Weekend Picks: UNC-Louisville, Duke-UVA lead marquee matchups
Oregon State (14-6) at No. 6 Arizona (19-2)
Friday, 10 p.m., Pac 12 Network
It’s safe to say the Wildcats will not be in a good mood for this one. They suffered their lone conference loss in Corvallis back on Jan. 11. Freshman Stanley Johnson only attempted four shots in that game, but he has been on a tear since then, averaging 17.8 points over his past five games. Oregon State, meanwhile, got outscored 18-3 at the foul line in an 18-point loss at Arizona State on Wednesday night.
Arizona 74, Oregon State 54
Florida needed a slam dunk from Dorian Finney-Smith with 17 seconds to play at Alabama to break a three-game losing streak, but at least the Gators got it done. I expect Arkansas, led by Bobby Portis, will help Florida start a new losing streak. Portis, a 6-foot-11, 242-pound sophomore, leads the SEC in scoring (17.5 points per game) and field goal percentage (56.1), and he is fourth in rebounding (8.5).
Arkansas 68, Florida 60
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
I would have picked Virginia to win a close one even if Mike Krzyzewski had not dismissed junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon on Thursday. Now, I think Duke could be walking into a buzzsaw. The Blue Devils should be emotionally spent after their comeback win over St. John’s on Sunday and their loss at Notre Dame on Wednesday. Virginia, on the other hand, had no midweek game, so the Cavaliers spent that night kicking up their feet and licking their chops.
Virginia 72, Duke 62
Alabama (13-7) at No. 1 Kentucky (20-0)
Saturday, 7 p.m., SEC Network
Alabama was once considered a primary challenger to Kentucky in the SEC, but the Crimson Tide enter this game having lost four of their last five -- although three of those losses have been by a single bucket. The only way Kentucky could lose this game is if it takes the Tide lightly, but I think the Cats are past those days.
Kentucky 78, Alabama 64
Kansas State (12-9) at No. 9 Kansas (17-3)Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Kansas State caught a tough break when senior guard Nino Williams, who had been playing the best ball of his career, sprained his left knee during a home loss to West Virginia on Tuesday. He is doubtful for this game in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks were low on energy during Wednesday's three-point escape at TCU, but returning home to play their intra-state rival should cure that problem.
Kansas 74, Kansas State 63
No. 13 North Carolina (17-4) at No. 10 Louisville (17-3)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
When these two met in Chapel Hill on Jan. 10, the Tar Heels won a thriller that wasn’t decided until Marcus Paige made a bank shot with 8.5 seconds to play and Louisville then missed twice on the other end. The Cardinals had been in control for much of that game -- they led by 13 with under nine minutes to go -- so you have to like their chances in the rematch at their place. Terry Rozier had 25 points in that loss, and I like that fellow guard Chris Jones just had his best week of the season, scoring a combined 45 points in wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College.
Louisville 75, North Carolina 70
No. 12 Wichita State (19-2) at No. 18 Northern Iowa (19-2)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Hoops nerds like us circled this game a long time ago. It would have been better if both teams had come into this game undefeated in Missouri Valley Conference play, but Northern Iowa stumbled out of the gate by losing at Evansville on New Year's Day. UNI senior forward Seth Tuttle leads the Panthers in points, rebounds and assists, but I think he and his teammates will have a hard time containing Wichita State’s athletes on the defensive end. Besides having one of the nation’s premier backcourts in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Wichita State is also getting excellent production in the paint from 6-7 senior forward Darius Carter, who is ranked in the top 10 of the Valley in points (12.0), rebounds (5.9) and blocks (0.76).
Wichita State 68, Northern Iowa 61
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
The Longhorns’ fell at Iowa State on Monday and have lost four of their last six, but they left Ames feeling pretty good after nearly erasing the Cyclones’ 20-point second-half deficit. That carryover, plus the six-day gap between games, should be enough to put this very talented team back on track.
Texas 72, Baylor 70
Xavier (14-7) at Seton Hall (14-6)Saturday, Noon, FS1
The Musketeers have won three of their last four, thanks to an efficient group of guards who can make jump shots and drive to the rim. Seton Hall, on the other hand, has been offensively challenged while dropping four of their last six. Normally, I would anticipate a swinging pendulum, but I think Seton Hall’s problems are deeper than that.
Xavier 70, Seton Hall 64
Michigan (13-8) at Michigan State (14-7)
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
The Wolverines have played two nice games since they lost star junior guard Caris LeVert to a season-ending broken left foot. They took Wisconsin to overtime before losing and they beat Nebraska by 14. Those games, however, were at home. Going on the road to beat your biggest rival who happens to be a pretty good team is a little too much to ask.
Michigan State 74, Michigan 62