Picks: Pair of marquee Big 12 games highlight first weekend of 2016
Saturday, 1 pm., Fox Sports 1
If you’re looking for winning cultures, you’d be hard-pressed to find two better examples. Both teams have multiple guards who can score in bunches, but the Musketeers, who have a devastating 1-2 punch at center in Jalen Reynolds (6'9") and James Farr (6'10"), will have a decided advantage up front, where Butler’s front line goes 6'4" (Roosevelt Jones), 6'7" (Andrew Chrabascz) and 6'8" (Tyler Wideman). Xavier badly needs to bounce back from the shellacking it got from Villanova on Thursday, and it has the home court advantage. That should be enough.
Xavier 70, Butler 67
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
This game is also known as the Bruce Pearl Bowl, but Auburn’s second-year coach needs a win for his program, regardless of the opponent. The Tigers come in having lost four of their last six, including the last two to Harvard and Hawaii. The game features an intriguing matchup at guard between Auburn 6'1" junior Kareem Canty (19.3 ppg, 6.1 apg) and Tennessee’s 6'2" senior Kevin Punter (22.2 ppg, 3.8 apg). Tennessee is the better team, but somehow I think Pearl’s guys will find a way to deliver an emotional victory at home.
Auburn 72, Tennessee 68
No. 1 Michigan State (13–1) at Minnesota (6–7)
Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2
We always knew the Spartans relied heavily on Denzel Valentine, but now, after their first loss of the season at Iowa, we know just how much. The good news is they have the opportunity to force-feed other players, particularly Eron Harris, valuable minutes. Tom Izzo has had five days to shore up his team’s weaknesses. I expect the Spartans will rebound against Minnesota, which comes in having lost five of its last six.
Michigan State 74, Minnesota 65
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
The Jayhawks’ old-fashioned methods have them on the verge of the No. 1 ranking. They are relying on veteran upperclassmen who can score in bunches and as a team they play fundamentally sound defense. Baylor is an athletic team that does a great job sharing the ball (third nationally in assists-to-field goals made), but their inability to make shots at times led to a blowout loss at Texas A&M two weeks ago. That does not bode well for a contest on the toughest homecourt in the game.
Kansas 79, Baylor 71
Saturday, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
The noise has died down in Bloomington as the Hoosiers have quietly gone back to the lab and won six straight games, including the badly needed comeback over Notre Dame. Even so, this is a scary one for Indiana, because it is a road game against a conference opponent whom the Hoosiers should beat. The Huskers lost at home to Northwestern Wednesday night, when they let a freshman playing his second college game go for 28 points and 12 rebounds.
Indiana 85, Nebraska 73
Saturday, 6 p.m., BTN
The Hawkeyes had a golden opportunity at home to beat the nation’s No. 1 team while it was without its best player, and they took advantage. Now they have to muster their emotions on the road against a team with a huge frontcourt and a blue-collar culture. That’s a recipe for defeat if ever there was one.
Purdue 74, Iowa 67
No. 11 Iowa State (11–1) at No. 3 Oklahoma (11–0)
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Iowa State junior guard Deonte Burton, who has played three games since becoming eligible following his transfer from Marquette, has gotten more comfortable with each outing. Unfortunately, in this one he and the other Cyclones will be matched up against Buddy Hield, who ranks third nationally in scoring (24.9 ppg) while making an otherworldly 52.9% of his three-point shots.
Oklahoma 80, Iowa State 75
No. 8 Arizona (12–1) at Arizona State (10–3)
Sunday, 2 p.m., FS1
It feels a little odd for a big rivalry to open conference play, but it will be a good matchup. The Wildcats have quietly put together a stretch of seven wins at home against weak teams. Freshman guard Allonzo Trier, who scored 20 points in Tuesday’s win over Long Beach State, is emerging as a big-time scorer. That will spell trouble for an Arizona State squad that ranks last in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense (41.6).
Arizona 75, Arizona State 70
No. 21 Utah (11–2) at California (10–3)
Sunday, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Cal has won six of its last seven, but the one that got away (in overtime at Virginia) still hurts. The good news is that the Bears are a much better defensive team than they were a month ago, and they made a season-high 12 three-pointers in Monday’s 26-point home win over Davidson. Utah at times looks like it’s more interested in out-scoring opponents than locking them down. That’s a tough formula for beating good teams on the road.
Cal 74, Utah 70
Wake Forest (9–3) at No. 18 Louisville (11–2)
Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU
The Demon Deacons have very quietly put together an impressive résumé, which includes neutral court wins over Indiana and UCLA and a road win at LSU. Senior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who missed the season’s first eight games with a fractured foot, is still getting back into game shape. I do think Louisville is probably the better team, but the Cardinals are still finding themselves as their younger players adjust to playing heavy minutes, and this has already been quite the crazy season. What’s one more upset?
Wake Forest 79, Louisville 78