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On The Menu: January 2, 2016

With so many games on Saturdays, I'm going to try something a little bit different with my format: first I'll go conference by conference through the schedule, offering analysis as I go, then rate games by window. Please let me know your thoughts on this format either in the comments or on Twitter. On the court, most ACC, Atlantic 10, and SEC members and the entirety of the Big 12 begin conference play today.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Game information courtesy Matt College Sports on TV Website, which has even more games listed.

All times listed are Eastern, adjust accordingly.

American Athletic

Houston Cougars (11-2, 1-0) at Temple Owls (6-5, 1-0), 12 p.m. (ESPNEWS)
Tulsa Golden Hurricane (8-5, 0-1) at No. 22 Cincinnati Bearcats (10-4, 0-1), 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
UCF Knights (6-5, 0-0) at East Carolina Pirates (8-5, 0-0), 6 p.m. (ESPN3)
USF Bulls (3-11, 0-1) at No. 17 SMU Mustangs (12-0, 1-0), 7:30 p.m. (ESPNEWS)
UConn Huskies (9-3, 0-0) at Tulane Green Wave (7-7, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

UConn, UCF, and ECU all jump into league play on this Saturday, with the Huskies looking to keep the momentum from their Tuesday night win at Texas going and the Knights and Pirates looking for a winning start in what will likely be a testing conference campaign for both. Elsewhere, USF should be overmatched on Mockingbird Lane, while the afternoon games are both highly intriguing. Surprisingly, one of Houston or Temple will be 2-0 (likely alongside SMU, provided they remain perfect), while one of the most likely American at-large contenders back in November—either Tulsa or Cincinnati—will fall in an early 0-2 hole. I suspect the Golden Hurricane will suffer that fate after being stifled by the Bearcats.

ACC

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-3) at No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels (12-2, 1-0), 12 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)
Florida State Seminoles (10-2) at Clemson Tigers (7-6, 0-1), 12 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
North Carolina State Wolfpack (10-3) at Virginia Tech Hokies (8-5), 2 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
Syracuse Orange (10-4, 0-1) at No. 13 Miami Hurricanes (11-1), 2:30 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)
No. 15 Duke Blue Devils (11-2) at Boston College Eagles (7-6), 4:30 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3) at No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers (11-1), 5 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Tar Heels will look to jump out to a quick 2-0 start by picking up a win over a surprising Yellow Jacket team at the Dean Dome, while Clemson and Syracuse will each be hard pressed to get themselves to .500, with the Tigers' visitors, Florida State, looking like a strong at-large candidates, and the Orange's hosts, Miami, a possible dark horse ACC contender.

N.C. State will need a good ACC run to make the field of 68, so losing in Blacksburg would be the worst possible start. Duke should have little trouble against a BC squad that's likely to finish 15th. On the other hand, while you can expect Notre Dame to test Virginia, don't expect the Irish to defeat the Cavaliers for the first time in their short ACC tenure.

Note that UNC, FSU, Virginia, and Virginia Tech will all be back in action on the first Big Monday of 2016.

Atlantic 10 Opening Day

Saint Joseph's Hawks (10-2) at Richmond Spiders (8-4), 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Dayton Flyers (10-2) at Duquesne Dukes (10-3), 2:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Saint Louis Billikens (5-7) at Rhode Island Rams (8-5), 4:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
George Mason Patriots (6-7) at VCU Rams (8-5), 5 p.m. (CBSSN)
Davidson Wildcats (8-3) at St. Bonaventure Bonnies (8-3), 8 p.m. (ASN)

The first two games on this list are the most intriguing. The Hawks and Spiders might find themselves on the bubble come Selection Weekend, so a victory in the pair's only regular season meeting might carry a little extra importance. The Dukes used a surprisingly home-heavy schedule to rack up a shiny non-conference record, but no team that visited the Palumbo Center is on the Flyers' level. Both the VCU and URI Rams should open their A 10 campaigns with home wins, while Davidson might find it difficult to win in Olean, where St. Bonaventure won six of their seven non-league home contests.

Big East Marathon

DePaul Blue Demons (6-7, 0-1) at Seton Hall Pirates (11-2, 1-0), 11 a.m. (FS1)
No. 9 Butler Bulldogs (11-2, 0-1) at No. 6 Xavier Musketeers (12-1, 0-1), 1 p.m. (FS1)
St. John's Red Storm (7-7, 0-1) at No. 12 Providence Friars (13-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m. (FS1)
Marquette Golden Eagles (10-3, 0-1) at Georgetown Hoyas (8-5, 1-0), 5:30 p.m. (FS1)
No. 16 Villanova Wildcats (11-2, 1-0) at Creighton Bluejays (10-4, 1-0), 10 p.m. (FS1)

Fox Sports 1's New Year's Eve tradition* moves to January 2nd, thanks to the folly of the New Year's Eve College Football Playoff semifinals. In game one, the Pirates CANNOT follow up their big win at Marquette by losing to the Blue Demons at home. Game two features the inevitability of one of the top four teams in the league heading into conference play dropping to 0-2 after a difficult opening week. Edmond Sumner's listed as day-to-day after his scary fall at Nova on Thursday, and his presence is vital to the Musketeers' chances.

