Saddle Up: UConn's next big test

January, 4, 2011
1/04/11
6:02
PM ET
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It has way too much due tomorrow to get to the gym tonight. Sigh.

No. 9 Connecticut at No. 15 Notre Dame, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3: College football continues to steal hoops' thunder. As if conference realignment and the entire months of November and December weren't enough, apparently something called the "Sugar Bowl" is happening tonight, which I assume is the reason this top-15 match up won't be televised anywhere but ESPN3. (It probably also has something to do with each team's preseason expectations, which were far below this.) But whatever. Fire up your laptops, gaming consoles, and so on, because this is another big-time weeknight game in the Big East.

What's slightly funny about this match up (at least to me, anyway) is that both teams sit right on the precipice of what has thus far become a major Big East jumble. You can probably separate Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and maybe even Villanova from this group. But the teams in the middle of the conference -- Georgetown, Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, West Virginia and even current conference leader St. John's -- are all teams that, to be frank, seem capable of beating their fellow jumblers anywhere at any time, and for potentially inexplicable reasons. (And Cincinnati still hasn't played anyone. The verdict is out there, too.)

Do Connecticut and Notre Dame belong in this group? They'd probably like to think otherwise.

Notre Dame's only two losses have come on the road to Kentucky and Syracuse, and the Irish just handled Georgetown with ease. Meanwhile, Connecticut's only loss thus far came at Pittsburgh; there's good reason the Huskies are still ranked in the top 10. But I have a sneaking suspicion -- as do Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency numbers, which rank the Irish at No. 28 and the Huskies at No. 32 that both teams really belong in that flawed-but-tough group just below the conference's current elite.

The point of all this? We don't really know. The Big East is a jumble. It will remain as such for a while. But there are opportunities for each of these teams to stay removed from that we'll-beat-you-at-home-but-not-on-the-road fray in the coming weeks, and the first such opportunity is tonight.

Everywhere else: Speaking of the Big East jumble, Providence has a pretty good chance to jump into that mix if it can somehow upset Pittsburgh in Providence tonight. ... Ohio State is getting all its road conference cupcakes out of the way; after winning at Indiana Friday, the Buckeyes travel to Iowa Tuesday night. ... Minnesota will try to set aside the Devoe Joseph distraction and handle business in the Barn against Indiana. ... Arkansas travels to Texas as the Longhorns prepare to open the Big 12 season. ... West Virginia will travel to AllState Arena for a match up with DePaul. ... Missouri State has another chance to establish itself as a legitimate Missouri Valley Conference title contender at Creighton, which has been buoyed by the arrival of Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique. ... Vermont and Stony Brook provide some hot America East action. ... The Purple Aces will try to upset Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

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