College Basketball Picks: Big Ten/ACC Challenge and Weekend Showdowns

This week in college hoops brings the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, conference games and more. Who will win 13 key games?
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Virginia basketball predictions

If you thought things would slow down in college basketball after Feast Week, think again. This week brings the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, a brand new Big 12 vs. Big East series and conference games by both the ACC and Big Ten this weekend. And that's not even counting intriguing non-conference matchups like Arizona-Baylor, Florida-Butler and Kansas-Colorado on Saturday. We had to whittle the best games of the week down to 13, letting our writers predict the winner.

Season-Long Standings

Michael Shapiro: 29-20
Jeremy Woo: 27-22
Pat Forde: 27-22
Max Meyer: 25-24
Molly Geary: 25-24

All times are Eastern.

No. 4 Michigan at No. 1 Louisville (Tues., 7:30 p.m., ESPN)

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Pat Forde picks Louisville: The nation's new No. 1 team hosts the nation's newest hot coach. The Cardinals have stormed out to a strong start and take over what has been a treacherous top ranking, following the perilous path of Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke. Their first order of business after rising to the top of the polls is handling the undefeated Wolverines, who are making the Juwan Howard hire look great. Michigan is coming off a stellar showing in the Bahamas, defeating Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga. Now they play their first road game, and the Yum Center should be brimming with energy.

No. 17 Florida State at Indiana (Tues., 9 p.m., ESPN2)

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Molly Geary picks Florida State: Indiana is quietly 7–0, but the Hoosiers have one win over a top 150 team on KenPom, and that was No. 85 Louisiana Tech. That doesn't mean Archie Miller's team is doomed for a reality check, but the Seminoles, fresh off an Emerald Coast Classic crown, will be by far their biggest challenge yet. I think this will be a close one in Bloomington, as some of FSU's strengths (23rd in bench minutes, first in average height) can also be found in Indiana (48th in bench minutes, 12th in average height)—though the Hoosiers may be down Rob Phinisee. Ultimately, I'll go with the team that has already played in (and won) multiple close games against quality opponents this season.

No. 10 Duke at No. 11 Michigan State (Tues., 9:30 p.m., ESPN)

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Jeremy Woo picks Michigan State: Home court advantage tilts this one toward the Spartans, with Xavier Tillman successfully slowing Vernon Carey and Cassius Winston playing Tre Jones to a draw. Losing the surprisingly consistent Cassius Stanley to injury is a major blow for the Blue Devils, who were already scraping for contributions on the wing.

No. 5 Virginia at Purdue (Wed., 7:15 p.m., ESPN2)

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Jeremy Woo picks Virginia: While Virginia won’t win many track meets with this group, they’re so well-drilled that it hasn’t mattered at all yet, and Purdue doesn’t exactly boast a high-powered offense, either. There will probably be less than 100 total points scored between them in this one, and I tend to favor Tony Bennett in any game that caters to his style.

Texas Tech at DePaul (Wed., 8:30 p.m., FS1)

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Michael Shapiro picks DePaul: Is Wednesday night the biggest DePaul game this decade? The Blue Demons have just one season over .500 since 2006-07. It’s been 17 years since they’ve reached the NCAA tournament. DePaul enters Wednesday night at 8–0 with the national runner-up coming to town, and Dave Leitao’s program may be turning the corner after a stint in the Big East basement. Texas Tech should ultimately figure things out and return to the NCAA tournament. But Wednesday night in Chicago won’t mark the start of its turnaround.

No. 6 Ohio State at No. 7 UNC (Wed., 9:30 p.m., ESPN)

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Molly Geary picks Ohio State: It's never easy going into Chapel Hill as the road team and leaving with a victory, but the Buckeyes feel like they have the right ingredients to do it. The offense has been much improved since last season, and while Kaleb Wesson is the team's star, Ohio State isn't as dependent on him as the Tar Heels are on Cole Anthony. UNC struggled against the only Top 25 KenPom defense it has faced so far, (Michigan), and facing the Buckeyes' No. 2 defense is going to put a lot of pressure on an offense that, for the most part, did not shoot the ball well in November. If the Heels are going to win this one, they must dominate the offensive boards and cash in on second-chances.

