Picks: UCLA-Kentucky, Xavier-Baylor highlight strong weekend slate
Seth Davis makes picks for college basketball's weekend slate each Friday.
Alabama (4–2) at Texas (3–3)
Friday, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU
It’s not quite time to hit the panic button in Austin, but you might want to keep that thing within arm’s reach. The Longhorns have dropped their last three games, including Tuesday night at home to UT-Arlington. Texas shot a miserable 3 for 23 from three in that game. They can’t possibly be that bad again, right? Right?
Texas 71, Alabama 66
No. 11 UCLA (8–0) at No. 1 Kentucky (7–0)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m., CBS
First one to 100 wins! Kentucky loves to run, gun and have fun, but the Bruins will be the best team the Cats have played this season. Much of the attention will be on the four main backcourt protagonists, but keep your eye on UCLA senior guard Isaac Hamilton, who has dramatically improved his long-range shooting and just tied his career-high with 27 points in a win over UC-Riverside.
Kentucky 105, UCLA 101
Oklahoma (5–1) at No. 17 Wisconsin (6–2)
Saturday, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network
The Post Buddy Hield Era is off to a so-so start. The Sooners enter this one with just one loss, on a neutral court to Northern Iowa, but winning in the Kohl Center is quite the tall order. The Badgers need to avoid a letdown after Tuesday’s blowout of Syracuse, but given that the game is being played in Madison, and given that Wisconsin is still smarting from losses to Creighton and North Carolina in November, I'm guessing they’ll be primed and ready.
Wisconsin 77, Oklahoma 65
VCU (6–1) vs. Illinois (5–3)
Saturday, 3 p.m., Miami, Fla., CBS Sports Network
The Illini got a very badly needed win on Tuesday night when they clipped NC State at home to snap a three-game losing streak. True, two of those losses were to ranked teams (West Virginia and Florida State), but the other was in overtime to Winthrop at home. This is going to be a delightful matchup of scoring guards between Illinois’s Malcolm Hill and VCU’s JeQuan Lewis, but I think VCU’s overall toughness and maturity will be the difference, especially on a neutral court.
VCU 68, Illinois 65
No. 7 Xavier (7–0) at No. 9 Baylor (7–0)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
How about this powerhouse nonconference matchup to brighten your Saturday? Xavier has looked good in its undefeated start, but two of those wins came against Northern Iowa. The Musketeers’ most impressive win was on a neutral court over Clemson, and they also needed overtime to squeak by a pretty bad Missouri team. In Waco, they’ll face a Baylor squad that has knocked off three teams that have been ranked this season.
Baylor 78, Xavier 71
Rhode Island (5–2) at Providence (5–2)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
All eyes were on Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews as he was coming off knee surgery, but he has struggled at times in the early going, including during a six-point performance in a loss at Valparaiso. This is an intense in-state rivalry game, so it’s easy to go with the home team, especially when they have the Big East’s leading scorer in Rodney Bullock (22.0 ppg). So I'll do the easy thing.
Providence 68, Rhode Island 66
No. 8 Gonzaga (7–0) vs. No. 16 Arizona (6–1)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m., Los Angeles, ESPN
Arizona's no-good, horrible, bad luck continued on Wednesday night, when point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright suffered what appeared to be a high ankle sprain in a win over Texas Southern. Sean Miller said Jackson-Cartwright could be out for “a significant amount of time.” That’s going to even make it harder to beat a Gonzaga team that is enjoying not only health, but also balance and depth. Nigel Williams-Goss, the transfer from Washington, is settling in nicely at the point, and I love the production Mark Few is getting from his two freshman bigs off the bench, Zach Collins and Killian Tillie.
Gonzaga 78, Arizona 68
Oklahoma State (6–1) at Maryland (7–1)
Saturday, 9 p.m, Big Ten Network
Talk about a fun point guard matchup. Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans, a 6' 1" sophomore who missed the last 10 games of 2015–16 because of injury, ranks third in the nation in scoring (24.7 ppg) and is fifth in steals (3.14). He’ll be faced off against Maryland’s Melo Trimble, who is second in the ACC in scoring (20.1) and is eighth in steals (1.38). Maryland suffered a tough loss at home to Pittsburgh this week, but perhaps that’s to be expected for a team that starts three freshmen. I think the Pokes will be ready to take advantage of Maryland’s youth as well.
Oklahoma State 80, Maryland 75
BYU (5–2) vs. USC (7–0)
Sunday, 8 p.m., Los Angeles, ESPNU
This is your chance to check out Eric Mika if you haven’t already. You would think BYU’s 6' 10" sophomore forward has returned from his two-year Mormon mission, but he is ranked in the top five of the West Coast Conference in points (19.7), rebounds (8.4), blocks (2.29) and field goal percentage (60.5). That will make it harder for a USC team that just lost its fourth-leading scorer, 6' 10" sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright, for six weeks because of a knee sprain.
BYU 77, USC 70