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November 15, 2010

Weekly Watch: Plenty of big games

Technically, basketball season started last week. But the season truly begins in earnest this week, with a number of games between ranked teams, major powers and mid-major upstarts.

After that, the first set of preseason tournaments will fill the schedule.

Though the season began with a whimper, marketing and publicity-wise, we'll have a buffet of games starting at the stroke of midnight Tuesday. ESPN will carry its annual 24 hours of basketball marathon, but some of the most important games won't be shown by the Worldwide Leader.

If you are emerging from a basketball hibernation, we'll try to fill you in on the key matchups, storylines and games in the first big week in college hoops in our first Weekly Watch of the season.

Individual matchup to watch

Virginia Tech G Malcolm Delaney
vs. Kansas State G Jacob Pullen
(Tuesday, 4 p.m. ESPN)

Pullen had a fantastic junior season (19.3 points per game), but he's being moved to the point guard role full-time this season. Delaney has made the transition to the point, too. Virginia Tech was one of the last teams left out of the tournament last season, but the Hokies have a chance to improve their stock with this game and later dates with Purdue (Dec. 1) and Mississippi State (Dec. 18).

Game of the week: Ohio State at Florida, Tuesday, 6 p.m., ESPN. This is the first meeting between the Buckeyes and Gators since the 2007 national championship game, and both are aiming high this season. Although Ohio State lost national player of the year Evan Turner, the Buckeyes return the rest of their key players and added perhaps their best freshman class in Columbus since the so-called "Thad Five." Florida, meanwhile, returns every key player from an NCAA tournament team, plus sprinkles in some key freshmen. This game will give us a look at two five-star freshman big men in Jared Sullinger and Patric Young, but both teams have questions at point guard.

Don't overlook this one: San Diego State at Gonzaga, Tuesday, 11 p.m., ESPN2. San Diego State's first game as a ranked team featured a rocky start -- falling behind Long Beach State by seven in the first half before rallying for an 81-65 win. High expectations are the norm for Gonzaga, which opens the season in the top 15. Fs Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State) and Elias Harris (Gonzaga) led their respective teams last season. Now, they go head to head as sophomores.

Mid-major game to watch: Utah State at BYU, Wednesday, 9 p.m., The Mtn. Both teams have hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament and winning their respective conferences. The Aggies return four starters, while the Cougars bring back high-scoring G Jimmer Fredette. The Cougars are 76-4 at home in the past five seasons.

Coaching matchup to watch: Butler's Brad Stevens vs. Louisville's Rick Pitino, Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN. Stevens coached in the national title game at age 33; Pitino reached the first of his five Final Fours at 34 while at Providence in 1987. Louisville opens its new arena with a marquee matchup, but Pitino faces a tall task in beating Stevens and Butler. Louisville lost four starters from last season.

Injury update: Georgia F Trey Thompkins has a sore ankle, and the Bulldogs may have to deal with his absence for a little longer. Georgia coach Mark Fox did not appear to be optimistic last week about Thompkins' immediate return from a high ankle sprain. Meanwhile, Georgia will have a set of challenging games over the span of nine days. Tuesday, they face Colorado, a team counting on a pair of stars (Gs Alec Burks and Cory Higgins) to reverse its fortunes. Georgia visits Atlantic 10 upstart Saint Louis on Saturday before facing Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic on Nov. 25. Georgia's Travis Leslie (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Jeremy Price (20 points) are coming off impressive performances against Mississippi Valley State, but the Bulldogs could have some trouble with their upcoming opponents without Thompkins.

Stat watch: Florida State F Chris Singleton notched a triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 steals in a win over UNC Greensboro on Sunday. As if that wasn't enough, he also had six assists and four blocks. No one last season had more than nine steals in a game.

Tournament implications: St. John's at Saint Mary's, Tuesday, 2 a.m., ESPN. Is it too early to start a bubble watch? Of course, no game at this point of the season will directly affect the NCAA tournament, but those who value a team's "body of work" likely will refer to this game in March. St. John's returns a senior-laden team hoping to regain its relevance under new coach Steve Lavin. Saint Mary's is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, but the Gaels will be led by Gs Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova rather than double-double (and quote) machine Omar Samhan.

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