We all love a late-season matchup of two top teams, meaning so much is on the line. It adds to the drama that’s already present and in theory adds to the game’s draw as far as fans are concerned. Oftentimes, schedules are done with this in mind, especially since by that point, there are probably many meaningless games on tap as far as the postseason is concerned since many have been eliminated depending on the conference.
That all makes sense. But how about early matchups of such teams? We already saw how that works this past week, with Oklahoma first beating Iowa State and then traveling to Kansas, where they lost but were part of an instant classic. Many people were glued to their television late Monday night checking out the latter, with some on Twitter openly routing for more overtime periods (even before the third one came).
Friday night, we got more of that, but on a smaller scale as Oakland hosted Valparaiso what figured to be a matchup of two serious contenders for the Horizon League title. Valparaiso had a great non-league run that included wins at Rhode Island and Oregon State, while Greg Kampe always tests his Oakland team with a tough non-league schedule and this year was no different. The game lived up to its billing, for a half anyway – Valpo led by just three at the break, 37-34. The second half was all Valpo as they used an early 10-0 run to break the game open for good en route to a convincing 84-67 win.
An early showdown can help drum up some early interest in a conference race and serve as an indication of how a conference race will be. After Monday night, everyone expects Oklahoma to be right there with Kansas, and we’re all looking forward to February 13 in Norman, when the two meet again.
This one had a good crowd, so the scale was definitely smaller. Oakland entered the game already having a league blemish, a surprising home loss to Youngstown State earlier in the week. As such, the win puts Valpo up by two games early on in the standings. But it’s still early yet, and the interest drummed up in this early game should only help the league.
You can’t blame sports leagues all over for matching up teams late in the season that project to be serious contenders. We love the postseason in all sports, and a regular season game that has a postseason feel is a bonus. A lot has to work out; while we often project which teams will contend based on what we know, things don’t always work out that way. That’s why we play the games; we figured Kansas and Oklahoma would be pretty good, but who knew they would both look like national title contenders thus far?
Early in the season is a good time for those matchups, too, and on Friday night we got another one of them. It may not have been as dramatic as others, but it was a good idea. Now we look forward to the rematch at Valparaiso on February 19, another nationally televised game to boot.
Detroit looks ready to give chase in the Horizon League, improving to 3-0 with an 87-69 win over UIC later in the evening behind five players who scored in double figures.
In the lone high-major game of the night, Utah got a late layup from Lorenzo Bonam to cap a 17-point effort and beat host Colorado 56-54.
Quietly, Akron has now run out to a 13-2 start after beating Western Michigan 62-53 on Friday night.
It’s Saturday, so there’s a very busy slate on tap.
- The ACC slate is highlighted by Virginia at Georgia Tech early on, then Notre Dame welcomes Pittsburgh, Miami hosts Florida State, and North Carolina seeks its first 4-0 ACC start in Roy Williams’ tenure as they head to Syracuse in Jim Boeheim’s return to the bench.
- UCconn hosts Memphis to highlight games in the American Athletic Conference.
- The first Big 12 game of the day sees Oklahoma State traveling to West Virginia. Later, Iowa State hosts Baylor, Kansas State gets its stiffest test yet at Oklahoma and Texas Tech gets a chance for a big win as they host Kansas.
- Creighton visits Seton Hall in the most notable Big East matchup.
- In the Big Ten, Wisconsin hosts Maryland early on.
- The Missouri Valley has two of its 3-0 teams battling as Wichita State travels to Southern Illinois.
- The Mountain West has a key early contest as Boise State hosts Fresno State.
- UCLA hosts Arizona State, USC hosts Arizona and Oregon State hosts California in key Pac-12 games.
- Fresh off a big win over Kentucky, LSU tries to continue their momentum as they head to Florida, while South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt, Kentucky heads to Alabama and Ole Miss hosts Georgia in SEC games of note.
- Albany travels to Vermont in a key early America East game, while the CAA has Northeastern visiting William & Mary to highlight its full slate.