Picks: Kentucky-Tennessee, Michigan-Maryland Rematches Lead First Weekend of March

Our picks for Kentucky-Tennessee, Michigan-Maryland, LSU-Alabama, UNC-Clemson and more of the weekend's biggest games in college basketball.
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This is the final weekend of the college basketball season before conference tournaments begin, though the power conferences still have one more week of regular-season games. This is an excellent weekend to take us into the home stretch, with the Kentucky-Tennessee rematch headlining the action. There’s also plenty of bubble intrigue, with at least five matchups featuring a firm bubble team on one side, and a tournament lock on the other. Any or all of those bubble teams could ultimately earn their at-large bids this weekend.

All times Eastern.

No. 6 Michigan State at Indiana

Saturday, noon, FOX

This is the first of many games this weekend that pits a bubble team playing at home against a tournament lock. All the bubble teams in question would do themselves huge favors by winning, perhaps none more so than Indiana. Plenty of people have left the Hoosiers for dead, but they have five Q1 victories, including wins over Marquette, Louisville, Wisconsin and their opponent Saturday, Michigan State. They’ve clearly lost too many games to get into the field with this exact résumé, but give them another win over the Spartans and one or two more quality victories in the Big Ten tournament, and we could be looking at a 15-loss team in the dance. Michigan State has won its first two games without Nick Ward, including a huge result last weekend at Michigan, and will have had six days off since it last took the floor. Indiana, on the other hand, scratched out a hard-fought overtime win against Wisconsin on Tuesday. The Spartans were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season the last time these teams played, and it’s possible that Indiana simply caught them at the right time. That won’t be the case this weekend.

Michigan State 75, Indiana 65

No. 13 LSU at Alabama

Saturday, noon, ESPN

After losing at home to Florida last week, LSU got right back in the SEC regular-season race by beating Tennessee over the weekend. The Tigers still have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed, and it would be awfully hard to keep them off the top line if they win out, claim both SEC championships, and win at least one game against Tennessee or Kentucky in the process. As for Alabama, they could once and for all prove themselves an at-large worthy team by beating LSU on Saturday. We have them as a No. 11 seed in our most recent Bracket Watch, and even if we’re slightly off on that prediction, there’s no doubt that it’s just barely on either side of the bubble. A win over a powerhouse like LSU could remove any lingering doubt about the Crimson Tide’s tournament bona fides. Tremont Waters is expected to return after missing LSU’s last two games with an illness.

LSU 81, Alabama 74

NC State at No. 18 Florida State

Saturday, noon, ESPN2

This is NC State’s last chance to burnish its résumé before the ACC tournament, and while the Wolfpack shouldn’t be in any real jeopardy on Selection Sunday, one bad loss without another good win could have them a bit nervous. If they pull the upset in Tallahassee, it’s a near-guarantee they won’t have anything to worry about with respect to the Big Dance. Florida State’s size could be a massive problem for an NC State team with just one player taller than 6’5” playing at least 20 minutes per game. The Wolfpack have to take their opportunities to run when they can, but the Seminoles can counter that by getting after the offensive glass and controlling tempo with Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker. Florida State may not be the best team NC State has played this year, but is one of its toughest matchups based on how the teams are constructed.

Florida State 76, NC State 68

No. 4 Kentucky at No. 7 Tennessee

Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS

The huge rematch in the SEC that we’ve been anticipating for nearly three weeks could also determine who wins the conference’s regular-season crown. Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as LSU, go into the weekend at 13–2 in the SEC. The loser of this game is almost certainly out of the running, especially if LSU takes care of business against Alabama. That may not seem like it matters all that much with all three ticketed for high seeds in the NCAA tournament, but whoever wins the regular-season title only has to beat one of the other two to win the tournament title. If Kentucky or Tennessee sweeps the SEC’s championships, it will be a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, without question. So, yes, winning the conference in the regular season does matter beyond hanging a banner. Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone all got theirs the first time these teams played, but Kentucky was ruthlessly efficient on offense, and made Williams work extremely hard, with eight of his 16 points coming at the free throw line. PJ Washington was the best player on the floor that night, and the game was never really in much doubt at any point in the second half. Tennessee beats up most of its opponents on the inside, but Kentucky is one of the few teams in the country that can counter its strength. This matchup may again be decided in the paint. We’ll give the edge to the home team.

