Michigan at Arizona, Gonzaga at UCLA and Utah vs. Kansas in Kansas City highlight the weekend matchups in college basketball.
Friday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
I would have picked the Hawkeyes at home even if the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer, Bryce Dejean-Jones, hadn’t been given a one-game suspension following his arrest on Wednesday. Iowa State plays an entertaining, up-tempo style, but its defense leaves much to be desired. That is fatal in an intense rivalry game on the road.
Iowa 72, Iowa State 65
Saturday, noon, CBS
Sure, Kentucky was caught sleeping in the opening minutes of its home game against Columbia, but that will not be the case in Rupp on Saturday. If the Tar Heels could dedicate themselves to defense and offensive rebounding the way Kentucky has, they would be a threat to win the ACC.
Kentucky 80, North Carolina 69
Saturday, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
The Wolverines are literally coming apart at the seams, having lost in the last week at home (!!) to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. That can happen when you’re soft inside defensively and you rely too much on jump shots. The Wildcats’ frontcourt tandem of Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski have to be licking their chops for this one.
Arizona 70, Michigan 60
Some teams might be intimidated at having to play a regular season game in Pauley Pavilion, but the Zags are accustomed to taking their show on the road. UCLA likes to score but doesn’t like to guard, and once Steve Alford has to dip into his bench, the production drops off dramatically.
Gonzaga 79, UCLA 67
Saturday, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
Thank goodness for coaches like Bill Self. He has to rebuild his roster every season, yet while everyone else is eating cupcakes this time of year, he takes his team to play a true road game at Georgetown and then a neutral/home game against a surging Utah team. I love the Utes’ freshman center, Jakob Poeltl, but given that his team just won an emotionally draining game at BYU, it’s too much to ask for them to refill their tank so quickly.
Kansas 74, Utah 68
No. 23 Northern Iowa (9-0) at VCU (5-3)
Saturday, 7 p.m., NBCSN
It’s no surprise that one of these teams is ranked coming into this game, but no one expected that team would be Northern Iowa. For a team that is ranked 344th in the country in tempo, per KenPom, the Panthers turn the ball over more than they should. That will be a problem in the Siegel Center, where the Rams’ intense crowd and suffocating pressure will be a little too much for the Panthers to handle.
VCU 69, Northern Iowa 65
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Who says it’s too early to talk about the bubble? The Tigers have dropped three games already this season, largely due to woeful guard play. They are ranked 314th in the country in turnovers (15.8 per game) and 324th in made threes (4.2). Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has had a full week to recover from that embarrassing 26-point loss at South Carolina. That performance was largely a product of whiplash from having to play decent competition after a ridiculously easy early season schedule. The Cowboys should be much more ready to compete in this one.
Oklahoma State 78, Memphis 67
Saturday, 7 p.m., BTN
The Illini have put together a promising start, but they came up short in their two toughest tests, at Miami and against Villanova in Madison Square Garden. It’s imperative that they win this one, and I think they will. Oregon has the Pac 12’s leading scorer in Joseph Young (20.4 ppg), but when he is off (like when he went 2-for-10 from three in the Ducks’ loss at home to Ole Miss this week), Oregon has nowhere else to turn. Plus, the Ducks are soft defensively, and they are doing a poor job getting to the free throw line.
Illinois 75, Oregon 65
It would be nice if Butler could roll into Knoxville under the radar, but that is a luxury the Bulldogs no longer have. They haven’t lost since their 2-1 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they haven’t been playing difficult competition, either. By the time this one tips off, it will be eight days since the Vols’ last game, a one-point win at home over Kansas State. Tennessee is a really bad defensive team, but I think Vols will have enough athletes -- and incentive -- to squeak this one out.
Tennessee 70, Butler 69
Sunday, 8 p.m, Pac 12 Network
Eastern Washington is no pushover. The Eagles’ won at Indiana on Nov. 24, and their lone loss came at SMU two days before that. Still, this Washington team is legit, as it showed in grinding out a 49-36 win over San Diego State on Sunday. Huskies’ point guard Nigel Williams-Goss is second in the country in assists (6.9 average), and their center, Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw, leads the country in blocks (4.7).
Washington 80, Eastern Washington 69