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February 16, 2010

Viewer's guide: Big Ten takes center stage

One of the biggest Big Ten games of the season takes center stage Wednesday before two huge Big East games move into the spotlight Thursday.

There also are a number of key ACC and SEC games this week, and Northern Iowa has a chance to clinch the regular-season title in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Here's a look at the week's top five games, along with some others of interest. We will do this again Friday to highlight the weekend's best games.

This week's five to watch

Wake Forest at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2: This is a big one in the ACC, as these teams are a game behind league leader Duke in the loss column. All three of Wake's league losses have come on the road, and three of the Demon Deacons' final five league games -- including this one -- are away from home. Virginia Tech is 13-0 at home this season. The Hokies will look to make this a grind-it-out affair, and they must get a lot of production from forward Jeff Allen. The Hokies have just one RPI top-50 win, making this a huge game for them.

Purdue at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Big Ten Network: Michigan State's recent swoon has opened up the Big Ten race, and these are two of the three teams tied for the league lead in the loss column. The Buckeyes won by four in West Lafayette on Jan. 12, and Purdue -- which has won seven in a row -- will be looking to return the favor. Purdue is the only Big Ten team with a shot at a No. 1 seed, and a win in Columbus would be a coup for the Boilermakers. Two of the nation's best all-around players will be on view -- well, they will be if you have the Big Ten Network -- in Ohio State's Evan Turner and Purdue's Robbie Hummel.

Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPNU: This is a big week for the Commodores, who have to travel to Oxford before playing host to Kentucky two days later. Vandy has a legit shot at the SEC regular-season title -- if it wins this one. Ole Miss, meanwhile, has lost three of four and is a game back in the SEC West race. The Rebels' next three are at home, with visits from Florida and Auburn following this. Vandy needs center A.J. Ogilvy to control the paint against the backcourt-oriented Rebels. Ole Miss needs Terrico White and/or Chris Warren to outplay Vandy point guard Jermaine Beal, who is playing the best basketball of his career of late.

Syracuse at Georgetown, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2: This is Game 1 of an important Big East doubleheader on ESPN2 on Thursday. Syracuse is coming off a shocking home loss to Louisville that snapped an 11-game winning streak; the Hoyas are coming off a shocking loss at Rutgers. The Orange still have a shot at the Big East regular-season title, while the Hoyas are aiming for a top-four finish. The Orange, who also are in good shape for a No. 1 NCAA seed, beat the Hoyas by 17 in the Carrier Dome on Jan. 25. Syracuse is 6-0 on the road in the Big East.

Pittsburgh at Marquette, 9 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2: This is the second game of that Big East doubleheader on ESPN2. Marquette has won five in a row to move into position for a top-four finish in the league. On paper, this is the toughest of the Golden Eagles' six remaining games. The forward duo of Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward has been excellent. Pitt, which is coming off a triple-overtime victory over West Virginia, also has a shot at a top-four finish in the Big East. The Panthers have won three in a row after a stretch in which they lost four of five. This is the teams' only regular-season meeting this season.

Others to keep an eye on

Cincinnati at USF, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPNU: A huge game in the Big East for two NCAA bubble teams. USF has lost two in a row since back-to-back upsets of Pitt and Georgetown. Cincinnati has just two true road wins and needs some more to improve its NCAA chances. The Bearcats beat the Bulls by eight in Cincinnati on Jan. 20.

Texas Tech at Baylor, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Fox Sports Southwest/ESPN FullCourt: These teams meet again March 2 in Lubbock. Baylor is 12-1 at home and beating Texas Tech -- whose RPI is in the high 30s -- would help the Bears move one step closer to locking up an NCAA bid.

Creighton at Northern Iowa, 8 p.m. Tuesday, MVC syndication/Fox Sports Midwest/Comcast Sports Net Chicago: UNI can clinch the MVC regular-season title with a win. But they will be without star center Jordan Eglseder, who has been suspended for three games after he was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

North Carolina at Georgia Tech, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ACC syndication/Fox Sports Florida/ESPN FullCourt: Tech has lost three of its past four and is under .500 in ACC play. Georgia Tech, which has underachieved relative to its talent level, won by two in Chapel Hill in mid-January. That game is part of a current stretch in which UNC has lost seven of its past nine, with the only wins over NC State.

Kentucky at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: UK goes on the road to play Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the next 11 days. The Wildcats lead the way in the SEC race and are playing for a No. 1 seed. Mississippi State is trying to get itself on the right side of the NCAA bubble. The Bulldogs could use a marquee win to burnish their NCAA resume.

Notre Dame at Louisville, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Louisville is coming off a huge win at Syracuse and can't afford a letdown against a Notre Dame team that appears likely to be without star Luke Harangody. The Cardinals still have some work to do if they want to get an at-large bid, and losing to the Fighting Irish would hurt those chances.

Duke at Miami, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN: Duke has a one-game lead in the ACC race and Miami has lost seven of its past nine. But the Hurricanes are 11-1 at home, which makes this at least quasi-interesting.

Florida State at Virginia, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: FSU is following a pattern of late --win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win -- and the Seminoles also have struggled some on the road. That makes this an important game when it comes to their NCAA at-large hopes.

Maryland at N.C. State, 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sun Sports/Northeast Sports Network/Fox Sports South/Comcast Sports Net Washington: Maryland is in the ACC title race, and the Terps could use another road win to bolster their NCAA at-large hopes. A loss to the Wolfpack would be bad in more ways than one.

Rhode Island at Saint Louis, 9 p.m. Wednesday, A-10 syndication: Rhode Island looks to be out of the running for the Atlantic 10 regular-season title, but the Rams are in the hunt for an at-large berth and can't afford any "bad" losses. While Saint Louis' RPI is just 91st, the Billikens are 13-1 at home - including wins over Richmond and Dayton.

Texas at Missouri, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Texas has lost five of its past eight, and its backcourt issues could come into play against a Missouri team that will look to press the whole game. Missouri is 14-1 at home. These teams are tied for fourth in the Big 12 at 6-4, four games behind leader Kansas and just one game behind second-place teams Kansas State and Texas A&M.

UNLV at Utah, 10 p.m. Wednesday, The mtn.: While UNLV appears out of the running for the Mountain West title, the Runnin' Rebels still have a shot at an NCAA at-large berth. They can't afford a loss to the Utes if they want to keep their at-large dreams alive. The Utes won by four in Las Vegas last month, so the pressure is on UNLV.

Louisiana Tech at Utah State, 11 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Utah State leads the WAC by a game in the loss column over Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. La Tech hammered the Aggies in Ruston last month. If the Bulldogs can finish off the season sweep, they have a legit shot at the league's regular-season title.

Wisconsin at Minnesota, 9 p.m. Thursday, ESPN: Wisconsin still has a shot at the Big Ten regular-season title, and this appears to be the second-toughest game remaining on the Badgers' schedule. Minnesota has lost six of its past eight and is reduced to spoiler mode.

Saint Mary's at San Diego, 11 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2: Saint Mary's beat the Toreros by 15 at home last month and needs to finish off the season sweep to keep its NCAA at-large hopes alive. The Gaels have lost two in a row and sit precariously on the NCAA bubble.

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

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