Surprises were plentiful this past weekend, and as teams begin to separate themselves in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to watch what squads continue to make noise and which ones fall to the wayside. While there is plenty of big-time conference action on the schedule again this week, including Connecticut's road trip to Syracuse and Illinois' visit to Indiana, we advise you keep an eye on at least a pair of non-conference battles as well. On Wednesday, in-state rivals Tennessee and Memphis go head-to-head before cross-town foes Cincinnati and Xavier do battle on Thursday. Each of those games, as well as many more, will continue the process of separating the contenders from the pretenders in the days and weeks to come.
MUST-SEE THIS WEEK
Southern Illinois at Northern Iowa
A matchup of arguably the two best teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, this game is perhaps the highlight of that league's season thus far. The Salukis, whom many overlooked when the season began, are 13-3 overall and winners of their first six conference games. In fact, SIU has not lost a game since the month of November. Just behind them in the standings you will find Northern Iowa. The Panthers are 5-2 in league play, including a disappointing home loss last week to Creighton. A Southern Illinois win gives the Salukis a chance to pull away in the league race early, while a Panther victory would keep NIU in the hunt and even things up for others like Wichita State, Creighton, and Missouri State.
(#4) Connecticut at Syracuse
The Orange are 15-2 overall and one of just three teams without a Big East loss this season but have been largely overlooked prior to last week. But two huge conference road wins in four days at Notre Dame and Cincinnati, the latter a dominating, 19-point victory, have shown the nation that this team is ready to contend in the Big East this season. Their opponent, the Connecticut Huskies, had few questions coming in to the season, and though the team dropped their conference opener at Marquette, UConn is still one of the favorites not only in the Big East but also in the entire country. This one gives both squads a chance to pick up a huge win in January and one that will certainly look good on the resume come March.
(#13) Illinois at (#8) Indiana
The Big Ten is wide open heading into this week with Wisconsin leading the way at 4-0, three teams sitting at 2-1 (including both the Illini and Hoosiers), and three more claiming 2-2 conference records. These two squads certainly are among the best in the conference and also in the country, each ranked in this week's Fab 15. Though it should be a great matchup, it's one of those situations where Mike Davis's squad has to feel like it's their game to lose; you never want to drop a home game, especially against one of your biggest challengers in the conference race. Dee Brown struggled tremendously in the Illini's trip to Iowa last week, and if he does that again, look for the Hoosiers to roll to an easy victory.
(#14) NC State at (#1) Duke
These two squads have been the ACC's most consistent since the season began more than two months ago. The Wolfpack has lost just twice this year and only once since the end of November, that a league loss on the road at North Carolina a couple weeks ago. Probably the most impressive stat you see when looking at NCSU is the fact that they have seven players scoring between eight and twelve points per game, which means they have a plethora of scorers to turn to and one guy having a bad night won't knock them out of the game. And if they're to win in Cameron Indoor, they'll need most everyone to be on their game. The Devils have played as well as anyone in the entire country this year and are one of only three unbeaten teams left in America.
Tennessee at (#3) Memphis
This in-state showdown wouldn't have caught your eye in recent years, but both of these teams have stepped up their play this year and attracted national attention. The Vols, under the leadership of first year head coach Bruce Pearl, have lost just twice this season and are one of the front-runners in the SEC East. Four players are shooting 40% or better from three-point land. John Calipari's squad seems to have shed their tendency to underachieve, winning fifteen of their first seveteen games and earning a ranking among the top five teams in America. The UM resume, which already boasts big wins over the likes of Alabama, UCLA, and Gonzaga, would get another huge boost if they can knock off the in-state rival Wednesday night.
(#10) Wisconsin at (#11) Ohio State
The Buckeyes lost a heart-breaker to Michigan State at home on Sunday, and though they would desperately like to avoid losing another game at home this early in the season, that task won't be easy when the only Big Ten team without a conference loss comes to town. The Badgers are having another fine season and are led by the play of senior forward Alando Tucker, one of the top players in the league. The all-conference candidate scores 19 points per game while also pulling down nearly a half-dozen boards each night out. A Buckeye win would even the two teams atop the Big Ten standings and give OSU a chance to move into first place outright over the coming weekend.
Cincinnati at Xavier
This cross-city battle is always a great game to watch each and every year, and this week's showdown should be no exception. The red-hot Musketeers have won six straight and are tied with George Washington atop the Atlantic 10 standings. Their most recent victory came on the road this past weekend at Charlotte, a crucial battle that saw XU pull away in the second half for a 13-point win. On the flip side, while the Bearcats had been rolling right along, that momentum came to a screeching halt last week with back-to-back losses at Connecticut and against Syracuse. While the first is nothing to be ashamed of, the second one has to sting a bit since it came on the UC home court. Should be a great game as both teams take a quick break from conference play and engage in a little rivalry action.
YOU'LL WANT TO CATCH THESE, TOO
Kansas at Missouri - Monday 6:00 PM CDT
Boston College at Holy Cross - Tuesday 6:00 PM CDT
Iowa State at Nebraska - Tuesday 6:30 PM CDT
Kentucky at Georgia - Tuesday 8:00 PM CDT
Clemson at Miami - Wednesday 6:30 PM CDT
Arkansas at Alabama - Wednesday 7:00 PM CDT
(#6) Pittsburgh at Rutgers - Wednesday 7:00 PM CDT
Texas A&M at Kansas State - Wednesday 7:00 PM CDT
LSU at Mississippi State - Wednesday 7:00 PM CDT
Georgia Tech at Wake Forest - Wednesday 8:00 PM CDT
Southern Cal at UCLA - Wednesday 9:30 PM CDT
North Carolina at Virginia - Thursday 6:00 PM CDT
Montana at Northern Arizona - Thursday 7:00 PM CDT
Southern Illinois at Missouri State - Thursday 7:05 PM CDT