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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 9, 2011 at 11:54 AM

The college football schedule is mostly dormant this week, except for the Army-Navy game which we'll preview Saturday morning for you here in the NOTEBOOK. So, today we wanted to alert you to the MONSTER college basketball schedule that awaits you on Saturday. It is a day and night of action that you literally cannot miss if you're serious about picking winners this year in this sport.

  • Many ranked powers are in action

  • Many top teams are playing each other

  • Every major TV game is a clash of conferences

What you learn on Saturday will help you make smart choices through the rest of this month...through conference play that begins in a few weeks...and during March Madness when the conference strengths and weaknesses that will become apparent in big TV games Saturday manifest themselves throughout March Madness and the NIT.

We're not going to run stat previews of all the big games because early season stats can be very flaky in this sport. Some teams have played challenging early schedules. Some teams have played mostly creampuffs. A diet of marshmallows is a horrible way to prepare for hunting big game. There are big games today where some of the hunters will be eaten alive!

Let's run through the highlights in rotation order from a TV schedule that is literally wall-to-wall basketball. Duke is in the first big game that goes at noon ET. You could sit in front of the tube watching hoops to well close to midnight ET if you hang in there for Michigan State/Gonzaga. We're posting this on a Friday because some of these games are early tips...and we wanted you to have those extra hours to think about the possibilities...

Washington had a very good showing Tuesday Night against #11 Marquette on this same floor. Smart for Washington to get an early start adjusting to the time difference since this is a 9 a.m. body time tip off! We don't consider Washington as a force this year in terms of March Madness. They're a darkhorse team that could upset anyone if they get hot. They're erratic enough that they might not ultimately qualify for the Dance even with that strong showing vs. Marquette. This is a team that trailed Saint Louis by 25 points at halftime not too long ago!

With Duke, you know what you're getting. At least, you do if you're a regular reader of the NOTEBOOK. If you only listen to ESPN and Dick Vitale, you're disappointed in most March's with how the Blue Devils get overmatched by talented tournament teams. Don't forget that Duke lost to Arizona of the Pac 12 last a game that Charles Barkley called at halftime when Duke led. You think Coach K wants to send a message to the Pac 12 here?

Xavier may not be as good as that ranking...but they're definitely a power team in an improving Atlantic 10 conference at the moment. And they may ultimately be as good as that ranking as they work their way through the season. We showed you the other day that they had relatively undisciplined stats in a win last Saturday. They're capable of big high's and sloppy low's. If you're only a casual fan, you may not be aware that Xavier is located in Cincinnati...and that this is a big cross town rivalry. Some respected computers have Cincinnati as a top 50 team at the moment, even if they're not on the radar as a true Big East power. That makes this a great test for Xavier...a fired up rival is going to show up with fire in the belly.

Both of these teams are better than their rankings. UNLV should be in the top 25, but fell out because they ran out of gas late in the emotional week where they knocked off North Carolina. Wisconsin lost a close one to North Carolina, then fell to a very strong Marquette team. The Badgers do have Elite Eight potential this year. UNLV has a way of sneaking into the Sweet 16 when they're not supposed to be in the mix. And, this is one of their better entries in awhile based on early returns.

Too bad this is on the Big 10 Network and not ESPN. If you get that channel, you're strongly advised to spend some time studying these teams. You can see a bit more than the first half before Ohio State/Kansas gets started later in the day. Obviously, EVERYBODY should watch Ohio State/Kansas!

We wanted to sneak this one in because the Big 12 is kind of a mystery conference this year. A lot of talent left in the offseason. Pollsters and computer programmers are having some trouble figuring out where everyone is supposed to rank. Oklahoma State looks like they'll be an upper division side if not a championship contender in the league. Respected computers have them near the top 50 range at the moment, which makes them a bubble team this far away from the Madness.

We believe that this neutral site game with Pitt will tell you a lot about Okie State and the Big 12's national readiness at the moment. It will probably also tell you a lot about Pitt! Be sure you spend time with this boxscore if you don't watch the game. Try recording the game because the Big 12 could be ripe for big play opportunities this year as oddsmakers scramble to get things figured out.

This is the marquee game of the day...because Ohio State is a national championship contender and Kansas may actually be better than that ranking in terms of true talent. Put a young, talented team on their home floor with a chance to make a name for themselves...and special things can happen. Of course, Ohio State isn't going to just shrivel up in fear. The potential here is for a great game.

And, if it's NOT a great game, that tells us a lot too. Remember, Kansas is in the Big 12...which is either way down this year...or better than skeptics are thinking. If Kansas and Oklahoma State don't show well today, it's going to be hard to take the Big 12 seriously as a power conference over the next few months.

Neither team is ranked, but both could be dance-bound come March. Temple is in the improving Atlantic 10, and would currently grade out on the bubble in the national picture. Villanova is seen as the lesser of the two teams at the moment...but the program pedigree means you have to take them seriously in a big city battle like this. Don't lose site of the battles of Cincinnati and Philadelphia as you watch some of the more hyped games during the day.

Indiana has come a long way quickly, and you know the gym will be rocking for a huge game like this. What better way to announce to the world that your program is back from the dead than with an upset win over the top ranked team in the country. We'll learn a lot about Kentucky's ability to handle challenges in this well as a lot about where Indiana really stands in the big picture. Let's not forget too that the Big Ten has made it clear they're trying to claim the title of "best conference in the land" at the moment. There are bound to be some disappointments on the card...because there's no way every single matchup can play to its fullest potential. This isn't pay-per-view wrestling! This one should be on your short list of games to see if you can't watch them all.

Another matchup here of teams who are likely to be in important discussions this year even if they don't represent the elite of their conferences. West Virginia would probably be on the right side of the bubble for those projecting their brackets right now...while Miami would be on the outside looking in. Nothing like a prime time TV game to change perceptions. An important test for how the Big East and ACC stack up against each other once you get past the top few in each league.

Last but not least is a nightcap that features the highest ranked team West of the Rockies hosting a Michigan State team that's been touring like Lady Gaga since the season started. Have the Spartans learned enough from their grueling early schedule to get the job done here? Is the West even SOFTER than the pollsters seem to think? Important game for the Big Ten on one hand...and for all of Western basketball on the other.

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will DEFINITELY be looking at those games and more for our weekly TV TRIPLE CROWN. We had them in college know we're going to have them all through the hoops regular season too. Saturdays releases will go up early (also the case for Army-Navy). Complete details on our BLUE RIBBON BASKETBALL are available in the office at at 1-800-323-4453.

Whether it's college basketball daily, college football through the bowls, or the NFL through the stretch run and postseason...BIG JUICY WINNERS are always just a few clicks or a phone call away

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