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Duke, Purdue likely to become latest to feel sting of Top 10 pressure

The Weekend Forecast
 
Saturday, February 26
 
Noon (ESPN)No. 20 Missouri (22-6, 8-5 Big 12) at Kansas State (19-9, 7-6)
Most bracket watchers will point to Kansas State's upset of Kansas as the moment where the Wildcats began their surge toward an at-large bid. I prefer to point to the Wildcats' first game against Kansas in Lawrence, where they got throttled by 24 points. That ended up being the last game K-State played with sophomore forward Wally Judge, and while the team's turnaround can't be attributed solely to his decision to quit the team later, it did mark the moment where they hit rock bottom. Now they've bounced back by winning five out of six, including Wednesday's pivotal road win at Nebraska. The best news for this team is that Jacob Pullen has regained his All-American form. Missouri, meanwhile, is coming into this game on a four-game win streak of its own, but three of those games have been at home and the one road win was at Big 12 doormat Iowa State. The Tigers are a good team, but they're not good enough to reverse their road woes against a surging home team that still needs to lock up an NCAA tournament bid.
 
Noon ET (CBS)No. 17 Syracuse (23-6, 10-6) at No. 11 Georgetown (21-7, 10-6)
This is a hard game to pick because the Hoyas will be playing their first full game without senior point guard Chris Wright, who broke his left (non-shooting) hand in Wednesday's loss at Cincinnati. The players were clearly shaken and unprepared after Wright got hurt. Now they'll have a couple of days to practice without him, and more importantly the coaches will able to game plan beforehand. Given that Wright only scored six points when the Hoyas won at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 9, I'll stick with the home team here. Syracuse has done a nice job winning its last three games, but I'm a little concerned that the team's two top reserves, C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters, have run smack into the dreaded freshman wall.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 7 BYU (26-2, 12-1 Mountain West) at No. 6 San Diego State (27-1, 12-1)
Is it possible that all those viewers curious to check out The Jimmer might come away thinking that he's actually the second-best player in this game? I recommend they give a close gander to Aztecs sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds in SDSU's loss to BYU in Provo despite being so sick with a flu virus that he had to take intravenous fluids 45 minutes before tipoff. Though BYU won that game by 13 points, the game was close until the last four minutes, and the Cougs still needed a time-capsule, 43-point performance from You Know Who to pull it off. Fredette has looked something resembling mortal the last few games, so I'm guessing San Diego State will at least hold him under 30. The Aztecs' senior point guard, D.J. Gay, is quietly having a sensational season, and his maturity will be critical in SDSU's effort to slow down the pace. It's going to be a great environment for the biggest college basketball game in the history of this city, and the homeboys will not disappoint.
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 23 St. John's (18-9, 10-5) at No. 15 Villanova (21-7, 9-6), 2 p.m., ESPN
Villanova has plenty of cylinders. Unfortunately, they don't all fire at the same time. Corey Fisher was sensational in the great escape at DePaul, nailing the game-tying three pointer at the end of regulation and finishing with a career-high 34 points. Then, when senior guard Corey Stokes returned from injury to score 24 points at home against Syracuse, Fisher lost his touch and scored just eight points while missing all eight of his three-point attempts in a loss. The same goes for sophomore center Mouphtaou Yarou, who had four straight double-figure scoring games earlier this month but only attempted two shots against the Orange. Villanova's floor is lower than it ought to be, but its ceiling is also higher than that of St. John's. The question is whether Nova will be able to reach it. Coming off a tough loss with five days to prepare for another good opponent at home, I think they will.
 
4 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 13 Florida (22-5, 11-2 SEC) at No. 22 Kentucky (19-8, 7-6)
When the Wildcats traveled to the O Dome back on Feb. 5, their freshman point guard Brandon Knight, a 39.6 percent three-point shooter, had an open look from behind the arc that would have won the game at the buzzer. He missed. That's how close Kentucky came to a win that would have bolstered this young team's confidence immeasurably. Instead, the Cats have continued their losing ways on the road, bottoming out Wednesday night by losing by one point at Arkansas. UK's last five SEC road losses have come by a total of 11 points. It's hard to predict how they will respond to all this adversity, but I'm counting on all those fans in Rupp Arena to pull them over the hump. Because if it doesn't happen in this game, it probably won't happen at all.
 
