Picks: UNC-Tennessee, Kentucky-Virginia Tech Lead the Weekend

Can Tennessee earn its biggest win of the Rick Barnes era? Will Virginia Tech's offense crack the defense of Kentucky? Picking the weekend's biggest college hoops games.
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Every college basketball weekend is a fun weekend. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we need the mediocre ones to make the great ones special. My friends in the college basketball loving world, this is one of the mediocre ones. There’s just one game between two ranked teams, with a number of the best teams in the country either off all weekend or playing pushovers. There are still some great games, including a marquee matchup on Sunday, but brighter weekends are ahead.

No. 17 Purdue vs. Butler (Crossroads Classic, Indianapolis)

Saturday, noon, Fox

The weekend’s action tips off in Indiana, with the four premier programs in the state—Purdue, Butler, Indiana and Notre Dame—getting together for the Crossroads Classic. The Boilermakers are as hot as any team in the country, riding a six-game winning streak that includes victories over Arizona, Louisville, Maryland, Northwestern and Valparaiso. They’re doing everything well offensively, ranking 49th in three-point percentage, 34th in two-point percentage, 36th in free-throw percentage, 29th in turnover rate and 20th in effective field goal percentage. Add it up, and they’re scoring 116.8 points per 100 possessions, good for 11th in the country.

Purdue 75, Butler 64

Syracuse at Georgetown

Saturday, 12:30 p.m., CBS

The Orange have had a ton of trouble scoring this season, ranking 69th in points per 100 possessions despite playing just three major conference teams (Maryland, Kansas and Connecticut). This will be Patrick Ewing’s first big test as Georgetown’s head coach, as the Hoyas haven’t yet played a team ranked inside the top 200 on kenpom.com. As is always the case against Syracuse, how well they handle the 2–3 zone will go a long way toward determining their fate. Marcus Derrickson and Jamorko Pickett will need to have big days shooting the ball for the Hoyas to win.

Syracuse 62, Georgetown 57

Four Factors That Will Define Kentucky's Season Going Forward

Virginia Tech at No. 8 Kentucky

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2

The Hokies beat Iowa by 24 at home and won a road game at Mississippi. They’ve done just about all they could to this point of the season, and now they’ll get a real idea of where they stand nationally. For what it’s worth, they’re the best team Kentucky has played in a month since the Wildcats loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic. The Wildcats are still hunting for an offensive identity, as has been the case with many recent Kentucky teams, but they are absolutely stifling on defense, making this game a great test for Buzz Williams’s 17th ranked offense in adjusted efficiency by kenpom.com.

Kentucky 80, Virginia Tech 70

No. 19 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (Orange Bowl Classic, Sunrise, Fla.)

Saturday, 2 p.m.

The Seminoles are one of six remaining unbeaten teams in the country, though it has to be mentioned that they haven’t really challenged themselves. They’ve played exactly one game against a top-100 team on kenpom, and while they did emerge from that with an impressive win at Florida, they’ve still got some work to do before we start taking them seriously as a Final Four contender. They have been able to turn defense into offense playing a fast-paced, high-intensity brand of basketball, and that’s where they can create some distance against the Cowboys on Saturday.

Florida State 78, Oklahoma State 68

No. 18 Notre Dame vs. Indiana (Crossroads Classic, Indianapolis)

Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox

These are two of the slowest-paced teams in the country, so don’t expect a track meet in the second game of the Crossroads Classic. The big difference, though, is that Notre Dame is super efficient, scoring 118 points per 100 possessions, good for seventh in the country. Indiana, meanwhile, is 42nd with 111.2 points per 100 possessions. What’s more, the Irish are 11th in the country with a 42.4% three-point percentage, and the Hoosiers have allowed opponents to connect on 40.1% of their attempts from distance. If Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs are shooting it well, this game could get out of hand.

Notre Dame 79, Indiana 65

No. 25 Cincinnati at UCLA

Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS

Who are the Bruins? Right now, they’re an entertaining team with a good, but not great, offense, that has lost to the two best teams it has played (Creighton and Michigan). Might that be who they are all season? Beating Cincinnati would go a long way toward changing their trajectory. Slowing down Gary Clark will be a tall task, however, even with all their size in the paint.

