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January 31, 2011Weekly Watch: Top teams not so invincible
At this stage of the season, the top 25 means just about everything.
We're still a month away from the start of the league tournaments, so there's not much to do except peruse the polls and see who's hot and who's not.
Last week, at least, a lot of teams in the top 25 weren't hot. For starters, 18 ranked teams lost. Four of the top five teams lost, and two top-10 teams (Villanova and Syracuse) lost twice. Six teams in the top 25 lost at home, with two falling to unranked opponents.
We don't know what this week has in store, but some of the top teams suddenly don't look quite as invincible as they did a week ago.
Here's a look at the top games this week. All times Eastern.
Game of the week: Ohio State at Minnesota, Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPN. The Buckeyes survived last week as the only remaining undefeated team in the country and the only top-five team to get through the week without a loss. Ohio State also should count itself lucky after eking out a win in the final seconds at Northwestern 58-57. Northwestern was without star F John Shurna, and Minnesota won't be at full strength when it faces the Buckeyes -- PG Al Nolen is out for at least a month with a broken right foot. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger will be tested by Minnesota's formidable frontcourt duo of Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III.
Don't overlook these: Marquette at Villanova, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU, and West Virginia at Villanova, Saturday, noon, ESPN. Villanova had only a couple of days to brag about its 83-72 win at Syracuse, as the Wildcats dropped both of their games last week (at Providence and at home to Georgetown). Villanova has an opportunity to recover -- or dig itself into a bigger hole -- this week with home games against Marquette and West Virginia, which are coming off quality wins over Syracuse and Cincinnati, respectively. Villanova Gs Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes must snap out of a funk that saw them go a combined 13-of-46 from the field (28.3 percent) and 5-of-20 from 3-point range.
Mid-major to watch: Valparaiso at Cleveland State, Thursday, 7 p.m. Valpo all but ended Butler's bid to win the Horizon League regular-season title with an 85-79 overtime win over the Bulldogs on Saturday. Instead of Butler, Valpo (8-2) and Cleveland State (9-2) are in the best shape to win the regular-season title, with Wright State (7-3) in position to be a spoiler. Butler, meanwhile, has four conference losses, its most since 2005-06. Speaking of powerhouse programs in mid-major conferences, Memphis and Gonzaga join Butler as teams fighting for NCAA tournament bids in their respective conferences. Memphis meets Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN), but the game doesn't have nearly the buzz as it would in past seasons. Memphis can strengthen its at-large credentials with a win, but the Bulldogs may need to win the West Coast Conference tournament to grab a tournament bid regardless of what they do against Memphis.
Coaching matchup to watch: Syracuse's Jim Boeheim vs. Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN. Two Hall of Fame coaches have some work to do before their meeting Wednesday. Syracuse has lost four in a row since its 18-0 start. Connecticut has lost only once in its last seven games, but that loss came Saturday, when Louisville clawed its way back in the second half as UConn kept chucking up 3-pointers (8-of-30). Calhoun is 26-23 against Boeheim.
Injury update: Temple G Juan Fernandez has missed the past two games with a bone bruise on his left knee. ... Indiana G Verdell Jones (knee) also has missed the past two games and is questionable this week. Teammate Maurice Creek is also out indefinitely after knee surgery. ... Colorado State G Wes Eikmeier has missed the past two games because of a foot injury. The Rams play host to San Diego State on Wednesday.
Key stat: When the NCAA tournament comes around, analysts will talk about "depth," but what does it really mean? Four Mississippi State players (Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, Ravern Johnson and Kodi Augustus) accounted for all 71 Bulldogs points in a win over Florida on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had lost at home to Vanderbilt when fifth starter Riley Benock and the bench combined for 21 points. Last week, Duke defeated Boston College 84-68 without any scoring from its bench. The bigger concern for Duke may be an over-reliance on Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, who combined for 91 of the team's 139 points (65.5 percent) in Duke's two losses to Florida State and St. John's.
Tournament implications: Which is the second-best team in the ACC? It's nearly February, and we still don't have a legitimate answer. Given Duke's losses to lesser competition, the gulf between No. 1 and No. 2 in the ACC might not be as big as once believed, though. North Carolina can state its case this week with games against NCAA tournament contenders Boston College (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ACC syndication) on the road and Florida State (Sunday, 2 p.m., Fox Sports Net) at home. The ACC title isn't out of the question, either, as the Tar Heels and Duke have one conference loss each. Their first meeting is Feb. 9 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.