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March 3, 2008

FIVE TO WATCH
Here's a look at the five best games this week:
PURDUE AT OHIO STATE/MICHIGAN STATE AT OHIO STATE
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN/Sunday, noon, Big Ten Network
Why you should watch: Purdue is in the hunt for the Big Ten regular-season title. Michigan State is playing to improve its NCAA seeding. Ohio State is playing to get into the field of 65.
The buzz: This is a huge week for the Buckeyes, who lost in the national title game last season but are in danger of being left out of the field this season. The Buckeyes don't really have a marquee win this season, but each of these opponents would qualify. Both teams beat the Buckeyes earlier this season, and Ohio State has not beaten a Big Ten team that has a winning conference record. The Buckeyes generally play good defense but often struggle to score. Depth also has been a problem for OSU.
Spotlight player: Ohio State freshman C Kosta Koufos had a combined 16 points and 13 rebounds the first time he faced Purdue and Michigan State. He has to be more productive, especially offensively, if the Buckeyes are going to win either of these.


MISSISSIPPI STATE AT VANDERBILT
When: Wednesday, 8 p.m., no TV
Why you should watch: Two of the three best teams in the SEC get together in Nashville. The buzz: Vandy is 18-0 at home this season, and a win over the Bulldogs would help the Commodores in their quest for a No. 3 NCAA seed. This is the second tough road game in a row for Mississippi State, which played at Florida on Saturday. The Bulldogs might be the most physical team in the SEC, and they put that to good use on defense. Look for Vandy's Shan Foster the front-runner for league player of the year honors to get bumped and jostled all night.
Spotlight player: Mississippi State point guard Jamont Gordon is a Nashville native, and he'll want to put on a good show for the home folks. Gordon is one of the best all-around players in the nation and is a tough matchup because of his size (6 feet 4/230 pounds), strength and ability to put the ball on the floor and bull his way into the lane. He is one of three Mississippi State starters from Tennessee.

STANFORD AT UCLA
When: Thursday, 11 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Why you should watch: This could end up determining the Pac-10 regular-season champ. No matter what, it's the two best teams in the league fighting it out one more time.
The buzz: The Bruins won at Stanford on Jan. 3 in the league-opener for both. Both play superb defense, the Bruins because of their athleticism and grit, the Cardinal because of their size. Don't expect a lot of points. The battles in the low post between UCLA freshman C Kevin Love and Stanford's 7-foot Lopez twins Brook and Robin will be fun to watch. The Bruins have the quickness advantage on the perimeter. Stanford point guard Mitch Johnson has to stand up to the defensive pressure he's going to see from Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook.
Spotlight player: Brook Lopez is the more talented of the twins, but Robin Lopez has become a better player this season and could be huge against the Bruins. Robin is the better shot-blocker and an efficient rebounder, and he needs to be more assertive on the offensive end.

NORTH CAROLINA AT DUKE
When: Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why you should watch: Come on. You need to be told?
The buzz: This almost certainly will be for the ACC regular-season title. Duke won easily in Chapel Hill in early February. Can the Blue Devils hold serve at home? Duke hit a lull in mid-February, playing poor defense. But the Blue Devils have turned it around of late, though against teams with not near the firepower as the Tar Heels. UNC is at its best when it is allowed to control the tempo and get out and run. The Heels seem to have put a renewed emphasis on defense of late.
Spotlight players: Duke senior G DeMarcus Nelson steadily has improved over his career to the point where he now is Duke's most valuable player. Nelson is an effective scorer, rebounder and defender. His defense on UNC's perimeter shooters will be important in this one.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT FINALS
When: Saturday and Sunday.
Why you should watch: To us, the "small" conference tournaments are the true March Madness.
The buzz: The Big South championship is Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN2. The Ohio Valley final is Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. The Atlantic Sun final is Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The Missouri Valley final is Sunday at 2 p.m. on CBS.
FIVE MORE
Pitt at West Virginia, Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN: The "Backyard Brawl" takes to the hardwood.
Tennessee at Florida, Wednesday, 9 p.m., SEC regional telecast: The two-time defending national champion Gators are in danger of not making the NCAA field. A win over the Vols, though, would be a huge step toward being in the field of 65.
Texas A&M at Baylor, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2/Kansas at Texas A&M, Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS A huge week for the Aggies, who are on the proverbial NCAA bubble. Baylor also is on the bubble. KU, meanwhile, is trying for a No. 2 and maybe even a No. 1 seed.
Xavier at Saint Joseph's, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN: Xavier is the Atlantic 10 regular-season titlist. Saint Joseph's needs a win to boost its NCAA resume.
Stanford at USC, Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS regional: The second of two big games for the Cardinal, who could be playing for a portion of the Pac-10 regular-season title. At the least, both teams will be looking to improve their NCAA seeding.
UNDER-THE-RADAR GAMES
These games don't necessarily jump out at you as must-see contests, but upon further review, they're worth keeping an eye on.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Wednesday, 8 p.m., ESPN Full Court package: Barring a miracle run to the Big 12 tourney title, Oklahoma State isn't going to the NCAA Tournament. But the Cowboys can hurt their archrival's NCAA hopes with a victory in Stillwater. And if that happens, Eskimo Joe's will be selling a lot of booze and cheese fries.
Marquette at Syracuse, Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN: This will be the Orange's last regular-season opportunity to impress the selection committee.
Florida at Kentucky, Sunday, noon, CBS: This will be both teams' final chance to impress the selection committee before conference tourney play. The Gators have beaten the Wildcats seven consecutive times; no one ever has beaten UK eight times in a row.

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



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