Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:28PM

With early round action wrapping up in the slew of early-season tournaments, fans are now being treated to a host of great match-ups involving top teams across the country. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off started its quarterfinal slate earlier today, while the four premier teams in the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic square off in Madison Square Garden tonight. We’ll be back later tonight with some thoughts on the Longhorn victory over Western Carolina, but in the meantime enjoy the games below…

#24 Syracuse (2-0) vs. #12 California (2-0) | 6 P.M. CST | ESPN2

Scoop Jardine gives Syracuse a spark from the bench
(Photo credit: Nick Ruggiero/The Daily Orange)

Both teams have yet to live up to their hype this year, with Syracuse stumbling in a pre-season exhibition game and the Golden Bears failing to put away Murray State in their season opener. In the big picture, a win tonight is much more important for a Cal team that will be playing a much weaker conference schedule than the Orange and will need quality non-conf wins to boost their profile.

Be on the lookout for ‘Cuse sophomore Scoop Jardine in this one, as he enters the game with 13 assists in the first two contests. If facing “real” opponents cuts into his playing time, those gaudy numbers will surely decline. But if he performs at that level against Cal, you can be sure hoops commentators across the country will be taking notice.

Sam Houston State (2-0) at #5 Kentucky (2-0) | 6 P.M. CST | ESPN FC1
It’s certainly not a match-up of the same caliber as the games in Madison Square Garden, but this one does give fans another early chance to catch Coach Cal’s loaded Wildcats. Potential Freshman of the Year John Wall dropped 19 points in his collegiate debut on Monday night, but none were more important than the two he added at the buzzer to knock off upset-minded Miami of Ohio. Kentucky fans hope things will be a little less intense in this one, while Wall and Patrick Patterson look to lead the team to a 3-0 start.

#15 Ohio State (2-0) vs. #4 North Carolina (3-0) | 8 P.M. CST | ESPN2
Another high-quality match-up from MSG, as the Buckeyes look to break out against a Carolina team that is loaded with freshman talent. For Ohio State, the man to watch is Evan Turner, a Player of the Year candidate who started the season with a triple-double and is averaging a ridiculous 19 points, 17 rebounds, and seven dimes through the first two games. Fans will also want to keep an eye on how Dallas Lauderdale does against UNC’s frontcourt, easily the best in the nation. Lauderdale is slowly coming back from breaking his finger in the pre-season, and tonight he’ll certainly have his mending hands full with the Tar Heel big men.

Central Arkansas (1-1) at #1 Kansas (2-0) | 7 P.M. CST | ESPN FC2
Kansas survived a close call in St. Louis on Tuesday night, as Memphis missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer which would have won the game. You can be sure that Coach Bill Self has used that narrow victory as motivation over the last fourty-eight hours. And that’s very bad news for the visiting Bears.

Utah Valley State (1-1) at #18 Minnesota (2-0) | 7 P.M. CST | Big Ten Network
The Golden Gophers scored 106 points in the second halves of their first two games, running away with both of them by a combined margin of 77 points. Things shouldn’t be getting any tougher against the Wolverines tonight. The game will be a nice warm-up for the Gophers’ upcoming neutral-site showdown with Butler, but it’s likely only worth a glance during commercials of the other contests.

La Salle (1-0) at South Carolina (2-0) | 8:30 P.M. CST | ESPNU
The SEC already has a black eye this year, as Mississippi State lost by double digits to Rider at home last week. Picked to finish near the bottom of the conference this year, South Carolina could earn a little credibility back for the league with a win over a top A-10 team. Helping the Gamecocks’ chances is the fact that this game in Charleston, SC is practically a home date.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:17PM

With today marking the earliest date that teams could schedule non-exempt games (read: non-tournament games), college basketball will truly be tipping off all across the nation. Most of the games on tonight’s slate are going to be pure snoozers, but for fans hoping to get a look at the year’s top teams, ESPN and its Full Court package offer an early treat.

Patrick Patterson is fired up for a title run
(Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Morehead State at #5 Kentucky – 5:30 PM CST, ESPNU – Even though John Wall isn’t playing, the Wildcats certainly will not be lacking talent in their season opener. Returning superstar Patrick Patterson leads Kentucky as they begin their quest for another championship banner to hang in Rupp.

