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Iowa-Iowa State, Arizona-Michigan highlight weekend picks

The Weekend Forecast
 
Friday, Dec. 13
 
9:30 p.m., ESPNU No. 23 Iowa at No. 17 Iowa State
This is the biggest regular season game in the state of Iowa in a long time -- maybe ever. Both teams are ranked in the national polls, and both are among the top ten nationally in scoring. I love Iowa's depth, but I think they'll have a hard time overcoming the physical presence inside of the Cyclones' Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue. Even if they accomplish that, they won't be able to overcome Hilton Magic.
 
Saturday, Dec. 14
 
Noon, CBS No. 1 Arizona at Michigan
Arizona is ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in ten years. After blasting New Mexico State by 26 points in Tucson on Wednesday night, the Wildcats will take that top ranking for a spin. Their opponent will be a young but talented Michigan team that is getting healthy and is desperate to make a statement. If that isn't a formula for an "upset," I don't know what is.
 
5:15 p.m., ESPN No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 UNC
People have characterized the Tar Heels as inconsistent, but there's a good chance the two teams they lost to (Belmont and UAB) will be in the NCAA tournament. Even without the suspended P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, the Tar Heels have talent and are one of the few teams that can give Kentucky trouble in the frontcourt. Kentucky, meanwhile, dominated a good Boise State team at home on Tuesday night, but it's not ready to beat a team this good on the road. Not yet, anyway.
 
2 p.m., ESPN2 Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State
As usual, Tennessee will be more beastly up front thanks to the presence of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. The Shockers don't have that kind of frontcourt muscle, but their team-wide emphasis on toughness has enabled them to lead the Missouri Valley Conference (and rank 25th nationally) in rebound margin. If the Vols can't win the battle of the boards, then this game will be won by the guards, and that's where the Shockers are better.
 
7 p.m., ESPN2 New Mexico vs. No. 13 Kansas
Is there a more masochistic coach than Bill Self? This is one of the youngest teams in the country, yet it never has an easy game. The Jayhawks could use more assertiveness from Andrew Wiggins. If the second half of the Florida game is any indication, I expect they will get it.
 
9 p.m., ESPN2 Illinois at No. 15 Oregon
The Ducks haven't played since their great escape at Ole Miss last weekend, so unless they come out completely flat, they should prevail. The Illini have only lost once (at Georgia Tech on Dec. 3) and squeaked by UNLV, but this is a step up in competition. Drake transfer Ray Rice has lifted Illinois, but he isn't getting enough help from his friends, which should make it easier for Oregon to limit his touches.
 
3:15 p.m., ESPN Notre Dame vs. Indiana
The Fighting Irish used to be unbeatable at home, but they've already lost twice there this season to midmajor teams, including to North Dakota State on Wednesday. The Irish are ranked 131st in the country in defensive efficiency and 204th in defensive field goal percentage (43.9). As for the Hoosiers, they battled UConn to the wire in Madison Square Garden and were outclassed at Syracuse, but I think they're ready to take a big, Noah Vonleh-sized step forward.
 
8 p.m., Fox Sports 1 Cincinnati at Xavier
Xavier has really struggled -- and it hasn't even started playing games in the new Big East yet. After losing three straight in the Bahamas, the Musketeers needed overtime to get by Bowling Green at home and only beat Evansville by three. That's not the kind of momentum you want to take into a fierce rivalry game against a talented opponent paced by senior point guard Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the AAC in scoring average (19.6) and is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.27).
 
10 p.m., Pac12 Networks BYU at Utah
Is Utah basketball back? We're about to get an answer, but my guess is "not yet." The Utes have feasted on woefully overmatched opponents this season. The lone exception occurred Dec. 3, when Utah took a very good Boise State to the wire before losing by two. If nothing else, this game will be an entertaining matchup between a BYU team that features one of the nation's leading scorers in Tyler Haws and a Utah squad that leads the country in field goal percentage (55.0).
 
Sunday, Dec. 15
Noon, Fox Sports 1 No. 2 Syracuse at St. John's
I'm not quite sure why teams with this many athletes are playing so slow. According to kenpom.com, St. John's is ranked 274th in the country in tempo; Syracuse is 311th. It will be hard for the Johnnies to quicken the pace given that Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 5 to 1, but I have a feeling Steve Lavin's bunch is going to play with real purpose against an Orange squad that is due to get clipped. The bottom line is this: If you want to play in the NCAA tournament, this is a game you have to win.
 
Last Week: 8-2
 
Season Record: 13-7
 

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