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November 29, 2010
The tournaments during the Thanksgiving week provide their share of revelations, and more revelations might be on the way this week.
The ACC-Big Ten Challenge begins Monday; the featured game is Wednesday when Michigan State visits Duke.
While the Blue Devils haven't lost a step since the national championship game, their opponent that night has had some issues. After losing to Missouri Valley Conference bottom-feeder Evansville in overtime, Butler looks to try to get back on track when it plays Duke on Saturday.
The Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series continues Thursday, but it's a monthlong event that started Saturday and ends Dec. 21. This will be the final installment of this conference challenge.
This could be a key week in the mid-major ranks. Saint Mary's, San Diego State, Richmond and Old Dominion are off to hot starts and have key non-conference games this week.
Game of the week: Michigan State at Duke, Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN. Duke sure has the look of a team that can repeat as national champions after beating Marquette and Kansas State on back-to-back days. The Blue Devils may have been stronger on the second day of the CBE Classic, when they routed K-State 82-68. Duke could have another big week with games against Michigan State and Butler. Michigan State's only loss is to Connecticut in the Maui Invitational, but the Spartans have been on the wrong side of turnovers this season.
Don't overlook this one: Ohio State at Florida State, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN. The ACC-Big Ten Challenge features two matchups where the teams have one loss between them: this one and Michigan State-Duke. Florida State lost 55-51 to visiting Florida on Sunday, the Seminoles' first loss of the season and their lowest-scoring game by 24 points. Ohio State won at Florida earlier this month, and senior F/G David Lighty and freshman C Jared Sullinger are both averaging more than 15 points per game.
Mid-major game to watch: Saint Mary's at San Diego State, Wednesday, 10:30 p.m., the Mtn. No one has told Saint Mary's that its Sweet 16 run is over and C Omar Samhan is gone. The Gaels are 6-1, with the only blemish a one-point loss to BYU on a 3-pointer from Jimmer Fredette with 10 seconds left. San Diego State sophomore F Kawhi Leonard is averaging a double-double and has helped the Aztecs to a 6-0 start.
Coaching matchup to watch: We'll see two contrasts of styles in a pair of non-conference games. On Tuesday (9 p.m. ESPNU), Missouri's pressing defense goes against Georgetown's Princeton-style offense. The Hoyas already are in the red (minus-10) in turnover margin. On Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2), Baylor and Arizona State will try to change the other team's tempo. The Sun Devils, who prefer a deliberate pace, have cracked 70 points just once this season.
Injury update: North Carolina State's optimism has been tempered because star F Tracy Smith was lost after the second game with a knee injury. He had arthroscopic surgery Nov. 19 and will miss Wednesday's game against Wisconsin. The Wolfpack has spread the scoring load without him, but NC State is full of freshmen and sophomores who lost 82-67 to Georgetown in the Wolfpack's only major test thus far.
Stat watch: Connecticut G Kemba Walker is the nation's leading scorer at 30.0 points per game. He has increased his shooting percentage from 40.3 percent last season to 52.7 percent this season. What kind of damage will Walker do in the coming weeks against New Hampshire, Maryland-Baltimore County, Fairleigh Dickinson, Coppin State and Harvard?
Tournament implications: Forget the "BracketBuster" event in February. This week could determine at-large bids for teams in the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, West Coast Conference, Colonial and Missouri Valley. We've already discussed Saint Mary's at San Diego State, but the Aztecs also will face Wichita State, on Saturday. Old Dominion, with back-to-back wins over Clemson and Xavier, draws Richmond this week; the Spiders are coming in off an upset of Purdue. The Spiders also face Arizona State this week. An NCAA seems a given for Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs' challenging non-conference slate continues with Illinois on Sunday.