William & Mary at #14 Connecticut – 6:30 P.M. CST, ESPN FC – Texas fans can get an early look at the Huskies, who will host the Longhorns in a huge non-conference match-up in January. All eyes will be on the UConn backcourt, where the experienced leadership of Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson should anchor another salty squad for Coach Calhoun.

Idaho State at Iowa State – 7:00 P.M. CST, ESPN FC – Not much appeal in this one beyond the potato and corn fields of America. Unless, of course, you’re a basketball writer with a Big 12 focus who has been waiting seven long months for this week to arrive…

Hofstra at #1 Kansas – 7:00 P.M. CST, ESPN FC – The Jayhawks not only brought back the bulk of a team that won the Big 12 title in 2009, but added even more talent with a recruiting class highlighted by the talented Xavier Henry. If the football team doesn’t come on court to renew their bad blood with the Jayhawk hoopsters, this one should be in the books early.

Loyola (Illinois) at Kansas State – 7:00 P.M. CST, ESPN FC – The best team no one is talking about in the Big 12 is K-State, who returns Denis Clemente and five other upperclassmen. In addition to the speedy guard — who lit up Texas for 44 points last season — Coach Frank Martin will rely on the talents of freshman forward Wally Judge, one of the top newcomers in the nation.

Wright State vs. #13 Washington – 9:00 PM CST, FSN – Many pundits are picking the Cal Bears to claim the Pac-10 title, but the defending-champion Huskies will be far from a pushover. Guard Isaiah Thomas looks to build on last season’s Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors, while highly-touted recruit Abdul Gaddy will be joining him in the backcourt. With big man Quincy Pondexter on campus for another year, Washington’s inside-out attack should get the season off to a running start against the Raiders.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:45PM

The college basketball season is now just fifteen minutes away. Here are your TV listings for the night:

Florida International at #4 North Carolina – 6 P.M. CST, ESPNU
The biggest story of the night will undoubtedly be the regular-season coaching debut of Isiah Thomas, although the new may have already started wearing off following a loss to the NAIA’s Northwood in an exhibition on Wednesday night. For the defending-champion Tar Heels, the key storyline in early November will be how the team moves forward following the loss of Tyler Hansborough, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson. The return of Marcus Ginyard following last year’s foot injury will definitely provide senior leadership, something the Heels will likely need for their quintet of ESPN Top 100 recruits.

Alcorn State at #17 Ohio State – 6 P.M. CST, Big Ten Network
This is a guaranteed yawner from the opening rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, but fans will get their first look at how the Buckeyes have matured following an offseason where nearly the entire team returned. The only key piece missing from last year’s squad is big man B.J. Mullens, who left for the NBA after just one season. Dallas Lauderdale will be expected to fill the void this year, although he will likely be missing this early season matchup as he recovers from a broken finger he suffered in preseason practices.

Albany at #25 Syracuse – 8 P.M. CST, ESPNU
Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson lit up the scoreboard in Syracuse’s exhibition on Tuesday night, dropping in 17 second-half points en route to a 22-point performance. Unfortunately for the Orange, it came in an embarrassing loss to D-II school Le Moyne. To be fair, Syracuse was experimenting with man-to-man for much of the game, a drastic departure from Jim Boheim’s famously stingy zone D. But the result certainly raises eyebrows in a season where pundits are wondering if this young Syracuse team can handle the rigors of the Big East conference. A convincing win over the visiting Danes would help to wash away some of the bad taste that is already tainting this season.

Murray State at #12 California – 10 P.M. CST, ESPNU
In what is likely going to be a down year for the Pac-10 Conference, hopes are high for the talented and experienced Golden Bears. Cal returns four starters from last year’s team, including a pair of senior guards in Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle. It’s a well-proven axiom that solid backcourt play leads to quality results in March, so many expect the Bears to be dancing into the second weekend. If you can’t stay up to watch this one, be sure to set the DVR and get your first look at the Best Team Nobody Knows.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:09PM

The first piece of the 2009-10 Longhorn lineup puzzle has fallen into place, as Dexter Pittman announced his decision to return for his senior season in an April Fools Day press conference. Despite joking about being courted by football coach Mack Brown at the start of the presser, Pittman was completely serious in discussing the progress he still hopes to make with strength coach Todd Wright. “This season was only me scratching the surface,” the big man told reporters.

With freshmen Jordan Hamilton, Shawn Williams, and Avery Bradley joining the team next season along with transfer Jai Lucas, one Longhorn will have to leave the team or play without a scholarship. Now that Pittman has announced his decision, that leaves only Damion James as an early-entry candidate for the NBA.

