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February 17, 2009

Viewer's guide: UCLA needs a win badly

We're nearing the end of the regular season, but this isn't exactly a scintillating week of basketball. There are some big games in the ACC and Big Ten, but the biggest looks to be in the Pac-10, where UCLA has some work to do if it again wants to win the league.

Here's a look at this week's best games, along with some others that have some intrigue. The games are listed in chronological order.

We'll have our "Weekend Five to Watch" feature on Friday.

This week's five to watch
Michigan State at Purdue, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN: This one depends on the health of Purdue forward Robbie Hummel. If he doesn't play, Purdue won't win. Indeed, Purdue can win only if Hummel plays at least 23 or 24 minutes. Purdue is 7-1 in the Big Ten in games Hummel has played and 1-3 when he hasn't played. Purdue is not strong on the boards, and Hummel is the Boilermakers' best rebounder. He's also a third option on offense behind E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. When Hummel doesn't play, too much of the offensive burden falls on Moore and Johnson. This is the first game in a five-game stretch in which Purdue plays four times at home. Michigan State has a 1½-game lead in the Big Ten race and basically knocks Purdue out of the running with a win. The Spartans have won three in a row and five of six. Michigan State's defense has been spectacular of late, with the Spartans' past three opponents scoring just 136 total points. But the foes have been Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan; Purdue brings more firepower.

Maryland at Clemson, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2: Maryland has won three of its past four to climb back into the at-large picture, but the Terps definitely need some more wins – especially some road wins over teams with a pulse. The Terps have just one road victory this season. Maryland is not an efficient offensive team, shooting just 41.8 percent from the field and only 30.8 from 3-point range. Guard Greivis Vasquez has to have a big game for the Terps to win this. Clemson has dropped two of its past three and four of its past eight; the Tigers now are playing for a "good" seed in the NCAA field. Maryland is going to have problems with Clemson senior big man Trevor Booker, who shoots much better at home than he does on the road (61.4 percent to 50.0 percent).

Miami at Florida State, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU: Miami has lost five of its past six, and its NCAA hopes are in jeopardy. The Hurricanes did beat the Seminoles by six last month. UM places a huge offensive burden on guard Jack McClinton, who is averaging 33.7 points in the past three games. Dwayne Collins is the only Miami big man with any offensive skills. Florida State has won three of its past four and is in the hunt to finish second in the ACC. This is Game 2 of a tough season-ending, seven-game stretch for the Seminoles, who lost by 23 to Wake Forest on Saturday and finish up at Virginia Tech, at Boston College, vs. Clemson, at Duke and vs. Virginia Tech after Miami. FSU needs to slow the pace and make it a grind-it-out affair in the 60s. As with McClinton, senior guard Toney Douglas provides the bulk of FSU's offense. Douglas, at 20.3 points per game, is the only Seminoles player averaging in double figures. He has taken 27 percent of FSU's field-goal attempts and has scored 29.9 percent of the Seminoles' points. Miami is better on the boards, and both teams have more turnovers than assists.

Minnesota at Michigan, Thursday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network: Minnesota has lost three of its past four, mainly because the Gophers' offense is so anemic. Michigan has lost four of six, and it, too, has had trouble scoring. Minnesota is in better shape for an at-large bid, and it's almost win-or-else time for Michigan. The Wolverines have a nice inside-outside duo in DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, but no one else on the team provides consistent offense. The Wolverines take a ton of 3-pointers – 687, 217 more than their foes – but they hit just 31.7 percent of them. And Michigan also shoots just 42.0 percent from the field overall and gets outrebounded by more than two per game. Guard Lawrence Westbrook is the only Minnesota player averaging in double figures. While the Gophers have problems offensively, they are stingy defensively. Minnesota has lost four of its past five Big Ten road games.

