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February 17, 2008

Texas hopes to continue Monday magic

FIVE TO WATCH
Here's a look at the five best games this week:
TEXAS A&M at TEXAS
When: Monday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why you should watch: This is a big one in the Big 12 race. The winner stays in the hunt for the league title and the loser starts thinking about finishing third.
The buzz: The Aggies hammered the Longhorns in College Station last month, and the Longhorns look to return the favor. This is the third game in a tough five-game stretch for Texas (Kansas and Baylor before, Oklahoma and Kansas State after). The backcourt of D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams continues to lead the way for the Longhorns, who have a severe lack of depth. A&M has rebounded from a three-game losing streak in mid-January to get back in the Big 12 race. The Aggies don't have a true go-to scorer, but they are balanced on offense, and they pound foes on the boards.
Spotlight player: Texas A&M forward Joseph Jones has struggled at times and, frankly, appears to have had trouble adjusting to the arrival of highly touted freshman C DeAndre Jordan. Jones is shooting barely above 50 percent from the field and his rebound total has dropped almost 1.5 per game from last season. He had 14 points in the Aggies' rout of Texas last month, though.

PURDUE at INDIANA
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Why you should watch: This is the only game this season between these in-state rivals, and it will have a huge impact on the Big Ten race.
The buzz: A young Purdue team has been one of the nation's biggest surprises. The Boilermakers have swept Wisconsin, won at home over Michigan State and now look to take down their archrival. Purdue is a solid defensive team, but there is no real go-to guy on offense. The flipside is that the Boilermakers are extremely balanced and can get their points from everybody. IU is reeling after it was notified of major rules violations by the NCAA. This game completes a three-game homestand that began with games against Wisconsin and Michigan State. IU's inside-outside combination of D.J. White and Eric Gordon is one of the best in the nation. This is a must-win for the Hoosiers if they have designs on winning the Big Ten.
Spotlight player: Purdue doesn't really have anybody who can match up with Indiana's White, who is averaging a double-double and has been incredibly efficient in the low block. He's not the shot-blocker he was before, but he also has cut back on his silly fouls and is playing more minutes.

PITT at NOTRE DAME/LOUISVILLE AT PITT
When: Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN/Sunday, noon, ESPN Full Court package
Why you should watch: A big week for Pitt, which has point guard Levance Fields back after he missed six weeks with a broken bone in his foot. The Panthers still have a shot at finishing second in the Big East, but they can't afford many (any?) more losses. Thing is, Notre Dame and Louisville still have shots at finishing second, too.
The buzz: These games are the only times these teams meet during the regular season. The Notre Dame-Pitt matchup pits good frontcourt players against each other in the Irish's Luke Harangody and Rob Kurz vs. Pitt's DeJuan Blair and Sam Young. Notre Dame will want the game at least in the high 70s, but Pitt does a good job at controlling tempo. The Panthers don't want a high-scoring game against the Irish. As for Louisville, Pitt is going to have trouble matching up with Louisville forward Terrence Williams, a solid all-around player who has the potential for a triple-double every time out. Pitt's frontcourt needs to provide the difference on both ends against the Cardinals.
Spotlight player: Keep an eye on Fields, who will be playing in just his second and third games since his return from injury. How quickly he returns to 100 percent is going to determine how far Pitt can advance in the NCAAs.


TENNESSEE at MEMPHIS
When: Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why you should watch: This is the final legit chance for Memphis to lose a game before the NCAA tourney begins.
The buzz: Two of the nation's deepest and most athletic teams meet in this one. What adds even more intrigue is that the coaches aren't exactly buddies. The Vols' perceived weakness is their big men specifically their work on the boards. Memphis hammers foes on the boards. The Vols will look to get Memphis C Joey Dorsey in foul trouble; given Dorsey's proclivity to reach and commit silly fouls, that bears watching. Memphis thrives on dribble-drive penetration, and the Vols don't have any low-post defensive presence who really scares anybody. Both play excellent perimeter defense, and both also have numerous guys who can hit the 3-pointer. Memphis is one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the nation. It hasn't cost the Tigers yet, though. This should be one of the best games of the season.
Spotlight player: Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose has performed more than admirably on a veteran team. But Rose is going to see a wide variety of defenses thrown at him by the Vols, who will pressure him all over the court. If Rose avoids turnovers and can get into the lane consistently, there's no way Memphis loses.

ARIZONA at WASHINGTON STATE
When: Saturday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Why you should watch: This is a key Pac-10 matchup. The game will have a bearing on who finishes third in the league and also could affect the teams' NCAA seedings.
The buzz: Arizona won by 12 when these teams met in Tucson, Ariz., last month. The Wildcats scored 76 points in the victory. That's an inordinately high number of points against the Cougars. If Arizona is allowed to dictate the tempo, it can beat Washington State again. The Cougars haven't been as effective on defense as they were last season, which is why they've struggled a bit of late (including a three-game home losing streak in midseason).
Spotlight player: Washington State forward Kyle Weaver has become a bigger offensive presence of late, which is good news for the Cougars. He's a solid all-around player: he can score, rebound, defend and handle the ball. Arizona sometimes loses focus defensively, and Weaver is the type of player who can hurt the Wildcats from inside and outside when that happens.

FIVE MORE
Xavier at Rhode Island, Monday, 7 p.m.; Massachusetts at Rhode Island, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2; Saint Joseph's at Rhode Island, Sunday, 2 p.m.; Xavier at Dayton, Sunday, 2 p.m., CSTV: This is a big week in the Atlantic 10. The league ranks seventh in conference RPI, one spot behind the Big Ten. Rhode Island looks OK for an at-large bid already, and the Rams can wrap one up if they go 3-0 this week. Dayton, meanwhile, is in a free-fall. The Flyers need a victory over Xavier to stay in the NCAA hunt. UMass (barely) and St. Joe's also are in the at-large hunt. Xavier looks to have a bid locked up.
North Carolina at N.C. State, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN: N.C. State fans don't like North Carolina. Not at all. They'll be in full throat to cheer on the Wolfpack, who could really use a victory over UNC as they try to become a legit NCAA at-large team. UNC, meanwhile, needs to win to stay in the chase for the ACC title.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Wednesday, 8 p.m., no TV: The big in-state rivalry gets even bigger. The Bulldogs are in the mix for the SEC West title, and a victory obviously gives them a boost in that respect and a boost in their RPI. The Rebels, meanwhile, are desperately trying to stay in the NCAA at-large discussion.
Drake at Butler, Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2: The centerpiece of this season's Bracket Busters event. The winner gets an RPI boost and further ammunition for a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tourney. Drake has two wins over teams in the RPI top 50; Butler has one.
Wisconsin at Ohio State, Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS regional: Ohio State looks to play spoiler in the Big Ten title race. This is the teams' only meeting this season.
UNDER-THE-RADAR GAMES
These games don't necessarily jump out at you as must-see contests, but upon further review, they're worth keeping an eye on.
Baylor at Oklahoma, Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN Full Court package: This is big for the Sooners, who are on the NCAA bubble. Baylor also could use a win to boost its NCAA resume. OU won by six in Waco last month.
South Alabama at Western Kentucky, Thursday, 8 p.m., no TV: The winner all but wraps up the regular-season title in the Sun Belt. A South Alabama victory helps boost the Jaguars' at-large hopes if they don't happen to win the Sun Belt tourney.
Kent State at Saint Mary's, Saturday, 11:59 p.m., ESPN2: The second-best Bracket Busters game. It would be the most impressive victory of the season for Kent State, and a win would help boost the Golden Flashes' at-large hopes.

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



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