The first two months of the college basketball season are all about landmarks. Okay, they’re not all about landmarks, but they are about building up to something more important, and landmarks help us track the progress. First there are Midnight Madness and the season’s opening weekend. Then, the Champions Classic followed by all the holiday tournaments. More recently we’ve celebrated the return of conference play and the first full Saturday of games. Now, we’ve got one final landmark to pass before we hit full stride: the return of ESPN’s College Gameday. The festive travelling Saturday pregame show is back for good this weekend when Rece Davis and the crew travel to Ames for Iowa State’s match-up with Kansas, and it returns with some tweaks. First of all, Seth Greenberg replaces Digger Phelps as one of the three studio analysts; but more importantly, flex scheduling has been introduced, which means ESPN can choose its destination a week in advance to ensure it relocates to the most intriguing game of the weekend (just like the football version). With the eyes of the college sports world now fully trained on the hardwood, a more interesting Gameday experience is just another of many things to look forward to in 2015.
Three for the Money
- Kansas at Iowa State | Saturday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN. If Kansas and Iowa State are worthy of Gameday’s attention, they’re certainly worthy of ours. Assuming that the Jayhawks get past Oklahoma State at home on Tuesday – by no means a foregone conclusion – they’ll have successfully shrugged off questions and will have started Big 12 play 3-0 for the ninth consecutive year. On the other side of things, Iowa State is one of the most enigmatic teams in the country. On some nights the Cyclones look offensively un-containable, but on others, they look completely out of sync. One thing for which they can be counted on though is a healthy sprinkling of Hilton Magic. Iowa State has only dropped two games over the past three calendar years in their building, but both, however, came against Kansas. Both were also barn-burners. Count on another one this Saturday.
- Duke at Louisville | Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN. The Jayhawks and Cyclones got Gameday, but this early tip-off between the Blue Devils and Cardinals should garner just as much attention. NC State played the role of narrative-killer on Sunday when its upset meant Coach K won’t have an opportunity to win his 1,000th game here, but perhaps now the game will take on a little added importance. The key will be how Louisville’s guards keep Duke out of the lane and how well they recover to the three-point shooters. Jahlil Okafor will clearly be a factor underneath, but if Terry Rozier and Chris Jones can make things uncomfortable for Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils could fall short of their customary offensive output.
- Utah at Arizona | Saturday, 7:00 PM EST, Pac-12 Network. Saturday could go a long way to deciding the Pac-12 crown this season. And while it’s a shame that this game is buried on the Pac-12 Network, it’s a huge occasion. Utah is the insurgent, rising to power from the ashes, while Arizona is still king until proven otherwise. The Wildcats’ throne will be seriously threatened on Saturday. After a stunning loss to Oregon State — coming only three games after a defeat at UNLV — there are some issues in Tucson. Sean Miller still hasn’t found consistent enough offense from his talented group, and one worry is that he must sacrifice defense to get his best offensive five on the floor. Delon Wright, Utah’s do-everything combo guard, will look to take advantage of a physically underwhelming Arizona backcourt. Find this one on a stream somewhere.