Tennessee 77, Kentucky 74

Iowa State at Texas

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Texas has to be sick after letting a 19-point lead at Baylor slip away earlier this week. The Longhorns were without Dylan Osetkowski and Kerwin Roach, but that only would’ve made the win more impressive. Now they find themselves just barely on the right side of the bubble, with all three of their remaining regular-season games against guaranteed or likely tournament teams. They need to take advantage of the opportunities they get at home, which makes this a huge game for the Longhorns. Iowa State won the first meeting between these two in Ames, but Texas held a three-point lead with just less than six minutes to go. Roach remains suspended, while Osetkowski could return after missing the Baylor game with an illness. Without Roach, their leading scorer, the Longhorns will need to find a way to slow this game down. It’s hard to see them winning if it gets into the 70s.

Iowa State 73, Texas 68

Ohio State at No. 14 Purdue

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN

Ohio State got a huge win earlier this week, knocking off Iowa by 20 points in Columbus. Purdue has won four straight games since losing to Maryland and is favored to secure at least a share of the Big Ten title, considering its remaining regular-season games are with Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern. Purdue handled Ohio State the first time they met this season, winning 79–67 on the Buckeyes’ floor. Carsen Edwards scored 27 points in that game, getting four points on twos, 12 on threes, and 11 at the free throw line. The Buckeyes were already behind the eight ball here, and their task is even harder now that Kaleb Wesson is suspended. They already didn’t have much offense to begin with, and Wesson is their leading scorer and easily their most dynamic offensive player.

Purdue 79, Ohio State 61

No. 11 Texas Tech at TCU

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2

Texas Tech is on as quiet a six-game winning streak as you’ll see from a team in a power conference and will earn at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title if it wins out. TCU, meanwhile, got a huge victory over Iowa State last weekend, but could still use a few more wins to feel confident on Selection Sunday. This is a great spot for the Horned Frogs, not because it’s necessarily a positive matchup, but because it’s a home game against a team that is likely to be a No. 4 seed or better. Texas Tech trounced TCU the first time these teams played behind 18 points apiece from Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney. Texas Tech is so sound defensively that it’s hard to imagine a decent, but not great, offensive team like TCU scoring its way to a win here. If the Horned Frogs are going to pull off the upset, they’ll have to find a way to slow down Culver. If he goes for 18-plus again, it’s going to be a long afternoon for the home team.

Texas Tech 72, TCU 64

Mississippi State at Auburn

Saturday, 4 pm, ESPNU

Both of these teams are all but assured at-large bids, but there’s still something at stake in this game. Auburn, in particular, stands to gain with a win on Saturday. Computer metrics love the Tigers, but they are just 3–7 in Q1 contests, which is holding their seed down. They’re the only power conference team in the top 25 in NET with fewer than four Q1 wins, and one of three with fewer than five. Mississippi State won the first meeting between these two teams, scoring 1.24 points per possession en route to a 92–84 victory. If you love perimeter play, than this will be one of your favorite games of the weekend. These are both guard-and-wing-oriented teams, with Lamar Peters and Quinndary Weatherspoon on one side, and Jared Harper and Bryce Brown on the other. Those four combined for 76 points in the first meeting between these teams, and were four of the five leading scorers in the contest.

Auburn 83, Mississippi State 79

UCF at No. 8 Houston

Saturday, 4 pm, ESPN

The stakes in this one are pretty obvious. UCF is squarely on the bubble, either just on the right side or just on the wrong side depending who you ask. A win over a top-10 team would not only give the Knights their first Q1 win of the season, but could also serve as a springboard to get into the field for good, barring any ugly losses the rest of the year. Houston, meanwhile, is playing for a No. 2 seed, and still has an outside shot at the top line. For either of those to happen, the Cougars must win out, including the AAC tournament. Houston won the first game between these two, 77–68. This is where B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins have to show up for the Knights. Taylor was solid in the first meeting, but Dawkins needed 15 shots to score 13 points. That can’t happen Saturday if the Knights are going to get their biggest win of the season.

Houston 73, UCF 61

No. 5 North Carolina at Clemson

Saturday, 6 pm, ESPN

Another huge game for one of our bubble teams playing at home, so I won’t bother repeating that whole spiel. Clemson is presently in a better spot than Indiana, but, in our estimation, a worse spot than Alabama. This is its last chance in the regular season to really add to its résumé, with games against Notre Dame and Syracuse next week. A win over North Carolina would be a huge coup, and could prove to be the silver bullet the Tigers have been looking for all season. Just because teams play different styles doesn’t mean you can say that whichever one establishes tempo will win. Basketball isn’t as clean as that. But this is a matchup where tempo will play a huge role. The Tigers may be able to beat the Tar Heels if they can slow them down. They absolutely cannot if the Heels get out in transition with consistency. I’d expect to see Clemson send at least four defenders back after every shot and force North Carolina to play long defensive possessions. That still might not be enough, but it’s a necessary element for a Clemson upset.