Washington at UCLA, Thursday, 11 p.m., Fox Sports Net: This is a huge game in the Pac-10. UCLA is one of the teams chasing league-leading Washington. A loss in this one and the Bruins are going to have a ton of trouble finishing ahead of Washington in the league race. The Huskies beat the Bruins by 11 last month in Seattle, thanks to big performances from forward Jon Brockman and guard Isaiah Thomas. A huge free throw disparity – Washington was 36-of-43 from the line, UCLA 10-of-15 – was a big factor. UCLA lacks an inside presence, especially on offense. Still, the Bruins would rather control the pace and make Washington grind it out on offense. The Huskies are at their best in an up-tempo game. Washington averages 80.4 points; UCLA has allowed 70 points just four times – and has lost three of those games.

Others to keep an eye on

Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN: Kentucky is tied for the SEC East lead. But the Wildcats' NCAA résumé isn't that strong and they can't afford a loss to the Commodores – or to anyone, really. Vandy has been a disappointment this season and lost by 10 at UK last month.

New Mexico at BYU, Tuesday, 10 p.m., The mtn.: New Mexico has won three in a row and five of six, but the Lobos remain a long shot to get an at-large bid. That's not the case for BYU; well, that's not the case assuming the Cougars win games like this. New Mexico won by 19 in the first meeting.

Notre Dame at West Virginia, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big East syndication/Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh/ESPN FullCourt: Notre Dame's NCAA hopes are on life support and only because the Irish have won two in a row. But they've lost six in a row on the road. WVU is coming off a rout of Villanova, but the Mountaineers still have lost four of their past seven. A loss in this one and they slip below .500 in the league.

Penn State at Illinois, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network: Penn State has lost three of its past four and is slipping out of the at-large picture, but a win over the Illini would help the Nittany Lions' cause. Illinois still has a shot at the Big Ten title and could get a No. 4 seed if things break right the rest of the way.

Providence at Louisville, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2: Providence needs a strong stretch run to play itself into the NCAA field, and a win at Louisville would provide a huge boost. Louisville still has a shot at a No. 2 seed if it finishes strong.

South Carolina at Mississippi State, Wednesday, 8 p.m.: Mississippi State has no at-large shot, but the Bulldogs sure can play the spoiler; they have games left against South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. The Gamecocks have won six of their past seven.

Virginia Tech at Virginia, Wednesday, 8 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: Virginia Tech has lost three of its past five and is coming off a 10-point loss at Maryland. The Hokies are in good shape for an at-large bid but can't afford a loss to a team such as the Cavaliers. Virginia needs a miracle to get into the postseason, but the Cavs are coming off a home win over Clemson and would like nothing better to hang a loss on their in-state rival.

Tennessee at Ole Miss, Wednesday, 8 p.m., SEC syndication/Fox Sports South/Sun Sports/ESPN FullCourt: Ole Miss is in spoiler mode in the SEC. Tennessee is one of three teams tied for the SEC East lead and can't afford a loss to the Rebels; the Vols are 1-2 against SEC West teams.

Ohio State at Northwestern, Wednesday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network: Northwestern has some nice wins – over Florida State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin – and appears to be on its way to the NIT. Ohio State still has a shot at second place in the Big Ten but needs to win this to make that happen.

UNLV at Wyoming, Wednesday, 10 p.m., The mtn.: UNLV has a slim margin of error if it wants to earn an at-large berth, and with BYU and Utah next on the schedule, the Runnin' Rebels can't afford a slip-up against the Cowboys.

Western Kentucky at Arkansas-Little Rock, Thursday, 8 p.m., Fox College Sports Atlantic: A big game in the Sun Belt. UALR leads the regular-season race, but Western won by 32 in the first meeting.

Illinois State at Niagara, Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: This is the first televised BracketBuster game this season. Neither has an at-large shot, but both have won 20 and this should be entertaining.

Virginia Commonwealth at Nevada, Friday, 9 p.m., ESPNU: This is another BracketBuster game. Again, neither has an at-large shot, but VCU guard Eric Maynor can be fun to watch and his Rams may end up winning the Colonial.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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