We're into 2012, and the first week of the New Year includes what should be some entertaining games.
Big 12 actions gets under way, while league play continues in the Big East, the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Conference action in the ACC and the SEC begins Saturday.
Here's a look at the key games this week; we'll do this again Friday to spotlight big weekend games. All times Eastern.
Michigan State at Wisconsin, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: Suddenly, there are doubts about Wisconsin, which is coming off a home loss to an Iowa team that is expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. The Badgers allowed an alarming 72 points – the first time this season they had allowed more than 61 and just the fourth time in 15 games they had allowed more than 54. It also was their second home loss of the season. Michigan State has won 13 in a row since opening the season with losses to North Carolina and Duke; included in that streak was a dominating 15-point win over Indiana. This is not going to be a thing of beauty, as there will be a lot of bumping and grinding in the paint. Can the Badgers impose their will on the Spartans? If Michigan State can reach 60 points, it likely will feel good about its chances for a win.
Connecticut at Seton Hall, Tuesday, 7 p.m., Big East syndication/MASN/SportsNet New York/Altitude2/ESPN FullCourt: Seton Hall opened Big East play by getting bludgeoned at Syracuse, then rebounded by pounding West Virginia. Next up is a visit from the defending national champions. UConn has opened 2-0 in league play, but this is a big step up in competition from USF and St. John's. The Huskies have been efficient offensively, especially their guards, and stifling on defense. Seton Hall needs big games from big man Herb Pope and from guard Jordan Theodore, whose playmaking ability has been a plus this season.
Duke at Temple, Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: Temple is 9-3, but other than a win over Wichita State, the Owls have beaten no one of note. That obviously wouldn't be the case if they can pull this upset. Temple's defense has been lacking, especially when compared to past Owls teams. And while Temple has been solid from 3-point range, its overall offense has been lacking. This looks to be Duke's toughest game until the Blue Devils play at North Carolina on Feb. 8.
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Kansas State at Kansas, Wednesday, 8 p.m., Big 12 syndication/Altitude2/ESPN FullCourt: This is the Big 12 opener for both. K-State is 11-1, but the Wildcats have a murderous start to their league schedule: at Kansas, vs. Missouri (Saturday) and vs. Baylor (Jan. 10). Kansas, on the other hand, could (should?) start 4-0 in league play; the Jayhawks have this one, followed by road games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech and a home game against Iowa State.
Michigan at Indiana, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2: IU rebounded from its first loss of the season, a 15-pointer at Michigan State, with an impressive win Saturday over Ohio State. Michigan has started 2-0 in league play, but the competition gets noticeably tougher with this one and a visit from Wisconsin on Sunday. Can Michigan handle IU's Cody Zeller?
Saint Louis at Dayton, Wednesday, 8 p.m., no TV: This is the Atlantic 10 opener for both, and it could end up being a good gauge as to whether either can legitimately contend for the league title. Dayton has a tough early conference schedule, with this game against the Billikens as well as contests against Temple on Saturday and Xavier on Jan. 21. SLU has games against Dayton, Temple and Xavier among its first six league games.
Stanford: The Cardinal are 12-2 overall and have opened 2-0 in Pac-12 play, but they play Oregon and Oregon State on the road this week. Stanford has played two road games, but they have been against two of the worst teams in Division I in UC Davis and Seattle. If the Cardinal return from their Pacific Northwest trek with a 4-0 conference record, coach Johnny Dawkins definitely has something brewing in the Bay Area.
• Marquette: The Golden Eagles opened Big East play by holding off Villanova and now have back-to-back road games against Georgetown (Wednesday) and Syracuse (Saturday). They have shown some vulnerability of late, losing to LSU and getting blown out at home by an inconsistent Vanderbilt team. How will they handle life on the road in the Big East?
• Oklahoma: The Sooners have started a surprisingly strong 10-2 under new coach Lon Kruger, but are they for real? We'll know by the end of the week; the Sooners are at Missouri on Tuesday and play host to Kansas on Saturday.
• Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles were the preseason pick to win the Summit League, and own a 22-point win at Xavier and a victory over Missouri State. They also have started 3-0 in league play, but they play at league bully Oakland on Tuesday. A win over the Golden Grizzlies, and ORU definitely becomes the team to beat in the league.
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