Cincinnati 72, UCLA 66

Oklahoma at No. 3 Wichita State

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2

Was last weekend’s win over USC at the Staples Center a national coming-out party for the Sooners, or was it just a blip on the radar for the Trojans? The former’s game with Wichita State won’t give us that answer definitively, but Trae Young just might make them a player in the Big 12. The Shockers, meanwhile, are going for an unofficial Big 12 title after already being Baylor and Oklahoma State. This is their last chance to build their résumé out-of-conference before AAC play begins, and they should be able to do so.

Wichita State 84, Oklahoma 74

Power Rankings: Villanova Ascends, Arizona State Makes Big Jump

No. 22 Florida vs. Clemson (Orange Bowl Classic, Sunrise, Fla.)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

The Gators rebounded from a three-game losing streak with an impressive neutral floor win over Cincinnati last weekend. If they can get the tempo up to where they like it, it’s hard to envision Clemson being able to keep up on the offensive end. The Tigers have been efficient scoring in the paint, thanks to Donte Grantham and Elijah Thomas, but they’re going to need to make some perimeter jumpers to win this game. It’s a pseudo-home game for the Gators, who won’t leave the state of Florida again until the new year.

Florida 77, Clemson 69

Middle Tennessee vs. Auburn (in Birmingham, Ala.)

Saturday, 6 p.m. SEC Network

This is the rubber match of a three-game series that was agreed to back before the start of the 2014–15 season. Since then, the Blue Raiders have turned into one of the most dangerous mid-major teams in the country, winning games in consecutive NCAA tournaments. Auburn will try to use its speed and athleticism to turn this into an up-and-down affair, but Nick King and Brandon Walters are efficient enough inside to slow it down. Those two need to have big scoring nights for the Blue Raiders to navigate a narrow path to victory.

Auburn 75, Middle Tennessee State 73

No. 13 Kansas at Nebraska

Saturday, 8 p.m., FS1

This is not supposed to be an important game for the Jayhawks, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll roll right through the Cornhuskers on Saturday. After losing consecutive games, however, the Jayhawks absolutely need to get right in a big, dominating way in Lincoln. Despite its recent losses, Kansas should be able to wrest sovereignty away from Nebraska, and run the Cornhuskers right out of their own gym.

Kansas 83, Nebraska 65

Utah at BYU

Saturday, 11 p.m., ESPN2

This is an important non-conference game for both of these teams. BYU figures to run third in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, while Utah has the look of a second-tier Pac-12 team. In other words, the selection committee could be looking back at this game in a few months as a real résumé-builder for the winner, especially if the Utes pull out a road victory. For that to happen, they’ll need to get David Collette going inside. His size could be too much to handle for a BYU team that doesn’t play anyone taller than 6-foot-8 for significant minutes.

Utah 75, BYU 74

Vanderbilt at No. 5 Arizona State

Sunday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network

The Sun Devils are one of this season’s brightest surprises, picking up wins over Kansas, Xavier, Kansas State and St. John’s on their way to a 9–0 record. The Commodores, meanwhile, have struggled, sputtering to a 3–6 record while ceding supremacy in their own state to the likes of Belmont and Middle Tennessee. This is the Sun Devils' final non-conference game with a power conference team before starting Pac-12 play in early January. With Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, Romello White and Kodi Justice, the Sun Devils have one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country. They should bring that to bear against the Commodores on Sunday.

Arizona State 87, Vanderbilt 72

No. 7 North Carolina at No. 20 Tennessee

Sunday, 3 p.m., ESPN

This is the only game of the weekend between two ranked teams, as well as the biggest game thus far of the Rick Barnes era at Tennessee. The Tar Heels are going to do what they can to turn this game into a track meet. The Volunteers have enough athleticism to keep up for stretches, but they can’t let this devolve into 40 minutes of up-and-down basketball. Keep an eye on Tennessee’s free-throw shooting. Admiral Schofield, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone all shoot at least 80% from the stripe, while Grant Williams is at 75% on 44 attempts. Getting those four to the line will have the three-pronged effect of getting easy points, putting the Tar Heels in foul trouble, and preventing them from turning up the tempo. That could be the key to the game.

Tennessee 77, North Carolina 75