What I'm Watching this Week (and why)

Monday/January 11:

Blackburn at Manchester City in the EPL (English Soccer on ESPN2, 2:55) - On many occasions, this match would not catch my fancy, but it's on ESPN2, which means it will be broadcast in HD. I usually don't pass up such an opportunity, so rare is the commodity of high level soccer in HD.

Villanova at Louisville (College Basketball on ESPN, 7:00)
- 2009 was a banner year in Villanova athletics. After the basketball team made the Final Four in March, its football team followed that up by winning the national championship in FCS. Euphoria abounds. While the basketball team has backed up last year's success with a 14-1 start and a (soon to be) top five ranking, something seems to be missing. Louisville hasn't been world beaters, but they played Kentucky tough, they're 3-0 in Big East play (not to mention defending conference champs), and with the backing of Freedom Hall, we may see yet another top five team go down after a weekend filled with such upsets.

Tuesday/January 12:

Triestina at Roma in the Coppa Italia (Italian Soccer on GolTV, 3:00) - Full disclosure. Unquestionably, my favorite club teams in soccer are Manchester United and SK Rapid Wien (random I know, but I'll explain in a future post). Beyond these two, there are a host of others that I more than neutral towards and like to see do well. One such club is Roma in Italy. As such, I'll be sure to check out this match against lower division side Triestina, a team Roma should have little trouble dispatching en route to the next round of the Coppa Italia.

Kentucky at Florida (College Basketball on ESPN, 9:00) - Since Billy Donovan's arrival at Florida, this divisional rivalry has often had the feel of a nouveau riche vs old money battle, giving each a game a white hot atmosphere. Tennessee and Vanderbilt often have just as much of a say in what happens in this division, but there is something about this matchup that grabs the imagination like no others in the SEC East. After following up back to back national titles with only a back to back NIT run, Florida started this season as if they were ready to end their big boy college basketball subbatical. They still may, but they have meandered as of late. The visit of an inconsistent (but unbeaten) Kentucky team ranked second in the nation may just give them the impetus to emerge from their slump. Kentucky, if not all the way back yet, is certainly revitalized under Calipari after a strong non-conference showing, but league play is where a team really establishes itself, and this will be a test of Kentucky's true potential.

Wednesday/January 13:

Barcelona at Sevilla in the Copa Del Ray (Spanish Soccer on GolTV, 4:00) - The first leg of this cup tie threw up an entertaining game and a surprising Sevilla win in the Camp Nou, leaving Barca on the brink of elimination with the away leg of the tie still to come. The good news is that Sevilla continues to struggle at home and Barca tuned up nicely with a 5-0 pasting of Tenerife, even if the first half hour was all Tenerife. After an indifferent run of form, I think Barca will want  to prove it is well and truly back on course and will put out a very strong lineup. Either way, there should be no shortage of enterprising play between these two teams, which should be fun to watch.

Pittsburgh at UConn (College Basketball on ESPN2, 7:00) - After blowing a fifteen point halftime lead on the road against Georgetown on Saturday, UConn's next game against Pittsburgh can't come soon enough. Only 2-2 in conference play, UConn needs to assert itself against the currently unbeaten (in conference play) Panthers, who face their third consecutive Big East road trip, having already knocked off Syracuse and Cincinnati. A nine day layoff may have taken them out of their rhythm, but either way, I expect UConn to come out on top with a backs to the wall sort of performance.

North Carolina at Clemson (College Basketball on ESPN, 9:00) -Every year, Clemson seems to run through its non-conference schedule impressively, only to have the rigors of ACC play dent its pride and record. Already, the Tigers have been waylaid by Duke at Cameron. Now the Tar Heels come to town in a top 25 showdown after building some confidence with a strong finish in their fourteen point victory over Virginia Tech. Playing at home, Clemson needs this victory. A loss won't affect their Tourney chances, but in a league where validation only comes with wins over Duke and UNC, you have to wonder about their viability as an ACC contender if they lose.

Thursday/January 14:

Auburn at Tennessee (College Basketball on ESPN2, 7:00) - Auburn heads into Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville on the back end of a nine point loss at home to South Carolina, one of its competitors for weakest team in the SEC. Awesome. Should be fun. Doubly so since Tennessee is coming off a huge upset of top ranked Kansas featuring a bevy of walk-ons. Here's hoping that the Vols have a letdown and mess up their team chemistry by reinstating their suspended players. Could be ugly otherwise.

Gonzaga at Saint Mary's (College Basketball on ESPN2, 11:00) - This Big West showdown between the Zags and their biggest contenders should be fun. It's unfair to these two programs that such a high profile regional matchup will barely register throughout the rest of the country with such a late start time though. The Zags look to be the class of the conference once again, but Saint Mary's have a chance to take away the upper hand early in the season with this home game. Always fun when you have a high (ish) profile all mid-major matchup.

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