College Basketball Expert Picks: Can Favorites Avoid Tricky Weekend Traps?

Our writers predict Duke-Syracuse, Kentucky-Auburn, Illinois-Iowa, Oregon-Stanford and more.
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As the calendar turns to February this weekend, our writers aren't foreseeing much chaos in the immediate college basketball near future. Is that a sign that things will go to script, or a harbinger of unexpected upheaval? Sports Illustrated's expert picks are in for 15 intriguing conference matchups, including Kentucky-Auburn, Illinois-Iowa, Duke-Syracuse and more Saturday and Sunday clashes.

MORE: SI's College Basketball Power Rankings Top 25

Season-Long Standings

Pat Forde: 86-59 (59.3%)
Molly Geary: 86-59 (59.3%)
Max Meyer: 85-60 (58.6%)
Michael Shapiro: 84-61 (57.9%)
Jeremy Woo: 78-67 (53.8%)

All times are Eastern.

Creighton at No. 8 Villanova  (Sat., 12 p.m., FS1)

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Michael Shapiro picks Villanova: Don’t look now, but Jay Wright’s squad is looking like a more formidable Final Four candidate by the week. The Wildcats waxed Butler at home last week, and they enter Saturday following a 20-point shellacking of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. Saddiq Bey leads a deep collection of shooters, one that’s finding its groove in conference play. Villanova will stay hot on Saturday. 

Indiana at Ohio State (Sat., 12 p.m., ESPN)

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Michael Shapiro picks Ohio State: The Hoosiers are trending toward the NCAA tournament, but their road woes continue to be a troubling trend as we roll into February. Indiana was crushed by Penn State in Happy Valley on Wednesday, and it couldn’t keep up with Rutgers on Jan. 15. The Buckeyes have underachieved in conference play, and their defense remains frustrating. But there is still talent on this roster. Trust the home crowd in a critical Big Ten matchup.

No. 14 Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sat., 1 p.m., FOX)

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Jeremy Woo picks Michigan State: Sparty handled the Badgers comfortably in East Lansing, and with Wisconsin backpedaling into this game off losses at Iowa and Purdue, I trust Cassius Winston to get this done. 

No. 6 Louisville at NC State (Sat., 2 p.m., ESPN)

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Pat Forde picks NC State: I am operating solely on the assumption that in a season where nobody is THAT good, a team on a seven-game winning streak playing its second road game of the week is simply due to lose. And the bubblicious Wolfpack should be a desperate team after a dismal performance at home against rival North Carolina. Louisville is certainly the better team, but perhaps not on this particular Saturday.

Texas Tech at No. 3 Kansas (Sat., 4 p.m., ESPN)

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Michael Shapiro picks Kansas: The Jayhawks are rolling with eight wins in their last nine games, and they have a new weapon emerging in Bill Self’s location. Freshman guard Christian Braun scored a career-high 20 against Kansas State, and he added 16 in Stillwater on Monday. Saturday ends a grueling three-game stretch for Texas Tech after facing Kentucky and West Virginia. Expect Kansas to keep its winning streak alive against Chris Beard and Co.

No. 5 Florida State at Virginia Tech (Sat., 4 p.m., ACC Extra)

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Molly Geary picks Virginia Tech: I'm a little less confident this pick after FSU had its 10-game winning streak snapped at UVA earlier in the week, as it felt like the Seminoles were due for a loss in one of these Virginia road games. But one of the reasons I think the Hokies can steal this one at home despite their struggles of late is because they're one of the nation's best teams at taking care of the basketball. Florida State's defense is one of the most disruptive in the country, sitting in the top 10 in both defensive steal rate and block rate. Tech has been largely impervious to giveaways via steal this year and is also a heavily three-point dependent team. If the Hokies can shoot the ball well on Saturday, it could cancel out the Seminoles' advantage in the paint.

No. 25 Rutgers vs. Michigan (Sat., 4:30 p.m. at MSG, BTN)

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Pat Forde picks Rutgers: There are no clear signs whether Zavier Simpson will be back for the Wolverines after missing the Nebraska game due to a suspension. With or without him, Rutgers has been the better team over the past month. The only question is whether the Scarlet Knights can transport their RAC Magic (15-0 in that building) into Manhattan and play with the same verve and tenacity there.

