We're officially past the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, both on the schedule and -- more importantly -- in body, mind and spirit. (I think I'm finally recovered. Phew.) But the hoops doesn't slow down all that much in the next few days: Tonight brings the conclusion of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, as well as the semifinal rounds of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, both of which decide their championship Sunday night.
We don't know what those matchups will be just yet, but we can take a couple of educated guesses. In the meantime, here's a list of the games we do know about, the ones you would bookmark if TV were as easy to use as the Internet. (One day, guys. One day.)
Friday, Nov. 18
St. John's vs. No. 18 Texas A&M (4:30 ET, ESPN2/ESPN3): The consolation game of the Coaches vs. Cancer event pits two teams with seemingly disparate trajectories. St. John's is as young as any team in the country this season, but has been impressive in its first few outings -- it appeared ready to drop Arizona on Thursday before the Wildcats made a huge late run to salvage the win. Texas A&M, meanwhile, is missing its best player, Khris Middleton, but even so was easily handled at the Garden by a Mississippi State team that lost to Akron by 10 at home just nine days ago. The Aggies were picked alongside Kansas as co-favorites in the Big 12 this season. It's still very, very early, and the Ags are dealing with serious off-court issues that can't be discounted (Billy Kennedy's horrible early-onset Parkinson's diagnosis), but St. John's in Madison Square Garden must already feel like an uphill battle.
No. 16 Arizona vs. Mississippi State (7 ET, ESPN2/ESPN3): To be perfectly honest, it's way too early to tell how good these teams are, or how good they can be. That's the problem with basketball in November: Our sample size is too small, our frames of reference too limited, to be able to see the forest for the trees. We can say that about any team, but it feels especially apt in regard to Arizona. The Wildcats don't look impressive, do they? When you watch them play, you don't say, "wow" or "look out." You notice their flaws as much as their strengths. But this team's 4-0 record can't be totally brushed off. Despite their issues -- lack of a true post scorer, struggling freshman guards (especially Josiah Turner) and so on -- the Wildcats have beaten the people in front of them, most recently a better-than-imagined St. John's team in front of a partisan crowd at Madison Square Garden. That's worth noticing at least. Mississippi State might prove an even bigger challenge. The Bulldogs have experienced guard play (Dee Bost) to counteract Arizona's frosh and their duo of big men on the block -- Arnett Moultrie and the ever-confusing Renardo Sidney -- might be difficult for the Wildcats to handle.
No. 15 Alabama vs. Wichita State (9 ET, ESPN2/ESPN3): This is the second semifinal in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. With the possible exception of Louisville-Butler, this might be the best game of the weekend. Alabama has experienced a defensive renaissance under coach Anthony Grant, and it seems the Crimson Tide have finally put the pieces together to be a legit top-20 team. But Wichita State, which beat Bama in last season's NIT final, is far from an easy out. Many view the Shockers as co-favorites to win what appears to be a very solid Missouri Valley in 2012. In the end, Wichita might not be able to match up with the size and athleticism of Alabama, which has one of the most physically tough teams in the country. But one thing's for sure: This one is going to be a grinder.
Saturday, Nov. 19
No. 2 Kentucky vs. Penn State (Noon ET, ESPN3): There's not much point in previewing this matchup at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun. With all due respect to Penn State and its energetic new coach Pat Chambers, the Nittany Lions are in the larva stage of a ground-up rebuilding effort. Kentucky is in the larva stage of having the scariest team in the country. I just wanted to list it so you knew that it was on ESPN3 and that you could watch UK dunk the ball approximately 800 times. This is a bigger mismatch than the Monstars versus a Michael Jordan-less Tune Squad. Look out below.
