Picks: Gonzaga–St. Mary's takes center stage in rivalry week
At the end of rivalry week, No. 1 Gonzaga faces its toughest obstacle on the path toward an unbeaten season—a road trip to No. 20 Saint Mary's—and Cincinnati and SMU square off for AAC supremacy.
Dayton (18–5) at Rhode Island (16–7)
Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Just another big game in the Atlantic 10, where six teams have been bunched at the top of the standings for the last month. Rhode Island has won six of its last seven, thanks largely to the inside presence of 6' 7" senior forward Hassan Martin, who ranks sixth in the country in blocks (2.94) while also grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game. Dayton is a tough team that knows how to grind, but that is not an uncomfortable style for the Rams.
Rhode Island 69, Dayton 63
Syracuse (16–9) at Pittsburgh (13–11)
Saturday, 1 p.m., ACC Network
We all saw this coming, right? The Orange, who lost at home by 33 points to St. John’s in late December, are now on a five-game win streak. They beat Pitt on Jan. 7 by 11 points in the Carrier Dome, but I think the Panthers, who have to be the best 15th-place team in college basketball history, will rise to the occasion at home. The Panthers have the top two scorers in the ACC in Michael Young (20.8 ppg) and Jamel Artis (20.0 ppg). Both are big scoring guards who can make midrange jumpers, which is critical in beating that 2–3 zone.
Pittsburgh 71, Syracuse 69
No. 15 Kentucky (19–5) at Alabama (14–9)
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
John Calipari looks like he is losing patience with his team, and I can’t blame him. The Wildcats have been showing their inexperience of late and on Tuesday almost blew a big lead at home against LSU before winning by seven. Avery Johnson’s crew is coming off a dramatic four-overtime win at South Carolina, but I’m not sure the Tide is ready to beat a team that has more talent and a cranky head coach.
Kentucky 81, Alabama 67
No. 2 Villanova (23–2) at No. 24 Xavier (18–6)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox
Xavier has done well to win all three games it has played without point guard Edmond Sumner, who was lost for the season to an ACL injury. One of those wins came at Creighton. Logic says the Musketeers won’t have enough juice to beat a superior Villanova team, but they are playing at home, and it looks to me like the Wildcats’ lack of depth is taking a toll right now.
Xavier 75, Villanova 73
No. 14 Florida State (21–4) at Notre Dame (18–7)
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
The Fighting Irish have come crashing back to earth after their 5-0 start in the ACC, but they were able to snap their four-game losing streak by beating Wake Forest at home thanks to junior forward Bonzie Colson’s 27-point, 16-rebound performance. The Seminoles, however, are coming in hot, having won their last three games by an average of 30.0 points. Freshman forward Jonathan Isaac had 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in the Seminoles’ win over NC State in Tallahassee on Jan. 18, and I still think he’s too tough a matchup for the Irish’s undersized front line.
Florida State 79, Notre Dame 73
Harvard (12–7) at Yale (13–6)
Saturday, 7 p.m.
This is rivalry week in college hoops, and so this one is important in the teams’ ability to keep pace with Princeton in the Ivy League. Yale upset Baylor in the NCAA tournament and opened the season with a win at Washington, and I know they’re at home. But I love the Crimson’s backcourt of senior Siyani Chambers, who leads the Ivy in assists at 5.8 per game, and freshman Bryce Aiken, who ranks eighth in scoring at 13.1 ppg.
Harvard 71, Yale 67
No. 1 Gonzaga (25–0) at No. 20 Saint Mary’s (22–2)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Gonzaga has been throttling West Coast Conference opponents by an average of 27.3 points per game. They easily dispatched the Gaels by 23 points in Spokane back on Jan. 14. I really think this team is highly motivated by the chance to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. They’ll have to earn this one, but they will remain perfect in the end.
Gonzaga 85, Saint Mary’s 70
No. 5 Oregon (21–4) at USC (21–4)
Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Pac 12 Network
Talk about good timing. On Jan. 25, USC was able to knock off UCLA at home as the Bruins were coming off a tough loss to Arizona in Pauley Pavilion. Now the Trojans get the good fortune of hosting the Ducks two days after they blew a 19–point lead to suffer a demoralizing loss at UCLA. The Trojans have won five in a row and six of their last seven, and they have benefited from the return of 6' 10" sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright, who missed two months with a sprained knee.
USC 78, Oregon 74
No. 11 Cincinnati (22–2) at No. 25 SMU (21–4)
Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN
I’ve been waiting for this rematch ever since I watched the Bearcats squeak by SMU, 66–64, in Fifth Third Arena on Jan. 12. The Mustangs haven’t lost since, and they are sparked by the terrific inside-outside presence of junior Semi Ojeleye, a 6' 7" transfer from Duke who had a career-high 30 points to go along with 10 rebounds in Thursday’s win over Temple. Ojeleye only had 12 points and three rebounds in the loss at Cincy, and his team still only lost by two. A better game from him, plus the homecourt advantage, should add up to an SMU win.
SMU 76, Cincinnati 70
Northwestern (18–6) at No. 7 Wisconsin (21–3)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m., BTN
Northwestern is now 0–2 in games without its leading scorer, Scottie Lindsey, who has mononucleosis. Even if Lindsey returns, it's hard to expect the Wildcats to prevail in Kohl Center. The Badgers continue to get stellar play out of sophomore forward Ethan Happ, who sealed Thursday night’s overtime win at Nebraska with a terrific block. Happ only had eight points, but he added 14 rebounds (including six offensive) to give the team the win.
Wisconsin 73, Northwestern 64