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OSU-Michigan St., Baylor-Missouri and more weekend hoops picks

The Weekend Forecast
 
 
Seth Davis' Take 5
Source:SI
SI.com's Seth Davis weighs in on the five hottest topics in college hoops.
 
Saturday, Feb. 11
 
9 p.m. (ESPN)No. 1 Kentucky (24-1, 10-0 SEC) at Vanderbilt (17-7, 6-3)
It's titillating to wonder what life would be like for the Kentucky Wildcats if Indiana forward Christian Watford's three-pointer had rimmed out. Would UK still be undefeated? Or would this team have succumbed to the pressure of the perfect record elsewhere? My guess is the latter, but that doesn't mean the Cats won't run the table in the SEC. This is the first of three remaining road tests for Kentucky (Mississippi State and Florida are the others), but I think the Wildcats will pass it. Vandy loves to play outside-in, but Anthony Davis's shot-blocking prowess enables his teammates to be aggressive when they close out on three-point shooters. Plus, Commodores point guard Brad Tinsley is no match for UK freshman Marquis Teague.
 
1 p.m. (CBS)UConn (15-8, 5-6 Big East) at No. 2 Syracuse (24-1, 11-1)
Syracuse managed to eke out a win at home over Georgetown Wednesday night, enabling Jim Boeheim to pass Dean Smith for the No. 3 spot on the all-time coaching wins list. Yet, Boeheim came to the postgame podium in a bad mood. That shows you the high expectations he has for his team, which is bad news for a UConn squad that has very much lost its way. The Huskies have talent -- not many teams can boast two future lottery picks -- but they lack chemistry and leadership. That is an even bigger problem with Jim Calhoun still sidelined with spinal stenosis.
 
6 p.m. (ESPN)No. 11 Michigan State (19-5, 8-3 Big Ten) at No. 3 Ohio State (21-3, 9-2)
If Ohio State is going to win an NCAA championship, it's going to need all three legs of its stool to be sturdy. Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft have done their part, but William Buford, the team's lone senior, has been a bit wobbly the last few weeks. That was not the case Tuesday night, when Buford scored a career-high 29 points in a close win at home over Purdue. I like Michigan State a lot, but sophomore guard Keith Appling is still adjusting to life as a full-time point guard. Appling is managing the Spartans' offense well, but the position switch has hurt his three-point shooting. (He made 41.4 percent from three as a freshman but is making just 27.3 percent this year.) The Spartans will fight hard and stay close, but I think the Buckeyes have a great groove going, and they're just too hard to beat on their own home floor.
 
1:30 p.m., Big 12 NetworkNo. 6 Baylor (21-3, 8-3 Big 12) at No. 4 Missouri (22-2, 9-2)
Is Baylor a fraud, or is this a really good team that just doesn't match up with Kansas? It might be both. The Bears have an impressive won-loss record, but they have been badly outplayed in their three big conference games -- including their not-as-close-as-the-score-indicates loss to Missouri in Waco by one point three weeks ago. That was the game where Tigers center Ricardo Ratliffe scored a career-high 27 points as Missouri built a 14-point lead in the second half. Baylor has other problems besides an inability to defend the interior. Perry Jones III still disappears for long stretches, 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Brady Heslip has become a nonfactor (he didn't score a point in Wednesday night's loss to Kansas), and the bench has not given the Bears nearly the production they need. Those are serious problems, and Columbia is not the place to solve them.
 
1 p.m. (ACC Network)No. 19 Virginia (19-4, 6-3 ACC) at No. 5 North Carolina (20-4, 7-2)
North Carolina fans are no doubt still in shock over the debacle against Duke Wednesday night. The question is whether the players are ready to move on. We'll know the answer when the Tar Heels take on a tough, patient, grind-it-out Virginia team. The good news is that North Carolina matches up well with the Cavaliers. The Tar Heels' front line should be able to contain Virginia's outstanding forward, Mike Scott, who ranks fourth in the ACC in scoring and is sixth in rebounding. Tyler Zeller and John Henson should also have plenty of scoring opportunities at the rim since Virginia ranks last in the ACC in blocks. As impressive as North Carolina's won-loss record is, the Tar Heels' best win of the season came by three points at home over Wisconsin. The Tar Heels need this one very, very badly. I say they'll get it.
 
