January once meant a clean transition from college football to college basketball. However, as the BCS refusing to go away and more non-BCS bowls have moved to post-New Year's day slots, there's increasing competition between hoops and football for TV exposure in the first week of the month.
And that's a shame, as the first week in January ends the bulk of non-conference play that we'll see until March Madness. The rest of the month is the time when conference play really starts to ramp up. In selecting games for January and February, I tried to balance my picks between conferences, as there are simply too many interesting league matchups at midweek and during the weekend. I'll feature all of these in my nightly preview posts.
You can see my picks for the opening month of the year after the jump. If you want to see what else is on TV to start 2010, visit MattSarzSports.com.
Friday, January 1
West Virginia at Purdue (ESPN, 2:30 ET)
If you need a break from football, tune into this matchup between two teams that should be right at the top of their league and in the discussion for a high NCAA seed.
Saturday, January 2
Louisville at Kentucky (CBS, 3:30 ET)
Even though there are some other titanic matchups on the slate (Gonzaga vs. Illinois in Chicago, Arizona at UCLA, Villanova at Marquette), John Calipari's first taste of this huge rivalry is my pick. It will also be interesting to see how the fans at Rupp Arena treat Rick Pitino after a tumultuous offseason for the Cards' coach.
Sunday, January 3
Xavier at Wake Forest (FSN, 5:30 ET)
It will be a solemn, special moment in Winston-Salem as these two schools meet in the inaugural Skip Prosser Classic.
Monday, January 4
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (ESPN, 7 ET)
It's not technically Big Monday yet, as there won't be a Big 12 game until the next Monday. The Panthers, who lost a lot after last season, will be battling with teams like the Bearcats to stay in the NCAA picture this season.
Thursday, January 7
Xavier at La Salle (CBS CS, 7 ET)
If you really don't want to watch the BCS National Championship Game, check out this battle between a perennial A-10 power and a team trying to reach the top of that conference.
Friday, January 8
Valparaiso at Detroit (ESPNU, 7 ET)
Fridays in January and February are generally pretty quiet, so they're good nights to spend doing other things. If you're snow or icebound, you can check out this Horizon League matchup. North Florida at Florida Gulf Coast from the A-Sun is your other potential TV option.
Saturday, January 9
Florida at Vanderbilt (ESPN2, 12 ET)
Both of these teams are looking to get back to the NCAAs, the Gators after a two-year absence and the Commodores after a one-year gap. UF won by 25 in Nashville last year, but shouldn't expect a similar result against a much improved Vandy.
Sunday, January 10
Kansas at Tennessee (CBS, 1:30 ET)
The Jayhawks beat the Vols by 7 on January 3rd last year. This should be an excellent final test for both teams as they get ready for conference play.
Monday, January 11
Villanova vs.Louisville (ESPN, 7 ET)
The favorite in the Big East (as much as you can call one team a favorite) faces a difficult road test against a Cards team that should be kicking into gear.
Tuesday, January 12
Ohio State at Purdue (ESPN, 7 ET)
This is another battle at the top of the Big Ten that earns a slim nod over Kentucky at Florida and Maryland at Wake Forest, as the Gators and Deacons have a little bit to prove at this point.
Wednesday, January 13
San Diego State at UNLV (CBS CS, 10 ET)
Last year, the Aztecs took three from the Rebels, including two in six days in March that buried UNLV's hopes, yet didn't provide enough of a boost for the Aztecs' chances.
Thursday, January 14
Gonzaga at St. Mary's (ESPN2, 11 ET)
The Gaels had a good chance of winning this matchup last season, until Patty Mills broke his right hand. Now, they'll have to try this without Mills, who is in Portland, where he's broken his foot.
Friday, January 15
Loyola Chicago at Illinois-Chicago (ESPNU, 9 ET)
It's the Horizon League's version of the Crosstown rivalry.
Sunday, January 17
Connecticut at Michigan (CBS, 4:30 ET)
The Huskies won by 8 in Hartford last season, but it was a game that the Wolverines led for a time and weren't out of until the end.
Monday, January 18
Syracuse at Notre Dame (ESPN, 7 ET)
The Orange won easily at the Dome last year, but fell victim to a lot of Kyle McAlarney threes when they met in South Bend in 2008. The good news for SU is that McAlarney graduated.
Tuesday, January 19
Clemson at Georgia Tech (ESPN2, 7 ET)
The Tigers visit Atlanta to take on a Yellow Jacket team that could challenge in the ACC thanks to the presence of Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal, and Iman Shumpert.
Friday, January 22
UW-Milwaukee at Youngstown State (ESPNU, 7 ET)
As the other option is Mercer at Stetson, I'm going with my graduate alma mater, UWM.
Saturday, January 23
South Carolina at Florida (ESPN, 6 ET)
I went to this game in Gainesville last year. What looked like an easy Gator win turned into a close one at the end. Both of these teams should be fighting for a bid at this point.
Sunday, January 24
Georgia Tech at Florida State (Raycom, 12 ET)
I know I posted the Atlanta matchup in December, but this one should be more entertaining than the other games on the limited Sunday slate.
Tuesday, January 26
Clemson at Boston College (ESPN2, 7 ET)
These two should be in the second tier of the ACC, so this matchup is a good chance for one to jump over the other in terms of the postseason pecking order.
Wednesday, January 27
Vanderbilt at Tennessee (ESPNU, 7 ET)
If these two play to potential, ESPN may wish they didn't stick this one on the U.
Thursday, January 28
Duquesne at Xavier (CBS CS, 7 ET)
If the Dukes are really going to show they're A-10 contenders, they need to at least play well in Cincy.
Friday, January 29
Butler at UW-Green Bay (ESPNU, 9 ET)
The Bulldogs have to spend their Friday night at a tough place to play, the Resch Center. The A-Sun's Jacksonville derby, Jacksonville at North Florida is the other TV option.
Saturday, January 30
Utah at BYU (the mtn., 9 ET)
These two earned the MWC's only two bids last year. Plus, the (non-Philly) Holy War is such a great rivalry, you really should expand your horizons and check it out.
Sunday, January 31
Maryland at Clemson (FSN, 5:30 ET)
The Terps lost 93-64 in Littlejohn last year, which really damaged their tournament hopes. Another good option during the Sunday before the Super Bowl is Florida at Tennessee.
My games for February and early March will follow tomorrow evening.