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Friday, January 13, 2012
Katz: Games to track this weekend

By Andy Katz

Editor’s note: Jay Bilas broke down UNLV-San Diego State and Indiana-Ohio State in today’s Weekend Watch. Andy Katz offers a dozen more games to keep an eye on this weekend.

Friday

Cleveland State at Butler (7 ET, ESPNU): The Vikings fancy themselves as the new class of the Horizon League. But this league will still go through Butler. And the Bulldogs are once again finding ways to win in the Horizon League. If the Bulldogs win this game, it will be hard to crown the Vikings as the favorite. Butler will likely resume its rightful place atop the standings.

Creighton at Illinois State (9 ET, ESPN3): The Bluejays got great balance in their win against Northern Iowa; Doug McDermott is the expected scorer, but Antoine Young gave Creighton plenty of pop. Creighton is the favorite in the Valley, with Illinois State being the surprise so far this season. This is the Redbirds' chance to stand up and steal the spotlight.

Saturday

Connecticut at Notre Dame (11 a.m. ET, ESPN2): If you listed this game a few weeks ago, no one would have given the Irish a shot. But Notre Dame coach Mike Brey has found a way to maximize his talent once again. Notre Dame won at Louisville. Yes, the Cards are struggling, but the Irish shouldn't have been able to make that game even close. The Huskies beat West Virginia, but lost two games in New Jersey last week. There's no reason to believe the Huskies have suddenly solved their road woes.

Kentucky at Tennessee (Noon ET, ESPN): Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin is expected to debut highly touted recruit Jarnell Stokes in this game. The Vols will need all the help they can get to take out Kentucky, even at home. But the Wildcats struggled at lowly Auburn, and Tennessee is playing smarter and harder than any of the other bottom-level teams. The Vols pushed Mississippi State down to the last few possessions, and that was in Starkville. Kentucky should win, but no one should be shocked by a closer game.

Texas at Missouri (1 ET, ESPN2): Texas has quietly found itself after getting blitzed at North Carolina in late December. Sure, the Longhorns lost to Iowa State, but this team is still developing. The problem is that Missouri is clicking once again after a hiccup at Kansas State. If Texas doesn't defend Mizzou well on the break, this could get ugly in the second half.

North Carolina at Florida State (2 ET, ESPN): Florida State has a shot to save its season with a win against North Carolina. The Seminoles did win at Virginia Tech, but lost by 20 in the previous game to Clemson. The Seminoles might have trouble dealing with UNC's deep frontcourt. But Florida State's most pressing issue is scoring.

Rutgers at West Virginia (2 ET, ESPN3): Rutgers coach Mike Rice said the Scarlet Knights can't be bullied by West Virginia the way they were in the first meeting. Rutgers is coming off a few program-changing wins for Rice against Connecticut and at Pitt. The Scarlet Knights are young, but show no fear. Still, this game is in Morgantown, where the Mountaineers rarely lose. West Virginia had a legit shot to win at UConn, and it's hard to see it dropping two in a row this week.

New Mexico at Wyoming (3:30 ET): The Lobos are playing their best basketball of the season, but they're going to Laramie, where the Cowboys are always tough. And Wyoming under Larry Shyatt is now a stingy defensive team. If Wyoming wins this game, we must take the Pokes seriously for a top-four finish in the MWC. A win by UNM could prove to be a title-changing victory if Wyoming can clip UNLV or SDSU later in the season.

Oregon at Arizona (3:30 ET): Arizona got too feisty in its overtime win against Oregon State. Sweeping the Oregon schools at home would keep Arizona in line for a possible Pac-12 title. This is going to be a long, arduous race, and protecting home court will be a difference-maker. Oregon hasn't shown it can win on the road yet. Not sure it starts in Tucson.

Tennessee Tech at Murray State (6 ET, ESPNU): Murray State is off to its best start in school history, but can it really go undefeated during the regular season? The Racers will be heavy favorites in each of their remaining games, but will clearly get the best effort out of all their Ohio Valley opponents, who will be amped to face a top-15 team. Tennessee Tech is probably Murray's biggest challenger in the OVC, and has the ability to put up some points. The Racers will have to be ready.

Alabama at Mississippi State (4 ET, ESPN3): Alabama defends as well as any team in the SEC. Mississippi State has the best frontcourt next to Kentucky. The concern for the Bulldogs was their inability to put away Tennessee on Thursday. The Bulldogs let the Vols back in the game. If they let Alabama hang around to the last few possessions, they could lose.

UCF at Marshall (7 ET): Memphis has the most talent in Conference USA, but the Tigers have been dysfunctional at times. Central Florida and Marshall have two of the best nonconference wins, against UConn and at Cincinnati, respectively. The winner of this game stays in step with Memphis. Expect both to challenge Memphis and Southern Miss for the C-USA title.