No. 10 Duke at Virginia Tech (Friday, 7 p.m., ACCN)

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Jeremy Woo picks Duke: The Hokies are just as young and inexperienced as their opponents here, and even in Blacksburg, I think Duke is due for a convincing win in the next week or two. Losing to Stephen F. Austin should take some pressure off, and while this is far from the best Blue Devils team in recent years, pulling out a win on the road in the ACC will build its mettle.

No. 12 Arizona at No. 18 Baylor (Sat., 12 p.m., ESPNU)

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Max Meyer picks Arizona: There will be talent all over the floor in this one, but I’m most excited about the battle at point guard between Jared Butler and Nico Mannion. Looking at true shooting percentage, there hasn’t been a more efficient perimeter player in the Big 12 this season than Butler. Mannion may be a freshman, but he certainly doesn’t play like one, showing poise and floor vision well beyond his years. Normally I’d be inclined to go against a Sean Miller-coached team when facing a zone. But the Wildcats, though admittedly it’s not a great sample size, have actually fared much better against zone than man this season. I think having a true game-changer at point in Mannion helps in that department, and I’ll go with Baylor to fall to its second Pac-12 team this season.

Florida at No. 24 Butler (Sat., 12 p.m., FOX)

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Michael Shapiro picks Butler: Don’t let Florida’s four-game winning streak obscure its offensive shortcomings. The Gators rank No. 203 in the nation in offensive rating. They rank No. 280 in assists. Sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard has struggled in spurts, seeing a dip in assists and a rise in turnovers in 2019-20 compared to last season. Mike White’s squad remains talented enough for a March run to the tournament’s second weekend, but Florida is likely to earn its third loss of the season at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

Illinois at No. 3 Maryland (Sat., 5 p.m., ESPN2)

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Molly Geary picks Maryland: There is a revenge factor here for the Terps, who fell to the Illini at MSG last winter. Illinois forced 21 turnovers in that game, but this Maryland team is taking better care of the ball—and forcing mistakes at a much higher rate. The Terrapins must neutralize the 7-foot Kofi Cockburn, though, who is leading the charge for a team that is first nationally in offensive rebounding rate. Mark Turgeon will throw a combination of Jalen Smith and twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell at the freshman center in an effort to slow him down.

No. 20 Colorado at No. 2 Kansas (Sat., 7 p.m., ESPN2)

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Max Meyer picks Kansas: The Jayhawks have weirdly struggled against Pac-12 teams in non-conference play over recent seasons—just look at how they’ve played against Arizona State and Stanford. Colorado’s dynamic inside-out duo of Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright can match up with Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. The problem for Colorado is the fact that Kansas has a big advantage with the other key pieces of its team, whether it’s the Jayhawks’ impressive group of guards or sophomore breakout candidate David McCormack down low.

No. 7 UNC at No. 5 Virginia (Sun., 4 p.m., ACCN)

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Pat Forde picks Virginia: Another compelling early ACC matchup, this one featuring the offensive skill of Tar Heels freshman Cole Anthony against the defensive will of the reigning national champions. The problem area for Carolina is its uncharacteristically poor shooting—the Heels have just 46.7% effective field goal accuracy thus far, on pace to be their lowest in ages. (Ken Pomeroy's ratings only go back to 1997.) If you pair that weakness with the Cavaliers' suffocating defense, plus the first truly hostile road atmosphere of the season, this could be a tough outing for UNC.

No. 9 Gonzaga at No. 22 Washington (Sun., 7 p.m., ESPN2)

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Max Meyer picks Gonzaga: Washington is still an enigma to me, because while the Huskies have talent, this might be a case of the individual pieces being greater than the sum of its parts. Five-star big man Isaiah Stewart has been the most impressive of the bunch thus far, but Gonzaga can neutralize him with impressive size of its own, particularly Filip Petrusev and Killian Tillie. I just think Gonzaga’s experience should give it the edge here in this in-state showdown.