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February 14, 2011
This Wisconsin winter probably is a little more bearable than usual.
Between the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl victory and two upsets for the Badgers over undefeated No. 1 Ohio State teams (in football and basketball), the folks in the Dairy State have had plenty of reasons to cheer.
But the Badgers and their fans don't have much time to gloat. There's an upcoming game at Purdue, and the Badgers know as well as anyone how difficult it is to beat a good team in a hostile environment.
Beyond the big-ticket games, this week marks key games for the Missouri Valley Conference, the Colonial Athletic Association and Utah State in the BracketBuster series.
Here's a look at the key games this week. All times Eastern.
Game of the week: Wisconsin at Purdue, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network. We know Wisconsin can win at home. But the Badgers still are seeking a signature road win; they've already lost at Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State. This is a matchup between two of the best guard/forward tandems in the country (Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer vs. Purdue's E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson). Wisconsin won the first meeting 66-59 in Madison on Feb. 1; that one turned out to be a showdown between Leuer (24 points, 13 rebounds) and Johnson (23 points, four rebounds). The winner of this one takes sole possession of second place in the Big Ten.
Don't overlook this one: Washington at Arizona, Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN. The Pac-10 is better than it was last season, but not that much better. The league likely will get three NCAA tournament bids this season after it had a legitimate fear of being a one-bid league at this time last season. Washington, the highest-scoring team in the league, has been a mild disappointment, thanks to its road woes. The Huskies have lost three of four on the road, including losses to both Oregon schools, heading into a three-game road trip this week. The game against Pac-10 leader Arizona is the key; Washington should win the other two, against Arizona State and Seattle. The Huskies won the first matchup 85-68 in Seattle behind 22 points and 10 assists from G Isaiah Thomas.
Mid-major to watch: George Mason. The Patriots received a little help last week as Old Dominion ripped VCU on Saturday to propel George Mason into first place in the Colonial. Can the Patriots stay there? And how many teams could the CAA send to the NCAA tournament? George Mason can solidify its credentials with road games against VCU on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPNU) and Northern Iowa on Saturday in a BracketBuster game (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Patriots have won 11 in a row.
Coaching matchup to watch: Utah State's Stew Morrill vs. Saint Mary's Randy Bennett, Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN2. Two of the nation's most underrated coaches face each other in a BracketBuster game. They have used different avenues to build successful mid-major programs. Morrill has mined the junior college ranks and been able to seamlessly add them over the years. The Aggies have won at least 23 games for 12 consecutive seasons under Morrill. Bennett has built a nice pipeline to Moraga, Calif.
Injury update: Florida State's top player, F Chris Singleton, could miss the rest of the season with a broken foot sustained Saturday against Virginia. ... Kansas G Josh Selby (ankle) will miss his fourth consecutive game tonight against Kansas State. Jayhawks F Thomas Robinson (knee) is expected to miss two weeks. ... Michigan State F Delvon Roe suffered a knee injury against Penn State. His status for Tuesday's big game against Ohio State is uncertain.
Key stat: We can't talk enough about Cleveland State PG Norris Cole's 41-point, 20-rebound effort against Youngstown State on Saturday, particularly his work on the glass. Before Cole's performance, none of the nation's 16 20-rebound games this season had come from a guard and none from anyone listed shorter than 6 feet 6 (Cole is 6-2). There now have been 17 20-rebound games, and seven belong to two players
Tournament implications: BYU and San Diego State are on their way to the NCAA tournament, but what of the rest of the Mountain West, a league that received four bids last season? UNLV and Colorado State are next in line. If the MWC gets three bids, UNLV's trip to Colorado State on Saturday (7 p.m., the Mtn.) could be key toward determining the third recipient. The Rebels and Rams have similar resumes in terms of RPI, strength of schedule and top-50 wins. But Colorado State already has defeated UNLV once, 78-63 in Vegas on Jan. 19. If one is going to the tournament and the other is NIT-bound, Colorado State could make the decision easier on the selection committee by sweeping the season series.