The final few days of 2006 are upon us, and while the college football bowl season has captured the attention of most college sports fans, basketball will do its share to help ring in the new year as well. There are a number of key showdowns, both in and out of conference, set to take place in the days ahead. Looking outside of league play, you'll want to keep an eye on both Nevada-Gonzaga and Wisconsin-Georgia. Among the top conference battles this weekend are matchups between Connecticut and West Virginia in the Big East, Northern Iowa and Wichita State in the MVC, and Washington and UCLA out west in the Pac-10.
Connecticut at West Virginia
Both of these teams have very quietly gotten off to good starts this season, going a combined 20-1 to date. However, neither has played the greatest of competition, so this Big East opener should be a good test for both squads. The conference race looks wide open, and these two certainly aim to make a run.
Nevada at Gonzaga
This is a non-conference showdown that pits probably the best two non-BCS league teams on the west coast. The Pack is led by star forward Nick Fazekas and is off to a 10-1 start, while the Zags have fared well minus Adam Morrison on their way to a 9-4 start against an extremely tough schedule. This one is an RPI-booster for sure.
Northern Iowa at Wichita State
The Panthers got their MVC schedule off to a good start with a home win over Bradley on Wednesday, but this matchup against the suddenly-struggling Shockers is sure to provide a much tougher challenge. WSU had not lost all season until dropping two out west within the last week, so they'll certainly be looking to get back on track in their MVC opener.
Wisconsin at Georgia
The Dawgs dropped a tough one on the road at Clemson but have still put together a much more solid season so far than many expected. The Badgers, meanwhile, are led by national player of the year candidate Alando Tucker, and they are rolling with a 13-1 record and nine-game win streak, including victories over the likes of Florida State, Winthrop, Pittsburgh, and Marquette.
Washington at UCLA
It took two overtimes, but USC ruined part one of the Huskies' trip to southern California with a win over UW on Thursday night. Bouncing back with a trip cross-town to UCLA is no way to do things, but Washington has no choice. The Bruins got a scare themselves in their Pac-10 opener Thursday, taking down Washington State by three in a game that went down to the final seconds.
OTHER TOP MATCHUPS
Winthrop at Old Dominion
Quality mid-major non-conference matchup that has the Big South's best team traveling to battle the 8-3 Monarchs.
Southern Illinois at Illinois State
They're all worth watching in the MVC. ISU already dropped their first league game, while this will be the first conference test of the year for SIU.
Illinois at Xavier
Illini is an impressive 12-2 to date, while Musketeers got off to a hot start but have struggled as of late, losing three of their last four.
Providence at Florida State
Both teams have been very quiet with their success. Friars are 9-2 with wins over BC and GW, while 'Noles are 11-2 with a big win over rival Florida.
Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky
Colonels, 8-3, are no slouch and could provide a nice pre-SEC challenge for Tubby Smith and his Cats.
Mississippi State at George Mason
GMU has struggled to a .500 start, while State is 9-2 and on a seven-game win streak. Should be a good pre-New Year's barometer for both.
Georgetown at Michigan
One of the better matchups of the weekend, this one features two teams with NCAA aspirations who have looked very shaky at times so far.
Mississippi at St. Louis
It's hard to tell much about these two yet, though combined they're an impressive 20-5 on the season to date.
Stanford at Arizona
Pac-10 play is already heating up. Both picked up wins in their conference openers on Thursday night.
Oregon at Oregon State
Ducks have definitely looked the better of the two so far and should be expected to win this conference opener for both.
Missouri State at Creighton
Did we mention that Missouri Valley basketball is fun to watch? This one is no exception, as both teams are expected to be major conference and NCAA contenders.
Washington State at Southern Cal
Both teams look to have very solid seasons in the Pac-10 this year. WSU would like to avoid the 0-2 start.
Appalachian State at Virginia Commonwealth
This pair is off to a combined 19-5 start, and each is leading their respective conference race at this point.
Evansville at Bradley
It's yet another interesting battle in the MVC. Braves hoping to bounce back from loss at Northern Iowa earlier this week.
Dayton at North Carolina
Flyers, 10-2 so far, could pose a dangerous challenge for UNC if the Heels are caught celebrating the new year a bit too early.