College Basketball Expert Picks: Who Will Rise to the Occasion in Crunch Time?

With conference races and NCAA tournament seeding on the line, our predictions for a big weekend in college hoops.
Publish date:

The men's college basketball regular season is getting down to the wire. Just two weekends remain for the power conferences, while many mid-major leagues—like the Mountain West and WCC—will wrap up play by Sunday and turn focus to conference tournaments. With a lot still up for grabs—including seeding for both league tournaments and the Big Dance—who will earn a pivotal victory? Our picks are below for Kentucky vs. Auburn, Maryland vs. Michigan State and more matchups.

Season-Long Standings:

Jason Jordan: 20-10 (66.7%)
Pat Forde: 122-83 (59.5%)
Molly Geary: 122-83 (59.5%)
Michael Shapiro: 122-83 (59.5%)
Jeremy Woo: 116-89 (56.6%)

All Times Are Eastern.

Kentucky basketball vs Auburn predictions 2020

Providence at No. 12 Villanova (Sat, 12 p.m., FOX)


Jeremy Woo picks Villanova: Saddiq Bey has become the star Villanova needed him to be. The Wildcats are trending in a great direction right now, and this will be tough for Providence on the road (and huge for what bubble hopes the Friars have left).

No. 16 Penn State at No. 18 Iowa (Sat., 12 p.m., BTN)


Pat Forde picks Iowa: Perhaps Penn State righted the ship with the win at Rutgers, but more likely it simply ran into a team that is struggling a bit more than the Nittany Lions. Iowa has been very tough at home, winning 12 straight there, and that streak isn't going to end on Saturday. Like everyone else, Penn State will struggle to deal with Hawkeyes big man Luka Garza.

No. 13 Seton Hall at Marquette (Sat., 2:30 p.m., FOX)


Michael Shapiro picks Seton Hall: Can we please get Markus Howard some help? The all-time points leader among active players formed a potent duo alongside Sam Hauser last season, but Howard is increasingly alone as a senior. The Golden Eagles shot a combined 30% from three in their last three games, a trio of losses against Villanova, Creighton and Providence. Seton Hall’s solid defense should be able to slow Howard enough to snag a victory on Saturday afternoon. 

No. 15 Auburn at No. 8 Kentucky (Sat., 3:45 p.m., CBS)


Molly Geary picks Kentucky: The Tigers won the first meeting between these teams thanks in large part to their efforts to get to the free throw line (they attempted 44, making 33). Auburn leads the SEC in free throw rate, but other elements of this matchup aren't in its favor—such as Kentucky's SEC-leading two-point defense. Then there's this little historical matter: Auburn hasn't won in Lexington since 1998.

Oklahoma at No. 20 West Virginia (Sat., 4 p.m., ESPN2)


Michael Shapiro picks Oklahoma: The Mountaineers remain stout inside, though they’re not the interior powerhouse they once were at other points of the Bob Huggins era. Oklahoma should be able to take advantage on Saturday. Forwards Kristian Doolittle and Brady Manek create one of the conference’s top duos, with both players providing quality stretch from beyond the arc. The Sooners remain on the tournament bubble, but a win in Morgantown could seriously boost their candidacy. 

No. 7 Duke at Virginia (Sat., 6 p.m., ESPN)


Jason Jordan picks Duke: Duke is statistically the best offensive team in the ACC (83.3 ppg.) and Virginia is statistically the best defensive team in the league, allowing just 52.7 ppg. The Blue Devils have been the victim of raucous court storms in their last two road games and they gave up an average of 100.5 points in the losses. Virginia doesn’t score anywhere close to that level and Duke still sees a path, albeit a murky one, to a No. 1 seed. Expect that motivation to catapult it in Charlottesville.

No. 24 Michigan State at No. 9 Maryland (Sat., 8 p.m., ESPN)


Michael Shapiro picks Maryland: The Terrapins stormed into East Lansing for a seven-point win on Feb. 15, and Maryland should be able to make it two straight wins against Tom Izzo and Co. on Saturday. Point guard Anthony Cowan in the midst of an impressive stretch alongside big man Jalen Smith, and the Spartans can’t find much production outside of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman. Michigan State doesn’t appear to have the firepower to keep up with Maryland in College Park.

Arizona State at USC (Sat., 8 p.m., ESPNU)


Molly Geary picks USC: The Trojans have been much better at home at the Galen Center than on the road (especially on the defensive end), including knocking off Arizona on Thursday night. The Sun Devils closed the game on a 7-0 run to narrowly win the first time these teams met in Tempe, and I think USC will get revenge in a similarly tight contest back in Los Angeles. 

Saint Mary's at No. 3 Gonzaga (Sat., 10 p.m., ESPN2)


Molly Geary picks Gonzaga: It's Senior Night in Spokane for Killian Tillie (and Ryan Woolridge), and the Zags will be amped up and focused after losing to BYU last weekend. This matchup wasn't close three weeks ago in Moraga, and unlike in the Cougars' case, there's no Yoeli Childs-type player now healthy to be the game-changer. This time around will likely be closer—especially if the Gaels' three-point shooting makes the trip—but Gonzaga should have enough firepower to get it done here. 

Arizona at UCLA (Sat., 10 p.m., ESPN)


Pat Forde picks Arizona: One of the most surprising results of the season was UCLA dominating Arizona in Tucson. It is the signature win in the Bruins' late-season resurrection under Mick Cronin, but it will be tough to repeat it. The Wildcats won't be caught napping twice against UCLA.

Cincinnati at No. 25 Houston (Sun., 1 p.m., ESPN)


Michael Shapiro picks Houston: Cincinnati battled back for a home victory over the Cougars on Feb. 1, but Saturday should be a different story at the Fertitta Center in Houston. Kelvin Sampson’s squad has been dominant at home of late, ripping off double-digit wins over Wichita State, Tulsa and Tulane in February. With a smothering defense and deep pool of guards, Houston is certainly a contender to reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight season. 

Xavier at Georgetown (Sun., 2 p.m., CBS)


Jeremy Woo picks Xavier: I don’t trust either of these teams...but I don’t trust Georgetown at all.

Indiana at Illinois (Sun., 2 p.m., BTN)


Jason Jordan picks Illinois: The Fighting Illini are one of the toughest teams in the country to figure out, but seem to have hit a positive stride answering a recent four-game skid with wins over No. 16 Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern. In those wins the Ayo Dosunmu–Kofi Cockburn tandem has been too much to withstand, and that’s what will propel the Big Ten’s top rebounding team on Sunday.

No. 19 Michigan at No. 23 Ohio State (Sun., 4 p.m., CBS)


Pat Forde picks Ohio State: Both teams have had a good month, reviving seasons that seemed to be unraveling. The Wolverines are coming off a Thursday battle with Wisconsin, which makes this a tough follow-up. Kaleb Wesson was huge for the Buckeyes in the win in Ann Arbor (23 points, 12 rebounds), and he remains a tough matchup for Juwan Howard's team.

No. 21 Colorado at Stanford (Sun., 6 p.m., ESPNU)


Jeremy Woo picks Stanford: The Cardinal have won three straight, enter this home game with an extra day to prepare, and badly need this win. Tyrell Terry anyone?