Michigan-Louisville, MSU-Duke Lead This Week's Loaded College Basketball Slate

The Wolverines went from unranked to staring at a top-5 matchup.

97.1 The Ticket
December 02, 2019 - 3:04 pm
Michigan Basketball

© Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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By Kyle Beery | 97.1 The Ticket

There's a massive top-five matchup in college basketball this week involving a school from Michigan. 

It's just not the one we've all had on our calendars for months.

After shooting its way to the Battle 4 Atlantis championship in the Bahamas last week, Michigan catapulted all the way from unranked to No. 4 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. And thanks to a handful of other wacky results around the world of college basketball, they'll be traveling to take on the top-ranked team in the country.

While No. 11 Michigan State's showdown with No. 10 Duke is still one of the most intriguing early-season matchups you'll find, the Spartans' loss to Virginia Tech in Maui and the Blue Devils' blunder against Stephen F. Austin certainly took away some of the luster. But it's still going to be a doozy, just one of many on the college basketball docket this week.

With the ACC/Big Ten Challenge taking place this week, there are a ton of good games to keep an eye on this week. Here's a rundown of the best games across the world of college basketball you should be sure to watch this week.

Local games

Tuesday, Dec. 3

No. 4 Michigan @ No. 1 Louisville -- 7:30 p.m., ESPN

This game had certainly been on the radar for many Wolverines fans, knowing the Cardinals would likely be a top-5 team. But now that Michigan is a top-five team itself, this is on the radar of every college basketball fan across the country. Michigan shot a blistering 53.8% from the field and 47.1% from 3-point range over the course of three games in Paradise.

Most notably, the Wolverines shot the lights out against Gonzaga, knocking down 12 of 23 attempts from distance. 3-point shooting was one of the biggest question marks on this team entering the season, but Wolverines fans have to feel good about seeing it not only from Isaiah Livers, but especially Eli Brooks (7-for-13 last week). Now the only question is, can they keep that 3-point shooting percentage up throughout the year? Even if it's in the same stratosphere, the Wolverines will continue to be a far better team than most thought they would be.

They'll be put to the test once again Tuesday night in Louisville against a Chris Mack team that, while they haven't seen the stiffest competition through the first month of the season, has been arguably the most efficient team in the land. With Jordan Nwora (21.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG) leading the way, Louisville ranks 2nd in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency and is the only team to be ranked in the top 10 of both AdjOE and adjusted defensive efficiency. Nwora and Ryan McMahaon can both light it up from deep, so it will be interesting to see if the Wolverines will be able to contain them on the heels of a mightily impressive week in the Bahamas.

No. 10 Duke @ No. 11 Michigan State -- 9:30 p.m., ESPN

The Spartans' loss to Virginia Tech in the opening round of the Maui Invitational was quite the letdown for a team that was starting to show its real potential after a season-opening loss to Kentucky. Cassius Winston was in early foul trouble and MSU just couldn't find a groove without him on the floor. The Spartans are still trying to find their footing and hit the stride many thought they'd be well within at this point in the season. Freshmen Rocket Watts and Malik Hall are still finding their form, but when it all clicks -- assuming it finally does at some point -- the Spartans' depth at every position will make them one of the toughest teams to beat on any given night.

Coach K's team is going through some rough waters as well, but Tre Jones is still a All-American caliber point guard, center Vernon Carey Jr. can be a menace in the post, and freshman Matthew Hurt can stretch the floor and knock it down from deep. Amid one of the wackiest starts to the college basketball season as a whole in recent memory, Duke is one of several top-ranked teams to take a tumble down the polls. But despite that loss to SFA, Duke will ultimately still be one of the best teams in the country, much like MSU and Kentucky after taking their lumps. 

While this game isn't as glamorous in terms of rankings, it's still one of the best non-conference, on-campus games we'll see all year. And it just so happens to take place immediately after one of the other best games of the season.

Friday, Dec. 6

Iowa @ No. 4 Michigan -- 6:30 p.m., FS1

How are the Wolverines greeted after a brutally tough three-game stretch? They get their first taste of Big Ten play. The conference is in its second year of a 20-game conference schedule, meaning teams are required to play a couple games in December. This isn't the toughest game to open Big Ten play with, but the Hawkeyes are coming off a very nice win over last year's national runner-up, Texas.

Big man Luka Garza is averaging a double-double, but Joe Wieskamp has been struggling a little bit to get it going from 3-point range. Fran McCaffery's job could be on the line if the Hawks underachieve this season, so look for this team to be playing with an edge, especially against a Michigan team that now has the target on its back.

Sunday, Dec. 7

Rutgers @ No. 11 Michigan State -- 7 pm, BTN

The Spartans also dive into Big Ten play with a game they'll be expected to win handily. But that doesn't mean it'll go that way. The Scarlet Knights have notoriously give the Spartans fits over the last few years with a handful of close games, including an overtime scare for a top-5 Spartans team in East Lansing two years ago.

Rutgers is off to a 6-1 start on the season, though the lone loss came against a bad Stony Brook team. Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. (yes, that Ron Harper) team up to create a solid back court for the Scarlet Knights, and they won't go quietly this year, as they look to build on last season, when they finished above last place in the Big Ten for the first time since joining the conference.