Providence should drop the Johnnies to 0-2, while Marquette is in danger of dropping to that mark, as a trip to Georgetown is always dangerous, even if the Hoyas didn't always acquit themselves well during November and December. After a bit of a break, the evening closes with Creighton having a great opportunity to up its profile with a visit from Villanova, who looks to be the league favorite once again.

* In high school, we used to say something had to happen in a similar fashion for three straight years to be a true tradition. FS1's New Year's Eve marathon only happened twice consecutively, hence the asterisk.

Big 12 Opening Day

No. 19 West Virginia Mountaineers (11-1) at Kansas State Wildcats (10-2), 12 p.m. (ESPNU)
Texas Longhorns (8-4) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (10-1), 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
No. 23 Baylor Bears (10-2) at No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (11-1), 4 p.m. (CBS)
TCU Horned Frogs (8-4) at Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-4), 4 p.m. (ESPNEWS)
No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones (11-1) at No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (11-0), 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Big 12 season opens with a pair of titanic matchups, another pair of interesting ones, and TCU-Oklahoma State, which might be for ninth place. In the ranked showdowns, Baylor and Iowa State will both look to upset their top-three hosts, and the Cyclones' task will be all the more unlikely with Naz Mitrou-Long out for the season. Meanwhile, West Virginia and Texas both visit opponents who have a lot to prove after successful non-conference runs—K-State's best win came against a Georgia team that's not a sure bet for any postseason play, while Texas Tech put on an RPI-building clinic.

Like the ACC, four Big 12 teams will play again on Big Monday, when West Virginia-TCU is a definite undercard to a possible 1 vs. 2 showdown in Lawrence between the Sooners and Jayhawks.

Big Ten

Penn State Nittany Lions (9-5, 0-1) at Michigan Wolverines (11-3, 1-0), 12 p.m. (BTN)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-8, 0-1) at Wisconsin Badgers (8-6, 0-1), 2 p.m. (BTN)
No. 1 Michigan State Spartans (13-1, 0-1) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-7, 0-1), 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
Indiana Hoosiers (11-3, 1-0) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-6, 0-1), 4 p.m. (BTN)
Iowa Hawkeyes (10-3, 1-0) at No. 14 Purdue Boilermakers (13-1, 1-0), 6 p.m. (BTN)
No. 4 Maryland Terrapins (12-1, 1-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (13-1, 1-0), 8 p.m. (BTN)

Possible mismatches litter the Big Ten's afternoon slate, though Minnesota might give Denzel Valentine-less Michigan State a game for a bit and Nebraska will test Indiana in Lincoln, but things get cooking in the evening. If Iowa can cope with Purdue's side in West Lafayette, the Hawkeyes might just establish themselves as surprise title contenders. That's a big if, pun intended. In the nightcap, Northwestern could put itself on the map, and earn itself a badly needed marquee win if they can trouble a Maryland team that's still growing into its lofty preseason expectations.

SEC Opening Day

Tennessee Volunteers (10-2) at Auburn Tigers (6-5), 2 p.m. (CBS)
Arkansas Razorbacks (6-6) at No. 20 Texas A&M Aggies (10-2), 4:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Ole Miss Rebels (10-2) at No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats (10-2), 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Georgia Bulldogs (7-3) at Florida Gators (8-4), 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
LSU Tigers (7-5) at Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4), 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

Of the SEC's 14 members, only 10 begin conference play today. Why? Well, four teams—Alabama, Mississippi State, Missouri, and South Carolina—won't participate in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in four weeks' time, so they'll play in conference on that day instead. So, three of the four (the Bulldogs are off) will play their non-conference finales today.

The evening games are, like the Big Ten's, the most interesting. (Really, CBS? Tennessee at Auburn? I know Bruce Pearl is involved, but come on. It's not even in Knoxville.) Look for A&M to top an Arkansas squad that missed a golden opportunity to pick up a quality win in Dayton on Wednesday night. Ole Miss gave last year's Kentucky team a battle at Rupp, and with this season's Wildcats outfit not nearly as strong, perhaps the Rebels can do it again. Florida really needs to start conference play with a win after Tuesday's heartbreaking loss to FSU, while Georgia is in a similar position after a lackluster non-conference run which saw them play only 10 games since they skipped an exempt tournament. The nightcap looked to be a showcase of possible title contenders back when the schedules were printed, but LSU looks more like a CBI team than anything, even with Ben Simmons on the roster, while Vanderbilt has been decent, but no powerhouse.

