Weekend Picks: West Virginia tries to beat No. 1 and No. 2 in the same week
Friday, 9 p.m., ESPNU
These two are poised to wage a scintillating race for the MAAC title. The Gaels have lost six games this season, but in three of them they were without their leading scorer, A.J. English, who was sidelined with a hand injury. English has averaged 20.8 points since returning four games ago, and he should be ready to go bucket for bucket with Mounmouth’s diminutive dynamo, 5'8" junior Justin Robinson. I’ll go with the Gaels because they’re at home, but this is gonna be a fast-paced, intensely played game with lots and lots of buckets. Yummy.
Iona 85, Monmouth 80
Syracuse (11–7) at Wake Forest (10–6)
Saturday, noon, ESPN3
The Orange finally felt some good vibrations with a home win over Boston College on Wednesday night, despite yet another woeful three-point shooting performance (4-for-17). However, winning on the road against a Wake Forest team that needs to bolster its NCAA resume is a much taller order. The Demon Deacons have a mobile, skilled big man in 6'9" senior Devin Thomas who can take advantage of the Orange’s defensive deficiencies in the frontcourt.
Wake Forest 71, Syracuse 68
No. 6 Villanova (15–2) at Georgetown (11–6)
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
The Hoyas have been playing better basketball of late—D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera tied his career high with 33 points in Wednesday’s win at St. John’s—but they are going to have a hard time running their offense against Villanova’s tenacious guards. The Wildcats found themselves trailing Marquette at halftime by a point at home on Wednesday, but they held the Golden Eagles to 30% shooting in the second half and pulled away to win by 15.
Villanova 76, Georgetown 63
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Raise your hand if you had Clemson alone in second place of the ACC after five games. Me neither. The Tigers locked down Louisville’s three-point shooting last Sunday, and they pounded Duke on the the offensive glass on Wednesday. Still, it’s hard to imagine this team beating three ranked opponents in the same week, even if all three games are at home. The Tigers also have four of their next five on the road, beginning Tuesday at Virginia. Back to reality.
Miami 71, Clemson 64
Saturday, 2 p.m., FS1
The good news for Xavier is that freshman point guard Edmund Sumner, who missed the last three games with a concussion, will be back in the lineup. Sumner sparks the Musketeers’ offense, but he also spearheads the defense, which will be bad news for a Marquette squad that is last in the Big East in turnovers per game (15.1).
Xavier 74, Marquette 65
No. 11 West Virginia (15–1) at No. 2 Oklahoma (14–1)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma was very fortunate to win at Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. The Sooners committed 19 turnovers—10 by Buddy Hield—and were within a last-second three-pointer from losing the game. That will be problematic, to say the least, against a West Virginia team that forced Kansas into committing 22 turnovers on Monday night. I’ll go with the Sooners because they’re at home, but they need to play better than they did on Wednesday, or they will blow their chance to overtake Kansas atop the rankings.
Oklahoma 78, West Virginia 73
No. 17 Iowa State (12–4) at Kansas State (11–5)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNU
It’s not hard to hear the panicked voices in Cyclone Nation these days, even though all four of Iowa State’s losses are perfectly respectable. Unfortunately, I think things are going to get worse before they get better. Kansas State is awfully tough to beat at home, and the Wildcats finally had a decent offensive game on Tuesday night, when they converted a season-high 10 three-pointers in a win over Texas Tech.
Kansas State 72, Iowa State 70
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., SEC Network
LSU is at its best when Ben Simmons is a volume passer as opposed to a volume shooter. Simmons had 15 points on 13 shots during Wednesday’s win at home over Ole Miss, but he had seven assists. Meanwhile, sophomore forward Craig Victor had a team-high 18 points and freshman guard Antonio Blakeney scored 15 off the bench. The Tigers will need that kind of team-wide effort to knock off a Razorbacks squad that will pressure them relentlessly and has one of the SEC’s top big men in 6'10" junior forward Moses Kingsley, who leads the league in blocks (2.7) while ranking third in rebounds (9.5) and seventh in scoring (17.3).
LSU 75, Arkansas 65
No. 4 Michigan State (16–2) at Wisconsin (9–9)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS
The Spartans got jumped at home by Iowa on Thursday night; after falling behind big during the first 10 minutes of the game, they never recovered. Obviously, bringing Denzel Valentine back into the fold is not going to be as simple as we thought. Winning in Madison is never easy, but this is a weakened Wisconsin team that has lost four of its last five games. Tom Izzo will not be in a good mood in practice over the next couple of days, and that means bad news for the Badgers.
Michigan State 67, Wisconsin 60
Oregon State (11–4) at Utah (12–5)
Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ESPNU
The Utes were the toast of college basketball when they upset Duke in Madison Square Garden, but they are now in free fall, having lost three of their last four games. That includes Thursday night’s 18-point loss at home to Oregon, during which the Utes allowed the Ducks to shoot 54.9%. If Utah doesn’t get a Herculean performance from Jakob Poeltl (he had 7 points on one made field goal Thursday), then they can lose to anyone. They will have their hands full against Oregon State, which has one of the most versatile and dominant guards in the country in Gary Payton II. He ranks in the top six of the Pac 12 in points (17.7), assists (5.2) and rebounds (8.7), and he’s first in steals (2.5). I generally like to bank on the swinging pendulum, but I think the Beavers are an NCAA tournament-caliber team, and I also think the Utes have some very real problems.
Oregon State 73, Utah 70