December as a month features the last few multi-team events of the season and the bulk of conference challenge action. It's also a time when most teams have to wedge games between exams and holidays and fans have to dodge stale holiday specials and on filter through bowl games to find hoops on their TV sets. Believe me, there will be plenty of televised college basketball over the last week of the year--including a return of action, island-style to Christmas Day itself. So, if you find yourself needing a break from football, there will be roundball!
You'll find my December picks after the jump. For information about the other games on the air during the final month of 2009, visit MattSarzSports.com.
Tuesday, December 1
Michigan State at North Carolina (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) (ESPN, 9 ET)
The rematch of last year's National Championship game is exactly why I feel that these conference challenges should be moved to the second half of the season. While this game should be pretty good as is (especially since it's at the Dean Dome), it would be even better if played six or so weeks later, so both teams, particularly the younger Tar Heels, can have more of a chance to gel.
Wednesday, December 2
Pittsburgh at Duquesne (CBS CS, 7 ET)
Now, if the Dukes had been allowed to advance in the CBE Classic, they could've shared the Sprint Center with the Panthers. They'll have to be satisfied with sharing the floor at the Igloo one more time, as this game moves to the Penguins new rink in 2010.
Thursday, December 3
Cleveland State at Wright State (ESPNU, 9 ET)
The Horizon League season starts early, and this matchup features two teams who are serious threats to Butler in the race. The Vikings won the conference's auto bid last season, and then upset Wake Forest. The Raiders were a bid thief in 2007.
Friday, December 4
Akron at Texas A&M (FS Southwest, 8 ET)
Fridays are typically light nights during the season. (Trust me, you'll see what I mean in my next couple of posts.) The Zips have a good chance at repeating in the MAC. (Well, as good of a chance as anyone else who's tried of late.) Meanwhile, the Aggies should be on their way to figuring out how to play without Chinemelu Elonu in the middle.
Saturday, December 5
Wake Forest at Gonzaga (ESPN2, 5:30 ET)
A matchup of two teams who will be very competitive despite significant losses, James Johnson and Jeff Teague in the Deacons' case and Austin Daye, Micah Downs, Josh Heytvelt, and Jeremy Pargo for the Bulldogs.
Sunday, December 6
Arizona at Oklahoma (Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series) (ESPNU, 7 ET)
Sean Miller brings his Wildcats, bolstered by some last-minute recruits, to Norman to take on a Griffin-less, but still potent Sooner squad. Kansas at UCLA earns honorable mention honors. And I'll be at the BB&T Classic to see Villanova take on Maryland.
Monday, December 7
Long Beach State at Texas (ESPNU, 9 ET)
The only nationally televised game of the night (though I will pick regional telecasts later). The 49ers continue their aggressive scheduling (as they're the "host" school at the 76 Classic this year), taking on a Damion James-led Longhorn team who should challenge the Jayhawks at the top of the Big 12.
Tuesday, December 8
Vanderbilt at Illinois (Big Ten, 8:30 ET)
The Illini won by 6 in Nashville last year, but the Commodores could give them an even better game in the return. Honorable mention goes to the Jimmy V Classic, Butler vs. Georgetown and Indiana vs.Pittsburgh. Who would've ever forseen a day where the Bulldogs might be the most highly rated team of that group of four?
Wednesday, December 9
Kentucky vs Connecticut (Big East/SEC Invitational) (ESPN, 9:30 ET) If the undercard of Georgia vs. St. John's puts the crowd at MSG to sleep, I think Calipari vs. Calhoun should wake them up.
Saturday, December 12
Georgetown vs Washington (John Wooden Classic) (FSN, 2 ET)
The Hoyas do something under JohnThompson III that his father would've never done, travel cross-country for a non-league game. The Huskies sure aren't St. Leo's.
I would have selected the second half of the doubleheader, Mississippi State vs. UCLA, but Renardo Sidney's eligibility issues make this game slightly less attractive.
