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Villanova-Syracuse, Louisville-Kentucky top weekend games

The Weekend Forecast
 
Saturday, Dec. 28
 
2 p.m., CBS No. 8 Villanova at No. 2 Syracuse
Villanova has the template to beat Syracuse in this game: Lots of big, athletic guards who can shoot long-range and medium-range jumpers; an abiding familiarity with Syracuse's zone from all those years playing in The League Formerly Known as the Big East; and good timing, because we all know the 'Cuse is due to get clipped. The only thing that Villanova does not have here is homecourt advantage. Unfortunately, that's a deal breaker.
 
4 p.m., CBS No. 6 Louisville at No. 18 Kentucky
For reasons that escape me, Rick Pitino put together his schedule like a man whose program is in rebuilding mode as opposed to one that returned its core from a national championship team. The Cardinals' only tough game was against North Carolina in at Mohegun Sun in Connecticut--and they played awfully in a 93-84 loss. That schedule, plus Luke Hancock's lingering Achilles injury, plus Kentucky's recent improvement, plus Kentucky's homecourt advantage adds up to the breakthrough win that the Big Blue Nation has been pining for.
 
10 p.m., Pac 12 Network Georgia at No. 21 Colorado
After a nightmarish start that included four losses in its first five games, Georgia has now won five in a row. Of course, those games were all at home against weak teams. Traveling to Boulder to play a quality Colorado team that will be in a lousy mood after losing to Oklahoma State in Las Vegas is a whole different matzoh ball. I really like Tad Boyle's team and expect it to keep getting better. Keep your eye on rapidly improving sophomore forward Josh Scott, who had 20 points, 12 rebounds and three steals in the loss to the Cowboys.
 
6 p.m., ESPNU Providence at No. 23 UMass
Providence coach Ed Cooley is an energetic, enormously likeable guy who is having a run of really bad luck. Two weeks ago, he lost sophomore point guard Kris Dunn to a season-ending shoulder injuruy. On Monday, the school announced that two freshmen who were initially suspended indefinitely will not return this season. The Friars still have 6-foot-1 senior Bryce Cotton, who leads the Big East in assists per game (5.7) and ranks third in scoring (19.1), but that won't be enough to knock off a UMass team that is coming off its first loss of the season, at Florida State.
 
8 p.m., ESPN2 No. 25 Missouri at North Carolina State
I am willing to entertain the possibility that N.C. State, which has won seven straight (including a road win at Tennessee) since losing at home in overtime to North Carolina Central, is better than we think. We'll know for sure after this one, but I don't think the Pack has enough to overcome a more talented Missouri squad. If nothing else, I hope people tune in to see N.C. State forward T.J. Warren, a versatile 6-foot-8 sophomore who ranks sixth nationally in scoring (23.9) while shooting 55.2 percent from the floor.
 
Saturday, 1 p.m. ESPN3 Belmont at Indiana State
This looked like one of those really fun sleeper midmajor games until Belmont lost three straight, including a 28-point drubbing at Denver. Still, the Bruins gave Kentucky a tough fight in Rupp Arena before succumbing by 13, and I suspect they will do the same against a Sycamores squad that already beat Belmont by 1 on its home floor in the second game of the season. Indiana State has one of my favorite players in the country in Jake Odum, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who is averaging 4.5 rebounds (to go along with 4.9 assists and 12.4 points) per game.
 
5 p.m., Fox Sports 1 Wake Forest at Xavier
These two teams struggled early, but they are now on a bit of an upswing. Since going 0-3 in the Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving, Xavier has won four straight thanks to better frontcourt scoring, including a 17-point win over rival Cincinnati and a three-point road victory at Alabama. Wake Forest is also riding a four-game win streak, though all four came at home against weak competition. The twin streaks are a nice table-setter, but the main reason I included this game is because it is part of an annual series that honors the late Skip Prosser, who worked as head coach at both of these schools. Prosser was one of my very favorite people, and the schools have done well to honor his legacy.
 
7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1 Boston College vs. VCU in Brooklyn, NY
Guess I was wrong about this being Shake Smart's best team at VCU. The Rams have been as tenacious as ever on the defensive end (they rank first nationally in defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage), but their halfcourt offense has been atrocious. The good news is they'll be facing a team that has been bad at both ends of the floor. That is especially true when the Eagles are away from home, where they have lost three straight to teams (Purdue, USC, Auburn) that are unlikely to make the NCAA tournament.
 
10 p.m., ESPN2 Alabama at UCLA
You get the idea that UCLA is thisclose to becoming a really good team. The problem isn't a lack of talent or experience; it's a lack of toughness. Still, this is a good matchup for the Bruins. Alabama has lost five of its last seven games, and because of its offensive deficiencies, the Tide really depends on creating points off its defense. And if it's one thing UCLA has shown that it can do, it's take care of the ball.
 
 
Sunday, Dec. 29
 
3 p.m. Davidson at No. 10 Wichita State
I give you my personal guarantee that Wichita State will not enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. Anyone who thinks they will has never been to a Missouri Valley Conference game. That league has the best fan bases top to bottom of any conference in America--and that includes the so-called power conferences. Davidson showed some pluck in taking North Carolina to overtime in Chapel Hill before losing, but that performance was deceptive. This is one of the worst teams that Bob McKillop has had in a long time, and it will be playing on the road against a squad that is quite capable of returning to the Final Four.
 
Last Week: 8-2
 
Season Record: 27-13
 

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