4 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)No. 13 San Diego State (20-3, 6-1 Mountain West) at No. 14 UNLV (21-4, 5-2)
If this game is anywhere near as good as the first meeting in Viejas Arena, it's going to be must-see TV. SDSU's Jamaal Franklin went down in the closing minutes with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury, but he returned to convert a layup with three-tenths of a second remaining to give the Aztecs a 69-67 victory. That should tell you how evenly matched these teams are, so now that the site is shifting to Las Vegas you have to like the Runnin' Rebels. Besides the desire for revenge from that loss, UNLV has had a full week to marinate on its two-point loss at Wyoming last weekend. The week off should rejuvenate the tired legs of the team's second-leading scorer, Chace Stanback, who failed to hit a field goal in that loss to the Cowboys.
 
5 p.m. (ESPN2)Wichita State (21-4, 12-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 17 Creighton (21-4, 11-3)
It has been a rough stretch for Creighton, which is coming off back-to-back losses for the first time this season. Those defeats at Northern Iowa and Evansville confirmed what we already suspected: This team does not play very good defense. The Bluejays are ranked sixth in the country in offensive efficiency and first in effective field goal percentage (which gives added weight to three-point shots); but they're 119th in defensive efficiency and 336th in defensive turnover percentage. Still, when you have the Dougie and his Dougettes, you've got a good chance to outscore people, especially at home. When these two teams met in Wichita on New Year's Eve, Doug McDermott only scored 12 points, but senior point guard Antoine Young scored 19 as the Bluejays won by seven. The Shockers are second to Creighton in the Missouri Valley in scoring, but they are a far better defensive team. Even so, it's hard to imagine Creighton losing three in a row, much less at home, much, much less to its primary challenger for the league title.
 
2 p.m. (The Comcast Network)VCU (21-5, 12-2 CAA) at Old Dominion (16-10, 12-2)
It's déjà VCU all over again. Shaka Smart's Rams are once again peaking at just the right time as they have won 10 in a row to move into a three-way tie for first in the CAA. They're not the offensive juggernaut they were a year ago, but the Rams have excellent balance (their top six scorers are averaging between seven and 13 points per game) and efficient guard play (they're first in the league in steals, turnovers and assist-to-turnover ratio). Old Dominion, however, is tough to beat at home. Just ask Missouri, which had to scrape its way to a seven-point win in Norfolk back in December.
 
9 p.m. (ESPN2)Xavier (16-8, 7-3 Atlantic 10) at Temple (18-5, 7-2)
The Temple Owls have very quietly played themselves to the top of the Atlantic 10 standings. They have won six straight league games, with a 13-point drubbing of Maryland sprinkled in. We know this team has a terrific perimeter crew, but a big reason for its recent surge was the return of 6-11 center Micheal Eric from an injury on Jan. 21. Xavier, meanwhile, has held its own against the lesser teams on its schedule (Charlotte, George Washington, Rhode Island) while falling short against the better ones (Dayton, Saint Louis, Memphis). Tu Holloway has never rediscovered his offensive mojo since that fight with Cincinnati -- his offensive numbers are way down across the board from his junior year -- and this team isn't good enough on defense to overcome that.
 
4 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)Cal (19-6, 9-3 Pac 12) at UCLA (14-10, 7-5)
Could it be that maybe -- just maybe -- the UCLA Bruins are showing signs of life? They put away Stanford Thursday night with a late 10-0 run that gave them their fourth win in their last five games. The one loss during that stretch came at Washington, when UCLA blew a 10-point lead to lose by two. Sophomore center Josh Smith had his best game of the season in that one, going for a career-high 24 points, and he'll have to be a factor again against Cal center Harper Kamp. Predicting UCLA to win is a hazardous endeavor, but I think this team has officially turned a corner. Of course, when you have nowhere to go but up, things are bound to get better.
 
Last Pickoff: 10-0               Overall: 74-26
 
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