This weekend, the Gators and Seminoles and the Badgers and Golden Eagles battle for state hoops supremacy.
Seth Davis makes picks for college basketball's weekend slate each Friday. Check back on Monday for Hoop Thoughts, his weekly look at the college basketball landscape at large.
Newark, N.J., Saturday, noon, CBS
This is a terrific matchup of a really, really good offense (Notre Dame is sixth in the country in offensive efficiency, first in free throw percentage and first in turnover percentage), and a Philly-tough defense (Nova is 15th in defensive efficiency, fifth in defensive free throw rate). Ironically, Villanova is the slower team, so the Wildcats will not be worried if Notre Dame coach Mike Brey wants to unveil his famous burn offense. Villanova senior wing Josh Hart might not put up quite the same eye-popping numbers as some other Player of the Year candidates, but no one is more versatile or more valuable to his team.
Villanova 71, Notre Dame 64
Saturday, Noon, FS1
UMass actually has a couple of nice wins over Temple and Harvard. The Minutemen also have the nation’s steals leader in Luwane Pipkins (4.00 per game). The Friars will riposte with 6' 8" junior swingman Rodney Bullock, who leads the Big East in scoring (20.8 ppg) and is seventh in rebounds (6.4), and the magic of the Dunk. Advantage, Friars.
Providence 76, UMass 70
Saturday, 2 p.m., FS1
When these teams met last year in Madison, Marquette escaped with a 57–55 win. True, the Golden Eagles don’t have forward Henry Ellenson anymore (he was selected with pick No. 18 in the NBA draft), but they also don’t have to play the Badgers in Kohl. Marquette is not a very good defensive team, but it has a pair of dynamic playmaking guards in sophomores Traci Carter and Hannif Cheatham, plus a big, immovable object in the middle in senior Luke Fischer. All of that, plus the homecourt advantage, should add up to a mild upset.
Marquette 68, Wisconsin 64
Oklahoma City, Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Both these teams are trying to rebuild with callow rosters, so this is the type of bubble game that could loom large in March. I like that Wichita State has won three straight since it returned from The Bahamas, having just gotten a career-high 15 points from junior forward Rashard Kelly in Tuesday’s easy win at home over Saint Louis. If the game were being played in Norman I might go with the home team, but I don’t think the Sooners will have quite the same advantage in Chesapeake Arena.
Wichita State 79, Oklahoma 73
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., FS1
Butler was due to get clipped, which is just what happened at Indiana State on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs defended poorly and allowed the Sycamores to own a 37–29 advantage on the glass and grab 12 offensive rebounds. The Bearcats are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, but I’m guessing Butler will learn from what happened and tighten that up. And stylistically, the Bulldogs should be plenty comfortable grinding out a game against a Cincinnati team that is ranked 345th in the country in tempo.
Butler 66, Cincinnati 61
Saturday, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
This is an attractive matchup for nostalgic purposes—this will be the first time these schools have played each other since the 1991 Final Four—but it won’t be much of a contest. Duke is starting to get to full strength with the return of freshman forward Jayson Tatum. Under first-year coach Marvin Menzies, the Runnin’ Rebels have already lost this season to South Alabama and TCU at home, as well as at Arizona State on Saturday by 24 points.
Duke 90, UNLV 66
Saturday, 5:30 p.m., Fox
It would be hard at any time for a team to go into Cintas Center and get a win, but it will be nearly impossible given that the Musketeers have lost two straight. That includes a tough 68–66 decision at Colorado on Wednesday. This Xavier team has a tough time shooting the ball (it’s ranked 272nd in the country in three-point shooting), so it was odd to see the Musketeers hoist 27 three-pointers as opposed to 21 free throws against the Buffaloes. They need to do less shooting and more driving, especially against a Utah team that has one of the best big men in the west in 6' 9" junior Kyle Kuzma.
Xavier 70, Utah 65
Saturday, 6 p.m., BTN
UConn has been decimated this season by injuries, so it was quite impressive—and not a little surprising—to see the Huskies mount a second-half comeback to beat Syracuse on Monday night in Madison Square Garden. They did it pretty much solely by riding senior guard Rodney Purvis’s hot hand. I don’t see him replicating that in a true road game, especially since I imagine Ohio State coach Thad Matta has been in a real bad mood since his team lost at home to Florida Atlantic in overtime on Tuesday.
Ohio State 78, UConn 70
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Optimism is running high in Westwood these days, which of course should be coach Steve Alford’s worst nightmare. If this were more of a vintage Michigan team, I might be tempted to pick the Wolverines in an upset, but the talent at Michigan right now is just O.K. Plus, this is a veteran UCLA team. I think the Bruins are too smart than to allow themselves a letdown and get the chirpers chirping again.
UCLA 80, Michigan 67
Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPNU
Mike White is only in his second year coaching the Gators, but he is already making his mark on the defensive end. The Gators are ranked ninth in the country in defensive efficiency as well as block percentage. Florida State may have a future lottery pick in freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, but the Seminoles are young across the board, tend to get careless with the ball, and they are a lousy three-point shooting team. (And Isaac, who missed Tuesday’s win over Nichols, may not suit up for the Seminoles on Sunday.) Normally, I wouldn't go with go with the road team in a heated, intra-state rivalry game, but in this case I'll make an exception.
Florida 72, Florida State 69