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Weekend Picks: Syracuse and Michigan State on upset alert

Weekend Picks
 
Saturday, February 6
 
Noon ET (ESPN)No. 2 Villanova (20-1) at No. 7 Georgetown (16-5)
I am going with Villanova in this one, but I would feel a lot more confident if Georgetown were not coming off a disappointing loss at home to South Florida. That is the Hoyas' second loss in their last three games, but they don't need any extra incentive to bring their A game to this one. Villanova would like the pace to be faster than Georgetown would, but while I usually feel it's easier to slow down a game than speed it up, I don't think that will be the case here. The Hoyas' biggest problem this season has been sloppiness with the ball (their 14.6 turnovers per game is ranked 13th in the Big East). That will be an especially big problem against a Wildcats squad that loves to pressure the ball and converts well in transition.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 5 Michigan State (19-4) at Illinois (15-8)
There may not be another team in the Big Ten, much less the country, that needs a single player as much as Michigan State needs Kalin Lucas. On a roster full of overachievers (Draymond Green) and talented-but-inconsistent players (Chris Allen, Durrell Summers, Raymar Morgan), Lucas has been a rock of stability. Assuming Lucas, who sprained his ankle in Tuesday's loss at Wisconsin, doesn't play, that should leave the door open just enough for an Illini team that is basically looking at not making the tournament if it can't pull off this upset on its own home floor. Illinois has won three in a row against the bottom teams of the conference, but now comes its toughest gauntlet: Michigan State, at Wisconsin, Ohio State, at Purdue and at Michigan. You all know I like desperate home teams, and Illinois, flawed though it may be, fits that profile.
 
4 p.m. ET (Versus)No. 12 BYU (22-2) at UNLV (18-4)
When BYU played UNLV in Provo on Jan. 6, Cougars star guard Jimmer Fredette was battling strep throat and scored a season-low seven points. Yet, BYU won the game by five. You can chalk that up to the home-court advantage, but it also tells me that the Cougars are the better team. That will be especially true now that Fredette is healthy and UNLV's best perimeter defender, Derrick Jasper, is out for the next month with a sprained MCL.
 
4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)No. 17 Gonzaga (18-4) at Memphis (16-6)
Memphis earned its most important win of the season on Wednesday night by knocking off Conference USA-leader UAB at home, but to really get in position for an at-large bid, the Tigers, who are ranked No. 70 in the RPI, need this one even more. And what, on the other hand, is Gonzaga playing for? Nothing, as far as I can tell. The Bulldogs are clearly the superior team, but they are playing this game less than 48 hours after beating Portland at home on Thursday night. Memphis could use another big game from sophomore swingman Wesley Witherspoon, who had a season-high 29 points in the win over the Blazers.
 
4 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 16 Wisconsin (17-5) at Michigan (11-11)
Michigan is a demoralized basketball team right now. The Wolverines are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, yet since their mild upset of UConn three weeks ago they have lost four out of five games, including a 15-point drubbing at Northwestern on Tuesday night. The Wolverines are ranked 326th in the nation in three-point shooting, yet they hoisted 28 treys against Northwestern and made just eight. (That's 28.6 percent if you're scoring from home.) In Wisconsin they are facing their polar opposite -- a team that is short on star power (not to mention missing its best big man Jon Leuer) but long on smarts, toughness and discipline.
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPNU)No. 19 Temple (19-4) at Richmond (17-6)
Richmond has put itself in excellent position for an at-large bid with a strong nonconference schedule (ranked 31st in the RPI) and four quality wins over Old Dominion, Missouri, Florida and Mississippi State. If the Spiders want to be considered a tournament-worthy team, they need to beat a very good Temple team at home. Unfortunately, the Owls are well-suited to handle both Richmond's Princeton-offense pace and its tenacious perimeter defense. (Three Spiders are ranked in the top five in the Atlantic 10 in steals.) Richmond, on the other hand, does not have the strength inside to contain Temple's 6-foot-9 junior forward Lavoy Allen, who is ranked in the top 10 in the conference in rebounds and blocks.
 
4 p.m. ETNo. 20 Baylor (17-4) at Texas A&M (16-6)
Mark Turgeon has quietly done an excellent job with the Aggies, who have won four of their last five and are tied for third in the Big 12 despite being without senior guard Derrick Roland, their second-leading scorer who was lost for the season back on Dec. 22. The Aggies were able to win at Missouri by manhandling the Tigers on the boards, but that will not be so easy against Baylor, which is ranked sixth in the nation in rebound margin. I have been driving the Baylor bandwagon all season, but after an emotional week that included a tough overtime win at Texas, I have a feeling the Bears are due for a clunker, especially going up against a good team on the road.
 
4 p.m. ETOld Dominion (18-6) at VCU (16-5)
This is a must-win for VCU, which is ranked 58th in the RPI and sits two games behind Northeastern, George Mason and Old Dominion, the three teams tied for first in the CAA. VCU has some pretty good nonconference wins over Rhode Island and Richmond, but if they want any hope of gaining an at-large bid, they have to beat a Monarchs team that owns a win at Georgetown and is sitting pretty at No. 37 in the RPI. The reason why VCU is so much better at home than on the road is because of its dependence on three-point shooting. The Rams are ranked third in the CAA in three-point percentage (36.1) and second in threes made (7.1), while the Monarchs are ranked last in the league from behind the arc (29.9 percent). Since this one is being played in Richmond, and since VCU is taking the court in desperation, this is an easy pick.
 
4 p.m. ET (CBS)California (14-7) at UCLA (10-11)
Didn't I tell you the Pac-10 race was going to be wild and unpredictable? Admit it -- you want to despise this league, but you can't turn your head away. After Cal lost at USC on Thursday night, the Bears have dropped into a four-way tie for first, with UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. It's amazing to think that a win here would put the Bruins in first place, but I do not see that happening, even though this game is being played in Pauley Pavilion. UCLA has clawed its way back into the picture behind a zone defense, which has propelled the Bruins to win four of their last five. Cal, however, is a bad team to zone, because the only thing the Bears do well is shoot jumpers. They lead the Pac-10 in field goal percentage and they're ranked fourth in three-point percentage and threes made. UCLA, on the other hand, is ranked last in the conference in three-point defense.
 
Sunday, February 7
 
2 p.m. ETNo. 3 Syracuse (22-1) at Cincinnati (14-7)
These are the dog days of February, so anything can happen. Cincinnati got embarrassed at Notre Dame on Thursday night, and if the Bearcats had to turn around and play Syracuse two days later, they could have been in a lot of trouble. With this game being played on Sunday, however, I think they have a fighting chance -- if Syracuse gives them some help. Remember, the Orange were very fortunate to win at DePaul last weekend by a single bucket after falling behind by 18 points. Now they have to go on the road to face a team desperate for a resume-building win in a game that comes before a critical three-game stretch against UConn and Louisville at home followed by Georgetown on the road. In other words, I smell a letdown -- and the weekend's biggest upset.
 
Record Last Week: 7-3               Overall: 45-25
 
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