar Heels still managed to win both games by comfortable margins. Barnes is fine, as he showed in North Carolina's 82-63 win over Texas by scoring a season-high 26 points and grabbing ten rebounds in just 25 minutes of action.
Thursday is the final "busy day" on the college basketball schedule before Christmas and there's important business to address in St. Louis: Braggin' Rights. Undefeated and eighth-ranked Missouri (11-0) looks for its third straight win over #24 Illinois (11-1) in the series, and despite the change in head coach the Tigers remain one of the most balanced teams in the country.
For a while on Tuesday night it looked as if a Southern Conference team would hand another undefeated team its first defeat of the season. But an important suggestion by Louisville assistant coach Richard Pitino set things in motion for the fourth-ranked Cardinals, sparking a rally that resulted in a 69-62 victory. The idea: instead of relying on the frontcourt tandem of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan to occupy the foul line area against the Charleston zone, use the versatile Kyle Kuric at the four.
What looked to be a routine post-finals Monday in college basketball turned out to be anything but as two ranked teams fell. #10 Marquette went on the road to take on an LSU team that much isn't expected of this season and found themselves in a dog fight. Averaging 81 points per game the Golden Eagles finished the game 22 points below their average in the 67-59 loss to the Tigers, with LSU making the required plays on both ends of the floor late.
Monday's schedule doesn't have much in the way of games that will make a dent on the national landscape, but that doesn't mean that there are some intriguing contests to keep an eye on. One of those being Belmont (7-4) heading east to take on Marshall (7-2) in a battle of teams expected to either win or contend in their respective leagues. Rick Byrd's Bruins have lost two straight road games, most recently falling at Miami (Ohio) due in large part to their 6-for-21 performance from beyond the arc.
The first meeting between Memphis and Louisville since the 2005 Conference USA title game certainly did not disappoint from a drama standpoint, with both teams landing major blows throughout the contest. But despite a combined 74 first-half points the play was ragged for much of the contest, with the Cardinals taking a 42-32 lead into the break thanks to the Tigers shooting 29% from the field and turning the ball over ten times. But led by Will Barton (28 points, 16 rebounds) Josh Pastner's team refused to fold, fighting back to take a 57-55 lead with 11 minutes remaining.
The end of finals week for many schools means a step up in competition on Saturday, and one contest that will garner attention is the second game of the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Florida. #22 Texas A&M (8-1), which has a strength of schedule that ranks 341st in the country, takes on #13 Florida (7-2) in what should be an interesting matchup. Do the Aggies have the horses on the perimeter to hang with the Gator guards?
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