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February 9, 2010

Viewer's guide: Huge week looms

While the Big Ten and SEC take center stage Tuesday, the rest of the week belongs to the non-power conferences.

There are big games this week in the Atlantic 10, Mountain West and West Coast conferences. Thursday's Gonzaga-Saint Mary's game could be the determining factor in who wins the WCC regular-season title.

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.

Five games to watch this week

Tennessee at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: Vandy is looking for a season sweep of its in-state rival; the Commodores won by nine in Knoxville on Jan. 27. But Vandy has lost two of three since, including a 14-point setback at Georgia on Saturday. The Vols have won three in a row since that loss, but this is the first game in a five-game stretch in which the Vols play four road games, including trips to Kentucky (their next game, on Saturday) and Florida. The winner of this one has the inside track on finishing second -- behind UK -- in the SEC East.

Purdue at Michigan State, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN: Michigan State looked as if it was going to run away with the Big Ten title as it did last season. But the Spartans have lost two in a row in league play and have just a one-game lead in the loss column. Purdue, which has won five in a row since a three-game losing streak, is one of four teams that's just one game behind. Michigan State's losses have come without point guard Kalin Lucas, and it's likely that he plays in this one. These teams meet again Feb. 27 in West Lafayette.

Charlotte at Dayton, 7 p.m. Wednesday: This is a big one in the Atlantic 10 and is the only regular-season meeting between the teams. Charlotte is the league leader, but sixth-place Dayton is coming off its best performance of the season -- a 24-point destruction of Xavier. While Charlotte leads the league, its RPI of 46th is sixth-best in the league. After a stretch in which it lost four of six, Charlotte has won seven in a row. Dayton is 11-1 at home.

New Mexico at UNLV, 11 p.m. Wednesday, CBS College Sports: This is one of the biggest games of the season in the Mountain West, which looks as if it will get three NCAA bids. These are two of the teams involved in the three-way tie for first (BYU is the other). UNLV -- which beat BYU by 14 on Saturday -- beat the Lobos by 12 last month in Albuquerque. If the Runnin' Rebels win this and prevail at San Diego State on Saturday, they have a great shot at finishing first in the league. New Mexico has won seven in a row and is 6-2 on the road.

Saint Mary's at Gonzaga, 11 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2: The winner takes control of the West Coast Conference regular-season race. Gonzaga won at Saint Mary's in mid-January; the Gaels have won six in a row since the loss and are 8-0 on the road this season. Gaels center Omar Samhan had 31 points and 12 rebounds in the first meeting, but the Zags dominated on the boards. Gonzaga freshman forward Elias Harris' athleticism makes him a tough matchup for Saint Mary's. Gonzaga shot 58.7 percent in the earlier win, and the Gaels obviously must play better defense if they're to pull the upset.

Other games to keep an eye on

Illinois at Wisconsin, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Big Ten Network: This is huge for the Illini, who are coming off an important win over Michigan State. Illinois is tied for second in the Big Ten, but the Illini's RPI is just 70th and they need some more "good" wins. Wisconsin is another team tied for second in the league, and the Badgers are 13-0 at home this season.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Big 12 syndication/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network/ESPN FullCourt: Texas Tech has a good RPI (32nd), but the Red Raiders have a lot of work to do to become a legit NCAA at-large contender. That makes this basically a must-win game for Tech, which hasn't beaten anyone ranked higher than 165th in the RPI on the road. Oklahoma is 4-0 at home in Big 12 play, including wins over Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma State. It's too bad the Sooners are pitiful away from home.

Richmond at Rhode Island, 7 p.m. Wednesday: A huge game in the A-10. These teams are tied for second in the loss column. Rhode Island has the best RPI in the league at 12th, but the Rams have just two RPI top-50 wins. Richmond is coming off a rout of Temple, which was the Spiders' fourth top-50 win of the season.

Florida State at Clemson, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN2: Clemson is in a freefall, having lost four of its past five to fall below .500 in ACC play. But the Tigers are 10-2 at home, including an impressive win over Maryland in their most recent game at Littlejohn Coliseum. This is the first game in a four-game stretch for FSU in which it plays three times on the road. These teams meet again Feb. 28.

Connecticut at Syracuse, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN: UConn barely has an NCAA pulse. Winning at Syracuse would provide a big boost. Syracuse, on the other hand, leads the Big East race and shouldn't fall at home to a struggling Huskies team.

Georgia Tech at Miami, 7 p.m. Wednesday: Georgia Tech is on the periphery of the ACC race and can't afford a loss to Miami if it truly wants to contend for the league title. UM has lost six of its past seven but is 10-1 at home this season.

Florida at South Carolina, 8 p.m. Wednesday, SEC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: The Gators beat the Gamecocks by two on a last-second 3-pointer in Gainesville last month; that's part of a stretch in which Florida has won six of its past seven. The Gamecocks have lost four of their past six. Opponents seem to have settled on a game plan: We're not going to stop Devan Downey, so let's keep his teammates under wraps.

Duke at North Carolina, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN/ACC syndication/Fox Sports Florida: UNC's season has spiraled out of control, as the Heels have lost six of their past seven and are 2-6 in the ACC. But they can regain some lost pride by knocking off their archrival. Duke, which has won four of its past five, has a half-game lead in the ACC. The Blue Devils' perimeter offense could have a big night against a bad UNC defense.

Virginia Tech at N.C. State, 9 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU: Virginia Tech is 18-4, but the Hokies' non-conference schedule was so pitifully weak that their RPI is just 64th. The Hokies, who have won five of six, are in the thick of the ACC race. It's necessary to beat the Wolfpack to stay in the thick of the race. NCSU has lost four of five since pounding Duke on Jan. 20.

Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. Thursday, ESPN: This is an important game in the SEC West. Both trail first-place Arkansas in the division, and Mississippi State is looking to sweep its archrival. But the Bulldogs have slumped and have lost four of their past five. After this one, Ole Miss plays four of its next five at home, so a win here could help propel the Rebels to the division title.

Washington at California, 9 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2: Washington has won four in a row to get back into the Pac-10 race. But all four of those were at home; the Huskies have played five true road games this season -- and lost them all. Including this one, Cal plays four of its next six at home, where the Golden Bears are 11-1.

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

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