Weekly watch: Key games for teams chasing Orange

This is a big week in the Big East as a couple of teams look to stay within striking distance of league leader Syracuse.

Marquette and Georgetown are second and tied for third, respectively, in the conference race, and each has a shot at basically knocking two other teams out of the chase.

[Related: Nation’s longest D-I hoops losing streak finally ends]

It’s also another important week in the Big Ten, where seemingly every game involves a team that thinks it has a shot at an NCAA bid.

Bruce Weber and Illinois have lost three straight entering Tuesday night's game with Michigan State.
(US Presswire)

Here’s a look at the key games this week; we’ll do this again Friday to spotlight big weekend games. All times Eastern.

Top five games this week

Michigan State at Illinois, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN: Michigan State needs a win to keep pace with Ohio State atop the Big Ten standings; the Illini, meanwhile, have lost three in a row after Saturday’s setback at Minnesota and a team that was in first place by itself in the Big Ten 10 days ago now has to be worried about whether it’s going to be able to finish in the top half of the league. This is the teams’ only meeting of the season. Michigan State has dropped two conference road games in a row, to Northwestern and Michigan.

Seton Hall at Marquette, Tuesday, 8 p.m., Big East syndication/Sportsnet New York/MASN/Comcast-Charter Sports Southeast/ESPN FullCourt: Marquette quietly has won six in a row and is alone in second place in the Big East race. The Golden Eagles have made hay by beating up on teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the league. Seton Hall is slumping big-time, having lost four in a row. To make matters worse, this is the start of a three-game stretch of road contests and a once-promising season is spinning out of control.

[Related: Botched hoops call may have cost WVU vs. Syracuse]

Vanderbilt at Arkansas, Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN: Arkansas has been horrible on the road (0-5) but remains on the periphery of the SEC race – at least for now – because it is 15-1 at home, including victories over Michigan and Mississippi State. After this, the Hogs play three of their next four on the road. Vandy is 4-1 in true road games, including wins over Alabama and Marquette. This is the start of a tough four-game stretch for Vandy, which also meets Florida and Kentucky in the next two weeks.

Indiana at Michigan, Wednesday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network: Michigan was embarrassed Sunday at Ohio State to fall out of a first-place tie in the Big Ten race. The Wolverines have lost five times this season, all on the road. IU beat Michigan by two in Bloomington on Jan. 5 and is looking for the season sweep. The Hoosiers already have lost four times on the road in league play.

[Related: Which teams have risen, fallen this weekend?]

Connecticut at Georgetown, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: Georgetown lost at Pitt on Saturday and needs to bounce back quickly to stay in the Big East title hunt. UConn, meanwhile, is teetering, having lost its third in a row Sunday when it fell at home to Notre Dame. The Huskies now have lost five of their past seven, and Georgetown basically can bury them in the Big East race. UConn’s offense has been anemic of late.

“Mid-major” game of the week

Memphis at Southern Miss, Wednesday, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network: These teams are tied for the lead in Conference USA; Memphis already beat the Golden Eagles by two in Memphis and is looking for the season sweep. Southern Miss (19-3) is coming off an impressive 13-point win at UCF on Saturday, a team that beat Memphis by one. Southern Miss is 15-1 since the end of November. Memphis beat Marshall on Saturday and has another tough one after this, playing host to Xavier on Saturday.

Something to prove

BYU: The Cougars, who already have been swept by Saint Mary’s, play host to Gonzaga for the first time as a West Coast Conference foe on Thursday (11 p.m., ESPN2). BYU is 18-6 overall but already has three league losses. And while the overall record is solid, there is no marquee win. Gonzaga, meanwhile, trails Saint Mary’s by one in the WCC race and gets the Gaels at home on Feb. 9.

Keep an eye on

Colorado State: The Rams pounded San Diego State on Saturday night, giving themselves a much-needed marquee win. The Rams get a chance for their first marquee road victory of the season when they play at UNLV on Wednesday (10:30 p.m., The mtn.)

Iowa State: The Cyclones got a huge win Saturday when they upset Kansas at home and now are looking to get Kansas State, too. The Wildcats, who were upset at home by Oklahoma on Saturday, travel to Ames on Tuesday (9 p.m., Fox Sports Midwest/ESPN FullCourt); Iowa State can give itself a two-game league lead over K-State with a victory.

Missouri: The Tigers on Monday night finish off a stretch in which they play three of four away from home; they already have beaten Baylor but lost to Oklahoma State during that span, and now they must travel to play Texas on Monday (9 p.m., ESPN). Mizzou beat the Longhorns by 11 in Columbia on Jan.14. The Tigers need to stay focused and not be looking ahead to their next game – a visit from Kansas on Saturday.

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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 Sunday, Jan 29, 2012