Sunday, December 13
Cincinnati at Xavier (ESPNU, 7 ET)
The Crosstown Shootout should be a great one this year. The Musketeers have been the best team in the city over the past few seasons. They have wins in the last two in the series. The Bearcats, meanwhile, should be far more competitive in Mick Cronin's fourth year at the helm, especially with Lance Stevenson joining the team.
Monday, December 14
Georgia Tech at Chattanooga (FS South, 7 ET)
The Yellow Jackets visit to the SoCon tourney champions is the only game on the TV schedule on this Monday.
Tuesday, December 15
Georgia State at Florida State (FS Florida, 7 ET)
The transfer-filled Panthers will look to repeat their 62-57 win over the Seminoles in Atlanta last year.
Wednesday, December 16
Wright State at Mississippi State (ESPN2, 7 ET)
Last year, the Bulldogs dropped December home games to Charlotte and San Diego. This year, it's the Raiders turn to try to pull an upset at the Hump.
Friday, December 18
As there are no televised games listed for this night, it would be a good time to wrap up your holiday shopping.
Saturday, December 19
UCLA at Notre Dame (CBS, 2 ET)
Saturday makes up for the lackluster slate during exam week, as we also have Michigan at Kansas, North Carolina at Texas, and Duke vs. Gonzaga on the schedule. The Bruins trip to South Bend gets a very slight nod, as these two on-again/off-again hoops rivals last met in 2005.
Monday, December 21
UTEP vs. Oklahoma (Oklahoma City) (ESPN2, 6:30 ET)
The Miners hope to be among the teams to unseat a weakened Memphis in C-USA. A win over the Sooners in their backyard would be a great confidence-builder for them.
Tuesday, December 22
California at Kansas (ESPN2, 9 ET)
While this game isn't technically a part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, it is a matchup of two teams who each have an excellent chance of winning their respective conference's crown.
Wednesday, December 23
Illinois vs. Missouri (St. Louis) (ESPN2, 8:30 ET)
The Illini actually won this one by 16 last year. The Tigers could have a hard time gaining revenge without the services of DeMarre Caroll, Matt Lawrence, and Leo Lyons.
Thursday, December 24
It's Christmas Eve, so there are no games scheduled.
Friday, December 25
Diamond Head Classic Final (ESPN2, 9:30 ET)
This tournament features some rebuilding squads (St. Mary's, USC, UNLV), a few teams who haven't been relevant for awhile (host Hawai'i, SMU, and Western Michigan) and two mid-majors who could do really well against this particular group of teams (College of Charleston and Northeastern)
Saturday, December 26
West Virginia at Seton Hall (CBS, 3:30 ET)
Oddly enough, this Big East battle is the only game on the Boxing Day schedule.
Sunday, December 27
Austin Peay at Missouri (FS Midwest, 2 ET)
This is one of three games on the schedule. The Governors are perennial contenders in the Ohio Valley, and they'll be looking to pull a seed-boosting upset at Mizzou Arena.
Monday, December 28
American at Florida (FS Florida, 8:30 ET)
The two-time defending Patriot League champs who appear to be destined for a fall take on a two-time National Champion who already has taken one.
Tuesday, December 29
Penn State at Minnesota (ESPN2, 9 ET)
It's the Big Ten opener for the NIT Champion and a Gopher squad that may have just pipped them to an NCAA bid last time around. I would have selected Northern Iowa at Creighton, which should match up the two best teams in the Missouri Valley, but that game is currently only scheduled for local TV
Thursday, December 31
Oklahoma at Gonzaga (ESPN2, 10 ET)
While it won't quite be November 17, it will be a marathon day on ESPN2, starting at noon. Michigan at Indiana, Ohio State at Wisconsin, and Tennessee at Memphis are all featured matchups during the day. However, I'll take the inter-sectional matchup to close the day, month, and year out as my choice. (Watching a million drunk people go crazy over a lighted ball dropping is so 2000.) There's also a good Pac-10 option, Arizona State at UCLA on FSN as part of their New Year's Eve festivities.
That will close out 2009, my games for January will follow tomorrow evening.