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If the next nine weeks are anything like the first week of conference play in college basketball, buckle your seatbelt.

Those of us who have watched and loved college hoops for a long time are quite aware how things dramatically change when conference action begins. Unlike November and most of December when teams aren't that familiar with each other, that is not the case come conference time.

Coaches have already game-planned in the past against most of the key personnel from the opposing team. They know the tendencies of not only those players, but also the other coach. 

While the intensity is high when Kentucky plays Kansas in November, usually that same level is reached every night in conference play.

As we've seen already, that can create some major upsets.

Nebraska stunned No. 16 Indiana in Bloomington. St. John's slipped past No. 13 Butler in the Big East. No. 1 Villanova didn't lose, but unheralded DePaul went on the road and nearly shocked the Wildcats.

That was in the first three days.

Don't be too surprised Saturday to see Virginia Tech knock off No. 5 Duke (11 a.m., ESPN2). Ninth-ranked North Carolina won't have an easy time on the road Tuesday at Clemson (6 p.m., ESPN2).

Kevin Stallings and Pittsburgh look to make a statement on Wednesday against No. 12 Virginia, while Ohio State seeks to upend visiting No. 15 Purdue on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN).

The crowds get more juiced up for conference games, too, which just adds to the excitement level. When archrivals such as Indiana-Purdue or UCLA-Arizona square off, fans take everything up about 10 notches.

You don't need Dick Vitale screaming at you through the screen to know conference games mean just a little more, whether it's in the Missouri Valley, Big Ten or ACC. 

So get ready for plenty of upsets the next two months — and a bunch of court-storming celebrations. One may come Saturday when Villanova ventures to No. 10 Creighton in a battle of unbeatens (noon, Fox Sports 1). 

College FB: Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State vs. Clemson (ESPN, 6 p.m. Saturday): Deshaun Watson almost delivered a national championship last year for Clemson and could be on a mission for redemption in semifinal game against Buckeyes.

NFL: Packers at Lions (NBC, 7:20 p.m. Sunday): Aaron Rodgers promised Green Bay would recover from 4-6 start and has delivered. Win over Lions would make Packers a very dangerous team in playoffs.

NHL: Blackhawks at Blues (NBC, noon Monday): Seeing the Arch while streaking down the ice put over the Busch Stadium field should make for a memorable setting for Winter Classic.

Contact Jim Benson at



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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