On a side note, Texas fans who want a glimpse of the future can see Bradley in tonight’s McDonald’s All-American Game at 7 P.M. CDT on ESPN2.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:22PM

National Broadcasts (All times Eastern)

West Virginia Mountaineers (13-4, 3-2 Big East) at #12 Georgetown Hoyas (12-4, 2-2) | 7 PM, ESPN
The Hoyas are looking to start piling up wins in conference play now that the toughest stretch is behind them. Despite the league placing eight teams in the top twenty-five, the next six games for Georgetown include only one ranked opponent. The Mountaineers, unfortunately, have no such luck. After traveling to face Georgetown tonight, they will take on Pitt and Louisville before the end of January. For two teams stuck in the middle of a packed conference, this could very well be a turning point.

#18 Purdue Boilermakers (14-4, 3-2 Big 10) at #21 Minnesota Golden Gophers (16-2, 4-2) | 7 PM, ESPN2
Michigan State’s home loss to Northwestern has cracked the door open in the Big 10, and these two teams are the ones best positioned to take advantage. Sure, the Golden Gophers had their own loss to the Wildcats on Sunday, but they have the privilege of only playing the Boilermakers once — and having home court in tonight’s match-up. The Spartans, who now lead the conference by only one game, still have two-games on tap with Purdue. If Minnesota can hold home court tonight, they could reap the rewards as the other contenders knock each other off.

St. Louis Billikens (11-6, 2-1 Atlantic 10) at Temple Owls (9-7, 1-1) | 8 PM, CBS College Sports
If you’re fortunate enough to get this channel, you might be disappointed that the A-10 game on the air tonight isn’t Dayton’s visit to Foggy Bottom. But if you happen to tune into this contest between two of the conference middle-tier squads, you’ll be treated to the play of star Dionte Christmas, who is leading the way with 21 points and six boards.

St. Mary’s Gaels (17-1, 4-0 WCC) at San Diego Toreros (12-7, 4-0) | 9 PM, ESPN2
The WCC has quietly built itself into a power conference at the top, with Gonzaga still statistically ranked as one of the best teams in the land. But it’s the emergence of St. Mary’s and San Diego that have made the league stronger. San Diego crashed the NCAAs last year with a win in the conference tournament before shocking the country with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Meanwhile, the Gaels have earned all sorts of pub with their Australian pipeline, which has brought previously unheralded players such as Patty Mills and made them stars in the states. While this may seem like an unimportant game to the casual viewer, it’s actually a must-win if either team hopes to challenge the Zags this year.

#13 UCLA Bruins (14-3, 4-1 Pac-10) at Washington State Cougars (11-6, 3-2) | 9 PM, FSN
After stumbling early in the season against Michigan and Texas, the Bruins have quietly plugged along, having won ten straight games prior to Saturday’s overtime loss to Arizona State. The loss dropped the Bruins into a three-way tie for the league lead with Cal and Washington, who they will face this weekend. Ben Howland’s team can’t afford to look ahead to that match-up, though, as guard Taylor Rochestie lit up Oregon this weekend to the tune of 30 points. And the Cougars will certainly be fired up in front of the home crowd, as they hope to exorcise the demons of an eight-game losing streak to the Bruins.

USC Trojans (12-5, 3-2 Pac-10) at Washington Huskies (13-4, 4-1) | 11 PM, FSN
Coach Tim Floyd has brought a frustrating brand of defense to Los Angeles, which has turned the Trojans from a conference also-ran to a contender in just a few seasons. Never was that defensive transformation more apparent than Thursday night, when USC absolutely shut down Arizona State’s National Player of the Year candidate James Harden. The super soph, who has averaged 22 points per contest, was stifled by the Trojans, going 0-for-8 from the field and finishing with only four points from the line. USC will have to spread out that solid defense tonight, though, as the Huskies run a balanced attack with four players averaging double-digits in scoring.

ESPN Full Court

Not a lot to choose from on the pay package tonight, but if you want to be the guy who predicts the 14-seed upsets come March, you might get some added intel from this set of games.

Vermont Catamounts at Hartford Hawks | 7:30 PM, ESPNFC1

UW-Milwaukee Panthers at Valparaiso Crusaders | 8 PM, ESPNFC2

New Mexico State Aggies at Boise State Broncos | 9 PM, ESPNFC4

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