Other Intriguing Options

College of Charleston Cougars (9-3, 1-0) at William & Mary Tribe (8-4, 0-1), 4 p.m. (CAA.tv)
Northeastern Huskies (9-5, 1-0) at UNC Wilmington Seahawks (9-3, 1-0), 6 p.m. (ASN)

Yes, Hofstra (who plays Towson today) will have their say, but this quartet could all find themselves playing for the Colonial title in Baltimore on the Monday of Championship Week.

Memphis Tigers (9-3) at No. 24 South Carolina Gamecocks (12-0), 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

The undefeated and ranked Gamecocks are the only one of the three SEC squads playing non-conference foes today that's taking on an at-large contender. Considering that South Carolina's best two wins right now came against Tulsa and Clemson, a win over the Tigers would be helpful.

Northern Iowa Panthers (9-5, 1-0) at Southern Illinois Salukis (12-2, 1-0), 8 p.m. (ESPN3)

The surprising Salukis will attempt to use their home court advantage to leapfrog the Panthers early in the Valley race.

New Mexico Lobos (8-6, 1-0) at Fresno State Bulldogs (10-4, 1-0), 9:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
San Diego State Aztecs (8-6, 1-0) at Utah State Aggies (9-3, 1-0), 10 p.m. (ESPNU)

The two winners will grab an early advantage in a probable one-bid Mountain West.

San Diego Toreros (5-7, 0-1) at Saint Mary's Gaels (12-1, 3-0), 10 p.m. (TheW.tv)
Gonzaga Bulldogs (11-3, 3-0) at San Francisco Dons (8-5, 2-1), 11 p.m. (ESPN2)

If the Bulldogs, who will be without Przemek Karnowski for the rest of the season, struggle with the Dons as much as they did with Santa Clara on Thursday afternoon, the door might be open for the Gaels to grab a surprising WCC lead after two weeks of play.

Viewing Priority

In this section, I've listed each of the games above in their respective windows in the order I think a neutral should focus on them. So, matchups involving ranked squads and possible bid contenders will have priority over likely mismatches. As always, actual entertainment value may differ significantly from my assumptions.

Early Tips

Butler at Xavier, 1 p.m. (FS1)
West Virginia at Kansas State, 12 p.m. (ESPNU)
Saint Joseph's at Richmond, 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 12 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)
DePaul at Seton Hall, 11 a.m. (FS1)
Penn State at Michigan, 12 p.m. (BTN)
Florida State at Clemson, 12 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)

Mid-Afternoon Tips

Syracuse at Miami, 2:30 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)
Texas at Texas Tech, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
Michigan State at Minnesota, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
Dayton at Duquesne, 2:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
St. John's at Providence, 3:30 p.m. (FS1)
Rutgers at Wisconsin, 2 p.m. (BTN)
North Carolina State at Virginia Tech, 2 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
Tennessee at Auburn, 2 p.m. (CBS)

Late Afternoon Tips

Baylor at Kansas, 4 p.m. (CBS)
Notre Dame at Virginia, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
Marquette at Georgetown, 5:30 p.m. (FS1)
Tulsa at Cincinnati, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
College of Charleston at William & Mary, 4 p.m. (CAA.tv)
Indiana at Nebraska, 4 p.m. (BTN)
Arkansas at Texas A&M, 4:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
George Mason at VCU, 5 p.m. (CBSSN)
Duke at Boston College, 4:30 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
TCU at Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. (ESPNEWS)
Saint Louis at Rhode Island, 4:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Early Evening Tips

Iowa State at Oklahoma, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Iowa at Purdue, 6 p.m. (BTN)
Memphis at South Carolina, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Ole Miss at Kentucky, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Northeastern at UNCW, 6 p.m. (ASN)
UConn at Tulane, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
USF at SMU, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNEWS)
UCF at East Carolina, 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

Late Evening Tips

Maryland at Northwestern, 8 p.m. (BTN)
LSU at Vanderbilt, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Villanova at Creighton, 10 p.m. (FS1)
Georgia at Florida, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Gonzaga at San Francisco, 11 p.m. (ESPN2)
Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
San Diego State at Utah State, 10 p.m. (ESPNU)
San Diego at Saint Mary's, 10 p.m. (TheW.tv)
Davidson at St. Bonaventure, 8 p.m. (ASN)
New Mexico at Fresno State, 9:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

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