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
Ohio State at Illinois, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN: This is the third game of a key five-game stretch for the Illini, who beat Michigan, then lost to Michigan State. A home game against Wisconsin and a road game against Minnesota close out the quintet. Illinois (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) has been one of the nation's biggest surprises, especially considering the summer dismissal of would-be starting guard Jamar Smith for off-court issues. The Illini have four players averaging between 11.3 and 11.8 points per game and are playing especially well defensively. They force 15.8 turnovers per game and can be stifling on the perimeter. Ohio State (13-3, 3-2) is coming off a win at Michigan and plays host to Michigan State on Sunday. Sophomore Evan Turner and freshman William Buford are carrying the load of late, and freshman big man B.J. Mullens seems to be coming around offensively.
THE RESULT: Illinois 67, Ohio State 49
Villanova at Connecticut, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN: This is the only regular-season meeting between these teams. Senior big man Dante Cunningham has become an offensive force for Villanova (14-3, 2-2 Big East). Cunningham is averaging 17.4 points, up from 10.4 last season. But no other Wildcats frontcourt player is consistent offensively, putting a huge burden on Cunningham against a big-time UConn frontcourt. UConn (16-1, 5-1) has won five in a row since a home loss to Georgetown, but the Huskies haven't exactly played a "Who's Who" of Big East contenders, either. UConn defeated Rutgers, West Virginia, Cincinnati, St. John's and Seton Hall in the streak. Forward Jeff Adrien and center Hasheem Thabeet give UConn a dangerous duo in the low post, and there's a nice four-man rotation at guard, headed by A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson. The backcourt matchups should be fun to watch, but can Cunningham hold his own against Adrien and Thabeet?
Clemson at North Carolina, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN: These teams played two extraordinary regular-season games last season, including a double-overtime thriller in Chapel Hill. Clemson's Trevor Booker did not play well in Clemson's loss to Wake Forest, and he must hold his own against Tyler Hansbrough. Terrence Oglesby also has to be sharp from 3-point range for Clemson (16-1, 2-1 ACC). UNC (16-2) lost its first two ACC games but has won its past two. The Heels have turned up the defensive pressure in the past two games. Can they handle the Tigers defensively? All five of UNC's starters average in double figures, but Clemson had no problem hanging with the Heels offensively last season.
UNLV at BYU, Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS College Sports: UNLV (14-4) was the prohibitive preseason favorite in the Mountain West, but the Runnin' Rebels already have lost twice in league play and find themselves in sixth place. One of the teams they trail is BYU (14-3, 2-1), which was hammered by New Mexico on Saturday. UNLV's league losses have come on the road, and senior guard Wink Adams isn't having the kind of offensive season that was expected. Adams is shooting just 23.6 percent from 3-point range. Offense hasn't been a problem for BYU, which is shooting 50.3 percent from the floor as a team. Guards Lee Cummard and Jimmer Fredette[/db] and forward Jonathan Tavernari are solid perimeter players, and Cummard has a great midrange game. However, UNLV looks to have the advantage in the frontcourt. Last season, each team won big on its home court.
Purdue at Minnesota, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: After opening Big Ten play 0-2, Purdue has won three in a row. But this will be the start of a tough five-game stretch that sees the Boilermakers (14-4) playing at Wisconsin, vs. Michigan, at Ohio State and at Illinois after they meet the Golden Gophers. Robbie Hummel's return from back spasms has been a big spark. The Boilermakers are solid defensively, but they've scored more than 70 points just once in the past seven games. It doesn't help that guard Keaton Grant's offense has fallen off, especially his 3-point shooting (down almost 12 percent, from 44.0 percent to 32.6). Minnesota (16-2, 4-2) followed up a big win at Wisconsin with a confounding loss at Northwestern. The Gophers have just one player averaging in double figures – junior guard Lawrence Westbrook – and generally win with defense. Five of their next seven are on the road after this one.
Others to keep an eye on
Creighton at Evansville, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU: It's becoming increasingly evident that the Missouri Valley Conference is going to get only one NCAA bid, and these teams are in danger of falling out of the race for the regular-season title.
THE RESULT: Creighton 79, Evansville 57
Michigan at Penn State, Tuesday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network: Penn State (14-5, 3-3 Big Ten) is one of those "Do I believe in this team or not?" squads. A victory over Michigan (13-5, 3-3) would be impressive for the Nittany Lions, who already have beaten Purdue at home.
THE RESULT: Penn State 73, Michigan 58
Tennessee at Vanderbilt, Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN: Both teams have been disappointments. Vandy hasn't beaten a team that has a winning record since late November.
THE RESULT: Tennessee 76, Vanderbilt 63
Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: Wake is coming off an undefeated showdown at Clemson and plays host to Duke in its next game. Thus, the Hokies are hoping Wake isn't ready for them.
Florida State at Miami, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.: This is a big ACC game between teams with designs on finishing in the top five of the league.
Mississippi State at LSU, Wednesday, 8 p.m.: The SEC West is a jumbled mess. Mississippi State is the only division team unbeaten in league play and LSU is the only other division team above .500 in conference action.
Wisconsin at Iowa, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: Think of this as a sort of last stand for Iowa in terms of its NCAA at-large hopes. The Hawkeyes started 10-3 but have lost four of their past five.
Arizona State at Arizona, Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net Arizona: This is the first of four consecutive home games for the Wildcats (11-7), who are 2-4 in Pac-10 play and need a win. Arizona State (15-3, 4-2) swept the season series last season.
Nebraska at Oklahoma, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU: The next three games – at Oklahoma, vs. Oklahoma State and vs. Kansas – will tell a lot about Nebraska's chances of becoming an NCAA at-large entrant.
Missouri at Oklahoma State, Wednesday, 9 p.m., Big 12 syndication/ESPN FullCourt: This is only the third true road game for Missouri, which lost at Nebraska in league play. After this, Oklahoma State has four of its next six on the road.
Wisconsin-Green Bay at Butler, Thursday, 7 p.m.: Butler owns a one-game lead in the Horizon League over UWGB, which has four of its next five at home after this road affair.
West Virginia at Georgetown, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN: It's going to take a great effort – plus some help from Georgetown – if WVU is to pull off this road upset.
Saint Mary's at San Diego, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2: San Diego has been a disappointment, but the Toreros are unbeaten in West Coast Conference play and a win over the Gaels would be huge.
USC at Washington, Thursday, 11 p.m., Fox Sports Net: Washington is coming off a sweep of the Pac-10's Oregon schools and now gets the league's two L.A. schools at home. After that, though, a four-game road trip awaits. USC, meanwhile, is coming off a sweep of the league's Arizona schools.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.