Miami, UNC battle for first place in ACC; more weekend picks
Iona (15–10) at Monmouth (22–5)
Friday, 10 p.m., ESPNU
Let’s hope this game is as exciting as the first meeting (which Monmouth won, 110–102, on Jan. 15), but without the ugly shoving match that marred the end. Obviously, I love the matchup between the two high-octane scoring guards, Iona’s A.J. English and Monmouth’s Justin Robinson, but Monmouth has also emerged as the best defensive team in the MAAC. The Hawks lead the conference in field goal percentage defense (39.0) and three-point D (30.8). That, plus the homecourt advantage, should make the difference.
Monmouth 98, Iona 91
No. 20 Duke (20–6) at No. 18 Louisville (20–6)
Saturday, noon, ESPN
I’m still amazed the Blue Devils were able to upset North Carolina in Chapel Hill Wednesday night. That win was a testament to their mental toughness, but there’s a good chance guard Matt Jones (ankle) will not play; and if he does, he will probably be limited. It is very difficult to rebound emotionally from a win of that magnitude, not to mention on the road against a surging team that knows it is not going to the postseason.
Louiville 82, Duke 70
No. 11 Miami (21–4) at No. 5 North Carolina (21–5)
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
The Tar Heels have to be licking their wounds—and their wounded pride—after letting the Duke game get away from them. UNC’s front line is as good as it gets, but it has been clear for some time that this team does not have championship-caliber guards. Miami does—Sheldon McClellan has had a fabulous year—and in the end that could give the ‘Canes better prospects for the postseason. Even so, it is hard to envision the Heels losing two straight at home this time of year.
North Carolina 78, Miami 73
No. 25 Baylor (19–7) at No. 24 Texas (17–9)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
One of the many reasons why Texas is playing so much better the last month has been the steady improvement of its freshman reserves. Eric Davis, a 6’2” guard, got hot from three-point range and scored 15 points in Tuesday’s win over West Virginia. The Longhorns shot 8 for 17 from behind the arc when they knocked off Baylor in Waco on Feb. 1. If they can tickle the twine like on the road, then they should be able to do it in Austin.
Texas 78, Baylor 69
No. 3 Oklahoma (20–5) at No. 10 West Virginia (20–6)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
The Sooners continue to sputter their way through the dog days of February. I expect them to come out of it, but I am concerned they are not capable of grinding out wins when their outside shooting fails them. In the loss at Texas Tech Wednesday, Oklahoma’s starting forwards combined to score five points. The Sooners are also a little looser with the ball than they should be at times, such as when they committed 18 turnovers in a two-point win over West Virginia in Norman on Jan. 16. You have to figure the change to Morgantown should be worth at least a few points.
West Virginia 79, Oklahoma 75
UConn (19–7) at Cincinnati (19–8)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
I’m not sure what was more surprising, the fact that UConn beat SMU on Thursday, or that the Huskies won the game because 7-foot junior center Amida Brimah had 16 points (to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks). The Huskies went through a long, hot walk in the wilderness when Brimah was out with a broken hand, but now that he’s back and playing at high level, they are ready to make it rain again.
UConn 72, Cincinnati 66
No. 14 Kentucky (20–6) at Texas A&M (19–7)
Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
The Aggies finally broke their four-game losing streak Wednesday night by beating Ole Miss at home, and while knocking off the red-hot Wildcats is obviously a much taller order, I think they’ll be up for it. Texas A&M isn’t the sexiest team, but it is very sound defensively (15th nationally in defensive efficiency) and excellent at sharing the ball (sixth nationally in assists per made field goals). Kentucky guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray are playing great, but A&M has one of the best defensive backcourt tandems in Anthony Collins and Alex Caruso. Plus, the Aggies really, really need to get back on track, and you all know how much I love desperate home teams.
Texas A&M 75, Kentucky 70
No. 17 Purdue (21–6) at No. 22 Indiana (21–6)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
It’s a shame that these two teams are only playing once, but it’s even more of a shame for Purdue that the game is being played in Bloomington, where the Hoosiers are virtually unbeatable. This will be an important test for Indiana freshman center Thomas Bryant to see if he can handle Purdue senior A.J. Hammons without getting into foul trouble. The game should also indicate whether Troy Williams, Indiana’s junior forward who put up a bagel in the loss to Michigan State but scored 18 in Wednesday’s win over Nebraska, is ready to compete more consistently.
Indiana 68, Purdue 62
Saint Mary’s (21–4) at Gonzaga (21–6)
Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2
When these teams played in Moraga on Jan. 21, the Zags led by 10 points with just under seven minutes to play but fell apart down the stretch. You have to believe that won’t happen at home, just like you have to believe Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer won’t shoot 2 for 17 like he did in a loss at SMU last weekend.
Gonzaga 78, Saint Mary’s 66
Oregon State (15–9) at No. 16 Oregon (20–6)
Saturday, 10 p.m., Pac-12 Network
The Ducks crashed to Earth last weekend during their road trip to the Bay Area. Returning home will help, but so will locking in on the defensive end. Oregon allowed Stanford to shoot 55 percent from the floor (69 percent from three) in its last game. Beavers guard Gary Payton II must be licking his chops (he is ranked in the top ten of the Pac 12 in points, assists, rebounds, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio). The same can be said for freshman forward Tres Tinkle, who scored 19 against Oregon in a win in Corvallis on Jan. 3. So the Ducks have double incentive to tighten up and protect their home floor in this one. That’s enough for me.
Oregon 74, Oregon State 69