Weekend Picks: Villanova-Butler, Baylor-Kansas highlight action
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
Both of the meetings between these two last year were instant classics. Somehow, I don’t think this one will measure up. All seven of the Orange’s ACC wins have come against the bottom half of the league. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, have won four straight since Mike Krzyzewski jettisoned Rasheed Sulaimon following the loss at Notre Dame.
Duke 74, Syracuse 60
Saturday, 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network
This is the best game of the weekend. Hinkle Fieldhouse will be crackling with excitement, which should give the Bulldogs the edge they need. This team has the blend of talent and toughness that characterized Brad Stevens’ NCAA finalists. Butler’s resurgence shows the importance of junior forward Roosevelt Jones, who missed all of last season with an injured wrist.
Butler 66, Villanova 64
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
The Jayhawks have opened up a two-game lead atop the Big 12 standings, and they are going to be in no mood to relinquish it. Freshman forward Cliff Alexander started for just the second time this season in Tuesday’s win at TCU, which tells me that Bill Self is getting ready for another stretch run. The Bears are coming in wobbly after losing at home to Oklahoma State. If they couldn’t beat Kansas in Waco in early January, when the Jayhawks were still going through their growing pains, it’s unlikely they are going to pull this off in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas 77, Baylor 66
No. 12 North Carolina (18-6) at Pittsburgh (16-9)
Saturday, Noon, ESPN3
The Panthers knocked off Notre Dame two weeks ago, so they are more than capable of doing the same to the Tar Heels. Pittsburgh isn’t as good defensively as it has been in the recent past, but it is ranked 38th in the country in offensive efficiency, and it is 41st in offensive rebound percentage. The defensive glass has been a problem for the Tar Heels all season long.
Pitt 67, North Carolina 64
No. 21 West Virginia (19-5) at No. 14 Iowa State (17-6)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
West Virginia has had a steep fall from grace lately, losing back-to-back games to Oklahoma and Baylor by a combined 37 points. The Mountaineers are pretty deficient offensively, so if a team can handle their fullcourt press, then they are beatable. Iowa State has the personnel to beat that pressure for points, and the Cyclones will be in a bad mood coming off their loss at Oklahoma on Monday.
Iowa State 80, West Virginia 67
No. 23 Ohio State (19-6) at Michigan State (16-8)
Saturday, Noon, ESPN
The Spartans are tough to pick against in the Breslin Center, but the Buckeyes are playing inspired ball right now behind freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, who has earned his place in the national player of the year conversation. Plus, Thad Matta has reinstated 6’7” sophomore forward Marc Loving, the nation’s best three-point shooter who missed the last three games for disciplinary reasons.
Ohio State 70, Michigan State 66
Saturday, 9 p.m., SEC Network
Arkansas has performed better on the road than in any season since Mike Anderson came to Fayetteville, and Bobby Portis remains the best-kept secret in America. Ole Miss, however, has a nice, shiny hidden gem of its own in Stefan Moody, a 5’10” junior who ranks sixth in the SEC in points (15.6), 10th in steals (1.46) and first in free throw shooting (91.1%).
Ole Miss 80, Arkansas 75
UConn (14-9) at No. 25 SMU (20-5)
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
SMU was the surprise team left out of last year’s NCAA tournament, but the only suspense this time around will be what seed the Mustangs earn. The only team they’ve lost to since Nov. 25 is Cincinnati, which beat SMU twice. UConn had a nice win at home on Thursday night over Tulsa, but the Huskies do not have the inside prowess to score over the Mustangs’ frontcourt tandem of 6’11” senior center Yanick Moreira and 6’9” junior forward Markus Kennedy.
SMU 71, UConn 65
Colorado State (21-4) at San Diego State (19-6)
Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network
The Aztecs continue to struggle scoring at times, but 6’3” senior guard Aqeel Quinn has emerged as a viable perimeter option. Quinn had 18 points (on 4-for-5 three-point shooting) in Wednesday night’s thrashing of Wyoming. Colorado State will have the best player on the floor in 6’7” senior forward J.J. Avila, but the Aztecs have the type of versatile wings who can bother him. Plus, they’re at home.
San Diego State 65, Colorado State 60
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
The Illini pulled off an amazing escape at home against Michigan on Thursday night, reeling off 21 consecutive points to prevail in overtime. They have done well to play themselves back into the NCAA tournament picture, but if they come that close to losing to undermanned Michigan at home, it’s hard to imagine them pulling off the win at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin 74, Illinois 65