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November 24, 2009

Viewer's guide: Tourneys mean entertaining week

Some top-flight early season tournaments mean this should be an entertaining week of college basketball.

The Maui Invitational should have your attention early on, with the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., and the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., earning your attention later in the week.

Here is a look at games you need to keep an eye on in the next week:

Top games

Clemson vs. Texas A&M, 4:30 p.m., Thursday, ESPN2: This is part of the 76 Classic in Anaheim. Neither is going to win its league title, but they are capable of pulling some key upsets in conference play. The big-man matchup between Clemson's Trevor Booker and Texas A&M's Bryan Davis is fit for a football field, so it's fitting that this one is on Thanksgiving Day. Which backcourt will play better? That will determine the outcome.

Minnesota vs. Butler, 8:30 p.m., Thursday, ESPN2: This is also part of the 76 Classic in Anaheim. This may not be a thing of beauty, but it should be close and entertaining. Minnesota wants to make this a grind-it-out affair, but the Golden Gophers don't have the same type of firepower as the Bulldogs. This is bigger for Butler than it is for Minnesota simply because Minnesota will have a chance during Big Ten play to garner some impressive wins; that's not the case for Butler.

NIT Season Tip-Off final, 5 p.m., Friday, ESPN: Wednesday's semifinal showdowns are Arizona State-Duke and Connecticut-LSU. We're thinking the final will be Duke-UConn -- and any time Duke and UConn play, it's worth watching. (And, truthfully, if it's not Duke-UConn, there's no way you should bypass all the good football on Friday.)

76 Classic final, 10 p.m., Sunday, ESPN2: If everything breaks the way we think, the final will feature Butler vs. West Virginia. That would be a huge chance for Butler to make some early season noise. Once the Bulldogs get into conference play, they won't be able to make much national noise. As with the Old Spice final, the teams in the final will have earned their way to the championship game.

Others to keep an eye on

Creighton vs. Michigan in Orlando, noon, Thursday, ESPN2: This is part of the Old Spice Classic. The Wolverines look like the best team in their half of the bracket, but this is a chance for Creighton to notch an important non-conference victory. Both teams are perimeter-oriented, and both are willing to fire away from 3-point range.

Marquette vs. Xavier in Orlando, 2 p.m., Thursday, ESPN2: This is part of the Old Spice Classic. The Musketeers have blown out three consecutive opponents, but Marquette is a big step up in competition for the Musketeers. Marquette also has looked sharp in starting 3-0 (the Golden Eagles play South Dakota on Tuesday night). Marquette has a nice 1-2 punch in swingman Jimmy Butler and forward Lazar Hayward. Jason Love's rebounding and interior presence will be huge for Xavier. Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford has lived up to his billing early for the Musketeers.

Florida vs. Michigan State in Atlantic City, N.J., 8 p.m., Friday, HDNet/Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports: If Florida beats Florida State, this could be intriguing. But if the Gators fall to the Seminoles, there's no reason to expect this to be close.

Richmond vs. Mississippi State at South Padre Island, Texas, 6 p.m., Friday, Fox College Sports Pacific: Richmond could be a sleeper in the Atlantic 10, and the Spiders' hopes of pulling the upset depend on the performance of junior center Dan Geriot. He has to give Richmond some interior offense against Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado. Richmond has a nice group of guards, and the 3-point ability of Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez gives the Spiders some hope.

Old Dominion vs. Missouri at South Padre Island, Texas, 8:30 p.m., Friday, Fox College Sports Pacific: Old Dominion was the preseason pick to win the Colonial, and the Monarchs' talented frontcourt headed by Gerald Lee was the reason. That frontcourt also makes them a dangerous opponent for Mizzou, which will -- as usual -- look to push the pace and play pressure defense all over the court.

76 Classic second-round games, various times, Friday, ESPN2: There are some potentially worth-watching matchups in Anaheim. West Virginia will meet Clemson or Texas A&M in a second-round game; UCLA will meet Butler or Minnesota in a second-round game.

Boston College at Providence, 7 p.m., Saturday: An intriguing matchup between former Big East rivals. Both are expected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues this season, so this could be used as a gauge of the relative strengths of the ACC and Big East.

La Salle at Villanova, 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2: La Salle could be a sleeper contender in the Atlantic 10, and an upset of Villanova certainly would boost the Explorers' profile. Both rely heavily on their backcourts, and how well La Salle's Rodney Green holds up against Villanova's defensive pressure will help determine whether the Explorers can keep this close.

Old Spice Classic final, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, ESPN2: If everything breaks the way we think, the final will feature Florida State vs. Michigan. If that's the matchup, just consider it an early start to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Whatever the final, though, the teams will have had to go through some tough challengers to get there.

Penn State at Virginia, 7 p.m., Monday, ESPN2: This is part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Sylven Landesberg and Mike Scott are a nice 1-2 punch for the Cavs, and that duo figures to be too much for Talor Battle and the Nittany Lions to handle. A case can be made that the ACC and Big Ten are the two best conferences this season, so the Challenge results bear watching.

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

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