Weekend watch: Hoosiers go for sweep

One of the biggest games of the season in the Big Ten is on tap for Sunday, but this still is a rather uninspiring weekend for college basketball.

Michael Snaer and Florida State have a habit of playing North Carolina tight at home.
(US Presswire)

Sunday’s Indiana-Ohio State game will be the second contest of the season for those programs; the Hoosiers won the first meeting, and can make a big statement if they can finish off a season sweep.

This also is a big weekend for the Mountain West, as league play finally gets under way. A UNLV-San Diego State showdown highlights the weekend’s action in the MWC.

Here’s a look at the key games this weekend. All times Eastern.

Top five games to watch

North Carolina at Florida State, Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN: This is a big weekend in Tallahassee, both for football recruiting and on the basketball court. ESPN’s College GameDay basketball crew will be in town for the first time. FSU has a recent history of playing the Heels close, and it should be the Seminoles’ most raucous crowd of the season. FSU is physical defensively, but can struggle to score. The Seminoles could use a big game from G Michael Snaer. UNC wants a fast pace, but it seems unlikely FSU will let the Heels have that. Including this one, FSU has six of its next nine games at home.

Michigan State at Northwestern, Saturday, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network: Everyone who follows college basketball knows that Northwestern is the only “Big Six” conference school never to have made the NCAA field. A victory over the Spartans would help Northwestern’s chances this season. The Wildcats have started 1-3 in Big Ten play; they fell by two in overtime at Michigan on Wednesday night and also have lost by one at home to Illinois. Michigan State is the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play and is riding a 15-game winning streak.

Alabama at Mississippi State, Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: Mississippi State opened SEC play with a surprising road loss at Arkansas, and if the Bulldogs truly want to contend for the league title, they need to hold serve at home against other league contenders. Alabama qualifies as a contender. The Tide is 2-0 in league play, but this is the first game in a murderous three-game stretch: at Mississippi State, vs. Vanderbilt on Thursday and at Kentucky next Saturday. If Alabama, which really struggles with its outside shooting, can win two of those three, the Tide should be in the league title race until the end.

UNLV at San Diego State, Saturday, 4 p.m., NBCS Sports Network (formerly Versus): This is the Mountain West opener for both, and there’s nothing like a big showdown to kick off the conference season. In the preseason, these two were considered the prime challengers to New Mexico, but UNLV, under first-year coach Dave Rice, has played the best basketball of any team in the league thus far, beating North Carolina and routing Illinois and California. SDSU also beat Cal, by one point. Both have lost to a Missouri Valley team (UNLV to Wichita State, SDSU to Creighton). SDSU has won five in a row over UNLV, including a 3-0 mark last season.

Indiana at Ohio State, Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CBS: This is the game of the weekend - and has become one of the most important Big Ten games of the season. IU beat the Buckeyes in Bloomington on New Year’s Eve, and a season sweep of Ohio State would be huge for coach Tom Crean’s team. That is one of two league losses already for the Buckeyes, who fell at Illinois on Tuesday, when Illini G Brandon Paul had the game of his life. Ohio State lost just twice in Big Ten play last season, and the second loss didn’t come until Feb. 20. A third league loss this early in the campaign could make things difficult for the Buckeyes in their quest to repeat as regular-season titlists.

“Mid-major” game of weekend

Isaiah Sykes and Central Florida are 3-0 in C-USA as they prepare to meet Marshall.

UCF at Marshall, Saturday, 7 p.m., no TV: An early-season shakeout game in Conference USA, as these were considered the main challengers to Memphis. Those three are the only teams still unbeaten in league play after a bit more than a week of conference action. UCF beat UConn in November, while Marshall’s best showing might have been a six-point loss at Syracuse in early December. Marshall has the better backcourt, UCF the better frontcourt. UCF plays host to Memphis next Wednesday, the same night that Marshall takes on in-state rival West Virginia.

[Video: Mid-majors could be trouble in NCAA tournament]

Something to prove

Wyoming. The Cowboys have opened 14-2 under new coach Larry Shyatt, but while the record is good, the opponents haven’t been. Wyoming’s schedule strength ranks 329th nationally (out of 345). The Cowboys have a chance for a big win Saturday night, though, in their Mountain West opener. Preseason favorite New Mexico, which also is 14-2, will be in town. Wyoming has been stingy on defense; can the Cowboys keep the Lobos under wraps?

Keep an eye on

Butler: The Bulldogs are 9-8 overall and have opened 3-2 in Horizon League play, including a bad loss to Detroit. Tonight, they play host to co-league leader Cleveland State in one of the biggest league games of the season. Butler was 3-0 against the Vikings last season.

Iowa State: The Cyclones fell at home to Missouri on Wednesday night after a big second half by the Tigers. Iowa State gets another chance to make some national noise when it plays at Kansas on Saturday. KU has won 12 in a row in the series, and Iowa State has won just 15 times since 1909 in Lawrence.

[Related: Big 12 basketball: Baylor is living up to the hype]

Pittsburgh: The Panthers have lost five in a row, including four in a row in Big East play, and in boxing parlance, they’re on the ropes, ready to be knocked out. Marquette can do the deed Saturday when the Panthers visit Milwaukee. Pitt is the only team in the Big East without a league win.

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jan 12, 2012