This weekend is looking like it could be one of this season's best in college basketball, starting with a Friday-night clash between Maryland and Illinois, which are currently tied atop the Big Ten. Saturday then brings more Top-25 battles between Seton Hall-Villanova and LSU-Auburn, plus of course the latest chapter of the Duke-UNC rivalry, which remains hyped despite a down year for the Tar Heels. Who will win this weekend's 15 best games around the country? Our writers' picks are in.
Molly Geary: 95-65 (59.3%)
Max Meyer: 95-65 (59.3%)
Pat Forde: 93-67 (58.1%)
Michael Shapiro: 93-67 (58.1%)
Jeremy Woo: 86-74 (53.8%)
All times are Eastern.
No. 9 Maryland at No. 20 Illinois (Friday, 8 p.m., FS1)
Pat Forde picks Maryland: During their current five-game winning streak, the Terrapins have shot 45 more free throws than their opponents. If they keep to that average and are a plus-nine attempts at the foul line, that could be enough to tip the balance in what should be a close game in Champaign. Scouts will be watching the paint battle between Maryland's Jalen Smith and Illinois' Kofi Cockburn.
No. 18 LSU at No. 11 Auburn (Sat., 12 p.m., ESPN)
Max Meyer picks Auburn: Welcome to the Fraud Bowl featuring two teams that my bracket will almost certainly have knocked out in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. LSU showed its true colors earlier in the week by losing at Vanderbilt, while Auburn has a home win over Kentucky in the middle of two road escapes by a combined three overtimes. Fortunately for Auburn, this game is on its home court and it has been far less vulnerable there than on the road. As athletic as LSU is, it doesn’t have the size to counter Austin Wiley down low. I’m also a big fan of Auburn freshman Isaac Okoro, who will make impact plays on both ends of the court in this one.
No. 16 Michigan State at Michigan (Sat., 12 p.m., FOX)
Molly Geary picks Michigan State: The Spartans have struggled away from the Breslin Center this season, but Michigan already has four home losses. When these teams met in East Lansing it was the Cassius Winston-Xavier Tillman show as the two combined for 52 points, and that's when Michigan State is at its best. Unless the Wolverines find a different way to defend Winston on ball screens this time, I think he's liable to go off again and help the Spartans rebound after two straight losses.
No. 15 Kentucky at Tennessee (Sat., 1 p.m., CBS)
Molly Geary picks Tennessee: Despite Kentucky's year-to-year roster turnover, Thompson-Boling Arena has been a thorn in the Wildcats' side under John Calipari. UK has lost its last four games in Knoxville and five of its last six dating back to 2013. This is a nationally televised game that Vols fans will be hyped up for, though Kentucky has certainly proven this season that it can win in tough road environments. Tennessee has some size in 6'9" John Fulkerson and 7-footer Uros Plavsic, and its best path to victory is finding a way to limit Nick Richards or get him into foul trouble. That hasn't been a strong suit of the Vols in SEC play, but I'll take a flier on them in this one.
No. 13 West Virginia at Oklahoma (Sat., 2 p.m., ESPNU)
Michael Shapiro picks West Virginia: West Virginia has struggled in spurts outside of Morgantown, but the Mountaineers should be able to rely on their size for a victory in Norman. The combo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver creates one of the Big 12’s most imposing front lines, while freshman Miles McBride continues to grow as a dynamic scoring guard. Oklahoma will drop its second home game of the season on Saturday.
Purdue at Indiana (Sat., 2 p.m., ESPN)
Molly Geary picks Indiana: Purdue is coming off a 36-point blowout of Iowa at Mackey Arena in which it played just about as well as a team can play, going 19 for 34 from three and scoring a scorching 1.53 points per possession. According to T-Rank, Purdue is No. 1 in the country in home games ... and 96th in road ones. That gaping split is the primary reason the Boilermakers are only 13-10, 6-6 on the season. Indiana, meanwhile, is 23rd in home games and 128th in road ones. Everything points toward this one going to the Hoosiers.
