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  • Will Duke bounce back in the Carrier Dome without Zion Williamson? Can Michigan State beat rival Michigan on the road minus Nick Ward? Our picks for a key weekend of games.
By Michael Beller
February 22, 2019

The college basketball world is still reeling from Zion Williamson’s knee injury, but the Blue Devils will be right back on the floor this weekend, facing one of the three teams that have beaten them this season. There are also huge, potentially power-shifting games in the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, including five games that pit ranked teams against one another. There’s no time for any team to lick its wounds with Selection Sunday just more than three weeks away.

All times Eastern.

No. 5 Tennessee at No. 13 LSU

Saturday, noon, ESPN

The impartial basketball fan in me is disappointed that LSU lost to Florida at home earlier this week. How much more juice would this game have if it were between a couple of 12–1 SEC teams for control of the top of the standings? Instead, we’ll have to settle for what should still be a great game, without quite the same implications. I have two big questions about this game. First, can LSU find a way to slow down Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander? Second, how does Tennessee keep Tremont Waters out of the paint? The team that comes up with better answers to those questions will come away with a win.

LSU 80, Tennessee 79

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No. 3 Virginia at No. 18 Louisville

Saturday, noon, ACC Network

The weekend really kicks off with a bang with this game at the same time as Tennessee-LSU. Zion Williamson’s injury not only opens the door to a regular season ACC title for the Cavaliers, it could also help them land the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, depending on what happens the next three weeks. Whoever wins this game will earn a major coup that will have a noticeable effect on their tournament seeding. Virginia is so good at forcing teams to play at its pace, and Louisville isn’t exactly built to try to counter that pace anyway, so I wouldn’t expect to see Louisville change its stripes in this game. Instead, I think we’ll see the Cardinals add some emphasis on extending their defense beyond the three-point line and sending four players back rather than trying to crash the boards. It might seem counterintuitive, but Louisville has to try to win this game with defense, not offense.

Virginia 68, Louisville 62

Texas at Oklahoma

Saturday, noon, ESPNU

Texas took care of business at home the first time these teams met, winning 75–72 behind 23 points from Kerwin Roach, and 15 apiece from Matt Coleman, Jaxson Hayes and Dylan Osetkowski. (Roach was suspended this week for a violation of team rules and will miss Saturday’s game.) This is a big game with both teams on the bubble, though it’s likely more important to Oklahoma. Not only is it at home, but the Sooners don’t have a set of wins that comes anywhere close to matching the Longhorns’ trio of North Carolina, Purdue and Kansas. This game may be in Norman, but it’s still a tough spot for Oklahoma. The Sooners’ best bet is to try to get out in transition and get ahead of a Texas defense that thrives on forcing teams to run half-court offense. If they can do that, they’ll have a good chance of protecting their home floor and getting a much-needed win over a fellow bubble team.

Oklahoma 66, Texas 63

Auburn at No. 4 Kentucky

Saturday, 1:30 p.m., CBS

Auburn nearly pulled off one of the most dramatic wins of the season the first time these teams played one another, coming from 17 points down in the second half to take a brief lead late in the game, only to ultimately fall 82–80. Kentucky has lost just once since then, while Auburn has dropped four more games and is still hunting for a signature victory. If the Tigers are going to get it on Saturday, they’re going to have to live well on the offensive end. Kentucky is a particularly terrible matchup for Auburn because of its size and ability to clean up the offensive glass. Auburn will need big performances from Bryce Brown and Jared Harper in this one. The two combined for 45 points in the first game, and it wasn’t enough. They’ll need at least that many to have a chance on Saturday. One other factor to consider is Auburn’s top-ranked defensive-turnover rate in the country. Kentucky can get sloppy with the ball every now and again, and live-ball turnovers would likely also be key to an Auburn upset.

Kentucky 78, Auburn 69

No. 19 Iowa State at TCU

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2

The Cyclones have been one of the more puzzling teams in the country over the last few weeks, losing at home to TCU and Baylor. They get their rematch with TCU on Saturday, though this one will be in Fort Worth. Iowa State shot horribly from behind the arc in the first meeting, connecting on just seven of 24 attempts from distance, and turned it over 15 times. Not only are both of those out of character for the Cyclones, but the Horned Frogs aren’t exactly a defensive powerhouse. They’ve lost three straight games, and Iowa State has proved itself a capable team away from home. The Cyclones should get back on track here.

Iowa State 79, TCU 70

Ohio State at No. 24 Maryland

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN

This is a huge game for Ohio State, which has arguably the toughest remaining schedule among bubble teams. In addition to Saturday’s game at Maryland, the Buckeyes host Iowa and Wisconsin, and visit Purdue, all before the Big Ten tournament. They could easily lose all four of those, and if they do they’ll be in need of multiple meaningful wins in the conference tourney. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, this is a really tough spot for them. Maryland is one of the best home-floor teams in the country, with their only losses in College Park coming to Virginia and Seton Hall before the New Year. Additionally, Ohio State’s front isn’t built to handle a combo like Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith. The first time these teams played, a 75–61 win for the Terrapins in Columbus, Fernando and Smith combined for 23 points and 21 rebounds, while Anthony Cowan poured in 20 of his own.

