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February 2, 2010

Viewer's guide: Badgers try to slow Spartans

Tuesday's Michigan State-Wisconsin matchup takes center stage as the best game of the week.

There also are some big ones in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC this week. Title races in Conference USA and the Missouri Valley could get more interesting, too.

Here's a look at the top five games of the week, along with some others of interest. We will do this again Friday to highlight the weekend's best games.

Five games to watch this week

Michigan State at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: Michigan State has a three-game lead in the Big Ten race, and the Spartans basically would lock up the regular-season title with a win in front of what surely will be a frenzied crowd in Madison. The Badgers are 12-0 at home this season. Michigan State beat Wisconsin by seven in East Lansing in early January. The Spartans' past three Big Ten wins have come by a combined 11 points. Expect Wisconsin to turn this into a slugfest, and it's hard to see the winner scoring even 60 points.

Pittsburgh at West Virginia, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Big East syndication/Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh/Sportsnet New York/ESPN FullCourt: Pitt has lost three of its past four, including setbacks on its two most recent road trips -- to Seton Hall and to USF. Bad news for Pitt is that WVU is just a bit better than Seton Hall and USF. WVU -- which remains in the hunt for the Big East regular-season title -- has won six of its past eight, and the two losses came by a total of three points. These teams play again next week in Pittsburgh.

Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. Wednesday, SEC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: Mississippi State leads the SEC West race, while Vandy is tied with Kentucky atop the SEC East. This is the start of a key three-game stretch for the Bulldogs, who play at Florida and at home against archrival Ole Miss after this one. Vandy is 10-0 at home this season, and this is the start of a seven-game stretch in which the Commodores play at home five times. The Commodores would prefer the game be in the 80s, but defense-minded Mississippi State isn't going to allow that. Vandy needs center A.J. Ogilvy to hold his own in the paint against Bulldogs center Jarvis Varnado.

Texas A&M at Missouri, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: Texas A&M is just 1-4 on the road, and the win came against a bad SMU team. Mizzou is 13-0 at home this season and is aiming to stay in second place in the Big 12. The Aggies have been shaky with the ball in conference play, and that's a bad sign with the frenetic Tigers next on the schedule. For the Aggies to prevail on the road, Donald Sloan must play well and an A&M big man needs to make his presence felt offensively.

Georgia Tech at Duke, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2: The Yellow Jackets won by four at home last month and now get a chance for a season sweep. A win in this one and Tech becomes a legit player in terms of the ACC regular-season title. A loss, and the Yellow Jackets can set their sights on finishing second, at best. Duke is coming off a loss to Georgetown in which the Blue Devils' defense was torched. Look for Tech to work especially hard to get the ball inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal. Duke is 4-0 at home in ACC play, with an average victory margin of 18.5 points per game.

Other games to keep an eye on

Ole Miss at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: Ole Miss is coming off a bad loss to Arkansas and now has to travel to Rupp Arena. Ole Miss has a solid backcourt, which could keep things interesting. But UK's frontcourt should have its way with Ole Miss' big guys.

Miami at Wake Forest, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2: Miami is 16-5, but the Hurricanes aren't considered a possible NCAA at-large entrant because the schedule has been so pitiful. Still, Wake can't take the Hurricanes lightly because UM beat the Demon Deacons by one last month in Coral Gables.

Seton Hall at Villanova, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPNU: Villanova is the only team unbeaten in Big East play. This is the only meeting of the season between the teams, and Seton Hall could use another "big" win to wash away the aftertaste left by last Thursday's loss to USF. The Pirates have wins over Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh -- but all three came at home.

Michigan at Northwestern, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Big Ten Network: Northwestern barely has a pulse when it comes to NCAA at-large hopes, but the Wildcats -- the only Big Six conference school never to play an NCAA tourney game -- can work their way back into the mix because of an easy upcoming schedule. Northwestern's next four games are eminently winnable: vs. Michigan, vs. Indiana, at Iowa and vs. Minnesota.

William & Mary at Old Dominion, 7 p.m. Wednesday: William & Mary had some nice early season wins -- including ones over Richmond, Wake Forest and Maryland -- but the Tribe has lost three of its past four and is tied for fourth in the Colonial. ODU is in second and has the league's best RPI. ODU won at William & Mary in late January, and a season sweep does three things: It strengthens ODU's hopes for a league title, it improves the Monarchs' RPI and it all but ends the Tribe's title hopes.

UAB at Memphis, 8 p.m. Wednesday, CBS College Sports: Memphis already has lost two Conference USA games, and the Tigers need to win this one over the surprising Blazers to keep alive any title hopes. UAB is in a three-way tie for first in the league, and counting this one, the Blazers play four of their next six on the road.

Marshall at Tulsa, 8 p.m. Wednesday: Tulsa is one of the teams tied for the C-USA lead. Counting this one, the Golden Hurricane play four of their next six at home, where they are 13-0 this season. Marshall has cooled considerably after a hot start, but Herd big man Hassan Whiteside is having a superb freshman season.

Wichita State at Northern Iowa, 8 p.m. Wednesday: UNI has a two-game lead in the Missouri Valley race and can all but sew up the regular-season crown with a victory over the Shockers. Wichita State beat the Panthers in their first meeting this season, and a season sweep obviously gives the Shockers hope they can win the regular-season title -- and it gives them renewed hope for a potential at-large bid.

Illinois at Iowa, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Big Ten Network: Illinois is tied for second in the Big Ten, but the Illini probably are more concerned about their NCAA at-large hopes. Given that they play Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue back-to-back-to-back-to-back after this one, this basically is a must-win game for the Illini.

Cincinnati at Notre Dame, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN: Notre Dame is in desperate need of some "good" wins if it wants to get onto the NCAA tournament bubble. Cincy, on the other hand, has been pitiful on the road. The Bearcats are 1-5 in road games, with the only win over Rutgers.

Florida at Alabama, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPNU: Florida is in the discussion about NCAA at-large hopes, but the Gators need to win games like this on the road. Alabama plays good defense, but the Tide struggle to score. This is the first meeting between Billy Donovan and Alabama coach Anthony Grant, a former longtime Florida assistant.

Maryland at Florida State, 9 p.m. Thursday, ACC syndication/Fox Sports Florida/ESPN FullCourt: FSU plays three of its next four at home, where it is 10-1 this season. The Seminoles are just a game off the ACC lead and have a chance to stay in the hunt if they can hold serve at home in the next two weeks. The Terps beat FSU by nine in College Park last month.

California at USC, 10:30 p.m. Thursday: Because of its self-imposed postseason ban, USC already is in spoiler mode. Cal is tied for the Pac-10 lead and is the only league team in the top 50 of the RPI.

North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 9 p.m. Thursday, ACC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: UNC is reeling, having lost four of five and five of seven. The Tar Heels do not look anything like an NCAA tournament team. Four of their next six are on the road, and it's basically panic time for the Heels. Virginia Tech is 16-4, but -- as usual -- the Hokies played a cream-puff non-conference schedule and need to pile up some wins.

Arizona at Washington, 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Fox Sports Net: An interesting Pac-10 battle. Washington has been a disappointment, but the Huskies are 14-1 at home. Arizona is tied for the league lead with Cal and is looking for a season sweep of the Huskies.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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