Weekend Picks: Kansas-Oklahoma rematch takes center stage
No. 22 Kentucky (18–16) at South Carolina (21–3)
Saturday, noon, ESPN
If you want to argue that Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray comprise the best backcourt in the country, I won’t try to talk you out of it. But Kentucky has not performed as well on the road this season because it is deficient in the parts of the game a team needs to succeed away from home—defense, toughness, rebounding, the ability to get fouled. With Alex Poythress still out another couple of weeks because of a balky knee, it’s harder to imagine these Cats going into Columbia and digging one out against the Fighting Franks.
South Carolina 74, Kentucky 66
No. 15 Texas A&M (18–6) at LSU (15–9)
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
My sense of Texas A&M for most of the season has been high floor, low ceiling. The Aggies don’t have any obvious future pros (though Danuel House will get some looks), but they are experienced, savvy and cohesive on defense. That gave them an advantage early in the season, but now that the younger, more talented teams are figuring out their identities, that advantage is less pronounced. That’s why the Aggies have dropped four out of their last five. LSU is still too up and down for my taste, but playing at home against a ranked opponent with the chance to maintain a share of first in the SEC should bring out the best in the Tigers.
LSU 78, Texas A&M 80
No. 6 Kansas (20–4) at No. 3 Oklahoma (20–3)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Looking for flaws on Oklahoma is truly picking at nits, but watching the Sooners stub their toe lately (losing by 11 at Kansas State, needing a late Buddy Hield jumper to edge Texas at home), I wonder if they would be able to win an important game with their defense if they needed to. The Sooners are ranked eighth nationally in offensive efficiency, but they are 25th in defensive efficiency. That’s not bad by any means, but it’s probably not enough to overcome a really bad shooting night. Still, we’ve been waiting for this rematch for a while, and it’s a safe bet that Buddy Love and the Lovers will be snapping the twine aplenty.
Oklahoma 80, Kansas 75
No. 5 Xavier (21–3) at Butler (17–7)
Saturday, 2 p.m., Fox
Butler scored a huge win at Seton Hall Wednesday night. It was the Bulldogs’ second top-70 road win (Cincinnati was the other) and gave them some breathing room, but they are still .500 in league play and need to stay at there. A win over the Musketeers would just about clinch an NCAA bid, but Xavier, which won the first meeting by 19 points, is a bad matchup. Butler’s biggest weakness is lack of size, and the Musketeers have two players (Jalen Robinson and James Farr) who are big, strong and able to take advantage. Plus, the Musketeers just got their clocks cleaned by Creighton, so they are not going to be in a forgiving mood.
Xavier 72, Butler 60
No. 13 Louisville (19–5) at Notre Dame (17–7)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
The Fighting Irish have very quietly played some excellent ball, winning on the road at Duke and Clemson and upsetting North Carolina at home. Now they are ready to bring in the noise. You know about their dynamic “points” guard Demetrius Jackson, who averages 16.2 points and 5.0 assists per game, but I love the emergence of the team’s physical, athletic bigs, Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson. Notre Dame still shows an unsettling tendency to try to outscore teams as opposed to guarding them, but they are playing at home against a high-profile, ranked opponent. That should be enough.
Notre Dame 84, Louisville 79
No. 7 Virginia (20–4) at Duke (18–6)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Virginia has improved over the last couple of weeks, especially on the defensive end, and the Cavs remain the slowest team in the country. That poses a problem for Duke, which loves to run, but the Blue Devils are lethal when they are making outside shots. They tend to do just that in Cameron.
Duke 70, Virginia 67
No. 24 Texas (16–8) at No. 14 Iowa State (17–7)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
It looks like Jameel McKay, the 6'9" senior forward whom coach Steve Prohm suspended the last couple of games for an incident that occurred during practice, will return to the lineup for this one. The Cyclones can only hope he helps them get out of their current rut, which has seen them lose three out of their last four. The Longhorns, on the other hand, have been surging of late and darn near pulled off a road win at Oklahom on Monday. I love Texas’s perimeter D, but I love desperate home teams more.
Iowa State 78, Texas 71
Gonzaga (20–5) at No. 16 SMU (20–3)
Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2
You can sense that the air has gone out of SMU’s balloon ever since its dream of an undefeated season went by the wayside. The Mustangs have now lost three of their last five, including Wednesday’s loss at home to Tulsa. Still, this team only has three weeks left to play and this is a really big game. I think they’ll be ready.
SMU 80, Gonzaga 74
Indiana (20–5) at No. 8 Michigan State (20–5)
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
With their backs against the wall in Assembly Hall Thursday night, the Hoosiers rallied to knock off Iowa and score by far their biggest win of the season. It will take a near-perfect effort to beat a resurgent Michigan State team in the Breslin Center. While Indiana has the physical talent, I don't think it will summon the emotional energy required to pull it off.
Michigan State 78, Indiana 64
No. 23 USC (18–5) at No. 17 Arizona (19–5)
Sunday, 8 p.m., FS1
The Trojans beat Arizona in L.A. on Jan. 9, but it took them four overtimes to do it. For a relatively young team, the Trojans have shown impressive maturity the last few weeks. Arizona, however, will be out for revenge, and the Wildcats have been buoyed by the return of freshman guard Allonzo Trier, the team’s third-leading scorer who missed seven games with a broken hand.
Arizona 82, USC 76