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Duke or North Carolina in battle for ACC title? Plus more Weekend Picks

The Weekend Forecast
 
Saturday, March 5
 
Noon ET (ESPN2)Virginia Tech (19-9, 9-6 ACC) at Clemson (19-10, 8-7)
The box score says Virginia Tech lost to Boston College on Tuesday, but the Hokies really lost that game about 11:15 Saturday night. That's when Seth Greenberg and his players celebrated their triumph over Duke as if they had actually won something. Now the Hokies have been swept this season not only by Virginia but also by fellow bubble boy BC as well, making this game at Littlejohn Coliseum a must-win for them. Unfortunately, it's also a must win for the Tigers, who have just one top-50 win on their résumé -- over Boston College. Besides the high incentive and the home-court advantage, Clemson's uptempo style should give Virginia Tech problems, considering Greenberg is basically only playing five guys right now because of injuries.
 
Noon ET (CBS)No. 2 Kansas (28-2, 13-2) at No. 22 Missouri (22-8, 8-7)
Yes, Missouri has not lost in Mizzou Arena this season. But it also hasn't had to play the top two teams in the Big 12 there. The Tigers fell at Texas and don't get a return game, and on Feb. 7 they lost by 17 at Allen Fieldhouse. The problem Missouri will have in this game is not so much that Kansas is better (it is), but rather the fact that the faster Mizzou tries to run, the better the Jayhawks will play. The teams are evenly matched on the perimeter, but KU has superior depth, size and athleticism. Kansas is also a much better defensive team than anyone gives it credit for. The Jayhawks are ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency and 22nd in field-goal percentage defense.
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 8 Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4) at No. 16 UConn (21-8, 9-8)
I'm sure UConn fans are hoping the month of March will treat their team better than February did, but I wouldn't count on it. The Huskies entered February with just three losses, but they now have eight, including three in their last four games. Obviously Kemba Walker doesn't always get enough help from his teammates, but the general issue with UConn is inconsistency up and down the roster. Just to take one example: Sophomore forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel scored 64 points during a three-game stretch in the middle of the month, but he has scored 13 points in the three games afterward, including his three-point effort in the loss at West Virginia Wednesday night. It's hard to beat good teams when you don't know what you're getting game in and game out. Notre Dame is a good team, and with five seniors in the starting lineup the Irish embody the maturity and consistency the Huskies lack.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS)Michigan State (17-12, 9-8) at Michigan (18-12, 8-9)
Will a win here put Michigan in the NCAA tournament? No -- but a loss will put them in the NIT. That makes the Wolverines a desperate home team, and therefore my pick to win. Sophomore Darius Morris has very quietly been arguably the second-best point guard in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. Even though Michigan plays at a deliberate pace, Morris leads the league in assists (6.8 per game) and he is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.27-to-1). Freshman guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has also blossomed as a scorer (he had 22 in a critical win at Minnesota last weekend). Michigan beat the Spartans in East Lansing even though Kalin Lucas scored 27 points, and the Spartans' confidence still has to be smarting from that beatdown they took from Purdue at home on Sunday. I'm sure Michigan State wants to win this game, but it has already sewn up its bid, so the pressure -- and therefore incentive -- belongs to the maize and blue.
 
5:30 p.m. ETUCLA (21-9, 12-5) at Washington State (19-10, 9-8)
Washington State's best player, 6-foot-6 junior swingman Klay Thompson, has been suspended for this game due to his citation for marijuana possession following Thursday night's big win over USC. It's not impossible for the Cougars to win without him, but it will obviously be a lot harder -- which is too bad, because a win will probably vault Washington State off the bubble and into the tournament. Plus, sophomore guard Reggie Moore, the team's fourth-leading scorer, left the USC game early in the first half after spraining his ankle. UCLA, meanwhile, has lost its last two road games to Cal and Washington, and the Bruins committed 18 turnovers in their loss at Washington Thursday night. I would have picked UCLA to lose this one if Washington State was at full strength. It's not, however, so I'm going with the Bruins.
 