No. 11 Oregon at Stanford (Sat., 6 p.m., Pac-12)

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Max Meyer picks Stanford: Oregon is 6-2 in Pac-12 play, but the Ducks have had troubles on the road. They’ve lost to Colorado and Washington State by a combined 20 points and eked out wins over Utah and Washington, with the latter being a remarkable collapse by the Huskies. Stanford has taken advantage of a soft start to its conference schedule, but the Cardinal are very strong at getting to the rim on offense and protecting the rim on defense. While Oregon is led by NPOY candidate Payton Pritchard at point guard, those are two areas where the Ducks haven’t been as successful. If the outside shots aren’t falling in Maples, it’s easy to envision Oregon having a tough time here.

No. 13 Kentucky at No. 17 Auburn (Sat., 6 p.m., ESPN)

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Pat Forde picks Kentucky: This is a payback game for the Wildcats, who were denied a Final Four trip last March by the Tigers. Auburn is coming off a great comeback win at Mississippi, but it was a double overtime marathon that could deplete the legs Saturday. Maybe the GameDay energy will serve as a replacement for that, but this feels like yet another game where Kentucky plays up to (or down to) the opponent and the situation—in this case, that means playing up.

Arkansas at Alabama (Sat., 6 p.m., SEC)

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Molly Geary picks Alabama: Both of these NCAA tournament hopefuls are coming off a loss: Arkansas to South Carolina at home, and Alabama to LSU on the road. The Tide got bulldozed by the Tigers inside, but the Razorbacks don't have the height of LSU, and are ill-equipped to take advantage of one of Bama's biggest weaknesses: rebounding. This should be a fast-paced game, and while the Tide love to get out in transition, they're not nearly as efficient as Arkansas on the run. That's a concern, but I like the home team to bounce-back stronger here.

No. 9 Duke at Syracuse (Sat., 8 p.m., ESPN)

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Molly Geary picks Duke: The Orange had their five-game winning streak snapped at Clemson earlier this week, and a win over Duke would be huge for Syracuse's fringe NCAA tournament hopes. Alas, I'm not sure this is a great matchup for 'Cuse. Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone means that the Orange let opponents shoot more three pointers than anyone in the nation, and this Blue Devils team can shoot it from deep, where it ranks third in ACC play at 38.2%. On the flip side, Duke has excelled at keeping opponents off the perimeter, which is where Syracuse's offense makes its living. This is a matchup that could definitely turn on each team's three-point shooting performance, but I'll roll with the Blue Devils in the Dome.

Utah State at No. 4 San Diego State (Sat., 10 p.m., CBSSN)

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Max Meyer picks San Diego State: Utah State has been a disappointment this season, as the Aggies have been hampered by injuries and inconsistent play. They’ve had some troubles on the road in conference play, as they lost by double digits to UNLV and Air Force along with blowing an 18-point lead with nearly four minutes left to Boise State before falling in overtime. I don’t think San Diego State runs the table in the Mountain West, however the Aztecs seem much more likely to trip up on the road.

Saint Mary's at BYU (Sat., 10 p.m., ESPN2)

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Jeremy Woo picks Saint Mary's: Don’t doubt the Gaels, who lost in Provo last year but have started to string together good performances even in spite of Jordan Ford’s occasional inconsistency. BYU needs this win, but Yoeli Childs and T.J. Haws may not be enough to keep up with one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.

No. 20 Colorado at USC (Sat., 10:30 p.m., FS1)

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Max Meyer picks USC: Tad Boyle vs. Andy Enfield is the most heated coaching rivalry in the conference, and we should be in for a treat with two Pac-12 contenders squaring off in Galen Center. I personally think Colorado has benefitted slightly from having five of its first seven Pac-12 games at home in the altitude of Boulder. Beating the Buffaloes there is a tough task, but they’re much more vulnerable on the road. I think USC having Onyeka Okongwu and Nick Rakocevic neutralizes a lot of what Colorado is aiming to do on both ends of the court. USC has actually been a very solid road team this season, but usually they’re a more reliable bet to get up for these types of games in front of the Trojan faithful.

No. 19 Illinois at No. 16 Iowa (Sun., 1 p.m., FS1)

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Jeremy Woo picks Iowa: I believe in Illinois to an extent, but the Hawkeyes have been an exceedingly tough out at home, and have come on strong in January.

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