Kansas-Ohio State Top 10 Showdown, Illinois-Missouri Border Battle Among Reasons to Get Excited for Weekend

The college basketball season is ramping up, as there are only a couple of more weeks before conference play begins. This Saturday, there are a slew of primetime games, and we’ve highlighted the four best to keep an eye on.

Syracuse Orange vs. Temple Owls
Saturday, Dec. 22

This is an intriguing neutral-site matchup in which unbeaten Syracuse might get tested.

Temple lost by 23 points to Duke in a neutral-court game a few weeks ago, but that experience might sharpen the Owls and make them react a lot better in this contest against the Orange.

Syracuse has not played many formidable opponents to this point in the season, and one of the few instances in which the Orange challenged themselves was against San Diego State in an aircraft carrier game that was staged outdoors in wind and cold. That game against San Diego State was hardly a measurement of true basketball aptitude, since games are rarely played outside in sunny conditions that are affected by the elements. The Orange need to be very vigilant when they play Temple. They can’t think that their win over San Diego State automatically makes them a very good team.

Florida Gators vs. Kansas State Wildcats
Saturday, Dec. 22

The Gators and Wildcats both lost high-profile, non-conference games last Saturday. Florida gave up seven points in the final 56 seconds to lose at Arizona, while Kansas State could not keep pace with Gonzaga in a neutral-site game in Seattle — one that felt more like a road game.

Both teams want to get back on track in this meeting, but Kansas State can probably use a win to an even greater extent. Florida has already bagged the kinds of victories that will enable them to comfortably get into the NCAA tournament. Wins over Florida State, Marquette and Wisconsin should put Florida in great shape. Kansas State doesn’t have that kind of resume, so the Wildcats will truly be under pressure to perform when they step on the court.

Kansas Jayhawks at Ohio State Buckeyes
Saturday, Dec. 22

When Kansas and Ohio State played in the 2011-12 regular season, the occasion was diminished because of the poor health of Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger. When these teams met again in the Final Four National Semifinals, Sullinger was healthy and full of energy, but Kansas — the victor in the regular season matchup — was able to prevail yet again.

Ohio State now gets Kansas at home in a star-studded confrontation between two top-10 teams. The Buckeyes will be out for revenge, but they will have to be patient on offense and hit midrange jump shots so that Kansas center Jeff Withey cannot dominate on defense with his shot-blocking prowess and imposing size.

Illinois Fighting Illini at Missouri Tigers
Saturday, Dec. 22

This is always a very contentious game between two border-state rivals. What spices up this year’s Fighting Illini-Tigers clash is that Missouri is now an SEC basketball program. Illinois will want to show that while Missouri has switched leagues, the Tigers won’t be the superior program this season.

Illinois, under first-year coach John Groce, has flourished. They are unbeaten through the first month of the season, which includes an impressive road win at Gonzaga. Missouri gained a No. 2 seed in last season’s NCAA tournament, but the Tigers lost in the round of 64 to Norfolk State, and have a lot of ground to make up. A first-round loss in the Big Dance can set back a program for many years if it is not psychologically ready to rebound. This is a vital confidence-building moment for both schools.

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