Weekend Picks: North Carolina-Texas, Cincinnati-Xavier highlight action
Ohio State (4–4) at UConn (5–3)
Saturday, noon, CBS
I’m not saying UConn is going to be a bubble team, but Kevin Ollie stacked his nonconference schedule for a reason, and so far all they have to show for it is a neutral court win over Michigan. If they can’t win a home game against one of the youngest teams in the Power Five leagues then the Huskies are really in deep trouble.
UConn 74, Ohio State 60
Saturday, 1:30 p.m., ESPN2
Marquette has won six in a row, including oh-so-close neutral court wins over LSU (by 1) and Arizona State (in OT). Wisconsin, meanwhile, has beaten Syracuse, VCU and Temple but lost to Western Illinois and Milwaukee. I’ll go with the Badgers at home, but I don’t feel great about it.
Wisconsin 71, Marquette 67
No. 25 Utah (7–1) at Wichita State (4–4)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m., ESPN2
That sigh of relief you hear is coming from Wichita State fans, who were glad as can be to see senior point guard Fred VanVleet return from a four-game injury absence to score 11 and 17 points, respectively, in wins over Saint Louis and UNLV. The Shockers will be even tougher to beat once they get more production from Conner Frankamp, the mid-semester transfer from Kansas who went 0-for-5 in his season debut against UNLV. Utah, as I detailed in my Twitterbag this week, has to step up its perimeter defense, because though center Jakob Poeltl is an All-Ameica candidate, he can’t do it all himself.
Wichita State 78, Utah 70
Saint Mary’s (6–0) at California (7–2)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Cal may have one of the nation’s top freshman classes, but the Bears have underachieved this season, losing to San Diego State and Richmond and needing overtime to win at Wyoming. It might help to start with the perimeter defense—the Bears are ranked dead last in the Pac 12 in steals per game (3.7) and are 10th in defensive three-point percentage. The Gaels have a similar profile. They love to score (82 ppg) but don’t play much D (154th nationally in defensive efficiency).
California 66, Saint Mary’s 64
No. 3 North Carolina (7–1) at Texas (5–3)
Saturday, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
People might be tempted to go with the home team in an upset, but this Texas team has been mediocre from Day 1. The Longhorns are especially susceptible on the defensive backboards (326th in defensive rebound percentage), which is going to spell trouble against a Tar Heels squad that is long and rangy and loves to attack the glass.
North Carolina 80, Texas 67
Kansas State (7–1) at Texas A&M (7–2)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m., SEC Network
Kansas State is off to a surprising start, although most of its wins have come against low-level competition. I like the Aggies’ chances to come home and bounce back from a disappointing loss at Arizona State, but only if Danuel House commits more to driving and less to jump-shooting.
Texas A&M 72, Kansas State 64
No. 23 Cincinnati (8–1) at No. 12 Xavier (9–0)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
This is truly one of the great rivalries in all of sports. Usually, it comes down to which is the tougher team, which is why I give a slight edge to Xavier. The Musketeers are so strong on the glass that their backup center (James Farr) is third in the Big East in rebounds with 8.7 a game. The trainers bring extra ice packs for this one.
Xavier 70, Cincinnati 66
Florida (6–2) at No. 1 Michigan State (10–0)
Saturday, 5 p.m, ESPN2
The Gators are trying real hard for first-year coach Mike White, but they are a putrid offensive team. They made just 1 of 12 attempts from three-point range in Tuesday’s loss at Miami, and they are ranked dead last in the SEC in both field goal percentage (42.2) and free throw percentage (65.1). Does that sound like the formula for a road win over the No. 1 team in the country?
Michigan State 79, Florida 66
Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2
The Bruins looked predictably flat in their first game after upsetting Kentucky, but they managed to pull off a win at home over a mediocre Long Beach State team. Gonzaga, on the other hand, desperately needed to rebound from its home loss to Arizona, but the Zags struggled on Tuesday before edging out Montana at home by three points. I’ll give Gonzaga the nod because I like my desperate home teams, but this squad clearly has some long-term problems (i.e., lackluster guard play) it needs to straighten out.
Gonzaga 73, UCLA 70
Syracuse (7–2) at St. John’s (6–3)
Sunday, noon, Fox Sports 1
The Orange rebounded from their loss at Georgetown by dominating Colgate at home; and while I’d like to believe St. John’s will give them a test, I don’t see it happening. The Red Storm are by far the worst offensive team in the Big East, and their propensity to turn the ball over (in nine games they’ve committed 24 more miscues than their opponents) will spell doom against Syracuse’s zone.
Syracuse 70, St. John's 60