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January 27, 2009

Viewer's guide: Showdown on Tobacco Road

Here's a look at this week's best games, along with some others that have some intrigue. The games are listed in chronological order.

We'll have our "Weekend Viewer's Guide" feature on Friday afternoon.

This week's five to watch

Duke at Wake Forest, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN: The game of the week is on Tobacco Road. Wake's last game was a seven-point home loss to Virginia Tech, and after this, the Demon Deacons play three of their next four on the road. Duke sophomore forward Kyle Singler is having a tremendous all-around season, but Wake's frontcourt is deep and physical and should cause problems. These are good offensive teams, with Duke averaging 80.3 points and shooting 47.0 percent and Wake averaging 54.2 points and shooting 50.5 percent. But Duke relies a lot more on 3-pointers than Wake. The Blue Devils have hit 130 3-pointers, the Demon Deacons just 68. Wake beat Duke by 13 in Winston-Salem in their only meeting last season.

Pittsburgh at Villanova, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU: Villanova has played three high-level Big East teams Marquette, Louisville and Connecticut and lost to all three. Pitt certainly would qualify as a high-level team. This is the only meeting between these teams this season. For Villanova to win, it needs Antonio Pena or another frontcourt role player to come through on the boards. Senior forward Dante Cunningham is Villanova's leading scorer and rebounder, but he'll need help against Pitt's physical frontcourt. On the flipside, Pitt needs point man Levance Fields to play well against the Wildcats' deep backcourt.

North Carolina at Florida State, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: This is a big test for the Seminoles, who haven't beaten an ACC team that is above .500 in the league. FSU can't score with the Tar Heels, so the Seminoles need to control the pace and hope the game ends up in the low 70s. Senior guard Toney Douglas is the only Seminole averaging in double-figures, and good news for him is that UNC's perimeter defense is spotty. FSU has 85 more turnovers than assists, so the Tar Heels will look to pressure and try to get some east transition baskets. All five UNC starters average in double figures, and four of the five all but guard Wayne Ellington are shooting at least 52.8 percent from the field.

Illinois at Minnesota, Thursday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network: Minnesota has lost two of its past three and needs this one to remain in contact with Big Ten leader Michigan State. Illinois, meanwhile, has won four of its past five. The Illini have been playing excellent defense, with three of their past five opponents scoring 51 or fewer points and none scoring more than 63. The Golden Gophers don't have any standout offensive players, but Al Nolen is a heady point guard who has an almost 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. One thing to consider: Nolen is the only Gophers player who has more assists than turnovers in league play. Given Illinois' defensive pressure, that has to worry Minnesota coaches. Illinois guard Demetri McCamey has been one of the Big Ten's best players and is one of four Illinois players averaging in double figures.

California at UCLA, Thursday, 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net: The Bruins have lost two of their past three, and they don't look like the best team in the Pac-10 for the first time in a long while. The Bruins don't have a consistent low-post scorer, meaning a vast majority of the offense must come from the perimeter. Cal's backcourt of senior Patrick Christopher and junior Jerome Randle has been one of the most prolific in the nation, and they're a big reason the Golden Bears are shooting 46.9 percent from 3-point range. Both teams play good defense, and this one seems likely to finish with the winning team scoring in the high 60s.

Others to keep an eye on

Purdue at Wisconsin, Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN: It's panic time for Wisconsin. The Badgers have lost four in a row and are under .500 in the Big Ten. A 13-point setback at Purdue was the first loss in the streak. Some good news: Starting with this one, four of their next six are at home.

Texas at Baylor, Tuesday, 9 p.m., Big 12 syndication/ESPN FullCourt: Texas swept the season series last season. This is the start of a stretch in which Baylor plays four of six at home and the Bears are 11-1 at home.

Northeastern at Virginia Commonwealth, Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU: The winner takes over sole control of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. This is the teams' only meeting this season. With a win, VCU will have beaten the top two challengers George Mason and Northeastern.

BYU at Utah, Tuesday, 10 p.m., The mtn.: Six of the Mountain West's nine teams including these two are tied for first in the standings in the loss column with two each. BYU has swept the season series in each of the past two seasons.

Michigan at Ohio State, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: Ohio State has lost two in a row and is below .500 in the Big Ten. Michigan has lost three of four and is at .500 in the league.

Syracuse at Providence, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big East syndication/ESPN FullCourt: This is the first in a tough four-game stretch for Providence that will determine if the Friars remain in the hunt for a top-three finish in the league. After this, they have Connecticut, Villanova and West Virginia, with only the Villanova game at home.

LSU at Tennessee, Wednesday, 8 p.m., SEC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: LSU doesn't have a victory over anyone in the RPI top 50, making this an important road game for the Tigers. The Vols have dropped three of their past six games.

Illinois State at Northern Iowa, Wednesday, 8 p.m.: Northern Iowa has a two-game lead in the Missouri Valley Conference, making this of extreme importance for Illinois State.

UAB at Tulsa, Wednesday, 8 p.m.: These are two of the teams battling to finish second, behind Memphis, in Conference USA. This is the only regular-season meeting between the teams.

Clemson at Virginia Tech, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN: Virginia Tech is coming off back-to-back road wins against Wake Forest and Miami, and now gets three of its next four games at home. After this, the Hokies' next five games are against teams at or below .500 in the ACC.

Nevada at Utah State, Thursday, 9 p.m., Comcast SportsNet California/ESPN FullCourt: Utah State (19-1) can take a two-game lead in the WAC with a win over the Wolf Pack. Utah State is going for its 10th consecutive 20-win season.

Stanford at USC, Thursday, 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket: This is the first of two big weekend games for each team, as Stanford gets UCLA and USC gets Cal on Saturday.

Saint Mary's at Gonzaga, Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2: These teams are tied atop the West Coast Conference standings. Saint Mary's is 18-1, but the Gaels have just two wins over teams in the RPI top 100.

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

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