6 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 14 Florida (23-6, 12-3) at No. 21 Vanderbilt (21-8, 9-6)
We're used to thinking of Vanderbilt as a skilled, pretty team that has a hard time winning when it's not making lots of jump shots. Well, this is not your older brother's Vanderbilt. The Commodores found themselves down by 15 points in Rupp Arena Tuesday night and only made one of their 11 attempts from three-point range, yet they came back before losing on the final possession. Florida has likewise shown it's not just a bunch of pretty boys, but I like the fact that Vanderbilt is coming home to play a big game following a tough loss. I also like the continuing emergence of Festus Ezeli as a post scorer. The 6-11 junior center had 22 points to go along with 13 rebounds in the loss at Kentucky.
 
8 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 4 Duke (27-3, 13-2) at No. 13 North Carolina (23-6, 13-2)
My goodness, what took Harrison Barnes so long? I mean, he went all the way until February of his freshman year to start playing like an All-America. In today's microwave society nothing comes fast enough, but Barnes is now demonstrating why schmoes like me picked him to be a preseason All-America. Beginning with his 25-point outburst at N.C. State on Jan. 29, Barnes has averaged 17.9 points per game. Roy Williams showed how much confidence he has in Barnes by calling an isolation for him on North Carolina's final possession at Florida State Wednesday night. Barnes rewarded his coach's confidence by calmly drilling a game-winning three like a seasoned vet. Barnes failed to reach double-digit scoring just once in his last 14 games, and that was the loss at Duke. The main reason the Blue Devils were able to come back from a 16-point deficit in that game was Seth Curry's surprising 22-point contribution off the bench. That remains his season high. With the Tar Heels returning to the Dean Dome, Barnes will be more of a factor in this game, and that's why I believe the outcome will be different in this battle for the ACC championship.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 7 Texas (24-6, 12-3) at Baylor (18-11, 7-8)
Neither team has exactly been lighting it up the last couple of weeks. You all know about the Longhorns' recent struggles, as they've dropped three of their last four to fall behind in the race for both a Big 12 title and a No. 1 seed. Baylor, meanwhile, has dropped four of its last five to Division I opponents. When you can't beat Oklahoma State on the road to help clinch an at-large bid, you probably don't deserve to go to the NCAA tournament. Still, Baylor is close enough to the bubble that a win here could be decisive, and you all know I can't resist desperate home teams. This will be senior guard LaceDarius Dunn's final home game in a Baylor uniform, so if he's ever going to rediscover his shooting touch (he has only made 10 of his last 61 three-point attempts), this would be the time to do it.
 
Sunday, March 6
 
Noon ET (CBS)No. 20 Kentucky (21-8, 9-6) at Tennessee (18-12, 8-7)
Is it possible to predict both teams will lose? Kentucky is 1-6 on the road in SEC games this season, while Tennessee is just 3-4 at home in conference play. The Vols also dropped nonconference home games to Oakland, USC and College of Charleston. I've gone from thinking of Tennessee as a team that's inconsistent to one that's just not very good. The latest example was last weekend at home against Mississippi State, when the Volunteers went 5-for-21 from three-point range and lost by one point on a late dunk. I might be inclined to go with the 'Cats in this one (especially given how close many of those road losses were), but they expended so much emotion to ward off Vanderbilt Wednesday night that I don't think they'll have enough left in their emotional tank. When UK beat Tennessee in Rupp Arena on Feb. 8, the 'Cats outscored UT from the foul line 22-8. If nothing else, they probably won't have that same advantage in Knoxville.
 
4 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 10 Wisconsin (23-6, 13-4) at No. 1 Ohio State (28-2, 15-2)
Sorry, Bucky, but this one's a layup. It's Senior Day. It's in Columbus. And the Buckeyes are gonna be in a bad mood after what Wisconsin did to them back in Madison. Suffice to say, the Badgers are a much different team away from the Kohl Center. They won their last two road games at Michigan and Indiana, but they would have lost at Michigan if it weren't for Josh Gasser's banked-in three-pointer. Jordan Taylor was incredible in scoring a career-high 39 points in a win over the Hoosiers Thursday night, but I'm guessing Ohio State will be ready for him given how he shot his team to the win when these two met in Madison. Besides, Ohio State has a great shooter of its own in Jon Diebler -- or should I say, 3bler? The 6-6 senior tied a Big Ten record by nailing 10 three-pointers en route to a career-high 30 points in the Buckeyes' win at Penn State Wednesday night.
 
Record Last Week: 5-5               Overall: 78-42
 
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