Other local games to keep an eye on

  • Oakland @ Western Michigan -- Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN+
  • Valparaiso @ Eastern Michigan -- Tuesday, 7 p.m.,  ESPN+
  • Eastern Michigan @ Detroit Mercy -- Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN+

National games

Wednesday, Dec. 4

Notre Dame @ No. 3 Maryland -- 7:30 p.m., ESPN

The Terrapins started the season in the top 10 and have slowly but surely crept up to No. 3. Though they haven't faced a ranked opponent yet, Sunday's test against a potent Marquette defense was impressive. The Terps held Markus Howard to a measly six points, just two days after he tied his career-high of 51. Maryland has a top-25 defense, and an offense capable of being a top-5 unit all year, led by Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith.

This is the biggest test for the Irish since a hard-fought loss at UNC on the season's opening night. John Mooney is a double-double machine down low, but beyond him, Notre Dame isn't all that deep offensively. This will be a sneaky good ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup. 

No. 6 Ohio State @ No. 7 North Carolina -- 9:30 p.m., ESPN

Chris Holtmann's team is rolling and hasn't won a game by fewer than 20 points since the first game of the season against Cincinnati. While no one has any gaudy averages, the balanced Buckeyes are running through Kaleb Wesson, with freshman guard D.J. Carton emerging as a real talent.

One of three top-15 matchups in this year's ACC/Big Ten Challenge, this could honestly be the best of the bunch. Star freshman Cole Anthony, even after a rough shooting week in the Bahamas, is an absolute pleasure to watch. This game will be early-season college basketball at its finest.

Friday, Dec. 6

No. 10 Duke @ Virginia Tech -- 7 p.m., ACC Network

The Hokies knocked off Michigan State out in Maui and many thought they were on their way to a spot in the rankings this week. But instead, they dropped a pair of games to "under-the-radar" possible NCAA Tournament teams in Dayton and BYU. Landers Nolley torched the Spartans for 22 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep. He's just one of four Hokies that can fill it up from 3-point range.

The Blue Devils will head from hostile East Lansing to hostile Blacksburg for a back-to-back road set even Coach K doesn't want to see. Duke will have revenge on its mind, after Tech pulled off the upset at Cassell last February.

Saturday, Dec. 7

Florida @ No. 24 Butler -- Noon, FOX

The Gators stumbled out of the blocks with losses to Florida State and UConn, but had a nice showing in the Charleston Classic with wins over Miami and then-No. 18 Xavier.

This game features two of the slowest-tempo teams in the country, but also two of the most efficient offensive teams. The Bulldogs are off to a 7-0 start, but this will by far be their biggest test thus far. It will be a treat to watch Kamar Baldwin go to battle against a scrappy Scottie Lewis. Bryce Nze has emerged as a very solid piece for LaVall Jordan's team, but he and Bryce Golden will have their hands full with Kerry Blackshear down low.

No. 12 Arizona @ No. 18 Baylor - Noon, ESPNU

This is one of the best matchups of the week. Nico Mannion, fresh off a buzzer beater in the Wooden Legacy last week, leads the undefeated Wildcats into Waco for a matchup between two teams that can be lethal from 3-point range -- the Bears are shooting 40.8% from distance to start the year, while the Wildcats rank inside the top-10 at 42.9%.

If you haven't gotten a chance to watch Mannion yet, here's a great opportunity to see him -- against a quality opponent, no less. Mannion is averaging 15 points and 6 assists a game, and his explosive dunks will be a regular segment on SportsCenter by the end of the year.

No. 20 Colorado @ No. 2 Kansas -- 7 p.m., ESPN2

The Buffaloes are probably off the radar for most casual fans, but Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright IV have the Buffaloes off to a 6-0 start and are no small factor in the Pac 12's renaissance this year.

Kansas is coming off a thrilling overtime win in the Maui championship against Dayton and has more than a ful week to get back to a normal schedule before this showdown. Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike asserted themselves as the focus of the Jayhawks' offense out in Maui, but they've got a lot of other pieces to play at the level of a national title contender all year long.

Sunday, Dec. 8

No. 7 North Carolina @ No. 5 Virginia -- 4 p.m., ACC Network

Fire meets ice in this early-season ACC showdown. Tony Bennett ascended to the top of the sport last year using his slow, methodical offense and staunch defense. The Anthony and the Tar Heels are anything but slow, averaging 14 possessions more per game than UNC.

UVA's offense gets an unfair reputation for being "bad." That's simply not the case. They just don't run and gun. Watch Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite and co. go to work on Sunday before you make any judgements about this team's offensive capabilities.

No. 9 Gonzaga @ No. 22 Washington -- 7 p.m., ESPN2

Local fans may have gotten a glimpse of the Zags last week when Michigan thrashed them on 12-of-23 3-pointers. Many were probably quick to write them off as an overrated mid-major riding the coattails of previous overachievement. That's not the case. Mark Few's teams are ranked high for a reason. Killian Tillie is still getting his legs under him after returning from injury, and transfer Admon Gilder is still finding his way. When it's all clicking, Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country. It just didn't click Friday, and all credit to Michigan on that one.

Washington features a ton of length and athleticism and could give the Zags fits with their zone defense. Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels and Naz Carter are all top-tier talent, but there's a bit of a drop off beyond them. This one will be fun to see who claims bragging rights to being the Pacific Northwest's best team.