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December 13, 2010

Weekly Watch: Few tests during finals

Finals week isn't just bad news for college students. It's horrible news for college basketball fans, too.

There are precious few intriguing matchups during the week. The best might be Tuesday's meeting between Oakland and Tennessee in Knoxville. The Volunteers continued their hot start by upsetting Pittsburgh 83-76 in the Steel City on Saturday.

Oakland has one of the top players outside of the major conferences in 6-foot-11 forward Keith Benson. The Golden Grizzlies' 5-5 record isn't impressive, but they've faced a challenging non-conference schedule, including West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State. The Spartans got all they could handle from Oakland in a 77-76 win.

The best games of the week will be Saturday, but many teams clearly are dialing down the schedule with the holidays and final exams.

Here's a look at the best games, matchups and storylines of the week. All times Eastern.

Individual matchup of the week

North Carolina F Harrison Barnes
vs. Texas G Cory Joseph
Greensboro, N.C., Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS

Though this isn't a head-to-head matchup on the court, this is a meeting of two top-10 freshmen. Both have had their ups-and-downs this season -- more ups for Joseph and more downs for Barnes. Each is coming off a big performance on Saturday. Barnes had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Long Beach State for his first career double-double, and Joseph scored a career-high 19 points against Texas State.

Game of the week: Kansas State vs. Florida in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net. Wildcats coach Frank Martin makes his return to south Florida, where he led powerhouse Miami High to three consecutive state championships from 1996-98. The last was vacated, though, because of recruiting violations. This also is a homecoming for Florida guard Kenny Boynton, who played at nearby Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage. Perhaps being close to home will help Boynton, who is 3-of-21 from the field in the past two games, including a scoreless outing against American.

Don't overlook this one: Arkansas at Texas A&M, Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2. The Razorbacks are off to a 6-1 start, but how good are they? Their best wins have come over Oklahoma and Seton Hall (without G Jeremy Hazell), and the loss was in overtime to UAB. Rotnei Clarke is a 3-point whiz, while Delvon Johnson has been a double-double threat. The Aggies are 9-1 behind a no-name lineup that rebounds and plays stingy defense.

Mid-major of the week: Cleveland State at West Virginia, Saturday, 2 p.m., Big East syndication/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network/SportsNet New York/ESPN GamePlan. At 12-0, Cleveland State is the only team in the country with more than 10 wins, but the Vikings have played two Division II teams and no ranked teams. The Mountaineers will give Cleveland State its toughest test of the season. This is one of just two games this season for the Vikings against a major-conference team; the other is against USF, which lost Sunday to Kent State. G Norris Cole leads the Vikings at 21.3 points per game.

Coaching matchup of the week: Austin Peay's Dave Loos vs. Memphis' Josh Pastner, Thursday, 6 p.m. When Loos took the Austin Peay job in 1990, Pastner was 13 years old. Loos, a five-time Ohio Valley Conference coach of the year, has deep ties to the city and the University of Memphis. Like Pastner, he was a Memphis assistant when he landed his first head-coaching job. Loos also played basketball and baseball at Memphis State and coached in the city at Christian Brothers College, an NAIA school.

Injury update: Duke freshman G Kyrie Irving was on crutches and in a hard cast because of a toe injury on Saturday, when the Blue Devils beat Saint Louis. His return is unknown. Nolan Smith played point guard in Irving's absence. Memphis' leading scorer, swingman Wesley Witherspoon, will miss five weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. N.C. State F Tracy Smith (knee) expects to play against Arizona on Sunday after missing six games. The Wolfpack are 3-3 without him.

Stat watch: South Carolina couldn't make the NCAA tournament with high-scoring G Devan Downey, but the Gamecocks are 8-1 without him this season. The scoring load is more evenly distributed, with six players averaging between 8.5 and 13.4 points and only Bruce Ellington in double figures. The only loss is by nine to Michigan State, and the Gamecocks have beaten Western Kentucky, Clemson and Wofford. Facing Ohio State (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS regional coverage) in Columbus will be the biggest challenge yet, though.

Tournament implications: Gonzaga is off to a shaky 4-5 start, with its only "good" win coming against Marquette. The Bulldogs have lost by double-digit margins to Kansas State, Illinois and Washington State. Gonzaga faces Baylor in Dallas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2) for its last chance at a signature non-conference win. There's also a game against struggling Xavier next week.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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