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Games to watch before the weekend

12/27/2011

Five weekday games we'll be keeping an eye on:

WEDNESDAY

No. 12 Georgetown at No. 4 Louisville (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET)

What’s at stake for the Hoyas: Georgetown has been the surprise Big East team in nonconference play. John Thompson III has found a nice blend with role players elevating themselves into starring roles. Georgetown has already proven it can win on the road, as evidenced by its victory at Alabama. But winning at the raucous KFC Yum! Center is another matter.

What’s at stake for the Cardinals: Louisville has one more major nonconference test at Kentucky on Saturday. That game matters more in the state. But getting off to a good start in the Big East is just as important for this team.

No. 15 Indiana at No. 17 Michigan State (7:30 p.m. ET):

What’s at stake for the Hoosiers: Nothing can be taken away from what Indiana has earned in the nonconference. The Hoosiers have a home win against Kentucky and a road win at NC State to their credit. IU also won on a neutral court against Notre Dame. The latter two are NIT teams at best. Still, Indiana has improved dramatically and is proving to be a tough out. Stealing a road win at MSU would send a clear message to the rest of the Big Ten that the Hoosiers have arrived. A Big Ten home opener against Ohio State on Saturday looms large after this game.

What’s at stake for the Spartans: Michigan State has rebounded quite well since opening the season with losses to North Carolina and Duke. The Spartans took out Florida State at home and won at Gonzaga and have benefited from steadier guard play and improved frontcourt production. Now the Spartans must hit the ground running in Big Ten play and squash out the upstart Hoosiers at home.

No. 14 Mississippi State vs. No. 7 Baylor (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET in Dallas)

What’s at stake for the Bulldogs: Mississippi State can take a major step forward in becoming a legitimate contender in the SEC with a neutral-court win over Baylor. In terms of overall talent, the Bears will be the closest match to Kentucky the Bulldogs will face over the next two months. Mississippi State can match Baylor at each position, even off the bench. A win would put the Bulldogs into top-10 range heading into the new year.

What’s at stake for the Bears: Baylor has dismissed each challenger it has faced so far this season, winning on the road at Northwestern and BYU and beating Saint Mary’s and West Virginia in Las Vegas and San Diego State at home. Mississippi State poses the final test for the Bears before Big 12 play begins, and it will be the toughest they have faced yet.

THURSDAY

Vanderbilt at No. 13 Marquette (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET)

What’s at stake for the Commodores: Festus Ezeli is back for Vanderbilt, free from any eligibility or injury issues. That means the Commodores have no more excuses -- except that this is one of the toughest venues to get a win. Vandy nearly closed out a road win at Louisville earlier this month. If the Commodores can take down Marquette in Milwaukee, it will cancel out their two losses to Xavier and Louisville.

What’s at stake for the Golden Eagles: Marquette was pushed in New York by Washington and won. The Golden Eagles had to survive a scare from Norfolk State and prevailed. Marquette held off Wisconsin in Madison. But then the Golden Eagles couldn’t handle the strong guards and rebounding of LSU in Baton Rouge in a Dec. 19 loss. They can find their stride again heading into Big East play with a strong performance against Vandy.

BYU at Saint Mary’s (ESPN2, 11 p.m. ET):

What’s at stake for the Cougars: BYU opens West Coast Conference play in what is easily one of the two toughest venues in the league. BYU can send a strong message to the rest of the WCC that the Cougars have moved into the conference to win it. This team is getting quite comfortable with UCLA transfer Matt Carlino having emerged as a do-everything guard since becoming eligible.

What’s at stake for the Gaels: Saint Mary’s has to let BYU know it can protect its home court and be Gonzaga’s top challenger in the league this season. But to do that SMC will have to do a solid job on the backboard to keep players such as Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock off the boards. Saint Mary’s can’t afford to start the title chase making up ground after a losing a home game to one of its conference's main contenders.