North Carolina 78, Clemson 70

Baylor at No. 16 Kansas State

Saturday, 8 pm, ESPN2

Both of these teams will go dancing, but this game could have a dramatic effect on their seeds. These two have a lot of mobility in the field of 68. We have Kansas State as a No. 5 and Baylor as a No. 8 in our current Bracket Watch, but given what they’ve done to this point and the way things can change in the Big 12 in just a couple games, there’s still plenty of time for either of them to move up or down a couple lines. Kansas State went into Waco and came out with a 70–63 win about one month ago, getting 20 points from Kamau Stokes in the win. The Bears, however, were without Makai Mason and King McClure in that game, and both will be on the floor on Saturday. Settle in for a bruising, slow-paced matchup if you watch this game. Both of these teams are comfortable running long offensive possessions, though the motivation to do so is different. Kansas State features one of the top defenses in the country, while Baylor is an elite rebounding team that won’t force the issue offensively if it doesn’t have an obvious advantage. That makes for slow basketball.

Kansas State 65, Baylor 61

Memphis at No. 23 Cincinnati

Saturday, 8 pm, ESPNU

Is this an unlikely game for the Weekend Preview? No doubt. But Memphis has played its way onto the bubble by winning five of its last six games, and a win at Cincinnati on Saturday would give the Tigers their first Q1 win, as well as a top-40 NET rating. That wouldn’t be good enough to get them in just yet, but would have them in position to break into the field with a couple more strong wins in the AAC tournament. That’s all well and good in theory, but they have to beat the Bearcats for any of it to matter. They nearly did so the first time they played, losing by five at home after holding an 11-point lead in the second half. Memphis ranks fourth in the country in kenpom’s adjusted tempo while Cincinnati ranks 345th, so this really is a clash of diametrically opposed styles of play. Memphis will have to find a way to balance pushing the pace while not getting beat up on its defensive glass in this one. The Bearcats rank seventh in the country in offensive-rebounding rate and cleaned up 36% of their own misses in their previous win over the Tigers.

Cincinnati 72, Memphis 61

No. 12 Nevada at Utah State

Saturday, 8:30 pm, CBS Sports Network

This could be the make-or-break game for Utah State. The metrics love the Aggies, but the Selection Committee won’t be able to ignore the fact that they have one Q1 win all season, and that it came against Saint Mary’s, which is just a blip on the at-large radar. The Aggies have an opportunity to prove they belong in the field by beating Nevada on Saturday. The Wolf Pack cruised to a 72–49 win the first time these teams played one another, getting 15 points from Jordan Caroline and 14 from Cody Martin. Nevada isn’t a great rebounding team, and while the Aggies don’t typically get after the offensive glass, that might be their best bet in this matchup. That would force the Wolf Pack to rebound with at least four guys, which could slow down their transition and secondary break. If the Aggies play it straight up, it’s hard to imagine them having enough offense to hang with Caroline and the Martin brothers.

Nevada 75, Utah State 74

No. 1 Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s

Saturday, 10 pm, ESPN

This is the final regular-season game for these two teams, with the West Coast Conference tournament taking place next week. A win on Saturday is all that stands between Gonzaga locking up the No. 1 seed in the West Region. Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, is still harboring legitimate hopes for an at-large bid, but it must win on Saturday to keep those hopes alive. Should the Gaels lose, they’ll be off the at-large radar and in need of the WCC’s automatic bid to get to the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga destroyed Saint Mary’s the first time these teams played this season, winning 94–46 in Spokane. This game is on the Gaels’ turf, and while they should keep this one much closer, there’s little reason to expect the outcome to be any different.

Gonzaga 90, Saint Mary’s 80

No. 9 Michigan at No. 17 Maryland

Sunday, 3:45 pm, CBS

The Big Ten typically does a good job of spacing out when teams play one another in the regular season, but that’s not the case with these two. They met in Ann Arbor just two weeks ago, with Michigan easing its way to a 65–52 win. The Wolverines suffocated the Terrapins’ offense, holding Anthony Cowan, Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith to a combined 30 points, and the team as a whole to 0.81 points per possession. Maryland should play much better with this game at home where it hasn't lost in 2019, but Michigan is a particularly bad matchup for the Terrapins. The Wolverines do an excellent job on the defensive glass, they don’t turn the ball over and Jon Teske gives them someone who can bang with Fernando. Additionally, Zavier Simpson is the type of on-ball defender who can give Anthony Cowan fits. If he’s not breaking down the defense and getting in the paint, Maryland’s offense is much less effective. He scored just 10 points on 12 shots in the first meeting between these teams, and had the same number of turnovers as assists (three).

Michigan 63, Maryland 62