Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Duke Blue Devils, Thursday, Nov. 22
This game will give Duke more of a test than it’s faced in the first two weeks of the season. Minnesota is a better team this year — at least, that can be said right now, because the Golden Gophers haven’t been plagued by the injuries that ravaged them last season. This is a more mature and seasoned group of players, but maturity and seasoning don’t mean much without improved health. Minnesota’s healthy returning starter from last year is forward Trevor Mbakwe, a bruising low-post force who is an animal on the defensive glass and presents imposing size for any opponent. Minnesota commits a lot of turnovers, but the Gophers’ power is something that Duke will have to respect.
Missouri Tigers vs. Stanford Cardinals, Thursday, Nov. 20
Missouri’s stay in the 2012 NCAA Tournament lasted much shorter than the Tigers had hoped. Missouri was a No. 2 seed and had Final Four aspirations, but the Tigers got knocked off by 15th-seeded Norfolk State in their first game. The road to college basketball’s premier event begins in earnest for Mizzou this Thanksgiving Day against a Stanford team that won the National Invitation Tournament and looked really good doing it. The Cardinal are poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year, and a win over Missouri would put them in very good shape, albeit at an early point in the season.
Creighton Bluejays vs. Wisconsin Badgers, Friday, Nov. 23
This is a huge game in the Midwest, at least for late November. The Bluejays are the favorite, bolstered by the fact that they have National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott on their roster. McDermott, the son of Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, is a skilled and well-rounded tweener forward who can work with his back to the basket or score as a face-up player. He can shoot from distance yet operate in the paint. He’ll be a tough assignment for a Wisconsin team whose defense got shredded last week in a loss at Florida. Wisconsin has a revamped roster with a lot of turnover from 2011-2012, so in the first weeks of the season, the Badgers are probably going to be behind the curve to an extent. This is Creighton’s game to lose, but seeing Wisconsin as an underdog injects a lot of drama into the proceedings.
Oregon Ducks vs. UNLV Running Rebels, Friday, Nov. 23
This is one of the first good looks the nation will get at a UNLV team that is regarded by some pundits as a Final Four dark horse and by others as the best team in the West. UNLV spreads the court with multiple shooters who are very agile and nimble. Oregon plays a similar style with a lineup that doesn’t have much size. Perimeter defense will acquire a very prominent role in deciding the outcome of this contest. UNLV is expected to win, but Oregon looked very strong in its win over Vanderbilt this past Friday.