Picks: Arizona-Oregon highlights strong slate

Friday February 3rd, 2017

No. 23 Purdue (18-5) at No. 17 Maryland (20-2) 

Saturday, Noon, ESPN

Maryland fans have been complaining for a while that their team doesn’t get enough respect. Here is its chance. The Terps have assembled their gaudy record against relatively weak competition (just two top-50 RPI wins), but there is something to be said for all that winning, especially with a starting lineup that features three freshmen. I’m anxious to see one of those frosh, 6’7” forward Justin Jackson, team up with 6’11” senior Damonte Dodd to try to corral the Boilermakers’ vaunted front line of Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas.

Maryland 80, Purdue 76

No. 9 Virginia (17-4) at Syracuse (14-9) 

Saturday, Noon, ESPN2

Syracuse guard John Gillon turned in a performance for the ages, scoring 43 points on just 13 field goal attempts in the Orange’s overtime win at N.C. State on Wednesday night. If Gillon is the fire, then Virginia’s defense is the fire hose. The Cavaliers are also getting better on the offensive end, thanks partly to the recent emergence of 6'5" freshman guard Ty Jerome. 

Virginia 69, Syracuse 63

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Georgia (13-9) at No. 19 South Carolina (18-4) 

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Georgia has suffered plenty of heartbreak this season, losing in overtime at Florida, at Texas A&M on a clock controversy, and in overtime at Kentucky on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, a date in Columbia is not the best place to get lucky. The Gamecocks lead the nation in three-point percentage defense, and they’re fifth in both field goal percentage defense and points allowed (60.9).

South Carolina 72, Georgia 65

Iowa State (13-8) at No. 3 Kansas (20-2) 

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN

I keep waiting for the Cyclones to break through and post some signature wins, but I guess I’m going to wait a while longer. Even when Iowa State had a chance to knock off a middle-of-the-road Vanderbilt team at home last weekend, its suspect defense proved costly in an 84-78 loss. The same thing happened on Jan. 16, when Kansas shot 55% to beat the Cyclones by four points in Ames. It’s hard to imagine things turning out much better in Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas 80, Iowa State 69

Xavier (16-6) at No. 22 Creighton (20-3)

Saturday, 3 p.m., Fox

This is a pair of really good teams dealing with devastating injuries. Creighton lost its point guard, Maurice Watson, three weeks ago, and Xavier lost its point guard, Edmund Sumner, to the same injury on Sunday. The difference is that the Bluejays have better players aside from Watson, and they have had a couple of weeks to adjust to playing without him. That, plus the homecourt advantage, should be enough to carry they day.

Creighton 78, Xavier 66

No. 5 Arizona (21-2) at No. 13 Oregon (20-3)

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN

The Ducks were almost caught taking a sneak peek at this game, but they managed to fend off Arizona State at home on Thursday night to win by one point. There are so many great matchups to look forward to here—the battle of the versatile big men, Lauri Markkanen and Chris Boucher leaps to mind—but in the end I’m not sure Oregon is good enough defensively to pull this one out. Yes, winning in Matthew Knight Arena won’t be easy, but neither was winning in Pauley Pavilion.

Arizona 78, Oregon 75

VCU (17-5) at St. Bonaventure (14-7) 

Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network

The Atlantic 10 has become the most interesting conference race in the country, with six teams bunched up at the top within a game of each other. St. Bonaventure has one of the best backcourts at the midmajor level in juniors Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. Together they are scoring more than 40 points per game. Adams also leads the league in assists (6.2) and ranks third in steals (2.16). VCU did what it had to do in winning three consecutive games at home, but I’ll ride the hot hands and the home team in this one.

St. Bonaventure 78, VCU 74

No. 20 Notre Dame (17-6) at No. 12 North Carolina (20-4)

Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

Notre Dame reminds me of a rookie baseball hitter who is going through his second cycle of games. The pitchers have watched him swing enough to figure the ways to get him out. The Fighting Irish’s over dependence on jump shooting (not to mention their mediocre defense) has caught up to them as they have lost four of their last five. North Carolina has been no great shakes either the last two games, and they will again be without junior forward Theo Pinson. But the Tar Heels’ vaunted frontcourt should overwhelm Notre Dame’s undersized big men.

North Carolina 84, Notre Dame 74

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No. 8 Kentucky (18-4) at No. 24 Florida (17-5)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Kentucky managed to scrape out a win in overtime over Georgia without point guard De’Aaron Fox, who was out with an illness, but even if Fox is back in the lineup I wonder if the Wildcats will be emotionally prepared to win this game. The Gators have been playing great defense all season (No. 7 nationally in defensive efficiency) and they have been putting more points on the board of late, thanks to the contributions of 6’6” senior guard Canyon Barry, who scored 32 points in his last two games, and 6’9” sophomore forward Kevarrius Hayes, who put up a career-high 20 points in 23 minutes during a win at Oklahoma last weekend.

Florida 78, Kentucky 76

No. 11 UCLA (20-3) at Washington (9-13)

Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Pac 12 Network

The marquee matchup here of course is at the point guard spot, where freshmen Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz will lock horns for the first time as collegians. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see Fultz in action, this is a great opportunity. Besides leading the Pac 12 in scoring (23.1 ppg, which ranks sixth nationally), Fultz also ranks second in assists (6.0), fourth in steals (1.55), eighth in three-point percnetage (41.3) and eighth in blocks (1.32). That’s right, blocks. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have enough talent around him to get the Huskies past the finish line in this one, but there is no denying he is one phenomenal show.

UCLA 80, Washington 66

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