Maryland 71, Ohio State 60

No. 16 Florida State at No. 8 North Carolina

Saturday 3:45 p.m., CBS

After losing four of its first five ACC games, Florida State has won eight straight, with victories over Syracuse, Louisville and Clemson (twice). This is a step up in weight class, though, with a trip to Chapel Hill being the toughest test the Seminoles have faced since losing to Duke on Jan. 12. Yes, there’s a Zion Williamson-sized caveat attached to UNC’s win at Duke on Wednesday, but that doesn’t completely take away from how impressive the Tar Heels’ performance was. UNC had the game in hand for the entire second half, and while the Blue Devils played shell-shocked for much of the contest, the Tar Heels showed how special they can be when their offense is clicking. Both of these teams have real chances to move up the seed list over the next three weeks, but it’s North Carolina that could ultimately play its way to the top line. Florida State has to find a way to protect the ball and not fall in love with the three in this game. If North Carolina can regularly get out in transition, it can make it a runaway.

North Carolina 87, Florida State 74

Wofford at Furman

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN3

This could be the game that makes or breaks Wofford’s at-large chances. The Terriers go into this one at 15–0 in the SoCon, with a NET rating of 24 and kenpom ranking of 27. This should be the last time they’re challenged before the SoCon tournament championship, and a win at Furman would go down as another Q1 victory, their third of the season. If they win this game and don’t lose before the SoCon championship, we’re going to see Wofford in the Big Dance, no matter who secures the conference’s automatic bid. Wofford beat Furman 59–54 back on Jan. 19, getting 22 of its points from leading scorer Fletcher Magee.

Wofford 73, Furman 70

No. 1 Duke at Syracuse

Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

This will be our first look at how Duke plays without Zion Williamson, for however long it will have to do that. Too much is being made about how the Blue Devils looked without him in the loss to North Carolina. First, it’s hard for a bunch of 18- to 20-year-olds to adjust on the fly after losing their best player in the first 30 seconds of a game, especially against a team as good as North Carolina. Second, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish still combined for 60 points on 21-of-45 from the floor in that game. Give Coach K a few days to coach these guys knowing they don’t have Williamson, and you’re going to see a much different, more composed team. Syracuse is a tough matchup for the Blue Devils considering they don’t shoot it well and won’t have one of their best offensive rebounders available, but the bet here is still that we’re going to see that Duke isn’t a one-man team.

Duke 77, Syracuse 67

South Carolina at Mississippi State

Saturday, 6 p.m., SEC Network

This may not seem like a game fit for the Weekend Preview, but South Carolina is lurking as a potential at-large team. The Gamecocks beat Ole Miss earlier this week, adding that to wins over Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn. If they win out, they’d go into the SEC tournament with at least four Q1 wins and enough of a track record to suggest they could get the additional wins they need to get into the dance. Maik Kotsar was a beast the first time these teams played, scoring 25 points and grabbing nine rebounds in an 87–82 overtime victory. The Gamecocks want to make this a game with as many possessions as possible. The Bulldogs have a significant rebounding edge, in addition to homecourt advantage, so the Gamecocks need as many bites at the apple as possible on the offensive end. Even that may not be enough, though.

Mississippi State 83, South Carolina 71

No. 12 Kansas at No. 14 Texas Tech

Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN

Kansas cruised to a 16-point win in Lawrence the first time these teams played, with the lead reaching as many as 24 points. Kansas held Texas Tech to 0.86 points per possession and made 13 threes, a recipe that’s almost always going to beat defensive-minded teams like the Red Raiders. So how do they turn it around at home? The first key would be to slow the game down. Kansas had 73 possessions and 59 field goal attempts in the season’s first meeting, and that’s not at all the formula Texas Tech wants. Secondly, they’re going to have to make life at least somewhat challenging for Dedric Lawson. He had a field day the first time around, scoring 25 points on 14 field goal attempts, adding 10 rebounds and two blocks. Put simply, a team like Texas Tech cannot beat a team as good as Kansas without making it work much harder for every single bucket it gets.

Kansas 70, Texas Tech 65

Seton Hall at St. John’s

Saturday, 8 p.m., FS1

St. John’s continues to be one of the most confounding teams in the country. Its last two losses have both been to Providence. Its last three wins are over Marquette (in Milwaukee), Villanova and Butler. These teams first met way back in December in their respective Big East openers, with Seton Hall earning a 76–74 win on a buzzer beater. Quincy McKnight may technically be Seton Hall’s point guard, but expect to see Shamorie Ponds checking Myles Powell in this one. Powell led the Pirates with 15 points the first time these teams got together, and Ponds is the Red Storm’s best on-ball defender.

St. John’s 74, Seton Hall 73

No. 10 Michigan State at No. 7 Michigan

Sunday, 3:45 p.m., CBS

This game would be a lot more compelling if Nick Ward were going to play. Put simply, it’s going to be very hard for the Spartans to crack the Wolverines’ defense without Ward on the floor. Michigan is so good at what it does and so disciplined that it’s nearly impossible to take the Wolverines out of their rhythm. If I were Tom Izzo, I’d look to push every single opportunity I got, with shooters fanning out to the wings and Xavier Tillman doing his best Ward impression by running the middle of the floor and occupying the defense there. The Spartans need to try to force Michigan into uncomfortable spots on defense, and possibly the best way to do that is to compel them to deal with shooters first and worry about rebounding later. Michigan does an excellent job of getting back in transition, so the Spartans are going to have to make the most of their opportunities, but that’s likely their best path to an upset.

Michigan 72, Michigan State 65

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