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January 19, 2010

Viewer's guide: ACC takes center stage

The ACC takes the spotlight this week, with two huge conference games Tuesday.

Slumping North Carolina plays host to Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech plays host to Clemson - which could be missing a key player because of injury.

Mid-major leagues to keep a watch on this week are the Atlantic 10, Colonial and Missouri Valley.

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

Clemson at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2: Tech is coming off a win at North Carolina and gets Florida State and Wake Forest after it plays Clemson. The Tigers have won three in a row, including a 19-point whipping of UNC at home. Clemson might be without point guard Demontez Stitt, who has an injured ankle. He is the Tigers' second-leading scorer. If Stitt doesn't play, the Tigers' pressing defense loses perhaps its key cog. Given that Tech has 30 more turnovers than assists, Clemson's press could have some success even without Stitt. Clemson center Trevor Booker has played well this season and will be going up against a physical frontcourt featuring Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors.

Purdue at Illinois, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: Purdue has lost three in a row, including road setbacks against Wisconsin and Northwestern. The Boilermakers have to find a way to get center JaJuan Johnson out of his funk. Purdue has struggled on offense during its losing streak, and while Illinois already has lost six times, the Illini do play good defense. Illinois freshman guard Brandon Paul appears to have hit the wall, and he could again struggle against the Boilermakers' aggressive backcourt. Illinois big men Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale need to make sure Johnson doesn't have a big game offensively.

Wake Forest at North Carolina, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN: UNC has lost two in a row and three of its past four; Wake has lost two of its past three. Wake's Al-Farouq Aminu and UNC's Ed Davis are two of the best big men in the nation, which means the key to this one is which backcourt plays best. UNC has been sloppy with the ball of late, and that obviously must change. The Heels are in a stretch where they play just three times in a 17-day period. Three of Wake's four losses have come on the road, and the Demon Deacons are 0-2 away from home in ACC action.

Georgetown at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: This is the only meeting between the Big East powers. The Hoyas are 4-2 in the league, with both losses coming on the road. Georgetown center Greg Monroe is coming off a huge game in a loss to Villanova, and he could put together another big outing against Pitt's frontcourt. Pitt is 5-0 in league play. If the Panthers win this, a 9-0 start is possible because their next three games are against Seton Hall, St. John's and USF. Pitt guards Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs have stepped up their production this season, and their battles against Georgetown guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright will be fun to watch.

Xavier at Temple, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Atlantic 10 syndication/Fox Sports Ohio: These are the only teams unbeaten in league play in the Atlantic 10, and it's the only meeting of the season between the teams. Both teams lost a lot of talent from last season; Xavier is playing about as well as expected, but Temple has been a big surprise. Xavier has won six of its past eight, and the losses were by one at Butler and by four at Wake Forest in double overtime. This is the only road game in a six-game stretch for the Musketeers. There should be a nice frontcourt matchup between Temple's Lavoy Allen and Xavier's Jason Love. Neither is particularly offense-minded, but both are bulky guys who defend well and hit the boards.

Other games to keep an eye on

Northwestern at Ohio State, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Big Ten Network: Northwestern is coming off an upset of Purdue, but we'll have a better idea of the Wildcats' NCAA hopes at the end of this month. Northwestern has Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan State back-to-back-to-back-to-back, with all but Illinois on the road. Ohio State is a different team with Evan Turner in the lineup. Though it's hard to see the Buckeyes winning the Big Ten, a healthy Turner could mean a second-place finish.

Tennessee at Alabama, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: The Tide have lost back-to-back games and now have Tennessee and Mississippi State in their next two games. The Vols have won four in a row since the suspension of four key players; two of them - guards Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum - return for this one.

Oklahoma at Texas A&M, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Big 12 syndication/Altitude/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network/ESPN FullCourt: A&M has lost back-to-back road games to Kansas and Texas, but plays three of its next four at home - where the Aggies are 9-0 this season. OU is coming in off home wins over Oklahoma State and Missouri. But in their only Big 12 road game, the Sooners were blasted by 31 at Baylor.

