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December 22, 2009

Viewer's guide: Some pre-Christmas treats

There are a couple of pre-Christmas treats for the college basketball fan this week.

Tuesday has one of the most anticipated non-conference games of the season when Michigan State visits Texas. A bit later that night, Texas A&M plays Washington in an interesting intersectional matchup.

Wednesday, Bob Huggins' West Virginia team puts its unbeaten record on the line against Ole Miss, which is coached by former Huggins assistant Andy Kennedy.

Here's a look at this week's top five games, along with some others you should keep an eye on. We will do this again Friday to spotlight the weekend's best games.

This week's five to watch

Michigan State at Texas, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2: This should be one of the best non-conference games of the season. Texas is coming off an impressive win over North Carolina in which the Longhorns' frontcourt dominated the action. Damion James and Dexter Pittman each had huge games against the Tar Heels. Texas might have the best depth in the nation, and you can expect coach Rick Barnes to substitute freely -- especially in his backcourt -- in an attempt to wear down the Spartans. Michigan State lost earlier this season to North Carolina. Expect a game at least in the high 70s, and neither would complain if it got into the 80s.

Butler at UAB, 8 p.m. Tuesday: UAB lost the bulk of its scoring and rebounding from last season, but coach Mike Davis has done a nice job molding together some disparate parts. The Blazers are 10-1, including a 17-point win over Cincinnati. UAB has been surprisingly solid on defense and has held six of its past seven opponents to fewer than 60 points. Butler is coming off a bizarre win over Xavier in which the clock malfunctioned in the final few seconds. This is the last non-conference game for the Bulldogs until the BracketBuster event in late February. Before the season, this didn't look to be that big a game for Butler; it is now.

California at Kansas, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2: Before the season, this looked as if it would be one of the best non-conference games of the season, but Cal's 6-3 start has removed a lot of the luster. Basically speaking, teams that can score have taken advantage of Cal's defense -- and KU certainly can score. KU should have its way in the frontcourt, which means Cal better be hot from the perimeter or this could get ugly.

Texas A&M at Washington, 11 p.m. Tuesday, Fox Sports Net: Texas A&M has lost twice, with both losses coming to undefeated teams (West Virginia and New Mexico). The Aggies play tough, physical defense, and guards Derrick Roland and Donald Sloan are providing solid offensive production. The Huskies (7-2) have lost to Georgetown and Texas Tech, the best opponents they have faced, and they could use a marquee non-conference victory. Washington wants an up-tempo game; can the Huskies force the pace against the Aggies?

Ole Miss at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was an assistant for WVU coach Bob Huggins when Huggins coached at Cincinnati. Ole Miss has one of the best backcourts in the nation; WVU has one of the best frontcourts in the nation. It would appear WVU's backcourt is better-equipped to handle Ole Miss' backcourt than Ole Miss' frontcourt is to handle WVU's frontcourt. WVU is unbeaten, while Ole Miss has lost just once (to Villanova).

Others to keep an eye on

Nebraska vs. Tulsa in Las Vegas, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday: This is part of the Las Vegas Classic. Nebraska was picked to finish in the lower third of the Big 12, but the Huskers are off to an 8-2 start. Thing is, they really have no marquee victories; beating Tulsa would be a big win for the Huskers. Tulsa (9-1) already has one win over a Big 12 team, a 21-point demolition of Oklahoma State. The Golden Hurricane have a nice inside-outside balance.

Western Carolina at Clemson, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday: Western Carolina (10-1) is coming off a win at Louisville. The Catamounts, who were a trendy pick to win the Southern Conference, are quick, have good depth and can shoot the 3-pointer. Clemson enjoys a big-time advantage up front.

Missouri State at Arkansas, 8 p.m. Tuesday: Missouri State (10-0) has been one of the nation's biggest surprises; the Bears won just 11 games last season, but have roared out of the blocks this season. Missouri State plays solid defense, something Arkansas doesn't do. The Hogs have six wins, but four of them have come against teams from the MEAC and SWAC, historically the weakest of the Division I conferences.

LSU at Washington State in Spokane, Wash, 10 p.m. Tuesday, CBS College Sports: This will be the third neutral-court game of the season for LSU, which still hasn't played a true road game; both losses have come away from home. The Tigers have a solid trio in forwards Tasmin Mitchell and Storm Warren and guard Bo Spencer. This is the third neutral-court game in a row and the fifth of the season for Washington State. Former coach Tony Bennett preferred a deliberate attack, but new coach Ken Bone has turned the Cougars loose and they've played well as an up-tempo team. Sophomore swingman Klay Thompson is Washington State's main man.

Harvard at Georgetown, noon Wednesday: This is the third consecutive road game for Tommy Amaker-coached Harvard (7-2), which lost by six at UConn but beat Boston College by seven in the other two matchups. Guard Jeremy Lin is a legit star for the Crimson. Georgetown is coming off its first loss of the season, to an Old Dominion team that is frontcourt-oriented. Thanks to Lin, Harvard is backcourt-oriented.

Illinois vs. Missouri in St. Louis, 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Illinois (8-3) has beaten Clemson, but the Illini's three losses are to rather non-descript teams (Utah, Bradley and Georgia). The Illini's defense has been spotty, and that was their calling card last season. Missouri has no size, but the Tigers are exceptionally quick and thrive on forcing turnovers. Mizzou wants a fast pace, and Illinois wants to keep this in the low 60s.

N.C. State at Arizona, 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Fox Sports Net: Arizona has struggled to a 5-5 mark under new coach Sean Miller. N.C. State is off to a surprising 8-2 start that includes a victory at Marquette. Junior forward Tracy Smith, who is averaging close to a double-double, has been suspended for the game for violating the ACC policy regarding commenting on officials. That puts the onus on senior forward Dennis Horner to be extra productive.

Charlotte at Old Dominion, 7 p.m. Wednesday: ODU is coming off an upset of Georgetown, and the Monarchs' frontcourt is a good one. Charlotte is 9-1, including a 22-point win at Louisville. Both these teams should be leading contenders in their respective leagues (Charlotte in the A-10, ODU in the Colonial), and this game is a nice resume booster.

Rider at Siena, 7 p.m. Wednesday: Siena is 6-4; each of the losses is to a "good" team, but the Saints didn't get the marquee non-conference win(s) they needed. That means they need to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to earn an NCAA bid. This is a MAAC game -- and it's against a team that beat Mississippi State and is one of the top challengers in the league.

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



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