There's a fairly light college hoops schedule over the next two days as the bulk of North American sports fans turn their attention to the NFL Championship Game. Still, trying to cover a shorter slate for one day is difficult enough, much less two days in the same article, so let's get cracking.
West Virginia at Providence
Sunday, 12:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN3
It's certainly not a marquee matchup according to the rankings or current Big East standings, but it's a huge game for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers. West Virginia has dropped three straight – games that should have or could have been won – to sit smack-dab in the middle of the conference standings with a level 5-5 record.
Recent series trends between the Mountaineers and Friars point to this being an excellent opportunity for WVU to get back into the win column. West Virginia has won seven straight vs. the Friars, three of the last four in Providence and is a perfect 6-0 since Huggins came to Morgantown.
Still, winning on the road in the Big East isn't easy regardless of the competition or trends. The Mountaineers proved that on Jan. 25 when they fell 78-62 at St. John's as 7½-point favorites, and are just 1-4 away from home on the conference schedule so far (2-3 against the spread).
Providence did have the big 90-59 home upset against Louisville a little more than three weeks ago, but has otherwise been a disappointment in front of the home fans. The Friars are 2-3 SU and ATS at Dunkin' Donuts Center in Big East play.
Michigan at Michigan State
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. (ET) CBS
This one has all the qualifications to be the most compelling matchup over the next two days, from being the only contest between ranked clubs, to the natural rivalry between the two schools and a share of the Big Ten lead potentially on the line for the visiting Wolverines.
There's also the rematch angle after Michigan nipped the Spartans three weeks ago in Ann Arbor, 60-59. That contest hovered around a pick 'em before closing with Michigan State laying a point on the NCAA odds. The victory for the Wolverines was their third straight in this series that had been dominated by the Spartans before the 2010-11 season.
State is coming off a horrible effort at Illinois this past Tuesday, a 42-41 loss as small road chalk. The Spartans couldn't buy a bucket against the Illini, hitting less than 25 percent from the field, and were without leading scorer Draymond Green for most of the game due to foul trouble and a sprained left knee that occurred late in the contest. Green, averaging 14.9 points per game along with a team-leading 10.3 rebounds, is probable for Sunday's game with the Wolverines.
Connecticut at Louisville
Monday, 7:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Louisville's 12-0 run to open the campaign came to a crashing halt with five losses in a seven game stretch from late-December to mid-January. Four of those defeats came to Big East squads, but the Cardinals had rebounded with three consecutive wins entering play on Saturday when Louisville was a 10½-point favorite at home vs. Rutgers (result pending).
Meanwhile, the wheels have fallen off Connecticut's season in the past two weeks as the Huskies entered their Saturday matchup at home vs. Seton Hall on a four game slide and sporting a sub-.500 mark in the conference standings at 4-5. Adding to that misery is head coach Jim Calhoun sidelined for an indefinite period due to back problems. Calhoun will not be on the sidelines for either Saturday's game, with UConn laying seven against the Pirates, or this road trip to Louisville.
These two met in the finals of last year's Big East Tournament, a 69-66 Huskies win as 3-point 'dogs. The Cardinals had won the previous four regular season clashes, UConn's last victory in Louisville coming on Feb. 2, 2009. The last two meetings have finished 'under' the total.
Texas at Texas A&M
Monday, 9:00 p.m. (ET), ESPN
It's been a hugely disappointing season for both the Aggies and Longhorns who headed into their Saturday battles tied near the bottom of the Big 12 standings, each with 3-6 records. Neither squad is even remotely in the NCAA Tournament discussion, and it would take a strong run from either to even warrant an NIT invite at this stage. Still, Monday's game between the bitter rivals bears mentioning if only for the fact this could be Texas' last visit to College Station for a long, long time.
The season has been a total disaster for the Aggies who were ranked 19/20 in the two preseason polls. Bad news started before the team ever took to the floor when first year head coach Billy Kennedy was diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson's disease. Top freshman recruit Jamal Branch decided to transfer just 12 games into the schedule, and the team has been hampered by injuries to star forward Khris Middleton (knee), point guard Dash Harris (foot) and forward Kourtney Roberson (ankle). Middleton and Harris could be back for Monday's tilt, but Roberson appears to still be a week away from returning.
Texas came into the season with far less expectations than the Aggies thanks to early departures from last season's roster. Rick Barnes' boys have been particularly vulnerable playing outside of Austin, going 1-7 in road or neutral site games and winless in four Big 12 trips. The one bright spot is the 'Horns have at least covered their last two away from home (at Kansas State and Baylor).
It has been a little more than three weeks since A&M and UT engaged for the first time this campaign. The Longhorns registered a 61-51 win in Austin, failing to cover the 12-point spread. That victory extended Texas' win string in the series to four but snapped a three game cover run. The Jan. 11 tilt just stayed 'under' the 123-point total, the fourth time in six games that the final failed to reach the scoreboard tally.
The results from their Saturday's games are still pending as we go to press. Texas A&M was getting 11½ on the road at Kansas State while Texas was laying a whopping 18½ at home to Texas Tech.