Originally Published: January 14, 2011

No. 12 Missouri (15-2) at No. 13 Texas A&M (15-1)

By Fran Fraschilla

When and where: Saturday (ESPN2, 1 p.m. ET), Reed Arena (College Station, Texas)

Overview: This is a fun matchup of two top-15 teams from the Big 12 that achieve success playing completely different styles. The Aggies are winning with excellent half-court defense and relentless rebounding on both ends of the court. The Tigers, on the other hand, are averaging 85 points a game in Mike Anderson's "40 Minutes of Hell" style. But keep in mind: With all of the great success the Tigers have enjoyed under Anderson, they are 0-4 against Mark Turgeon and Texas A&M during his tenure.

Key Mizzou player: Marcus Denmon
There are few in the country who have been as hot as Denmon lately. The 6-foot-3 junior has averaged 19 points a game on 51 percent 3-point shooting over the last 12 games. If Kansas' Marcus Morris is the leading contender for Big 12 player of the year, Denmon is right on his tail. Slowing him down must be the Aggies' first priority.

Key A&M player: Khris Middleton
Like Denmon, the 6-7 sophomore, Middleton, has made a huge jump in his game over the last year. And, like Morris, he is a complete player capable of scoring from inside and out. His 31-point game against Arkansas in Dallas in front of a bevy of NBA scouts bodes well for his future. In this game, he'll get a lot of attention from the Mizzou defenders.

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AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMike Anderson's Tigers are seeking to end a six-game losing streak to Texas A&M.

Mizzou X-factor: Laurence Bowers
The 6-foot-8 junior has started to hit his stride, especially on the defensive end. In the last eight games, he is averaging 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks. He'll need to control the paint and stay out of foul trouble if the physical Aggies are contained inside.

A&M X-factor: Nathan Walkup
Walkup is the ultimate garbage man who has already come up with some critical rebounds this season. Ironically, he came to College Station with a reputation as a 3-point shooter and not much else. Well, he hasn't disappointed from behind the arc, shooting 40 percent from deep this season. But his combination of strengths has been a huge reason for Texas A&M's hot start.

Worrisome for Mizzou: Rebounds The Tigers have been pummeled on the boards in the four losses to A&M under Anderson. This season, they are rebounding opponents' misses at a paltry 65.5 percent rate (240th nationally, according to kenpom.com) and giving back 34.5 percent to their opponents, while the Aggies are offensive rebounding at a 41.2 percent rate (eighth nationally). This is a very combustible situation for Missouri.

Worrisome for A&M: Turnovers As usual, the Tigers are turning over opponents at a very high rate. The 25.6 percent turnover rate is No. 12 in the country and essentially means that they are forcing a turnover every four defensive possessions. On the other hand, the Aggies give the ball up 21 percent of the time. Since a 17 percent rate would be considered elite, this is a potential danger zone for Mark Turgeon's team.

Underrated for Mizzou:Turnover rate
When most people think of Missouri's "40 Minutes of Hell," they think of frenetic defensive pressure and wild play on offense. When the Tigers have the ball, though, that couldn't be less true. During Anderson's head-coaching tenure, few teams have valued the basketball like his Tigers. This year, Missouri's turnover rate is 16.6 percent, 15th best in college basketball. Taking care of the ball while playing at a fast tempo is a major reason the team averages 85 points a game.

Underrated for A&M: Blocking out
The Aggies have the numbers to back this up, but they are one of the best rebounding teams in the country because they block out on every shot. That takes coaching these habits every day in practice. It's especially impressive because, while they have good size, they are not overly athletic on the interior. But they are beasts on the boards.

No. 8 Purdue (15-2) at West Virginia (11-4)

By Dana O'Neil

When and where: Sunday (CBS, 1:30 ET), WVU Coliseum (Morgantown, W.Va.)

Bob Huggins remembers what JaJuan Johnson did to his West Virginia team last season -- remembers it all too vividly.

His players?

"They generally don't remember what I tell them from one day to the next," Huggins said.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

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AP Photo/Michael ConroyIn a battle of top-6 teams last season, JaJuan Johnson and Purdue shoved aside WVU.

On New Year's Day last season, Johnson pounded the Mountaineers with 25 points and 10 rebounds, leading the Purdue assault in a battle of unbeatens that fizzled instead into a 77-62 Boilermakers walkover.

The Mountaineers have resorted to the painful film in an attempt to figure out how to stop Johnson this time around, searching for tendencies and weaknesses to expose.

But with a young frontcourt -- John Flowers and Deniz Kilicli played limited minutes for the Mountaineers last season -- Huggins isn't certain he'll find any answers.

"We don't have much experience in that position," he said. "Wellington Smith guarded everyone in the low post for us for three years. He was a lot more well-prepared than these guys and look what happened."

Still, Huggins is feeling much better about his team this month than he was the last. The Mountainers have won three in a row, holding those three opponents (Georgetown, DePaul and Providence) to an average of 65 points per game.

Casey Mitchell, a frequent resident in Huggins' occasionally crowded doghouse, seems to have figured out who wins the battle for control in Morgantown.

The answer: not him.

He is playing within the offense instead of trying to be the offense and has been rewarded by his coach with more minutes.

In return, Mitchell has delivered. In the string of three wins, Mitchell scored 18, 28 and 14 points, respectively, but more tellingly shot 52 percent in the process.

"We're playing a little better," Huggins said. "We're worlds better defensively, and we're shooting the ball better."

This game lacks last year's battle-of-the-unbeatens cache -- the Mountaineers are a work in progress at 11-4 and the Boilermakers are coming off a close loss to Minnesota.

