Weekend picks: Big 12/SEC Challenge takes center stage on Saturday
Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Davidson’s Jack Gibbs is no Stephen Curry, but he’s pretty close to the college version. He ranks fourth nationally in scoring (24.8 ppg), and he leads the Atlantic-10 in that category and in assists (5.2). Neither team in this game has great size, so mostly it will come down to which one can make the most jump shots. That advantage usually goes to the one playing at home.
Davidson 80, VCU 75
No. 9 West Virginia (17–3) at Florida (13–7)
Saturday, noon, ESPN
The Gators have done well to stay about .500 in the SEC, largely by playing patient, disciplined defense. The challenge here, of course, will be to hold onto the basketball against that relentless West Virginia press. The Mountaineers’ style translates well to the road, and even if the Gators are able to handle that defense, their inability to make shots will be their undoing. West Virginia will be playing without 6'7" senior forward Jonathan Holton, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, but this team is so deep I doubt they will miss him all that much.
West Virginia 73, Florida 63
Vanderbilt (12–8) at Texas (13–7)
Saturday, noon, ESPN2
Shaka Smart has the Longhorns scrapping and fighting, and now they are just one game back in the Big 12 standings. That’s pretty remarkable considering they lost their starting center, Cameron Ridley, to a foot injury in mid-December. Theoretically, Vanderbilt should be able to take advantage of that by utilizing their two big men, Damian Jones and Luke Kornet, but the Commodores will have a hard time overcoming their inability to make plays from the wing.
Texas 76, Vanderbilt 67
No. 11 Virginia (16–4) at No. 16 Louisville (17–3)
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
No one seems to be noticing that the Cardinals are alone in second place in the ACC and playing some great basketball. Their size and speed have enabled them to play harassing defense. (Louisville is ranked sixth in the U.S. in defensive efficiency.) They also have some big-time perimeter shot makers in Damion Lee, Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider. Virginia is a good team but not nearly the defensive juggernaut of the last two seasons.
Louisville 72, Virginia 65
No. 14 Iowa State (16–4) at No. 5 Texas A&M (17–3)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
The Aggies lost at Arkansas on Wednesday night to snap a 10-game winning streak. They are a veteran team that should respond well to that setback, especially since they know they have a great opportunity to score a big win at home in a high-profile game. The Cyclones are very efficient offensively, and while their defense has improved the last couple of weeks, I don’t think it will be enough to win on the road against a solid opponent coming off a loss.
Texas A&M 76, Iowa State 72
Washington (14–6) at USC (16–5)
Saturday, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Besides senior guard Andrew Andrews, Washington has almost an entirely different roster from last season. So it’s downright astounding that they are tied for first place with Oregon atop the Pac 12 standings. The Huskies are one of the fastest teams in the country (ranked fourth nationally in tempo), so when their shots are falling, they are hard to beat. Still, that was a highly intense and emotional win they scored on Thursday night in Pauley Pavilion. A young team like this is going to have a difficult time regenerating for a tipoff on the road less than 48 hours later.
USC 84, Washington 74
Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN
When the Big 12 and SEC set up their annual challenge, I doubt they realized they would be giving college basketball such a wondrous gift. The whole nation will be tuned in to see Hield v. Simmons, but what they will discover is that the Sooners have two other guards in Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins who are also playing championship-level basketball this season. LSU has some nice pieces, too, but no one who is producing with enough consistency.
Oklahoma 79, LSU 71
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Give Kentucky credit for making steady improvements in the last couple of weeks. The Wildcats have won five of their last six, but they are not equipped to win in Allen Fieldhouse against a Kansas squad that has lost three of its last five games. The Jayhawks are getting far less production from their young bench players than anyone expected, so their starters will have to be really locked in defensively from here on out.
Kansas 79, Kentucky 69
No. 10 Providence (17–4) at Georgetown (13–8)
Saturday, 8 p.m., FS1
The Friars have had quite the week, edging Villanova on the road in overtime on Sunday and then scrapping for 40 minutes against Xavier before losing by seven on Tuesday. The Hoyas, meanwhile, have quietly stayed just one game behind Villanova in the Big East standings, thanks to their ability to overcome a late 11-point deficit to beat Creighton at home on Tuesday night. This is a chance for Georgetown to prove at home that it should be taken seriously, and I believe it’s ready to do just that.
Georgetown 72, Providence 70
No. 22 Wichita State (15–5) at Evansville (18–4)
Sunday, 4 .m., ESPNU
This has been the circle-your-calendar game in the Missouri Valley Conference all season. Wichita State edged the Purple Aces by three points in Wichita back on Jan. 6, mostly because the Shockers were able to hold the league’s top scorer, 6'2" senior guard D.J. Balentine, to 14 points on 13 shots. Evansville has won five of six since then, including Thursday’s gritty overtime win at Southern Illinois. Fortunately for the Purple Aces, this game is being played on Sunday, not Saturday, so the turnaround isn’t quite so taxing. That, plus the vociferous home crowd, should help them to exact their revenge.
Evansville 78, Wichita State 77