Picks: Arizona-UCLA among three Top 25 matchups this weekend
Syracuse (11–8) at No. 15 Notre Dame (16–3)
Saturday, noon, ESPN
I am obsessed with this stat, so get used to my citing it: Notre Dame ranks first in the country in free throw shooting, and their opponents’ clip is ranked 344th. When the Irish are on the court, everyone is making their free throws. Notre Dame lost its first ACC game at Florida State, but returning home against a sputtering Syracuse team should get them back in the win column.
Notre Dame 75, Syracuse 64
Providence (13–7) at No. 1 Villanova (18–1)
Saturday, noon, Fox
If the Big East weren’t so strong, Providence might be looking like an NCAA tournament team. As it stands, the young Friars will once again be outclassed by a Villanova squad that is very much in championship form—again. Wildcats senior wing Hart has cooled off as a scorer the last couple of weeks, but guards Kris Jenkins and especially Jalen Brunson have picked up the slack. That is a better formula for this team in the long run.
Villanova 75, Providence 60
Texas (7–11) at No. 2 Kansas (17–1)
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
I’ve been saying for a while I thought the Jayhawks were due to be clipped, but they have shown enough mental toughness to keep on winning. Besides, Texas, which has lost four in a row and six of its last seven, is not good enough to win in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas 78, Texas 64
No. 12 Louisville (16–3) at No. 10 Florida State (17–2)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
The last thing the ACC rivals need right now is for Jonathan Isaac to be a superstar down the stretch. The Seminoles’ 6' 10" freshman forward had 23 points (including two three-pointers) to go along with 10 rebounds and seven blocks in the Seminoles’ win over Notre Dame on Wednesday. I know Donovan Mitchell was superb in Louisville’s win over Clemson on Thursday (18 points, four assists, three steals), but it will be hard for the Cardinals to manufacture points on the road without junior guard Quentin Snider, who is out another couple of weeks with a hip injury.
Florida State 76, Louisville 71
Iowa State (11–6) at Oklahoma (8–9)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma is a pretty interesting team right now. The Sooners lost all four games in which senior point guard Jordan Woodard was out with a leg injury, but they now won two straight with him back in the lineup – including a two-point overtime win at West Virginia where he had 20 points, five assists and four rebounds. Iowa State had its chances against Kansas but couldn’t get over the hump en route to a 76-72 loss. The Cyclones have shown they can compete, but that does not always amount to winning.
Oklahoma 71, Iowa State 69
Michigan State (12–7) at Indiana (13–6)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
The last thing Indiana needed was an injury to sophomore forward OG Anunoby. Besides being a dynamic finisher, Anunoby is the one player who could best shore up the Hoosiers’ defensive weaknesses. Michigan State needs to tighten up its own defense and bounce back from that disappointing loss at Ohio State, where the Buckeyes shot 46.2% and only committed 11 turnovers.
Michigan State 78, Indiana 70
No. 14 Arizona (17–2) at No. 3 UCLA (19–1)
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
It will be fascinating to watch how UCLA’s defense holds up these next couple of months. The Bruins don’t have to be great on defense, they just have to be good enough. Right now, they are ranked 92nd in the country in defensive efficiency. Arizona, on the other hand, is ranked 14th. I’ll take the Bruins in Pauley, but at a certain point, they will have to get a stop in a critical situation. It’s unclear yet whether they can do that.
UCLA 85, Arizona 77
No. 24 South Carolina (15–3) at No. 5 Kentucky (16–2)
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
It is nearly impossible to go into Rupp Arena and slow down the Wildcats’ ridiculously speedy attack, but if any team can do it, it’s Frank Martin’s Gamecocks. They lead the nation in defensive efficiency, they are ranked 200th nationally in tempo, and they have not lost a game with senior guard Sindarius Thornwell in the lineup. South Carolina is especially proficient at locking up opposing guards. It’s much easier to take a team that wants to run and force it to play slow than the other way around. Yes, it won’t be easy for an offensively challenged team to put enough points on the board to pull this off, but that’s why they’re called upsets.
South Carolina 62, Kentucky 61
Miami (12–5) at No. 18 Duke (14–4)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
There’s a definite whiff of disarray around the Blue Devils’ program these days, and it doesn’t help that their coach is still sidelined as he recovers from back surgery. Still, there is too much talent for this tailspin to last much longer. Lost in all the Grayson Allen tripfest is the fact that he has not played really well this season after being a preseason favorite for national player of the year. Getting a chance to come home to face a Miami team that has lost three of its last four and ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring (73.1 ppg) should help set things straight—for now, anyway.
Duke 79, Miami 66
Northwestern (15–4) at Ohio State (12–7)
Sunday, 1 p.m., BTN
I’ve been saying since the start of the season that I thought Northwestern is an NCAA tournament team. This will be a revealing test. It’s never easy to win a league road game, but the Buckeyes are at the bottom of the Big Ten standings and recently lost one of their most versatile scorers in Keita Bates-Diop. Northwestern, meanwhile, is benefiting from the return of sophomore forward Dererk Pardon, who missed eight games with a hand injury. The Wildcats have won three in a row, including a 35-point whooping of Iowa in Evanston last Sunday.
Northwestern 75, Ohio State 70