Northern Iowa at Wichita State, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPNU: First-place Northern Iowa has a two-game lead in the Missouri Valley on second-place Wichita State, and this appears to be the toughest remaining road game for UNI. In other words, UNI can take a giant step toward nailing down the regular-season title with a victory in this one. Wichita State is 11-0 at home this season under Gregg Marshall, the former Winthrop coach.

St. John's at Connecticut, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Big East syndication/Sportsnet New York/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network/ESPN FullCourt: UConn has lost three in a row and plays Texas after it plays the Red Storm. Both these teams are 2-3 in the Big East. This is the first in a murderous three-game stretch for St. John's, which gets Villanova and Pittsburgh next.

Charlotte at Richmond, 7 p.m. Wednesday: The Atlantic 10 is, by far, the deepest mid-major league this season. These teams are searching for wins to keep them in the at-large field. Going into play Monday, Richmond was one of five A-10 teams in the top 31 of the RPI. Charlotte has lost three in a row on the road and needs this more than the Spiders.

William & Mary at Virginia Commonwealth, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday: The Colonial looks deep enough to get two teams into the NCAA field, and this basically is a must-win for VCU if it wants to stay in the at-large mix. The Rams trail the league leaders - William & Mary is in a four-way tie for first - by two games in the conference race. The Tribe beat VCU by one at home in early December.

UTEP at Memphis, 8 p.m. Wednesday, CBS College Sports: Memphis has won 64 consecutive Conference USA games, and one more sets the NCAA all-time record for consecutive league wins; the Tigers currently share the mark with Kentucky (1945-50). UTEP needs to make sure its frontcourt comes up big. The Miners must get big games from Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie, who is a Memphis native. Duke transfer Elliot Williams is playing at a high level for Memphis.

Michigan at Wisconsin, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Big Ten Network: Michigan kept its faint NCAA pulse alive by beating Connecticut on Sunday, but the Wolverines now face Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State in their next three games. Wisconsin plays three of its next four at home, where it is 10-0.

South Carolina at Ole Miss, 9 p.m., SEC syndication/Comcast-Charter Sports Southeast/ESPN FullCourt: An interesting pecking-order game in the SEC. Ole Miss appears to be the second-best team in the West Division, but needs to win this. There will be a lot of good guards on the floor, a list headed by South Carolina's Devan Downey.

Duke at N.C. State, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ACC syndication/Fox Sports Florida/ESPN FullCourt: This is the only meeting this season between these longtime rivals. NCSU has lost three of its past four home games but needs this one to remain on the periphery of the ACC title hunt. Duke plays three of its next four on the road.

Baylor at Kansas, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Baylor is 14-2, but one of its losses was by seven on the road at Colorado. Expect an epic battle in the paint between Kansas center Cole Aldrich and Baylor big man Ekpe Udoh.

West Virginia vs. Marshall in Charleston, W.Va., 9 p.m. Wednesday: This neutral-court game is the first of two non-conference games in a row for WVU, which plays host to Ohio State on Saturday. Marshall actually comes in with a better record (15-2 to 13-3), but the Herd have no wins over teams in the RPI top 125 and lost to North Carolina by 37. Marshall freshman big man Hassan Whiteside has been playing well, but how will he fare against WVU's frontcourt?

Butler at Loyola (Ill.), 8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN FullCourt: This might be the toughest remaining road game for Butler, which has a two-game lead in the loss column in the Horizon League. This is the first of four consecutive road games for the Bulldogs, who have won six in a row.

Oregon at California, 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Comcast SportsNet California/Comcast SportsNet Northwest: Cal is the only Pac-10 team in the top 50 of the RPI, but it's coming off a 15-point loss at Washington that really wasn't even that close. Oregon has lost three in a row in league play, all at home; the Ducks are 2-0 on the road in conference action.

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

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