Friday February 12th, 2010

Weekend Picks
 
Friday, February 12
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 5 West Virginia (19-4) at No. 25 Pittsburgh (18-6)
Let's hope this game does not include fans throwing objects onto the court the way they did when these two teams met in Morgantown two weeks ago. In terms of basketball, Pittsburgh has to do a better job handling the Mountaineers' defense. The Panthers shot just 30 percent in the first meeting (including 2 for 10 from three-point range) and got out-rebounded by 12. You'd have to expect Pittsburgh would shoot better at home, but you'd also have to expect West Virginia to be frothing at the mouth after losing to Villanova at home on Monday night. If you give Bob Huggins five days to prepare and re-ignite his guys, he usually comes through.
 
Saturday, February 13
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 12 Tennessee (18-5) at No. 3 Kentucky (23-1)
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I thought Tennessee was headed for a bit of a swoon. Well, the Vols have now lost three of their last six, including Tuesday night's 19-point shellacking at Vanderbilt. There's no reason the Volunteers should have gotten out-rebounded by 14; that's just a matter of effort. Getting recently reinstated center Brian Williams up to speed will help, but Williams, who played just two minutes in the loss to Vandy, will be no match for DeMarcus Cousins and company inside.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)Maryland (16-6) at No. 8 Duke (20-4)
I hate to describe any injury as good for a team, and certainly Duke is going to miss Lance Thomas's leadership and energy for however long he is out. But now that Mike Krzyzewski has no choice but to play freshman center Mason Plumlee extended minutes, the Blue Devils could be a better team in the long run. Plumlee has been prone to foul trouble and silly mistakes, but if you're going by future pro potential, he is the most talented player on this roster. Plumlee has subbed ably for Thomas twice in the last two weeks -- after Thomas fouled out midway through the second half at Boston College last weekend, and following Thomas's knee injury Wednesday in Chapel Hill. Plumlee finished with 7 points and 9 rebounds (6 offensive) in 27 minutes against North Carolina. This game is for first place in the ACC as Maryland has been playing excellent basketball of late, but Duke matches up much better on the perimeter with the Terps than the Terps match up with Duke inside.
 
8 p.m. ET (RAYCOM)No. 20 Georgia Tech (17-7) at Wake Forest (17-5)
We all know it's a lot harder to win on the road, but few teams in college basketball are more susceptible to the vagaries of road games than Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have beaten Duke, Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State at home, yet they've lost on the road this season to Georgia, Virginia, Florida State and Duke. On Wednesday night, Georgia Tech fell 64-62 on the road against a Miami team that had come in with a 2-7 ACC record. The Jackets are a very good defensive team, but they're ranked dead last in the conference in free throws. Wake Forest, meanwhile, comes into this one having won five of its last six.
 
12 p.m. ET (SNY)Cincinnati (14-9) at UConn (14-10)
Anyone else getting the feeling that UConn's season is snakebit? The Huskies have already had to soldier through seven games without Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, who will return to the bench on Saturday. On Wednesday night, they fought gamely on the road at No. 2 Syracuse before being done in by a controversial timeout call late in their 72-67 loss. Having now lost four of their last five games, the Huskies, who are now 4-7 in the Big East, are facing a virtual elimination game against the Bearcats. I'll take my standard desperate home team in this one, especially since Cincinnati has lost three of its last four. Senior guard Deonta Vaughn has quietly been one of the biggest disappointments in the nation this season. His 11.6 points per game is by far the lowest of his career.
 
2 p.m. ETNo. 18 Butler (22-4) at Cleveland State (12-12)
This game features the top two teams in the Horizon League, but since Butler is undefeated and has already clinched the regular season title, it's hard to see what the Bulldogs are playing for here. The Vikings, on the other hand, should be plenty hungry to knock off the league's signature program. At one point this season Cleveland State lost nine out of 10 games, but many of those losses came on the road against quality competition, and one was a two-point defeat at home to West Virginia. Butler's Gordon Hayward has been the best player in the league all season, and junior forward Matt Howard has been playing his best ball of late, though foul trouble remains a nagging problem. But the Vikings also have a very good player in junior guard Norris Cole, who is ranked in the top five of the Horizon League in points (16.2), assists (3.9) and steals (1.83).
 
6 p.m. ET (ESPN)Xavier (16-7) at Florida (17-7)
The Musketeers are another team that has been drastically inferior on the road. Their best road win came at LaSalle, and last weekend in their big matchup at Dayton the Musketeers were flat-out awful, losing 90-65. Xavier got pummeled on the boards by 17 in that defeat, and I don't see them faring much better against a Florida team that is ranked fourth in the SEC in rebound margin. The Gators might want to consider getting junior center Vernon Macklin more touches inside. The Big Ticket had a season-high 20 points in their win over Mississippi State last weekend but took just three shots in Wednesday's loss at South Carolina.
 
7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)Memphis (18-5) at Tulsa (19-5)
Pierre Henderson-Niles was never going to be a great player at Memphis, but the 6-8 senior forward's departure from the team this week comes at an inopportune time. Memphis was already hurting for size inside, and Henderson-Niles was the Tigers' second-leading rebounder even though he was only averaging 5.2 points per game. The Golden Hurricane, who are just one game behind UTEP in the Conference USA standings, should be able to take advantage of that big hole in Memphis's middle. They lead the league in rebound margin and boast one of the nation's top centers in 7-foot senior Jerome Jordan, who ranks fifth in the conference in rebounds (8.3) and second in blocks (2.67) while averaging 15.0 points per game.
 
Sunday, February 14
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 13 Ohio State (19-6) at Illinois (17-8)
I picked Illinois to beat Michigan State last weekend because the Illini were playing at home and the Spartans were without Kalin Lucas. But I would never have foreseen Illinois going into Madison and knocking off the Badgers in such convincing fashion. Much attention was rightly paid to Demetri McCamey's 27-point explosion, but the bigger story was Illinois' defensive effort. The Illini held the Badgers to 35.7 percent shooting, limited them to nine free throws and out-rebounded them by seven. Since that was their fifth straight win, the Illini should be primed for a letdown, but I think they've found something here, and the home cooking will give them the extra boost they need.
 
10 p.m. ET (FSN)UCLA (11-12) at USC (14-9)
It's hard not to watch USC and wonder what might have been. The Trojans are in a five-way tie for second in the Pac-10, one game behind California, and with nonconference wins over UNLV and Tennessee, they would have had a decent chance to earn at at-large bid. Alas, they are not eligible for the postseason, and while they have still played some pretty good basketball, they have really struggled -- notice a theme here? -- on the road. The lone exception came on Jan. 16, when the Trojans picked up their biggest win ever at Pauley Pavilion by throttling UCLA 67-46. USC has struggled to score this season, but so have the Bruins, and the Trojans' size inside is a big problem for UCLA. USC has quietly gotten a strong season from 6-10 sophomore Nikola Vucevic, who leads the Pac-10 in rebounds (9.8) and is ranked fifth in blocks (1.35).
 
Record Last Week: 5-5               Overall: 50-30
 

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