Saddle Up is our daily look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch tonight. Here's Monday night's rundown.
Other than the tournament (obviously), I'd argue this is the best part of the college basketball season. Why? Because in late January, you have some idea of which teams are elite, which teams matter and which don't, which teams need to improve their station before March and which teams who are just plain fun to watch. Teams start to really congeal and figure themselves out, but there's enough time left in the season that the dreaded end of the ride is nowhere near. If the weather wasn't awful, I'd want it to be late January all year long. And I'd want it to be Big Monday every day of the week.
No. 11 Georgetown at No. 4 Syracuse, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Syracuse is the most-talented team in its conference with a record and a national reputation -- a surprising one at that -- to match. Georgetown is a balanced Big East banger that showed its capable of beating tough foes on the road with a win at Pitt last week. That's the Georgetown we know now -- the team that came from 19 down to beat Connecticut, the team that handed Pitt its first conference loss. Tonight is the Hoyas' chance to prove that that's really them, that they're not the inconsistent squad that lost to Old Dominion on Dec. 19 and let a close road win slip through their fingers at Marquette earlier this month. Wins at Pitt and at Syracuse in the span of five days would be all we need to crown the Hoyas atop the Big East at this point in the season. A road win over Syracuse would mean that much. So which team is Georgetown? Just a few hours until we find out.
Missouri at No. 2 Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: If you think Georgetown has a tough job tonight -- and a chance to reap huge benefits if things go well -- go ahead and amplify the values on that continuum and apply it to Missouri's game at the Phog. Mizzou is one of the surprises of the season, but we should have seen it coming: Mike Anderson is a system coach, and his system, when properly installed, allows him to compete with superior opponents with nothing more than sheer speed and effort. Mizzou's 40 Minutes Of Hell style closes the gap between really good teams and just OK ones, which, after losing star DeMarre Carroll and most of last year's Elite Eight squad, this year's Tigers appeared to be. Not so. Mizzou is 15-4 and off to a 3-1 start in the Big 12. If the Tigers beat Kansas in Lawrence Monday night, they can officially write their way in to the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, KU has a home winning streak -- now at 53 games -- that the Jayhawks will be interested in preserving. Toss in the hatred between these two teams and their respective fan bases, and you've got plenty of reason to stick around for tonight's late game after G-Town and the Cuse finish up.
Everywhere else: Big Monday holds a monopoly on big-time games for the evening, but if you're into the Sun Belt and MVC, you can still find something interesting in Western Kentucky at Southern Illinois, a matchup of occasional NCAA tourney darlings both fighting through mediocre seasons. ... Meanwhile, Charleston, which started its season 6-6, is 8-0 in the SoCon and visits Western Carolina tonight. Check out the rest of Monday's action here.