Ohio State vs. UNC, Oklahoma vs. Washington highlight weekend action
Friday, 11 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Thank goodness for coaches like Sean Miller. He will truly take his team anywhere, anytime. Miller is well aware his Wildcats will be in for a real test against a Miners squad that boasts two NBA-caliber forwards, Julian Washburn and Vince Hunter, as well as a coach, Tim Floyd, who knows how to make a game as difficult as anyone. Arizona is stout defensively, but the Wildcats have been out of sync in their halfcourt offense and pretty poor on the foul line (66.0 percent, 240th in the nation). That will finally catch up to them.
UTEP 66, Arizona 65
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (in Chicago), CBS
UCLA freshman Kevon Looney has a remarkable gift for chasing down rebounds. The 6-foot-9 freshman forward leads the Pac 12 and ranks sixth in the nation at 10.9 per game, and he is also eighth in the league in blocks (1.64). Unfortunately, as you might have heard, Kentucky also has a pretty good frontcourt loaded with tall, bouncy players who can block shots and attack the glass. The Wildcats are simply not a good matchup for UCLA. Then again, the 'Cats are not a good matchup for anyone these days.
Kentucky 78, UCLA 60
Teasing Jim Boeheim for refusing to play tough nonconference game away from home is so 2012. I’m not sure what Boeheim was thinking in scheduling this game, but I bet he didn’t think he would be coaching a team that showed its inexperience as much as this one. Syracuse is ranked 11th in the ACC in turnovers per game (13.6), and it is dead last in the country in three-point percentage (22.9). That’s a bad combination against one of the toughest, most veteran defenses in the country.
Villanova 74, Syracuse 60
No. 12 Ohio State (9-1) vs. No. 24 North Carolina (7-3)
Saturday, 1 p.m. (in Chicago), CBS
The Tar Heels have fallen to the bottom of the rankings (although I haven’t ranked them since they lost at home to Iowa), but they strike me as one of those talented Roy Williams teams that just takes a while to figure out the proper identity. That day is coming, but not in time for Saturday. If you haven’t locked in on Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, do so now, because he’s not going to be around for long. My only concern with the Buckeyes is the potential for chemistry problems on a team where the freshman are the better players, but that hasn’t surfaced yet.
Ohio State 76, North Carolina 68
No. 15 Oklahoma (7-2) vs. No. 16 Washington (9-0)
Saturday, 9 p.m. (in Las Vegas), ESPNU
Washington has been one of the real surprises of the season, thanks largley to Robert Upshaw, the 7-foot transfer from Fresno State who is leading the nation in blocks (4.78 per game). Upshaw is also rounding into form offensively, having scored 36 points combined in home wins over Grambling State and Eastern Washington. That will prove to be too much against Oklahoma’s sturdy but undersized frontcourt of Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas.
Washington 75, Oklahoma 70
That velvety thud you heard was Butler landing safely back to Earth. The Bulldogs have been climbing in the polls since their wins over North Carolina and Georgetown at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but after three easy games they were finally tripped up in a 12-point loss at Tennessee on Sunday. In that loss, Butler was exposed as limited offensively and suffering from a lack of size. That makes them a comfortable matchup for Indiana, which also lacks a bona fide post player but has lots of quick, dynamic athletes on the wing headed by superfrosh James Blackmon, who is averaging 19 points on 46 percent three-point shooting.
Indiana 70, Butler 66
VCU (7-3) at Cincinnati (7-2)
Saturday, Noon, ESPNU
Both of these teams are coming off signature overtime wins at home -- VCU over Northern Iowa, and Cincinnati over San Diego State. In their previous game, the Bearcats lost to Nebraska 56-55 in double overtime in one of the season’s ugliest games. VCU is a flawed team, but at the least the Rams can put points on the board, especially against a team like Cincinnati that ranks 240th in the country in turnover percentage.
VCU 62, Cincinnati 56
This is another one of those games in which SMU will sorely miss Markus Kennedy, the 6-foot-9 junior forward, who was declared academically eligible for the first semester. Michigan lacks size and experience in the middle, and Kennedy would have created some matchup advantages for the Mustangs. Even though the Wolverines are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, I think they are better than they’ve been playing. They’ve had a week off to recover from their drubbing at Arizona, and I’m guessing that John Beilein has taken advantage of that time to make some badly needed adjustments.
Michigan 68, SMU 62
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2
It’s a down year at Missouri and Illinois is struggling to get over the hump, but the Braggin’ Rights Game is always a great show. The Illini are ranked first in the nation in free throw shooting (78.0) but they are 242nd in free throw rate (FTA/FGA). There’s no reason for such a disparity on a team with several players who can drive and kick.
Illinois 71, Missouri 60
Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (in Des Moines), BTN
Iowa is quite the enigma. The Hawkeyes went into the Dean Dome and knocked off North Carolina, yet they got embarrassed at home by an Iowa State squad that was missing its second-leading scorer. Neither of these teams put up a lot of points, but in Northern Iowa’s case, that is more by design than deficiency. I think Hawkeyes senior forward Aaron White will give them just enough scoring to win (he’s in the top ten of the Big Ten in points, rebounds and steals), but if Iowa’s guards don’t start putting some points on the board, this team is going to have a hard time making it back to the NCAA tournament.
Iowa 64, Northern Iowa 62