January Madness

11 must-watch college basketball games to start off 2015

Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

It isn’t March yet, but college basketball is about ready to heat up.

After spending over a month playing rather dreary non-conference games, teams are more than ready for the real season to begin. January marks the start of conference play, when schools start building their resumes for the postseason in the Spring. Heavyweights across the country will meet up, making for some excellent entertainment.

Mark your calendars with these 11 games next month you cannot afford to miss:

1. Oklahoma (#18) at Texas (#11): January 5th, 9:00 PM ET, ESPN

It’s the Red River Rivalry: Basketball Edition. Both these teams will be desperate to start off the month with a win in an extremely competitive Big 12. This is also a great chance to get an early look at some potential sleepers come March.

2. Villanova (#6) at Saint John’s (#15): January 6th, 9:00 PM ET, FOX Sports 1

‘Nova is already off to a great start this year, and looks to be a threat in the postseason. Saint John’s is the only other ranked team in their conference, so a win would be crucial to their resume. But the W won’t come easy for the Wildcats, as SJU will have home court advantage and their rock solid defense to back them up.

3. Louisville (#5) at North Carolina (#19): January 10th, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN

For those who think the Tar Heels have no chance in this game, just remember what happened the last time these two teams met. Louisville is deservedly in the Top 5 in the polls, but the fans at Chapel Hill will do all they can to make sure they leave with a loss. The two ACC schools are scheduled to play a second time on January 31st.

4. Virginia (#3) at Notre Dame (#14): January 10th, 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2

Here’s another exciting ACC matchup. Virginia and Notre Dame currently have a combined record of 23-1, so their meeting is quite significant. However, the main reason to watch this game is the battle between the Irish offense and Cavalier defense. Notre Dame is 4th in the nation in points per game, while Virginia is 2nd in the nation in points allowed.

5. Duke (#2) at Louisville (#5): January 17th, 12:00 PM ET, ESPN

This is no doubt one of the best games on the calendar this January. Any game between Top 5 teams is one to cherish. And remember, Duke is still looking for revenge after getting blown out by the Cardinals in the 2013 Elite Eight.

6. Utah (#10) at Arizona (#8): January 17th, 7:00 PM ET, PAC-12 Network

This could possibly be a preview of the PAC-12 conference championship game. Arizona has their eyes on a #1 seed for March Madness, and with only a few matchups against Top 25 teams, this is a rare opportunity to impress. Utah has been quite impressive themselves, with their only two losses coming from tight games against ranked opponents.

7. Kansas (#13) at Iowa State (#9): January 17th, 9:00 PM ET, ESPN

Neither of these teams are perfect, but they are both are loaded with young talent. Given that they have similar skill, this game may be decided simply by which team wants it more. And in the Big 12, every game is a must-win.

8. Kansas (#13) at Texas (#11): January 24th, 2:00 PM ET, CBS

Exactly a week after playing Iowa State, the Jayhawks will make a trip to Austin for another competitive game. As the month of January starts wrapping up, Kansas and Texas will have a feel for what the Big 12 is like. This game provides a gauge to see which of these teams can sink and which of them can swim.

9. Washington (#21) at Utah (#10): January 25th, 8:30 PM ET, ESPNU

Here’s another worthy PAC-12 game. Washington was undefeated until just recently, and they are looking like a possible dark horse this year thanks to their ability to crash the boards. Visiting the Top 10 ranked Utes will be a real resume-building opportunity. Utah, however, has looked dominant so far, and will not let up very easily at home.

10. Maryland (#12) at Ohio State (#20): January 29th, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN

Given that Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, these two teams will likely be contesting for the second place spot in 2015. Ohio State has more experience at an elite level, but Maryland’s talent, including three players averaging 15 points, is laudable as well. It’s bound to be a tight game with a lot on the line.

11. Duke (#2) at Virginia (#3): January 31st, TBA

Arguably the best matchup of January comes on the last day of the month. After 5 weeks of gruesome conference play, this pair of Top 3 teams will take to battle. There is a possibility that both of these teams will remain undefeated until this game, which would make for some excellent entertainment. Either way, the two schools provide a matchup that is worthy of the national title game.

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