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January 5, 2010

Viewer's guide: Big Ten takes center stage

The Big Ten grabs the spotlight this week with some notable league games, including a Michigan State-Wisconsin showdown that might just be the best matchup of the week.

There also are some top-flight games in the Big East, Mountain West and Missouri Valley conferences.

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 spotlight the weekend's best games.

Five games to watch this week

Minnesota at Purdue, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: Purdue is one of four remaining unbeatens, and the Boilermakers are coming off an impressive 15-point home win over previously undefeated West Virginia. Although the Boilermakers aren't shooting all that well, they are balanced offensively and playing solid defense. After this, the Boilermakers play three of their next four on the road, including a trip to Wisconsin. Minnesota has been more offense-minded than expected. The Golden Gophers have great depth and have a share-the-wealth philosophy on offense. Minnesota needs to keep Purdue center JaJuan Johnson from dominating in the paint.

Wisconsin at Michigan State, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Big Ten Network: All of a sudden, this is a big one in the Big Ten. Despite losing a ton of talent from last season, Wisconsin hasn't missed a beat and is 12-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten. Guard Trevon Hughes has elevated his game and is the Badgers' most important player. The Badgers play host to Purdue on Saturday, so this is a big two-game stretch for coach Bo Ryan's team. Michigan State is 1-0 in the Big Ten and, counting this one, plays four of its next five league games at home; the one road game in that stretch is against a woeful Iowa team, so the Spartans can make some hay in the league early.

Georgetown at Marquette, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Big East syndication/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network/ESPN FullCourt: Marquette has started 0-2 in the Big East, but the losses are by one at West Virginia and by two at home to Villanova, so perhaps the Golden Eagles are due some good luck in conference play. After this, they play three of their next four league games on the road, including a quickie rematch with 'Nova on Saturday and a trip to Syracuse. The Hoyas have opened Big East play with wins over St. John's and DePaul, but the competition gets tougher with this one, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Despite the presence of center Greg Monroe, who is 0.2 rebounds per game shy of averaging a double-double, the Hoyas are a guard-oriented team with Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark.

Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: Northern Iowa is the only Missouri Valley team without a conference loss. This is the first of difficult back-to-back games for the Panthers, who play at Illinois State on Saturday. SIU's backcourt of Kevin Dillard and Tony Freeman, a transfer from Iowa, has to have a big game offensively if the Salukis are to win. UNI, conversely, will count heavily on its frontcourt of Adam Koch and 7-footer Jordan Eglseder.

UNLV at BYU, 10 p.m. Wednesday, The mtn.: The Mountain West was considered BYU's to lose in the preseason polls, but UNLV and New Mexico have played well enough to make folks think they have legit shots at the title. If the Runnin' Rebels can win in Provo, that would be huge for Lon Kruger's team. BYU wants this one played at a fast pace, while UNLV wouldn't mind it being in the mid-to-high 60s. The schedule-makers haven't done Kruger's team any favors: UNLV is at New Mexico on Saturday, then goes home to face San Diego State and Utah back-to-back.

Other games to keep an eye on

Notre Dame at USF, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPNU: USF is off to a 10-3 start. But the Bulls are 0-1 in Big East play. After this one USF has league games against Syracuse and West Virginia. Notre Dame has hopes of an upper-division finish in league play. To finish there, the Irish need a couple of league road wins. This would seem to be a place to get one of those wins.

Texas at Arkansas, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2: Arkansas whipped Texas last season. That doesn't appear likely this season.

Rhode Island at Akron, 7 p.m. Tuesday: Rhode Island is 11-1 and is coming off a neutral-court victory over Oklahoma State; the Rams, who also have beaten Providence and Boston College, look as if they will be a surprise contender in the Atlantic 10. Akron was the preseason favorite in the MAC, and though the Zips are 10-3, they have beaten just one team in the top 190 of the RPI.

New Mexico at San Diego State, 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, The mtn.: New Mexico is 14-1 and owns wins over Texas A&M, California, Texas Tech and Dayton. Are the Lobos the best team in the Mountain West? After this one, the Lobos play four of their next six league games at home. San Diego State is 11-3, but the Aztecs don't have a marquee win.

Memphis at Syracuse, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Memphis is 10-3, but its best game was a two-point loss to Kansas. Syracuse is coming off a 10-point home loss to Pittsburgh, its first setback of the season.

Charlotte at Tennessee, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Comcast-Charter Sports Southeast/ESPN FullCourt: The Vols could be without four players, including star forward Tyler Smith, who were suspended after their arrests on drugs and weapons charges on Friday. Without the four, the Vols would be hard-pressed to win.

Louisville at Providence, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: Louisville has played uneven basketball thus far, but a road win over the Friars would be a good one.

Richmond at Duquesne, 7 p.m. Wednesday: The A-10 has been surprisingly strong in non-conference play. Now that conference play has begun, does that mean A-10 teams will start cannibalizing each other?

Wichita State at Missouri State, 8 p.m. Wednesday: These teams are a combined 25-4 and have played surprisingly well. This is an intriguing pecking-order game in the Missouri Valley, which looks as if it will have a good title race.

Seton Hall at Connecticut, 9 p.m. Wednesday, Big East syndication/Sportsnet New York/ESPN FullCourt: Seton Hall has lost three in a row, including two in league play, and risks falling into an early season abyss with another Big East setback. This is the only meeting of the season between the teams.

Xavier at La Salle, 7 p.m. Thursday, CBS College Sports: La Salle was a trendy preseason pick to be a surprise contender in the A-10, but the Explorers are just 7-6 and they've lost four of their past five. Beating the Musketeers, who are coming off a tough double-overtime loss at Wake Forest, might turn around La Salle's season.

Western Kentucky at South Alabama, 8 p.m. Thursday, Fox College Sports Central: It's extremely, extremely unlikely that the Sun Belt will get two teams in the NCAA field. This is one of the most important regular-season games in the league this season. If South Alabama - which has won three in a row, including an upset of Florida - wins this, the Jaguars will serve notice they're a legit league challenger.

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

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