No. 7 Louisville at Butler (2 ET, ESPN3): Without accounting for the various scenarios available in Puerto Rico -- but accounting for the fact that the San Juan crowd is usually pretty paltry, making for a rather laid-back atmosphere -- I think it's fair to say this is the best game of the weekend. Louisville is the clear favorite, but it will face a hostile sellout crowd at Hinkle Fieldhouse (though you can bet a cohort of Louisville fans will make the trip, too). The Cardinals should be too much for a Butler team that is in the early stages of learning how to play without Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. The Bulldogs lost their season opener at Evansville (the same team Indiana trounced this week), and weren't particularly impressive in their 57-46 win against Chattanooga on Tuesday. Louisville is still dealing with a spate of injuries, but the Cards are so deep that they're still considerably more talented. Perhaps the biggest clash will come via style. UL coach Rick Pitino would prefer his team to play up-tempo, pressing hoops; Brad Stevens would be thrilled if this game came in at around 60 possessions. Butler's guards' ability to handle Louisville's press is the key.
No. 20 Vanderbilt vs. NC State (6:30 ET, ESPN3): If Vandy was at full strength with Festus Ezeli manning the middle, NC State would have no answer for the big man's interior play, and Vanderbilt would be the obvious favorite here at the Legends Classic at New Jersey's Meadowlands. Without Ezeli, this game could be much closer than Kevin Stallings would prefer. Frankly, the Commodores have some proving to do. It's understandable to struggle without your top big man, as they did in Sunday's 71-58 home loss to Cleveland State. It happens, you know? But Vanderbilt is still five or six weeks away from getting Ezeli back. The Commodores still have John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and the rest of last season's starting lineup healthy. Frankly, they have to win games like this. The selection committee will be forgiving in the case of an injury like Ezeli's; a surprising loss here and there won't hurt Vanderbilt's eventual tournament seed all that much. But the Dores can't write this entire period off to injury. These games do still count, you know?
Texas vs. Oregon State (9 ET, ESPN3): This is the nightcap in East Rutherford. Can Texas avoid a down season? It seems to have the backcourt. Freshman guard Myck Kabongo looked solid in UT's mid-Marathon win against Rhode Island, but the real surprise -- if you can really call it that -- has been guard J'Covan Brown's perimeter scoring. Brown has always been a talented scorer, but he was the team's third or fourth option at any given time in 2011. This season, he's option No. 1, and maybe even option No. 2. But he's been playing like it: Through two games, Brown is averaging 31.5 points, five rebounds, seven assists and 1.5 steals per game. He's one of the most talented scorers in the country, but can he keep up that level of production? More importantly, does Texas -- with its seemingly bereft frontcourt -- need him to do so to win?
Sunday, Nov. 20
Washington at Saint Louis (Noon ET): Is the Pac-12 title door open for Washington? OK, so it's too early to go there, but with UCLA faltering and Arizona still finding its feet (albeit while winning), it seems fair to say that perhaps only Cal is better than the Huskies at this point in the season. And give Lorenzo Romar credit: The former SLU coach scheduled a nonconference road game at a very difficult arena versus an Atlantic 10 team many expect to press Temple and Xavier near the top of the league. This is a major challenge. It's also a major opportunity for Washington's young budding stars -- namely freshman Tony Wroten and sophomore Terrence Ross -- to set a tone early in the season. Are the Huskies being slept on? Are they ready to compete right away? Do they have a major learning curve? Some early answers are in the offing.
Creighton vs. Iowa (4 ET in Des Moines): Iowa hasn't played a good team yet, but it's hard to ignore what the Hawkeyes have been able to accomplish on offense so far this season. In three games, they've scored 96, 95 and 88 points, bum-rushing opponents with Fran McCaffery's up-tempo style. On Sunday, we get to learn how much of that success is a function of Iowa's opponents and how much is a function of the Hawkeyes themselves. Playing Creighton in Des Moines is a challenge. Creighton has some really good players, especially sophomore forward Doug McDermott and center Gregory Echenique. The matchups are intriguing: Echenique will battle with muscular Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe, while Iowa small forward Matt Gatens might draw McDermott. Creighton might be the Missouri Valley's best team, and Iowa might be a Big Ten dark horse. Or not. We'll get a better picture of this dynamic on Sunday. It might not be the most exciting game at first glance, but don't sleep on this one.