Picks: Bubble teams desperate for big wins in penultimate weekend
Butler (18–9) at Georgetown (14–14)
Saturday, noon, CBS
The NCAA tournament has room for one of these teams, but probably not both. The Hoyas have lost six of their last seven games, and while all of those came against the top-tier teams in the Big East, they are running out of time to build a tournament résumé. Perimeter defenses has plagued the Hoyas, most notably in their Feb. 2 loss to Butler, in which Bulldogs’ guard Kelan Martin carved them up for 25 points in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Still, I like to go with desperate home teams. This is the type of game where you’d expect them to find some consistency on offense.
Georgetown 70, Butler 66
No. 3 Oklahoma (22–5) at No. 25 Texas (18–10)
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
When these teams met in Norman on Feb. 8, the Sooners needed a controversial offensive foul call and a buzzer-beating three by Buddy Hield in the final seconds to win. And that was despite the Longhorns shooting 6 for 23 from three-point range. You’d have to think Texas will be more efficient on its homecourt. Oklahoma has to be encouraged that senior forward Ryan Spangler, who has been in a shooting slump for more than a month, broke out and scored 26 points in a win over Oklahoma State, but he is likely to regress to the mean.
Texas 75, Oklahoma 71
No. 11 Louisville (22–6) at No. 12 Miami (22–5)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Like most teams, Miami is much stronger at home (beat Virginia on Monday) than on the road (embarrassed at North Carolina and also lost at NC State and Clemson). Now that they’re back home, I’ll go with the ‘Canes to win. Plus, Miami is one of the few teams in the ACC that has veteran guards to match up with Louisville’s tandem of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis.
Miami 79, Louisville 72
No. 9 Arizona (22–6) at No. 22 Utah (22–7)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Of Arizona’s six losses this season, all but one have been by four points or fewer. That list includes Wednesday’s 75–72 loss at Colorado, when the Buffaloes grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and made five more free throws. That is unusual for an Arizona team that has prided itself on physical toughness, and it doesn’t bode well for another road game against an even more physical front line anchored by Utah’s center Jakob Poeltl. The 7-foot sophomore from Vienna is is ranked in the top three of the Pac-12 in points (17.7 ppg) and rebounds (8.9), and he is seventh nationally in field goal percentage (66.7).
Utah 69, Arizona 63
No. 16 Kentucky (21–7) at Vanderbilt (17–11)
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
You won’t find a more desperate home team this weekend than Vanderbilt, which has not lived up to expectations after being ranked in the preseason. The Commodores have won two straight, including at Florida on Tuesday behind junior center Damian Jones’s career-high 27 points. Kentucky, meanwhile, welcomed back senior forward Alex Poythress from a knee injury during Wednesday’s blowout win over Alabama, but may now lose another senior forward, Derek Willis, for some time to a foot injury. If Vandy does not win this game at home, it will probably not go to the NCAA tournament. I spy a last stand.
Vanderbilt 78, Kentucky 73
No. 10 Maryland (23–5) at No. 20 Purdue (21–7)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
Add Maryland to the long list of teams that are demonstrably weaker when they go on the road. The Terrapins were able to match Purdue’s physicality in the paint when they beat the Boilermakers in College Park on Feb. 6, but Purdue also helped by shooting 3 for 25 from three-point range. Teams tend to shoot much better at home, and Maryland tends to lose its defensive edge on the road.
Purdue 74, Maryland 69
No. 7 North Carolina (23–5) at No. 3 Virginia (21–6)
Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
The Cavaliers come into this one having lost two of their last three by a combined four points. Their loss at Miami on Monday night was one of the few times all season that their defense failed them. The Hurricanes shot 45.7% overall and 52.6% from three-point range. North Carolina doesn’t have nearly the same firepower as Miami on the perimeter. Plus, the Heels will be playing on the road, at an uncomfortable pace, against a team that is hungry to get back on the winning track.
Virginia 67, North Carolina 63
Florida (17–11) at LSU (16–12)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Allow me to repeat myself (again): I love desperate home teams. It will not be easy for LSU to adjust to life without Keith Hornsby, the senior guard who is likely lost for the remainder of the season because of a hernia injury. Ben Simmons had 28 points when the Gators beat LSU in Gainesville on Jan. 9, but as usual, he did not get enough help from his teammates. That starts with Tim Quarterman, the 6'6" junior guard who almost had a triple-double (21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) in the Tigers’ 85–67 win over Kentucky on Jan. 5 but has played his last seven games without scoring in double figures. If Quartermann has any intent on being an impact player again, this would be a good time to start.
LSU 74, Florida 66
No. 5 Xavier (25–3) at Seton Hall (20–7)
Sunday, 12:30 p.m., FS1
Xavier had one of its biggest regular season wins in program history Wednesday night against Villanova, so it’s reasonable to anticipate an emotional letdown. That is especially dangerous on the road against a tough, athletic conference opponent trying to sew up an NCAA bid. I love the progress that Seton Hall sophomore point guard Isaiah Whitehead has shown this season. He had 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists, four blocks and just two turnovers in the Pirates’ win over Providence Thursday night, and I think he matches up favorably with Musketeers point guard Edmond Sumner.
Seton Hall 77, Xavier 74
USC (19–9) at California (20–8)
Sunday, 8 p.m., FS1
This matchup looks like two ships passing in the night. USC is a young team running out of gas down the stretch. The Trojans have lost four of their last six, including Thursday’s 20-point blowout at Stanford. Cal, meanwhile, is getting stronger and healthier and has won six games in a row. That, plus the homecourt advantage, should yield a comfortable win.
Cal 82, USC 66