Picks: Villanova-Virginia, Kansas-Kentucky lead weekend action
After the carnage of Tuesday night, where three of the top four teams in America lost within a couple hours of each other, there's no telling what we can expect from college basketball this weekend. Besides seeing if teams like Michigan State, Minnesota and Syracuse can get on track, we are going to be treated to a delightful group of inter-league contests, headlined by the huge Kentucky-Kansas tilt in Rupp Arena. Here's how I see the top 10 games breaking down:
No. 14 Notre Dame (17–4) at Georgia Tech (12–8)
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
Georgia Tech has a star in the making in freshman guard Josh Okogie, who exploded for 35 points in Wednesday’s 22-point shocker over Florida State. The only problem is that the Yellow Jackets, who were picked to finish last in the ACC but also knocked off North Carolina at home, are not going to sneak up on teams anymore. Notre Dame will be ready, especially coming off that disappointing home loss to Virginia.
Notre Dame 78, Georgia Tech 64
No. 6 Florida State (18–3) at Syracuse (12–9)
Saturday, noon, ESPN2
The Orange have continued to struggle, and though they have yet to lose an ACC game at home, that is bound to change in this one. Syracuse is ranked third to last in the ACC in defensive efficiency, and the Seminoles will be primed to take advantage of that coming off their loss to Georgia Tech. Look for freshman forward Jonathan Isaac to bounce back from his 3-for-10 performance.
Florida State 75, Syracuse 66
No. 9 North Carolina (19–3) at Miami (13–6)
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
The Tar Heels are very quietly looking like an NCAA championship team these days. They knocked down a season-high 14 three-pointers in a 19-point rout of Virginia Tech on Thursday night. The Hurricanes will have a hard time keeping up with the Heels. Miami is ranked next to last in the ACC in turnover percentage, and fifth to last in free throw shooting. If you’re gonna beat the Heels, you’ve gotta score lots and lots of points.
North Carolina 81, Miami 70
No. 25 Florida (15–5) at Oklahoma (8–11)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Don’t let Oklahoma’s record fool you. The Sooners are talented but young, and they lost four games while their most important player, senior point guard Jordan Woodard, was out with a leg injury. After Woodard returned, Oklahoma won at West Virginia and then suffered close defeats against Iowa State (in double overtime) and Texas (by one on the road). So this is a huge game for the Sooners for their NCAA tournament hoops. I say they get the win against a Gators team that can grind games out defensively but struggles to score, especially when 6' 6" senior guard Canyon Barry, who sat out the win at LSU with an ankle injury, is having trouble finding the mark.
Oklahoma 76, Florida 70
No. 22 Maryland (18–2) at Minnesota (15–6)
Saturday, 2:15 p.m., BTN
It has been a rough stretch for the Gophers, who have lost four straight, with the last three coming by a combined margin of 10 points. You wonder how that kind of adversity would affect such a young team, but I’m guessing they will take advantage of the chance to play the Big Ten’s first-place team at home. Maryland also has freshmen galore around junior point guard Melo Trimble, but the Terps have had a hard time taking care of the ball this season (they’re 280th in turnover percentage), and they are due to be clipped.
Minnesota 66, Maryland 63
No. 2 Kansas (18–2) at No. 4 Kentucky (17–3)
Saturday, 6:15 p.m., ESPN
I was inclined to take Kentucky in this game anyway, but it became an easier pick after Kansas announced on Thursday that sophomore forward Carlton Bragg was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. This might be the only time all season that Kansas is facing a backcourt that is better than its own. That means the game will be won in the frontcourt, where UK had a decided advantage even before the Bragg news.
Kentucky 83, Kansas 72
Georgetown (11–10) at Butler (18–3)
Saturday, 8 p.m., CBSSN
Georgetown did a nice job taking advantage of a reeling Creighton team Wednesday night thanks to 20 points from junior guard L.J. Peak, but I am far from convinced this team has turned a corner. Butler is tough, smart and efficient, and this team has an absolute stud in freshman guard Kamar Baldwin. The Bulldogs have compiled their record against the seventh-toughest schedule in the country. And they rarely lose in Hinkle.
Butler 71, Georgetown 62
Michigan (14–7) at Michigan State (12–9)
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
I can’t say that I’ve given up on the Spartans, but there are certainly no signs that they are bound for one of their standard late-season surges. Freshman swingman Miles Bridges has regained his form after returning from a seven-game absence with an ankle injury—he had 33 points in Tuesday’s home loss to Purdue—but he is not getting enough help from his friends. The Wolverines are hard to beat when they are knocking down threes, as was the case when they went 11 for 20 from behind the arc in a 30-point win over Indiana on Thursday, so Michigan State’s defense has to be top level.
Michigan State 70, Michigan 65
No. 12 Virginia (16–3) at No. 1 Villanova (19–2)
Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox
This is the return of a home-and-home matchup that drops as a lovely present in late January. Virginia’s defense was exquisite on Tuesday, when the Cavaliers forced a high-powered Notre Dame squad to shoot 3 for 18 from three on its home floor. It’s a lot to ask for pull off a repeat performance against the defending champs who are coming off a disappointing loss, but I can’t wait to see them try.
Villanova 68, Virginia 63
NC State (14–7) at No. 13 Louisville (17–4)
Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network
NC State’s win at Duke was no fluke. The Wolfpack have some bona fide talents, most notably freshman point guard Dennis Smith, who scored 32 points in the big win. They are bound to come back to Earth in this one, but NC State has served notice that it has the potential to be a scary early opponent in the NCAA tournament, if it can string together enough wins to get there.
Louisville 77, NC State 70