Frank Burlison On This Week's Games

A big week ahead for Connecticut

The sports-watching populace will have its attention occupied for the better part of four hours Wednesday night by USC vs. Texas in the Bowl Championship Series title game played in the Rose Bowl.

By Thursday, though, it will be all about college basketball. And that's a perfect time for those who have paid only cursory attention toward the sport so far this season to jump squarely on the college hoops bandwagon.

Four matchups of teams ranked in the Scout.com Top 25 – Villanova at Louisville in the latter's Big East Conference debut; Big Ten showdowns in Top 10-ranked Michigan State at Illinois; and a Pac 10 meeting in Tucson between UCLA and Arizona – highlight the Thursday action.

Here's a look at some of the week's best matchups, as well as Scout.com's updated Top 25 and the Five Scout.com Players of the Week:

Monday

Texas at Memphis: After getting punched out on consecutive Saturdays (courtesy Duke and Tennessee), this is a an ideal opportunity for the Longhorns to prove they're as good as people who were picking them to go to the Final Four thought they were in November. The only thing is, Texas could play very well in this one and still suffer its third loss.

Tuesday

Connecticut at Marquette: Point guard Marcus Williams is set to make his season's debut for the second-ranked Huskies in this Big East Conference opener. Coach Jim Calhoun's went 3-0 in its only real "tests" (Arkansas, Arizona and Gonzaga in the EA Sports/Maui Invitational in November) without him. Watch closely the guy he'll likely be matched up a great deal in this one. Dominic James is one of the best freshmen in the country.

Michigan at Indiana: This is just the first of a large number of enticing matchups in the first week of Big Ten Conference play. Of course, in that conference, nearly every game is worth national attention.

Wednesday

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh: Those skeptical of how good the Panthers were should have a much better idea after Coach Jamie Dixon's team knocked off South Carolina (on the road) and Wisconsin (at home) last week to remain unbeaten going into the Big East opener.

Xavier at Saint Joseph's: These are two of the teams, along with newcomer Charlotte, that would seem to have the best opportunities of keeping favored George Washington from winning the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship.

New Mexico at Utah: The two best teams in the Mountain West Conference last season lost players (Danny Granger and Andrew Bogut) to the NBA. The visiting Lobos seem to have returned more firepower, most notably in the former of seniors Mark Walters and David Chiotti.

Thursday

Villanova at Louisville: It's a Big East game between an unbeaten team that has aced every major test (a home game with then-Top 10-ranked Oklahoma and road games at Bucknell and Temple) it has faced so far, vs. a Cardinals' club that failed, miserably, in its only major challenge (a lopsided loss at Kentucky for its only defeat on an otherwise yawner of a schedule).

Michigan State at Illinois: If this is the game that most excites you this week, we're in agreement. The Big Ten powers bagged two of the Final Four slots last spring. It could happen again in Indianapolis on April 1. And that's no joke.

Iowa at Wisconsin: The Hawkeyes, with senior guard Jeff Horner healthy and back on the floor, shouldn't be discounted as a Big Ten title challenger. But the Badgers are good enough to sweep their conference competition at home.

UCLA at Arizona: The Wildcats re-established themselves as the favorites to win another Pac 10 title with their sweep in Washington last week – most notably, the double-overtime victory in Seattle Saturday to hand the UW Huskies their first loss.

Nevada at Hawaii: Is Mark Fox's team clearly the class of the WAC this season? Its game in Honolulu will give us a better notion.

Saturday

LSU at Connecticut: This is another opportunity – against a potential NCAA Tournament team – for Marcus Williams to re-integrate himself with the Huskies.

West Virginia at Villanova: Prediction – This will be one of the highest scoring affairs in the Big East Conference this season.

The Big Ten Game of Your Choice: Wow, is this conference tough or what? Three showdowns of teams ranked in the Top 25 take place – Illinois (No. 5) at Iowa (25), Michigan State (10) at Wisconsin (14) and Ohio State (4) at Indiana (13). Each could be a top four seed when the NCAA Tournament pairings are unveiled.

Gonzaga at Saint Mary's: Just when everyone thought the Bulldogs were going to chew up their West Coast Conference competition, Santa Clara knocks off Bucknell and Saint Mary's beats Nevada.

North Carolina State at North Carolina: The Wolfpack's wins over Notre Dame (in Indianapolis), Alabama (on the road) and then-unbeaten George Washington (in Raleigh) didn't get the national attention they were worthy of. An ACC victory in Chapel Hill would do the trick, though.

Kentucky at Kansas: How much progress has Bill Self's merry band of freshmen and sophomores made since the team's last loss (to Saint Joseph's on Dec. 6 in Madison Square Garden)? The Wildcats will provide a nice litmus test.


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