Weekly watch: With the regular season winding down, expect the intensity to be ratcheted up

There are just two weeks left in the regular season, and as you might imagine, this week is filled with important games involving teams looking to make an NCAA statement.

This is a huge week in the Big East as teams vie to finish in the top four – which gets them a double-bye in the league tourney – or at least in the top eight – which gets them a first-round bye. In addition, defending national champ Connecticut needs to reverse its precipitous slide; the Huskies will attempt to do so on the road Monday night against one of the league’s lesser teams this season in Villanova.

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Jason Clark and Georgetown look to finish in the top four in the Big East and get a double-bye for the conference tournament.
(Getty Images)

This week also has important games in the ACC, Big Ten and West Coast Conference races.

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

Georgetown at Seton Hall, Tuesday, 7 p.m., Big East syndication/Sportsnet New York/MASN/Altitude/Comcast-Charter Sports Southeast/ESPN FullCourt: Georgetown, which has won four of five and seven of nine, is fourth in the Big East. Seton Hall lost Saturday at Cincinnati, and this matchup is the last tough remaining game for the Pirates, who close out the regular season with Rutgers and DePaul. The Pirates are trying to finish in the top half of the league, and a victory over the Hoyas would help greatly in that quest.

West Virginia at Notre Dame, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: The Irish have won eight in a row to move into a tie for second in the Big East. WVU has lost five of its past seven and is eighth in the league. The Mountaineers, who lost by four at home to the Irish on Feb. 8, could use another top-50 win to improve their NCAA seeding. The same goes for the Irish.

Duke at Florida State, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN: These teams are tied with North Carolina atop the ACC standings; FSU beat UNC in the teams’ only meeting this season – the Seminoles crushed the Tar Heels, actually – and FSU already has beaten Duke. The Seminoles are 14-1 at home this season, but they still have two tough road games left (Miami and Virginia).

Louisville at Cincinnati, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN: Louisville has a shot at a top-four finish in the Big East, which would give the Cardinals a double-bye in the league tourney. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has the same league record (9-5) as the Cardinals, but the Bearcats have some work to do in relation to an NCAA bid. A victory over the Cardinals would provide a big boost.

[ Related: Murray State eliminates any NCAA tournament doubt ]

BYU at Gonzaga, Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2: These teams are tied for second in the West Coast Conference, one game behind Saint Mary’s. Teams that finish first and second in the regular season gets byes into the league tourney semifinals, so there is a lot on the line. Both finish their conference schedules against teams that are less than .500 in the league. BYU won by 10 in Provo on Feb. 2.

“Mid-major” game of the week

A lot of questions about Anthony Grant and Alabama will be answered in a few weeks.
(Getty Images)

Xavier at Massachusetts, Tuesday, 7 p.m., A-10 syndication/Fox Sports Ohio: UMass can move into a tie for third in the Atlantic 10 with Xavier if it can down the Musketeers. UMass had been in the mix for the regular-season title until it lost three of its past five. Xavier is coming off a home win over Dayton on Saturday; that was its first victory against a team with a winning record since Jan. 18, a span of eight games. Xavier is looking to improve its NCAA seeding.

Something to prove

Texas: The Longhorns had won four in a row and put themselves back in the NCAA discussion, but then came a loss Saturday at Oklahoma State. Texas has a shot at erasing that loss Monday when Baylor visits (9 p.m., ESPN); this might be a last stand of sorts for the Longhorns. Baylor has lost three of its past four and is seeing its projected seeding fall.

Keep an eye on

Alabama: The Tide have a tough closing stretch, beginning with Thursday’s game at Arkansas (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Hogs haven’t won a road game, but they are 17-1 at home. Alabama has lost six of its past 10 but beat the Hogs by six in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 28.

Connecticut: UConn lost for the seventh time in nine games when it fell at home to Marquette on Saturday. Still, the Huskies have five top-50 wins and eight top-100 wins, so this team is far from buried when it comes to an NCAA bid. The Huskies are at Villanova on Monday (7 p.m., ESPN), and they certainly would be feeling better about themselves if they can get a win.

Kansas State: K-State enhanced its NCAA hopes by winning at Baylor on Saturday to earn a season split with the Bears. Tuesday, the Wildcats go for further enhancement and a season sweep of Missouri when they travel to Columbia (7 p.m., ESPNU). Mizzou is in the running for the Big 12 title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. K-State whipped the Tigers by 16 at home on Jan. 7.

[ Related: Pat Forde: Butler is in transition, but not dead ]

Miami: The Hurricanes are 2-2 since their stirring upset of Duke in Durham on Feb. 5. They play at Maryland on Tuesday (8 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN FullCourt) in a key game for their tourney hopes. While beating the Terps won’t necessarily enhance Miami’s NCAA résumé, a loss would be damaging. UM, which is just 3-9 against teams in the top 50, beat the Terps by four in double-overtime at home on Feb. 1.

Minnesota: The Gophers have lost three in a row, four of five and five of seven, and they are 5-9 in Big Ten play. Their NCAA hopes are in desperate need of a pick-me-up, and Minnesota has a shot for just such a victory when league leader Michigan State heads to Minneapolis on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network). The Spartans beat the Gophers by 16 in East Lansing on Jan. 25.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have lost three in a row – to Georgia, LSU and Auburn, which isn’t exactly a college basketball’s “Who’s Who.” A college basketball blueblood will be in Starkville on Tuesday when Kentucky comes calling (9 p.m., ESPN). UK is unbeaten in SEC play and is trying to become just the third program in 55 seasons to go unbeaten in league play. Mississippi State is in danger of playing its way out of the NCAA field; can a team that lost to Auburn somehow find a way to stun Kentucky?

Northwestern: The Wildcats beat Minnesota at home on Saturday to remain in the NCAA discussion, but they are 2-8 against teams in the RPI top 50 and 5-10 against top-100 teams. Northwestern has a chance for a truly marquee victory Tuesday when it plays host to Michigan (8 p.m., Big Ten Network), which will be coming in off a win over Ohio State that put the Wolverines squarely in the mix for the Big Ten title.

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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, Feb 19, 2012