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December 1, 2009

Viewer's guide: Challenge on for ACC, Big Ten

With football season winding down, it's time to start paying a bit more attention to college basketball. And this is a good week to start paying attention.

There are a number of big-time matchups this week, mainly because of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Here is a look at games you need to keep an eye on this week. We will do this again Friday to spotlight weekend games:

This week's five to watch

Wake Forest at Purdue, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: This is part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Purdue is off to a 5-0 start despite point guard Lewis Jackson being sidelined by a broken foot. Truth be told, though, other than a game against Tennessee, the schedule hasn't been difficult. Wake is coming off a shocking 10-point home loss to William & Mary, and the Demon Deacons could be looking at a three-game losing streak; after this one, Wake plays at Gonzaga. Wake needs a huge game from big man Al-Farouq Aminu, who has played extremely well thus far.

Michigan State at North Carolina, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: This is the marquee game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and it's a rematch of last season's national championship game. But this UNC team is vastly different than the one that won it all. Michigan State has the advantage in the backcourt. Can UNC's big guys play well enough to offset that backcourt advantage? It's rare that a game in early December is must-watch TV, but this game counts in that category.

Illinois at Clemson, 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN: This is yet another ACC-Big Ten Challenge game, and it's between teams that need to prove they can be legit contenders in their conference races. Illinois has lost two in a row, to Utah and Bradley, and the Illini's offense has been an issue of late. Clemson is coming off a one-point win over Butler, but the Tigers also lost to Texas A&M. Both have good frontcourts, so expect the team that has the best backcourt play to win.

Washington State at Gonzaga, 9 p.m. Wednesday, Fox Sports Net Northwest: A big early season matchup in the Pacific Northwest. Washington State is 6-0, but the Cougars have beaten no one. Sophomore swingman Klay Thompson has been lighting it up, and his performance against the better-than-expected Zags will go a long way toward determining if Washington State can win this. Gonzaga is getting solid contributions from everyone in its starting lineup, impressive considering there are four new starters. Freshman forward Elias Harris will be a big-timer.

Florida State at Ohio State, 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Yes, this is another ACC-Big Ten Challenge game, and it could be the second-best of the bunch (behind Michigan State-North Carolina). FSU won the Old Spice Challenge, rallying from a 17-point second-half deficit to beat Marquette in the title game. FSU has a big, physical frontcourt, but still is looking for a consistent backcourt scorer. Ohio State's Evan Turner has been playing lights-out. The more points that are scored, the less likely it will be that Florida State wins.

Others to keep an eye on

Pittsburgh at Duquesne, 7 p.m. Wednesday, CBS College Sports: Duquesne is 5-1, but hasn't really played anybody. A victory over its crosstown rival would be a big deal and stamp the Dukes as a sleeper contender in the Atlantic 10. Pitt also is 5-1, and the Panthers also have beaten no one of note. This game will be played at Mellon Arena, Duquesne's former home court. This will be the final basketball game at Mellon; these teams met in the first one at the arena in 1961.

Siena at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. Wednesday: Siena already has lost twice. While it's obviously early in the season, the Saints have to know their NCAA tournament at-large hopes have taken a hit. But beating Tech would be a huge boost. Can Siena hang with the much taller Jackets on the boards?

Minnesota at Miami, 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: This is part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Miami is off to a 7-0 start, but the Hurricanes are going to have problems with Minnesota's height and defensive intensity.

Boston College at Michigan, 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: This is another ACC-Big Ten Challenge game. Michigan has lost two in a row but plays three of its next four at home. BC still is finding its way without Tyrese Rice. After this trip, the Eagles play their next eight at home.

California at New Mexico, 9 p.m. Wednesday, CBS College Sports: New Mexico is unbeaten, but the Golden Bears are a big step up in competition level. If the Lobos can win this, you have to think they can contend in the Mountain West.

Western Kentucky at South Carolina, 9 p.m. Wednesday, SportSouth: South Carolina coach Darrin Horn is the former Western coach. The Gamecocks are unbeaten, but Western is an athletic team with a good backcourt. If Western can hold its own on the boards, it can win.

Oklahoma State at Tulsa, 8 p.m. Wednesday: Tulsa is expected to be a leading contender in Conference USA this season, and it will be a lot easier to believe in the Golden Hurricane if they can beat their in-state rival. Tulsa will look to slow the pace against the Cowboys, who will be playing a true road game for the first time this season.

BYU at Utah State, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN FullCourt: Utah State has struggled a bit thus far, but those struggles will be forgotten if the Aggies can upset the Cougars. This also is a measuring stick game of sorts for the Mountain West (BYU was the preseason favorite) and the WAC (Utah State was considered one of the top two contenders).

Duke at Wisconsin, 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN: This is another ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup. The Blue Devils are coming off an NIT Tip-Off tourney title. Wisconsin was thought to be a lower-division team in the Big Ten, but the Badgers acquitted themselves well in the Maui Invitational. Can they hang with the Blue Devils?

Missouri at Vanderbilt, 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: Missouri has to replace a lot of firepower off last season's team, and it showed in the Tigers' 59-52 loss to Richmond in the South Padre Island tournament. This is the first game in a 10-game stretch in which Vandy plays nine home games.

Washington at Texas Tech, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2: Texas Tech is off to a surprising 7-0 start, but it will be a lot easier to take the Red Raiders seriously if they can beat the Huskies. Washington is 5-0 and will be playing its first true road game of the season.

Baylor at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Fox Sports Net: Arizona State has adjusted to life without James Harden (and Jeff Pendergraph) quite well so far, and you can expect the Sun Devils' deliberate style to bother the Bears, who want to play at a fast pace. Baylor's neutral-court victory over Xavier was impressive, and getting a road win against a power-conference school would provide a boost as well.

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



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