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February 7, 2011

Weekly Watch: Big week starts early

Let's face it: Saturday was not a great day for marquee matchups.

We won't have the same problem this week as the schedule offers plenty of high-profile games. The first North Carolina-Duke game of the season is Wednesday. Saturday, undefeated Ohio State has its toughest Big Ten road trip when it heads to Wisconsin. There's also Pittsburgh at West Virginia and Missouri at Kansas on Monday, Louisville at Notre Dame on Wednesday, and Kentucky at Vanderbilt and Tennessee at Florida on Saturday.

Here's a look at the top games and matchups in a key week for a handful of teams. All times Eastern.

Individual matchup to watch

Tennessee F Tobias Harris
vs. Kentucky F Terrence Jones
Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN

Both teams are in need of a win; Kentucky lost to Ole Miss and Florida on the road last week, while Tennessee lost at home to Alabama. The difference in the game could come down to the matchup between the two freshman forwards. This game also marks the return of Vols coach Bruce Pearl from his eight-game SEC suspension.

Game of the week: North Carolina at Duke, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN. North Carolina had won four in a row over the Blue Devils before last season, when eventual national champion Duke took out years of frustration on the NIT-bound Tar Heels with an 82-50 rout. This one has ACC title implications as North Carolina is tied with the Blue Devils in the loss column. Both teams have dealt with some turmoil in the past week. Larry Drew II abruptly left North Carolina, leaving the Heels with only one true point guard (Kendall Marshall, who had 16 assists in Sunday's win over Florida State). Duke was embarrassed by St. John's last Sunday, then recovered to pound Maryland and N.C. State. The lead-in for this game is another big-time rivalry, as Syracuse visits Georgetown (7 p.m., ESPN) in a battle of teams looking to stay within striking distance of first place in the Big East.

Don't overlook this one: Ohio State at Wisconsin, Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN. In a "normal" week, this would be the top matchup, but it gets bumped down thanks to North Carolina-Duke. If Ohio State is going to lose a game during the regular season, this one is a good candidate. The Kohl Center is the site of one of the nation's best home-court advantages: Eventual national champion Duke lost there last season, and the Badgers are 24-7 against ranked teams in Madison. In addition, Wisconsin is 149-11 at home -- including 75-6 in Big Ten play -- under Bo Ryan. Keep an eye on the matchup at point guard between Ohio State freshman Aaron Craft and Badgers veteran Jordan Taylor.

Mid-major to watch: Xavier. The Musketeers don't like to be called a mid-major, but we also know this is a huge week for them. When Xavier started 8-5, there was some rumbling about the Musketeers, but coach Chris Mack and G Tu Holloway have done a great job of rallying the team in Atlantic 10 play. Despite losing to Charlotte last week, Xavier still can take the A-10 lead in its game against surprising Duquesne -- the Dukes lost their first conference game to St. Bonaventure last week -- on Sunday (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio). On Tuesday, a road game against Georgia (7 p.m., ESPNU) gives Xavier a chance to pick up at least one non-league win of note. It's also a big game for the Bulldogs as they attempt to remain near the top of the NCAA bubble pool.

Coaching matchup to watch: Jamie Dixon vs. Villanova's Jay Wright, Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN. They share a state, they're successful and they each have expensive haircuts. This will be an interesting chess match between Wright's offensive-minded, guard-oriented approach and Dixon's defense-first mentality. As respected as both coaches are, between them, they have only two Big East regular-season titles (Pitt in 2005, 'Nova in 2006) and one Big East tournament title (Pitt in 2008).

Injury update: Pittsburgh G Ashton Gibbs could be out 10-14 days with an MCL injury in his left knee. ... Kansas G Josh Selby (ankle) did not play Saturday against Nebraska and is questionable for Monday's game against Missouri. ... Louisville G Preston Knowles (hamstring) missed the Cardinals' game against DePaul and could miss Wednesday's game against Notre Dame. ... Tennessee G Scotty Hopson (ankle) missed the loss to Alabama and is questionable to play against Kentucky. ... Northern Iowa F Lucas O'Rear will miss the rest of the season with a fractured right ankle. The Panthers lost their first game without O'Rear, 72-69 at Drake on Saturday. ... Indiana F Christian Watford is out indefinitely with a broken hand.

Key stat: Providence G/F Marshon Brooks had the nation's 17th 40-point output this season when he scored 43 in Saturday's 83-81 loss to Georgetown. Brooks' effort was the fifth 40-point game in a conference matchup and the only one in which the 40-point scorer was on the losing end. BYU's Jimmer Fredette has hit the milestone in three Mountain West wins, over Utah (47 points), San Diego State (43) and Colorado State (42). Chattanooga's Ricky Taylor scored 41 points in a double-overtime win over Southern Conference foe UNC Greensboro. Brooks' 43 points is the fifth-highest total ever in a Big East game.

Tournament implications: Penn State at Michigan State, Thursday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network. Penn State is in NCAA tournament contention thanks to wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois -- but each of those wins came at home. At some point, Penn State has to win a game on the road to feel better about making its first tournament appearance since 2001. The rematch with the reeling Spartans could provide that opportunity. It's hard to believe, but a win at Michigan State might not be a resume-builder for Penn State. Michigan State is in must-win mode after losing by 26 to Wisconsin and by 20 to Iowa last week. Penn State never has won consecutive games over Michigan State.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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