No. 12 Seton Hall at No. 10 Villanova (Sat., 2:30 p.m., FOX)
Pat Forde picks Villanova: The Pirates have weapons, starting with star guard Myles Powell, but I just cannot envision the Wildcats guarding as poorly as they did at Butler Wednesday. Jay Wright wouldn't stand for it, nor would he be thrilled by a three-game losing streak—which is what 'Nova would be looking at with a loss here. It's circle the wagons time in Philadelphia.
Virginia at No. 5 Louisville (Sat., 4 p.m., ESPN)
Michael Shapiro picks Louisville: The Cardinals have looked every bit like a Final Four contender in ACC play, winning nine straight ahead of Saturday’s home matchup against Virginia. Jordan Nwora has been especially hot from three of late, banging home seven threes in a win at Boston College on Jan. 29. Louisville leads the ACC in triples, and its firepower from beyond the arc should be enough to overpower a Virginia program in transition.
Texas Tech at Texas (Sat., 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Michael Shapiro picks Texas Tech: The next month could be Shaka Smart’s last with the Longhorns as they struggle to stay afloat on the NCAA tournament bubble. Texas fell to 4–5 in the Big 12 with a loss at Kansas on Monday, and Smart’s squad will host No. 1 Baylor after Saturday’s tilt with the Red Raiders. Smart has yet to win a tournament game in Austin. The Longhorns have been relegated to the NIT in two of the last three seasons. It may be desperation time at the Frank Erwin Center, but I’m not quite sure Texas is up to the task. Expect another disappointing Saturday on the 40 Acres.
No. 7 Duke at North Carolina (Sat., 6 p.m., ESPN)
Pat Forde picks Duke: The grand old rivalry ain't what it used to be, not with the Tar Heels as far down on their luck as they have been in at least a decade. UNC's offensive travails are not a good matchup with Duke's defensive prowess, so unless Cole Anthony is going to put Carolina on his back and the Blue Devils take a step back in a hostile Dean Dome, this could be an easy win for Coach K's crew.
Stanford at No. 24 Colorado (Sat., 6 p.m. Pac-12)
Max Meyer picks Colorado: Before this week’s altitude road trip, Stanford hadn’t played a game outside the state of California since November. The Cardinal have taken advantage of a fortuitous schedule, but have to face a more physical and much more experienced Colorado team in Boulder. Stanford actually leads the conference in two-point and three-point shooting along with 2P% and 3P% defense, but there’s no way that’s sustainable. The Buffaloes are a different beast at home, and I think Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright will be too much for the young Cardinal.
No. 2 Gonzaga at Saint Mary's (Sat., 9 p.m., ESPN)
Max Meyer picks Saint Mary's: Gonzaga had a lot of trouble against San Francisco last week, and I think the Bulldogs could be in trouble in Moraga. The Gaels have already lost big man Matthias Tass for the season, and for the Zags, Killian Tillie is dealing with an ankle ailment and he probably won’t be 100% for this matchup. The Gaels could really use a résumé-boosting win like this one, and you’ll definitely see an amped-up atmosphere here. Between Jordan Ford on the perimeter and Malik Fitts inside, I think Mary’s can pull off the upset.
No. 19 Butler at Marquette (Sun., 12 p.m., FS1)
Jeremy Woo picks Marquette: Butler has run into a bit of trouble on the road in conference play and needed overtime to beat Marquette at home by the skin of its teeth. The Golden Eagles take revenge in this one, provided Markus Howard gets loose for a better shooting day.
Ohio State at Wisconsin (Sun., 1 p.m., CBS)
Jeremy Woo picks Ohio State: This is going to be an ugly one, but I like the Buckeyes to solve their road woes and steal a win.
Wichita State at No. 25 Houston (Sun., 3 p.m., ESPN)
Jeremy Woo picks Houston: The Shockers have really struggled to score efficiently and already lost to Houston at home. Imposing their style on this one could get tricky.