But in some regards, this game could have bigger implications. By this time last season, West Virginia was a locked-in NCAA tournament team. The Mountaineers were 11-0, with wins against Texas A&M, Marquette and a ranked Ole Miss team on their resume.

With Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Smith, success in the Big East was assured and, consequently, so was a tourney bid.

This season, West Virginia is in the Big East logjam and trying to distinguish itself. It is caught alongside the likes of Louisville, Marquette, St. Johns, Cincinnati and Georgetown. And the Mountaineers' highlight win is losing its panache, as Georgetown's struggles continue.

So Saturday is big for WVU. Sticking a Big Ten game in the middle of the Big East race typically wouldn't sit well with a lot of coaches, but Huggins can look down the road and see the merit to meeting Purdue in January.

"Hopefully our guys understand that a win against Purdue goes a long way," Huggins said. "We win this, 50 some days from now, we get in -- provided we do what we need to do in league play."

Don't forget: A dozen more to track

By Andy Katz


Butler at Detroit (ESPNU, 9 p.m. ET): The Bulldogs took one potential trouble team in the Horizon (Cleveland State) and disposed of it rather easily. But Butler did get rocked at Milwaukee and had a tight game against Youngstown State. Detroit hasn't been consistent, so it would be an upset if the Titans were to pull out the win against Butler. This one will be worth watching with Detroit freshman Ray McCallum on the court.


Marquette at Louisville (ESPN2, 11 a.m. ET): The Cardinals pushed Villanova for most of the game but didn't have the ability to finish off the Wildcats on the road. Marquette has been the toughest team to put away in the Big East. This should be a grinder of a game that will come to the final few possessions.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (ESPN, noon ET): "College GameDay" is in the house and this is a huge game for the Vols. Tennessee has to protect its home court after losing to Florida earlier in the week. This is a significant game for acting head coach Tony Jones (0-2) to ensure he has the confidence of everyone around him. Meanwhile, Vandy is coming off a must-win game against Georgia on the heels of an overtime road loss at South Carolina. A win in Knoxville would do wonders for the Dores' chances of winning the SEC East.

Cincinnati at Syracuse (ESPN3, noon ET): The Orange pulled away from St. John's in the second half and looked as good as they have all season in doing so. Cincinnati has had one elite game in the Big East and lost it at Villanova. This is its second shot to prove it is worthy of contender status. The Yancy Gates-Rick Jackson matchup inside should be a good watch.

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AP Photo/Luis M. AlvarezMaryland is in desperate need of a signature victory.

Maryland at Villanova (1 p.m. ET): Unless North Carolina cracks the top 25, this will likely be the last time an ACC team plays a ranked team not named Duke. Maryland desperately needs a signature win. Jordan Williams is playing at the top of his game and could be an issue for Mouphtaou Yarou. But the senior guards of Nova will be hard for the Terps to handle.

Illinois at Wisconsin (3 p.m. ET): The Badgers couldn't beat the Illini in Champaign two weeks ago and now get a rematch at the Kohl Center. They better get it done in Madison if they're going to stay in the Big Ten title race. The Badgers let a game slip away at Michigan State on Tuesday. As for Illinois, its loss at Penn State puts even more pressure on this team to avoid a loss against UW.

Old Dominion at Hofstra (4 p.m. ET): Hofstra did not look like a Colonial favorite during a three-game skid in Puerto Rico in November. But the Pride are 5-0 in league play and have figured out how to play for new coach Mo Cassara, and it has helped that Charles Jenkins is playing like one of the best players in the country on a nightly basis. ODU is still the conference favorite, but now Hofstra has to be taken seriously as a contender with its unbeaten streak in the league. Win this game and the Pride may just be the favorite.

UCF at Southern Miss (5 p.m. ET): UCF suffered a disappointing loss at Houston last Saturday. Southern Miss got blown out at Marshall. But with Memphis spiraling out of control, these teams are still the top contenders (along with UAB) for the Conference USA regular-season title. The loser is down in a hole, while the winner is still in stride to compete for the league title.

Penn State at Ohio State (5:30 p.m. ET): Penn State has two of the best wins in the Big Ten -- at home against Michigan State and Illinois. But Ohio State has something that the Nittany Lions do not -- Jared Sullinger inside. It's hard to imagine the Nittany Lions winning a game like this away from home, but that this game is even on a list like this shows how far they've come over the last few weeks.

San Diego State at New Mexico (6 p.m. ET): The Aztecs play the first of four difficult conference road games with BYU, UNLV and Colorado State to follow. UNM got inspired play out of Drew Gordon in a win over CSU on Wednesday. The Lobos will need that and more to handle Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas. SDSU is better, more talented and more experienced that UNM, but does this become a classic Pit game that rattles the Aztecs? Not sure. Maybe the Lobos should hope the fire alarm goes off again during an Aztecs run.

Dayton at Xavier (8 p.m. ET): The Flyers survived a scare from Saint Joseph's and now it's on to the rivalry game within the Atlantic 10 that matters the most. Xavier has been beat up and depleted but is still a tough out at the Cintas Center. A win here by the Musketeers ensures that they won't go away in the title chase with Richmond and Temple.


Notre Dame at St. John's (ESPN3, noon ET): The Fighting Irish, like Mizzou, have been a different team on the road in conference play. St. John's got torched by Notre Dame just last week in South Bend, and the Red Storm are coming off a home loss to Syracuse. This game gets a a must-win tag for the Johnnies to stay relevant and contend for a top-four finish in the Big East.


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