College basketball gives us a few pre-Christmas presents this weekend. There’s a Final Four rematch between Kansas and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are looking for revenge, while the Jayhawks want to make a statement on the road. It’s time for the 2012 Braggin’ Rights Game in St. Louis. Mizzou coach Frank Haith already seems to be in the Christmas spirit. And the Diamond Head Classic might give us two Top 25 teams in a Christmas day game. Happy hoops – but don’t forget to hug your children.
Here are five games you don’t want to miss (all times ET):
No. 9 Kansas (9-1) at No. 7 Ohio State (9-1) (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The anticipation surrounding this matchup has been building for weeks and it has the potential to be one of the best games of the season so far. The Jayhawks and Buckeyes met twice last season and Kansas won both times. Ohio State traveled to Lawrence, and with injured Jared Sullinger unable to play, the Jayhawks won 78-67 even though Deshaun Thomas stepped up and scored 19 points. The second game was a national semifinal in New Orleans and Kansas rallied for a 64-62 win. Sullinger and Thomas Robinson are gone now. But center Jeff Withey, who blocked seven Ohio State shots in the Final Four, and Travis Releford (15 points, 6 rebounds in Final Four semi) are back for Kansas and Thomas is averaging 20.4 points and 6.9 rebounds for the Buckeyes. Kansas, led by freshman Ben McLemore’s 15.9 ppg, has been playing terrific basketball, averaging 17 assists, shooting 49 percent. But this is the first true road test for the Jayhawks and Ohio State is 7-0 in Value City Arena this season.
No. 12 Missouri (9-1) vs. No. 10 Illinois (12-0) (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
Emotions always run high at the Braggin’ Rights Game in St. Louis. Missouri has emerged victorious the last three games but coach Frank Haith’s Team of Transfers will bring some fresh faces to the series. When Keion Bell, from Pepperdine, and Alex Oriahki, from Connecticut, were asked about the environment this week, Haith interrupted and said, “Just let me answer that, I’ve never seen that. So a neutral-court game with that kind of atmosphere, surely they wouldn’t ever have seen that either.” It was only Monday, and Haith seemed a bit jumpy already. Jabari Brown, Mizzou’s transfer from Oregon, could be a key player. And Illinois must keep pace on the boards to have any chance.
No. 3 Syracuse (10-0) vs. Temple (8-2) (Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN2)
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, the newest member of the 900 win club, takes his Orange to Madison Square Garden to wrap up the Gotham Classic. Syracuse fans love to follow their team to the Big Apple and they have a lot to cheer about with James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche leading the way. Here’s the discouraging fact for Temple: The Owls are coming off a 34.9 percent shooting performance in a 72-62 home loss to Canisius, a team that Syracuse crushed 85-61 last Saturday. Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall will need to be at their best for the Owls or else Boeheim should have no trouble moving to win number 901.
No. 8 Florida (8-1) vs. Kansas State (8-2) (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2)
Billy Donovan’s team had a nice bounce-back game Wednesday night, defeating Southeastern Louisiana 82-43 after losing at Arizona last weekend. Now the Gators are going to Kansas City to play another group of Wildcats in the Sprint Center. Fifth-year senior guard Mike Rosario wasn’t playing up to Donovan’s expectations early in the season but Rosario had 20 points, six rebounds and four assists Wednesday night. Rosario told The Associated Press that Donovan challenges him every day. “I look forward to it because this is my last go-around and I feel like my teammates need me to bring that consistency every day and I’ve been trying to do that,” said Rosario, a transfer from Rutgers. K-State, under first-year coach Bruce Weber, has lost at Michigan and on a neutral floor against Gonazaga. Senior guard Rodney McGruder should have a higher scoring average than last year – not lower.
No. 4 Arizona (9-0) vs. East Tennessee State (2-7) (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Mele Kalikimaka. This is a first-round game for Arizona in the Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. No Bing Crosby and Jimmy Buffett are not in the tournament, but they both did fine versions of that Hawaiian Christmas song. Between tournament games you can catch Bing’s version in that wonderful poolside Clark Griswold dream scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The other tournament teams include Indiana State, Hawaii, Miami, Ole Miss, No. 18 San Diego State and San Francisco. Games will be played Saturday, Sunday and Christmas Day. It would be nice to find a championship game between Arizona and San Diego State under the Christmas tree, but the semifinal round could be difficult if Miami and Ole Miss get there. Mark Lyons of Arizona vs. Xavier Thames of San Diego State would be fun to watch in the title game. One bit of trivia: East Tennessee State upset Arizona in the 1992 NCAA tournament. The Buccaneers haven’t won a NCAA game since.