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January 17, 2011

Weekly Watch: Dream matchups on MLK Day

Duke's first loss of the season last week shook up the polls, and more changes in the top 10 will be on the way this week.

Monday has a handful of key games for top teams, starting with top-10 matchups in the Big East with Villanova at Connecticut and Syracuse at Pittsburgh. Kansas also will try to remain undefeated with a road trip to Baylor.

Wednesday, a team in the Big 12 will get its first conference loss when Texas A&M visits Texas. And in the Pac-10, the conference lead will be on the line when Arizona and Washington meet Thursday in Seattle.

Here's a look at the key games this week. All times Eastern.

monday matchups
If you are off Monday, you're in for a treat. If you're at work, you'd be forgiven for sneaking away to look at the day's action. Here are the key games that are part of ESPN's MLK Day package (All times Eastern):
Villanova at Connecticut (3:30): UConn's Kemba Walker (25.6 ppg) and BYU's Jimmer Fredette (26.1 ppg) are competing for the NCAA scoring title. Working in Fredette's favor: Walker faces Villanova and Tennessee this week, while Fredette faces TCU and Colorado State.

Kansas State at Missouri (5:30): This is a huge game for teams off to disappointing 1-2 starts in Big 12 play.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh (7:30): If playing at Pittsburgh isn't tough enough -- the Panthers have won 19 in a row on their home court -- Syracuse will be without leading scorer Kris Joseph (14.6 points, 5.2 rebounds).

Kansas at Baylor (9:30): Kansas is one of four remaining undefeated teams, but the Jayhawks have flirted with their first loss of the season of late, needing overtime to beat Michigan and defeating Nebraska by three.

Game of the week: Villanova at Syracuse, Saturday, noon, ESPN. Monday's results will have a bearing on this game. Should both win Monday, this will be a meeting between two undefeated teams in the Big East (but not necessarily the Big East lead since Syracuse has played one more conference game than 'Nova). If they both lose Monday, both teams will be trying to avoid a two-game losing streak and to maintain a spot near the top of the Big East.

Don't overlook this one: Cincinnati at Notre Dame, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2. Even as Cincinnati won its first 15 games, there was a lingering feeling the Bearcats weren't as good as their gaudy record. Losses in the last eight days on the road to Villanova and Syracuse aren't shocking. But if the Bearcats really are to be a Big East contender, they have to win games like the one Wednesday at Notre Dame. The Irish are undefeated at home this season.

Mid-major of the week: Memphis at Southern Miss, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Comcast-Charter Sports Southeast. The Eagles defeated a ranked UCF team 86-69 last week, but the measuring stick in Conference USA remains Memphis. Southern Miss will catch the Tigers without second-leading scorer Wesley Witherspoon, who has been suspended for mocking an assistant coach after the Tigers' loss to SMU. Southern Miss, which hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1991, can build a good lead in the C-USA standings with a win over Memphis; the Eagles' next three are against SMU, East Carolina and Tulane.

Individual matchup of the week: Texas A&M F Khris Middleton vs. Texas F Jordan Hamilton (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2). This is a meeting between two of the Big 12's most improved players, though Middleton and Hamilton have taken different paths to this spot. Hamilton was the No. 6 prospect as a freshman, but he was inconsistent last season. He's making a bid to be an All-American as a sophomore. A three-star prospect in the 2009 class, Middleton has more than doubled his scoring output this season and is coming off a 28-point, seven-rebound effort in a 91-89 overtime victory over Missouri. Middleton scored 11 points in overtime.

Coaching matchup of the week: St. John's Steve Lavin vs. Louisville's Rick Pitino (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big East syndication/SportsNet New York/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network/ESPN GamePlan). Pitino and Lavin never have faced each other as head coaches, but Pitino gave Lavin an early vote of confidence when he picked St. John's to win the Big East on his ballot in the conference coaches' poll. At 11-5 overall and 4-2 in the conference, the Red Storm might not win the regular season title, but they are a veteran team that has experience in beating Louisville. Four of the starters from St. John's 74-55 drubbing of the Cardinals on Feb. 11 last season return this year. Another coaching matchup to watch is Tennessee's Bruce Pearl against Connecticut's Jim Calhoun (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS). Pearl will return to the sideline after missing four SEC games; he has been suspended for the first eight league games of the season but can coach in this one.

Injury update: Syracuse F Kris Joseph will not travel to Pittsburgh for Monday's game after being hit the back of the head against Cincinnati. ... UNLV G Tre'Von Willis did not play Saturday against Air Force because of a knee injury but could return Wednesday for a road trip to Colorado State. ... LSU G Ralston Turner, the Tigers' leading scorer, is week to week after missing the past three games with a foot injury. ... San Jose State G Adrian Oliver, who averages 24.2 points and 5.1 rebounds, has missed the past two games because of concussion symptoms.

Key stat: The Pac-10 could end up being a two-bid conference for the second consecutive season; the league has just two teams in the top 50 in the RPI. That's one fewer team than the Mountain West, Horizon and West Coast Conference. The top two teams in the Pac-10 meet this week when RPI No. 28 Arizona visits No. 21 Washington (Thursday, 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net). California is the league's other top-50 team, but Washington State -- which is 56th in the RPI -- might have the best chance to grab a third bid from the league.

Tournament implications: Illinois was a preseason top-15 team, but the Illini's losses are starting to pile up. No team will be happier to return home than the Illini, who lost to Penn State and Wisconsin on the road last week. Illinois could salvage some respect if can win home games this week against Michigan State on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN) and Ohio State on Saturday (noon, CBS). The Spartans needed overtime to beat Wisconsin and Northwestern at home last week, but wins are wins. Illinois could use one right now. Illinois started 3-0 in the conference but could conceivably be 3-4 by the end of the week. Illini G Demetri McCamey was 6-of-21 from the field in those two losses.

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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