4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net)No. 10 Arizona (23-4, 12-2 Pac-10) at UCLA (19-8, 10-4)
It looks to me like Arizona is ready to regress toward the mean. Yes, the Wildcats have been one of the great stories in college hoops this year, but their best wins have come at home against UCLA and Washington. They lost at USC Thursday night as their stud forward Derrick Williams made just 3 for 11 from the field. On the other hand, I think UCLA is ready to take a major step forward. When the Wildcats beat the Bruins in Tucson on Jan. 27, UCLA freshman center Josh Smith played just 19 minutes because of foul trouble. He had been making strides until he fouled out in a loss at Cal, but he bounced back with just 12 points and three fouls in 25 minutes in Thursday's win over Arizona State. I think Smith is a different player than he was on January 27, and that's why I'm predicting a different result.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)No. 21 Texas A&M (22-5, 9-4) at Baylor (17-10, 6-7)
Another desperate home team, another upset special. A win here wouldn't be enough to put Baylor in the NCAA tournament, but a loss would all but eliminate them. The Bears have dropped three of their last four, including a nine-point loss at home to Texas Tech and a road beat down at Missouri on Wednesday night. It's not just the circumstances and location that leads me to pick the Bears, but also the matchup. Baylor beat the Aggies in College Station in overtime on Feb. 5 behind a season-high 27 points from freshman forward Perry Jones. Texas A&M has won five straight games against the bottom teams in the league, which gives me reason to believe the Aggies are primed to be plucked.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 1 Duke (26-2, 12-1) at Virginia Tech (18-8, 8-5)
Have we seen this scenario before? A really good (but not great) team, freshly minted with the No. 1 ranking, travels to play in a pitched, hostile road environment against a good (but not really good) team desperate for a win to clinch an at-large bid. In other words, a classic upset trap in the making. The Hokies' NCAA chances are on life support following their loss at Virginia last weekend, but they've actually been playing pretty good basketball lately. I'm also thinking it's a good sign that freshman swingman Jarell Eddie scored a season-high 17 points in their win at Wake Forest on Tuesday. Upsets like this are the norm this season, and this is going to be just one more on a long list of exciting but surprising games.
 
Sunday, February 27
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 8 Purdue (23-5, 12-3 Big Ten) at Michigan State (16-11, 8-7)
It has been impressive, even refreshing, to watch Michigan State right its ship in time for the stretch run. The Spartans still don't look like a Final Four team, but at least they're an NCAA tournament team again thanks to their three wins in their last four games, including a gritty (read: ugly) road victory at Minnesota Tuesday night. Kalin Lucas had 18 points in that game, which is near-Jimmeresque considering the Spartans only scored 53. Meanwhile, Purdue has logged significant road wins this season at Valparaiso, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Penn State, but like everyone else they are much more beatable on the road. Plus, the Boilers have been riding high of late, which means they're due for a comedown.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 4 Pittsburgh (24-3, 12-2) at No. 16 Louisville (21-7, 10-5)
I correctly predicted that Pittsburgh would lose last weekend at St. John's, so I'm going to resist dipping back into that upset well a second time. Besides, I like the way the Panthers match up with Louisville. The Cardinals are getting healthy in their frontcourt, but they're still too young and thin inside to push Pitt around. The Panthers are also more comfortable duplicating the strategy Cincinnati used to beat Louisville last week, which involved slowing the pace and taking away the three-point shot. If this game were being played on Saturday I might have gone with the home team because it would require a quick turnaround from Pitt, but I think the extra day will give the Panthers time to regroup.
 
Record Last Week: 8-2               Overall: 73-37
 
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