With the NCAA tournament just over a month away, conference games are becoming more and more critical. Here are Seth Davis's picks, from Providence-Villanova to Baylor-West Virginia and more.
No. 9 Virginia (18–4) at Pittsburgh (17–4)
Saturday, noon, ESPN3
It’s tempting to go snarky and say first one to 50 wins, but the Panthers have actually averaged 80.5 points per game this season (No. 33 in the country). Still, they are prone to some unsightly offensive droughts, and that problem won’t get much better going up against Virginia’s improving pack-line defense.
Virginia 70, Pittsburgh 58
No. 13 Iowa State (16–6) at Oklahoma State (11–11)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma State, which has a fantastic freshman guard in Jawun Evans, lost in overtime at Texas Tech on Wednesday night, but the Cowboys have been tough to beat at home. They beat Kansas by 19 points on Jan. 19 and played Baylor and Oklahoma close in Stillwater. I realize Iowa State has lost two in a row, but it’s still hard to win on the road in the Big 12. Maybe that short bench is catching up with the Cyclones during the dog days of February.
Oklahoma State 76, Iowa State 73
No. 10 Michigan State (19–4) at Michigan (17–6)
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
The difference here is that Denzel Valentine came back to Michigan State and Caris LeVert still hasn’t come back to Michigan. The Wolverines were on the business end of a stunning 25–0 run to close the first half of a blowout loss at home to Indiana. The Jan. 13 win over Maryland aside, this team has been holding on for dear life ever since LeVert got hurt. Michigan State, meanwhile, has had a couple easy wins over Rutgers and Northwestern in the past week. The Spartans should be plenty rested and ready to get after their in-state rival.
Michigan State 80, Michigan 68
No. 3 Villanova (19–3) at No. 11 Providence (18–5)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m., FS1
Most good teams have a road clunker or two in them per season, and Providence served that up by losing at DePaul on Tuesday. This game’s outcome will depend in no small part on sophomore forward Ben Bentil, who tweaked his ankle in the first half and looked hobbled when he tried to play on it. He scored 31 points when the Friars clipped Villanova in overtime in Philadelphia. Assuming Bentil is healthy, he should be the difference again.
Providence 78, Villanova 74
New Mexico (14–8) at San Diego State (17–6)
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Once again, Steve Fisher has done a tremendous job with his Aztecs, who had a rough nonconference season but have now won 10 in a row to remain undefeated in the Mountain West. A big reason has been the steady improvement of freshman point guard Jeremy Hemsley, who hit the go-ahead shot with a minute to play in Tuesday’s 69–67 home win over Colorado State on Tuesday. New Mexico comes in having won four in a row and seven of its last nine, and it has two of the league’s top five scorers in guard Elijah Brown (20.5 ppg) and forward Tim Williams (17.1). I like the Aztecs to slow the tempo and grind out a win at home, but this is going to be a fun one.
San Diego State 64, New Mexico 60
Florida (15–7) at No. 20 Kentucky (16–6)
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
It looks like reports of Kentucky’s resurgence may have been premature. The Wildcats played brilliantly before losing at Kansas in overtime, but they blew a 21-point lead and lost at Tennessee on Tuesday. Florida is a good team—limited offensively at times but the Gators really guard—so the Wildcats will need to bring their A game to win. The home crowd, plus the swinging pendulum, should put them over the top.
Kentucky 74, Florida 67
No. 25 South Carolina (19–3) at No. 8 Texas A&M (18–4)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNU
The Gamecocks emerged from their nonconference schedule perfect, but they have stumbled on the road inside the SEC, losing at Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. Texas A&M won its first seven league games but has now lost its last two, including Thursday’s embarrassing 17-point loss at Vanderbilt. In other words, South Carolina has very bad timing.
Texas A&M 74, South Carolina 62
No. 18 Purdue (19–4) at No. 4 Maryland (20–3)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
The Terps are impressive and maddening, and they have a bad habit of playing up or down to their competition. Like a lot of teams, they are also much, much better at home, and they are one of the few teams in the country that can match up with—and even overmatch—Purdue’s frontcourt. That will turn the game over to the guards, where Maryland has a huge advantage.
Maryland 78, Purdue 69
No. 23 Arizona (8–5) at Washington (15–7)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Fox
It is surprising to see the Huskies just one game behind Oregon in the loss column of the Pac-12 standings given that Lorenzo Romar basically had to replace his entire roster. Still, Arizona throttled Washington by 32 points in Tucson on Jan. 15, and that was the Wildcats’ first game without injured freshman guard Allonzo Trier. I know there’s a big difference between playing on the road and at home, but it’s not that big.
Arizona 78, Washington 70
No. 15 Baylor (17–5) at No. 14 West Virginia (18–4)
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Baylor does a lot of things well, but taking care ball isn’t one of them. The Bears commit turnovers on 18.2% of their possessions, which ranks sixth in the Big 12 and 168th nationally—and that’s with a point guard in Lester Medford who ranks 11th in the U.S. in assist-to-turnover ratio. West Virginia’s fullcourt pressure will force Medford to pass ball to his less-sure-handed teammates which, combined with a difficult road environment, will spell trouble.
West Virginia 85, Baylor 74