Weekend picks: Boeheim returns as Syracuse hosts North Carolina, more
Valparaiso (11–3) at Oakland (9–6)
Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
These are arguably the two best teams in a very good Horizon League. They also feature two of the best mid-major players in America: Valpo’s 6'9" junior forward Alec Peters, who ranks in the top six of the Horizon in scoring (16.6 ppg), rebounds (7.2) and three-point percentage (45.2); and Oakland junior point guard Kahlil Felder, a diminutive dynamo who leads the nation in assists (9.2) and is third in scoring (26.1). This is the third of a four-game homestand for the Golden Grizzlies, and they’ve had plenty of time to stew and regroup from their disappointing 100–98 loss to Youngstown State on Monday night.
Oakland 90, Valparaiso 85
Friday, 9 p.m., FS1
Utah had a tough opening road trip to the Bay Area, where it lost at Stanford (in OT) and Cal. The Utes have become way too reliant on center Jakob Poeltl, and he is going to have his hands full in this one with Colorado’s Josh Scott, a highly-skilled 6'10" senior who is second in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.9), fourth in rebounds (9.5) and eighth in blocks (1.8).
Colorado 78, Utah 73
No. 4 Virginia (12–2) at Georgia Tech (10–5)
Saturday, 2 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets seem to have cornered the market on respectable losses to start ACC play—they played North Carolina and Pitt tough on the road and lost them both—but for a team with this much experience, it’s time to pull out a win. I realize the Cavaliers will be coming off their loss at Virginia Tech, but I like the Jackets’ inside-out combo of Charles Mitchell, the 6'8" senior forward who leads the ACC in rebounds (11.6), and 6'1" senior guard Adam Smith, who scored 50 points combined in Georgia Tech’s first two ACC games.
Georgia Tech 70, Virginia 69
Vanderbilt (8–6) at No. 22 South Carolina (14–0)
Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPNU
This game will help us answer two pressing questions: How good is South Carolina? And how bad is Vanderbilt? The Commodores started the season ranked 18th in the AP poll, but they have lost six of their last nine and fell to 0–2 in the SEC after losing at Arkansas in overtime on Tuesday night. The good news is they just got back Luke Kornet, the 7'1" junior center who missed five games because of a knee injury. South Carolina, of course, is one of two remaining unbeatens (the other is SMU), but the Gamecocks have done it against a schedule that is ranked 227th in the RPI. South Carolina is good, but the competition will be tougher and the opponent is desperate. The party is over.
Vanderbilt 74, South Carolina 70
Baylor (11–3) at Iowa State (12–2)
Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2
Baylor is 0-for-3 in road games this season. Hilton Coliseum is not the place to fix that problem.
Iowa State 84, Baylor 71
Saturday, 6 p.m., SEC Network
Maybe it’s time we stopped asking what’s wrong with Kentucky, and started accepted that this is who they are—for now, anyway. The Wildcats’ bugaboo all season has been their outside shooting (they’re ranked 265th nationally in three-point percentage and 286th in free throw percentage), and the problem is getting worse, not better. Freshman Isaiah Briscoe should change the name of his position to “missing guard.” He is converting 19% from three and 35.3% from the foul line. He went 1-for-7 on free throws in Tuesday’s loss at LSU. Under first-year coach Avery Johnson, the Tide have won a few decent games this season (Wichita State and Notre Dame on a neutral court, Clemson on the road), and even though they lost their SEC opener at Ole Miss Thursday night, they will be fired up at home, and they’ll be brandishing their beer muscles.
Alabama 75, Kentucky 74
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Memphis gave South Carolina a pretty good test in Columbia on Sunday, but the Tigers eventually lost, 86–76, mainly because their undisciplined defense allowed the Gamecocks to attempt a whopping 63 free throws. Those habits will doom Memphis against a UConn team that has lots of rangy athletes who can drive and shoot, not to mention a team that will be in a craggy mood coming off a 55–53 loss to Temple at home on Tuesday night.
UConn 78, Memphis 70
No. 6 North Carolina (14–2) at Syracuse (10–6)
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN
The Carrier Dome will be at a fever pitch with Jim Boeheim returning from his NCAA-mandated nine-game suspension and the blue-chip Tar Heels in the house. Unfortunately, emotion alone won’t be enough to rescue the Orange from their doldrums. This team has many flaws, but the most significant is its poor interior defense. That should translate into yet another huge game for Tar Heels senior forward Brice Johnson, who played himself into the national player of the year conversation with his 39-point, 23-rebound performance in Monday’s victory at Florida State.
North Carolina 82, Syracuse 70
Ohio State (11–5) at Indiana (13–3)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS
The Buckeyes drew tremendous confidence from their win over Kentucky, but they’ve also gotten to 3–0 in the Big Ten by beating up on the league's bottom-tier teams (Minnesota and Illinois at home, Northwestern on the road). Indiana is still adjusting to life without James Blackmon Jr., who is lost for the season to a knee injury. It sure would help if the Hoosiers got more from 6'7" junior forward Troy Williams, who had just two points in 26 minutes during Tuesday’s squeaker over Wisconsin.
Indiana 72, Ohio State 67
Sunday, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Butler finally got off the Big East schneid Tuesday night be beating DePaul at home, largely because senior guard Kellen Dunham broke out of his epic shooting slump and scored 24 points. Despite that, the Bulldogs, who are ranked 185th nationally in defensive efficiency, had trouble putting away a bad team at home. Villanova, in case you haven’t noticed, is not a bad team. Butler needs to hope the Wildcats just have one of those really bad shooting nights, but the way 'Nova has been playing the last few weeks does not indicate that will happen.
Villanova 75, Butler 69