Friday January 22nd, 2010

Weekend Picks
 
Saturday, January 23
 
4 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 1 Texas (17-1) at UConn (12-6)
Jim Calhoun's absence is less of a problem for UConn than the fact that a) Texas is coming off of a loss, and b) that loss happened on Monday, giving the Longhorns six full days to regroup. The good news for the Huskies is they're finally playing a team that's worse from the foul line than they are. UConn's 67.3 percent clip from the stripe is ranked 210th in the nation, while Texas's 62.4 percent is ranked 321st. That really hurt the Longhorns in their loss to Kansas State, when they shot a woeful 9-22 (40.9 percent) to K-State's 62.5 percent (20-32). Even so, you saw how UConn struggled against Michigan's 1-3-1 zone last weekend, especially when trying to run its half-court offense. I think it's safe to say Texas will provide a tougher test on that end of the floor, and you can be sure they'll be plenty fired up coming off that loss.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 7 Duke (15-2) at No. 17 Clemson (15-3)
I have been saying for a while that this Duke team is not like the ones from the last few years that faltered in the postseason, but it's worth pointing out that if the Blue Devils lose this game, they will be 0-4 on the road for the first time since Mike Krzyzewski's second year in Durham. Their defense was atrocious in Raleigh on Wednesday night when they allowed N.C. State to shoot 58.2 percent. Clemson is in good position to win this game, but it's hard to imagine Duke losing two in a row, even on the road. And it was only three weeks ago that the Blue Devils embarrassed Clemson by 21 points in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 21 Ohio State (14-5) at No. 11 West Virginia (14-3)
It's not quite panic time at West Virginia, but the honeymoon is definitely over. After starting the season 11-0, the Mountaineers lost three out of five games before winning at Marshall on Wednesday night. There's nothing like a little home cooking to right the ship. At least, that's the hope for Devin Ebanks, who has averaged 8.8 points his last six games, including a big fat bagel in the loss at Notre Dame. The Buckeyes have won four of five since Evan Turner returned from his back injury, including a road win over the same Purdue team that walloped West Virginia on New Year's Day. Still, I can't help but believe that while Ohio State would like to win this game, West Virginia needs to win, which combined with the home-court advantage is an irresistible combination.
 
Noon ET (CBS)No. 6 Michigan State (16-3) at Minnesota (12-6)
There's no logical reason to expect Minnesota to win this game. The Gophers have lost three of their last four, including in overtime at undermanned Indiana on Sunday, when the Hoosiers outrebounded Minnesota by 11. So why am I going against the Spartans? Because they're on the road, and they're due. Plus, the Gophers played Michigan State pretty tough two weeks ago in East Lansing, where they trailed by just three points with three minutes remaining before losing by seven. Kalin Lucas did a great job locking up Minnesota sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber, but my guess is that Hoffarber will be more comfortable in his home gym.
 
2 p.m. ETVCU (13-4) at Northeastern (12-7)
It's no surprise that there is a fascinating three-way tie for first place going on in the CAA right now, but it is surprising that VCU isn't a part of it. The Rams notched impressive wins at home during the nonconference season over Oklahoma, Nevada, Rhode Island and Richmond, and on Dec. 5 they took league co-leader William & Mary to the wire on the road before losing by one. But VCU later dropped two games in January, including a five-point loss to Northeastern despite the fact that the Huskies' leading scorer Matt Janning only had eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. Northeastern's presence at the top of the standings is fairly stunning considering they lost seven of their first nine games. The Huskies are not going to intimidate anyone on defense, but they are the most efficient offensive team in the CAA (they're first in the conference in field goal percentage and second in three-point shooting), and you have to believe that advantage will be even more pronounced at home.
 
5 p.m. ETNo. 8 Tennessee (15-2) at Georgia (8-8)
I tried to come up with a reason to pick Georgia to pull off the upset at home, but despite the Bulldogs' recent close losses (falling to Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State by a combined 15 points), Tennessee is not a good matchup for them. The Vols, who could see action from Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum for the first time since being reinstated, specialize in full-court pressure defense, and Georgia is ranked last in the SEC in turnovers and turnover margin. The matchup inside between Wayne Chism and Trey Thompkins will be interesting to watch, but in the end the Vols just have too many horses.
 
8 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)Illinois (12-7) at Northwestern (13-5)
If this game is half as entertaining as the first one earlier this season, it will be well worth tuning in. Illinois center Mike Tisdale scored 31 points in the Illini's overtime win in Champaign, but Tisdale has since pulled off some major disappearing acts against better competition, scoring two and four points, respectively, in losses to Michigan State and Purdue. Illinois won the first game over Northwestern because of Tisdale's performance and because it shot 50 percent overall and 81.5 percent from the foul line. I'm guessing that Northwestern will game plan Tisdale a little better this time around, and the change of venue, plus the fact that the Wildcats badly need some more quality wins to build their NCAA tournament resume after losing two of their last three, will yield a different result.
 
10:30 p.m. ETWashington (12-6) at USC (11-7)
Thursday was just another night in the wacky, upside-down Pac-10. Washington lost at UCLA on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid's last-second jumper, and USC lost for the third time in four games, this time at home to Washington State. The Trojans are having a tough time scoring points. They are ranked last in the Pac-10 in points per game (59.5), assists, assist-to-turnover ratio and turnover margin. The Huskies are not a good shooting team by percentage, but their aggressive defense and ability to convert in transition should give them enough breathing room to emerge with an important road win.
 
Sunday, January 24
 
2 p.m. ETNo. 9 Pittsburgh (15-3) at Seton Hall (11-6)
I took a shot at Jeremy Hazell in my Hoop Thoughts column on Monday, but the kid was very efficient against Louisville Thursday night, scoring 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting in a critical three-point win. Unfortunately, the Pirates are facing a far superior defensive team in Pitt, not to mention a team coming off a tough loss to Georgetown. Pitt leads the Big East in scoring defense (59.9 ppg) and three-point defense (29.1 percent), and they are not going to try to press Seton Hall full court like Louisville did, which only made it easier for Hazell to get open looks.
 
Noon ETNo. 19 Georgia Tech (14-4) at Florida State (14-4)
These teams have very similar profiles. They are dominant up front (Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton vs. Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal), they are rugged defensive teams (the Seminoles lead the ACC in field goal defense, while the Jackets are ranked second) and both are suspect in the backcourt. Florida State won the first meeting between these teams in Atlanta, but Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert did not play in that game. Shumpert has been borderline sensational of late, most notably when he hung 30 points on North Carolina last weekend. I think that win, coupled with the triumph over Duke at home, has bolstered the Yellow Jackets' confidence, and Favors is also coming off his best game of the season, a 17-point, 14-rebound performance in Tuesday night's win over Clemson.
 
Record Last Week: 7-3               Overall: 34-16
 

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