Many people will keep a close eye on the Hoosiers as they face a tough neutral-site test, but matchups between Florida-Arizona, Louisville-Memphis, and Kansas State-Gonzaga are also on tap, rounding out a very loaded Saturday card.
Indiana Hoosiers vs. Butler Bulldogs
This is one of the foremost college basketball clashes in all of December. It’s a sexy showdown between a power conference brand (Indiana) that has returned to lofty heights and a mid-major upstart (Butler) that has acquired a reputation as a program that should be feared. It’s a game that has captured the imagination of people across the state of Indiana, pitting the big school against the small school in a chess match of considerable proportions.
The coaching matchup between Tom Crean of Indiana and Brad Stevens of Butler will be worth the price of admission alone. The way in which Butler’s vaunted defense tries to shut down Indiana’s high-powered offense will be an even bigger drawing card.
Ultimately, what will likely make the difference is that Butler’s offense might not be ready to find go-to scorers at crunch time. Indiana is more physical and athletic than Butler, and that will enable the Hoosiers to get rebounds and defensive stops in the final five minutes of regulation. The way Butler executes down the stretch is the key in this clash.
Florida Gators at Arizona Wildcats
The Gators have beat some solid teams that are likely to make the NCAA tournament: Wisconsin and Marquette. Arizona, on the other hand, has not beaten a probable March Madness entrant this season.
Florida’s resume has a lot more quality, and the Gators have attained their wins in blowouts, not close games. Coach Billy Donovan has Florida dialed in at both ends of the floor. The Gators have a steadier backcourt, commit fewer turnovers, and are getting more blended kinds of contributions throughout their roster.
Arizona’s level of play has been much more sporadic and inconsistent to this point in the season. The Wildcats will have to show something special to win this game. The Gators merely need to play the same way they’ve been playing over the past month. This is a road game for Florida, but the Gators hold most of the cards. Arizona is the team that needs to make a statement.
Louisville Cardinals at Memphis Tigers
When assessing this game, realize that Louisville, without center Gorgui Dieng, is missing its critical anchor on defense. Dieng was the player whose emergence last March enabled the Cardinals to extend their perimeter defense and play with a lot of added energy. Louisville guards and small forwards knew that if they got beaten off the dribble, Dieng was there to protect the rim and make it hard for opponents to score.
Dieng’s absence against Memphis should allow the Tigers — playing at home in a renewal of a once-robust rivalry in the Metro Conference and (later) Conference USA — to stay in this game until the final horn. Memphis needs this win to improve its NCAA tournament resume and enter conference play in January with a good feeling about its postseason prospects.
Kansas State Wildcats vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs
This is a key game for both programs. Kansas State, under first-year coach Bruce Weber, is trying to set a new tone while maintaining the high-quality performance the Wildcats established under former boss Frank Martin, who is now the head coach at South Carolina. Gonzaga lost to Weber’s old team (Illinois) last Saturday and needs to win this high-profile non-conference clash to build back its sense of confidence.
This isn’t quite a must-win game, but a loss would be genuinely damaging for the team that falls short in this situation. Gonzaga has to become a more rugged defensive team. It simply did not play with a lot of alertness or desperation against Illinois, especially on the perimeter.