We're a few weeks into the 2022-23 college basketball season, and narratives are starting to form around players, teams and leagues. While we could have predicted what some of the best December matchups would be before the season started, there is data to consider now. Some games have fallen out of the running and others have picked up steam.
The Kentucky-Louisville game is always a fun one, for example, but this season's rendition of the rivalry matchup is losing luster because of the Cardinals' horrendous start. On the flip side, some matchups suddenly appear much more appealing than they would have before the season. Take the Dec. 17 game between Houston and Virginia, for example. The Cavaliers were crushed by 20 points at Houston last season on their way to an NIT appearance. This year? Virginia is off to a 6-0 start and ranked No. 3 as it prepares to play a Cougars team that is ranked No. 1 for the first time since the Phi Slama Jama days in the 1982-83 season.
Across the country, great games are on tap for December as the nonconference portion of the schedule winds down and the season takes form. For this week's edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers picked the December matchups that are exciting them most.
Houston at Virginia (Dec. 17)
I always assumed Houston at Virginia would be a great December game between two incredible programs run by future Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coaches. I was always looking forward to it. But with three-plus weeks of this season now in the books, the matchup suddenly looks better than ever.
Houston is No. 1 in the AP poll. Virginia is No. 3.
So we're possibly headed for a showdown between two undefeated top-three teams, and perhaps a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup (if Texas were to stumble between now and then). Rest assured, John Paul Jones Arena will be rocking on that Saturday afternoon because -- if we didn't quite know it before, we definitely know it now -- this Houston-Virginia game will be a battle between two legitimate title contenders. -- Gary Parrish
Two blue bloods playing in an on-campus environment. I'm in every single time. IU should be a top team in the Big Ten and Kansas is, well, Kansas ... but probably not an elite Kansas team. That could allow for some room to make this game competitive, if not have an upset factor. Kudos to Mike Woodson and Bill Self for seeking out a home-and-home. As many of these games as possible in November and December up college hoops' watchability quotient. Dec. 17 is a huge Saturday in the sport. We're highlighting these three games — and that doesn't even include the CBS Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden. Oh, and Tennessee plays at Arizona that day as well. Loaded lead-up to Christmas. -- Matt Norlander
If there's one Saturday in December for you to completely block your calendar, it has to be Dec. 17. From afternoon to late at night, the slate is loaded with two huge ones on CBS, and my pick is an easy one: Zags-Bama in a 1:00 p.m. ET tip in Birmingham. Gonzaga's lost some of its preseason shine after a 5-2 start, but this one will still be, at worst, a matchup of two top-15 teams playing an aesthetically-pleasing style of hoops. Bama and Gonzaga love to push the pace and have efficient offenses — Gonzaga ranks No. 1 in adjusted efficiency on O and Alabama ranks No. 19 — which should make for a thriller. The skill level in this one will be high in large part because of the top-end talent, too. Drew Time is playing at an All-American level and Julian Strawther is making a star turn. And for Alabama, true freshman Brandon Miller has been the clear top freshman this season in college so far en route to earning top-five pick buzz for 2023. Two programs with tons of talent and legitimate Final Four hopes meeting in the middle of December could tell us a lot about how viable they are as contenders. -- Kyle Boone
Alabama at Houston (Dec. 10)
Alabama won a wild game between these teams 83-82 last season in Tuscaloosa with both ranked in the top 15. Now comes the return trip as the Cougars host the Crimson Tide in their marquee home game of the 2022-23 season. Provided that Houston handles Saint Mary's -- no easy task -- and North Florida over the coming days, it will likely be ranked No. 1 for this game. Alabama will likely enter ranked as well with one of this season's breakout stars, dynamic freshman forward Brandon Miller. The Crimson Tide also have a deep group of guards capable going toe-to-toe with Houston's talented bunch.
The ending of last season's game adds even more intrigue to this one. Houston believed that Alabama guard JD Davison committed goaltending when he swatted a potential game-winning Houston shot out of bounds in the final seconds. There was no call, which left the Cougars irate. Houston assistant Kellen Sampson was caught on video kicking chairs on the way to the locker room, and the whole scene led to apologies from the Cougars' camp the following day. Though their anger was directed primarily at the officials, there will be a revenge element at play in what should be a bonkers atmosphere for a game between two coaches with strong personalities -- and two teams who don't mess around. -- David Cobb