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January 13, 2009

Five to watch: SEC East battle on tap

Here's a look at this week's best games, along with some others that have some intrigue. The games are listed in chronological order.

We'll have our "Weekend five to Watch" feature on Friday afternoon.

This week's five to watch

Kentucky at Tennessee, Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN: The Vols (10-4, 1-0 SEC) were thought to be the best team in the conference before the season. If they want to win the Eastern Division, it would behoove them to beat the Wildcats (12-4, 1-0) in Knoxville. The Vols' defense can be exploited, but even with some defensive lapses, they are extremely difficult to beat when their shots are falling. One problem for Tennessee this season is that its perimeter shooting has been borderline pitiful. The Vols are hitting just 30.8 percent from 3-point range. UK plays four of its next five games on the road, but this should be the toughest test. The Wildcats have been a two-man team offensively, with Jodie Meeks (24.2 ppg) and Patrick Patterson (18.9 ppg) the only players averaging more than 7.1 points per game. The Wildcats have more turnovers than assists, but they are playing solid defense.

Syracuse at Georgetown, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2: The biggest game of the week is a battle between two old Big East rivals. This is the first game in a murderous stretch for the Orange, as Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Louisville are the next three games on the schedule. Syracuse (16-1, 4-0 Big East) has five players averaging in double figures, led by sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn (16.4 ppg), who is having a great season. The Orange are playing hard defensively and shutting foes down on the perimeter. The Hoyas (11-3, 2-2) already have lost twice in league play, which puts added emphasis on this one. The Hoyas' defense hasn't been there in conference action, and that obviously needs to change. The perimeter offense must improve as well.

Michigan at Illinois, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: This is a big one in the Big Ten. Neither was considered a legitimate league contender before the season, but both have been better than expected. If the Wolverines (13-3, 3-1 Big Ten) can win this one on the road, they have a realistic shot at finishing fourth or better in the league. Conversely, the Illini (14-2, 2-1) need to hold serve at home. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims have been impressive for Michigan, though they need some help on the boards. The Illini are playing excellent defense, and Trent Meacham (49.4 percent) has been on fire from 3-point range. While it's only mid-January, this will be the second meeting between these teams; Michigan beat the Illini by 10 on Jan. 4 in Ann Arbor.

Baylor at Texas A&M, Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2: This is the first game in a tough four-game stretch for the Aggies (14-2, 0-1 Big 12), who have Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas next. Baylor (13-2, 1-0), meanwhile, plays four of its next six on the road. This will be just the second true road game of the season for Baylor, which wants a fast pace. The Bears have been somewhat sloppy with the ball (just six more assists than turnovers), but they also have three key guys shooting at least 41.0 percent from 3-point range. A&M's offense has struggled, but the Aggies are tough defensively - though their perimeter defense has been shaky at times.

Arizona at UCLA, Thursday, 11 p.m., Fox Sports Net: Arizona (11-5, 2-2 Pac-10) already has lost two conference road games. The trio of Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill makes the Wildcats tough to defend. Hill has blossomed into one of the best big men on the West Coast. He's averaging 17.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. UCLA (13-2) has opened 3-0 in league play and all three have been on the road. Point guard Darren Collison is shooting 57.6 percent from the floor, 50.0 percent from 3-point range and 93.9 percent from the free-throw line, and he has a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Bruins haven't gotten much offensively from their frontcourt, which is something to watch as the season progresses. A key matchup will be Wise against Collison; UCLA looks to have the clear edge.

Others to keep an eye on

Memphis at Tulsa, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2: If Memphis (12-3, 2-0 Conference USA) were going to lose a league game, this would be one of the ones where it could happen.

TCU at BYU, Tuesday, 10 p.m., The mtn.: TCU (11-5, 2-0 Mountain West), which is in its first season under former Kent State coach Jim Christian, beat league favorite UNLV at home over the weekend. Now, the Horned Frogs try for a big-time road win against BYU (13-2, 1-0). If TCU can win this one, it becomes a legit league contender.

Michigan State at Penn State, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: Penn State (13-4, 2-2 Big Ten) beat Purdue in its most recent conference home game. If the Nittany Lions can beat the Spartans (13-2, 3-0), it's time to consider them a legit NCAA tournament team.

Nebraska at Iowa State, Wednesday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports Midwest: Are either of these teams good enough to finish in the top half of the Big 12? A conference road win for the Huskers (11-3, 1-0 Big 12) would be noteworthy.

Wake Forest at Boston College, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: Boston College (13-4, 1-1 ACC) opened its conference schedule by beating North Carolina, then promptly lost two in a row. Wake Forest (14-0, 1-0) opened its conference schedule by beating the Tar Heels; can they go on the road and beat the Eagles?

Maryland at Miami, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: This will be the first true road game of the season for the Terps (12-3, 1-0 ACC), and three of their next four games are on the road.

Xavier at Rhode Island, Thursday, 8 p.m., CBS College Sports: This is the only meeting between these Atlantic 10 contenders this season. This is the second game in a five-game stretch in which Xavier (13-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) plays four times on the road.

Cleveland State at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Thursday, 8 p.m.: Everybody is chasing Butler in the Horizon League, and these are two of the teams with a legit chance to finish second. This is the first of three consecutive league road games for Cleveland State (13-5, 4-2 Horizon). Wisconsin-Green Bay (11-5) is 4-1 in league play.

Minnesota at Wisconsin, Thursday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network: Two Big Ten contenders meet in Madison. The Golden Gophers (15-1, 3-1 Big Ten) play five of their next seven on the road. Wisconsin (12-4) is 3-1 in conference play.

Arizona State at USC, Thursday, 10:30 p.m.: USC (10-5, 1-2 Pac-10) already has lost twice in conference play and is in danger of falling out of contact with the league leaders. Beginning with this one, Arizona State (14-2, 3-1) plays five of its next seven on the road.

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

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