<
>

Weekday predictions: Oklahoma's reign on top is short-lived

The best game of the week will likely take place Saturday, when Maryland travels to Michigan State for the only regular-season meeting between the teams.

Frankly, I’m glad that falls outside of my jurisdiction since I clearly don’t know how to read the Spartans with Denzel Valentine back in the lineup. I picked them to win at Iowa; they were never in it as the Hawkeyes breezed to a 76-59 win. And now the Spartans have dropped back-to-back games after a 77-76 loss at Wisconsin on Sunday.

Michigan State isn’t alone in being a hard to predict. Tell me, did anyone see Clemson’s run coming, especially after losing to the likes of Massachusetts and Minnesota?

Yeah, I didn’t either. Hopefully I have a better feel with this week’s predictions (all times Eastern):

Syracuse at No. 9 Duke (Durham, N.C.), 7 p.m. Monday, ESPN: Overshadowed in the Blue Devils' two straight losses was guard Luke Kennard’s 30-point outburst against Notre Dame on Saturday. If he can be a solid third scorer to go with Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, Duke will be tough to defend. Syracuse enters off an impressive 83-55 road win at Wake Forest, but the exact area that could help them pull off a road sweep is the exact area it lacks — a post threat.

Prediction: Duke 81, Syracuse 70.

No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 17 Iowa State (Ames, Iowa), 9 p.m. Monday, ESPN: Iowa State came ever-so-close to knocking off the Sooners in Norman, Okla. The Cyclones led for nearly 30 minutes, which included most of the second half, but Monte Morris missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left and OU escaped with an 87-83 win. The Sooners are poised to take over the No. 1 ranking in both polls when they are released later on Monday, but holding the top spot this season has been like a game of hot potato.

Prediction: Iowa State 83, Oklahoma 82.

No. 23 Butler at No. 12 Providence (Providence, R.I.), 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, FS1: Providence joined Creighton as the only other Big East team with a winning record in league play that has already suffered two home losses. The Friars rallied from an 11-point deficit and destroyed the Bulldogs in the second half of their 81-73 win on Dec. 31. Butler had a hard time containing guard Kris Dunn then, and there’s no reason to believe it’s found a better way now.

Prediction: Providence 75, Butler 70.

Clemson at No. 13 Virginia (Charlottesville, Va.), 8 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN3: Exactly no one in the ACC had this game circled before the season started as being critical to the conference race. But the Tigers clawed their way into the upper tier with wins over Louisville, Duke and Miami. They’ve already made program history by beating three straight ranked teams; now they’d like to add a fourth. The problem is, all those wins over ranked teams came at home. Virginia is 8-0 in Charlottesville this season.

Prediction: Virginia 66, Clemson 59.

Wichita State at Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls, Iowa), 8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN3: Northern Iowa looked like bracket busters in nonconference play with wins over North Carolina and Iowa State. But it now sits at 2-4 in Missouri Valley play. Wichita State limped through its early schedule, as three of its losses came with guard Fred VanVleet injured. Well, the Shockers are on a seven-game win streak now and are again looking like the class of the league. Can the Panthers regain their early form?

Prediction: Wichita State 73, Northern Iowa 64.

No. 6 Villanova at Seton Hall (Newark, N.J.), 9 p.m. Wednesday, CBSSN: The Pirates are looking for their second straight win over a ranked team after notching their biggest win of the season on Saturday, 81-72 at Providence. Seton Hall played Nova close, too, in a 72-63 loss on Jan. 6. The Wildcats led by only five midway through the second half, before a 13-4 run broke the game open. If the Pirates can find an answer for Daniel Ochefu, they’ll have a shot at the upset.

Prediction: Seton Hall 74, Villanova 72.

No. 14 Kentucky at Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark.), 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN: Way back when, in the 1990s, this was the SEC’s marquee hoops matchup. Now it’s just two teams struggling to find traction. Kentucky is doing some collective soul searching after losing at Auburn 75-70. The Wildcats have been especially vulnerable on the road, where three of their losses have come. Arkansas lost a 76-74 heartbreaker to LSU at the buzzer and is fighting to stay above .500.

Prediction: Arkansas 72, Kentucky 69.

No. 25 Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s (Moraga, Calif.), 11 p.m. Thursday, ESPNU: Both teams suffered an unexpected loss — Gonzaga to BYU 69-68, Saint Mary’s to Pepperdine 67-64 — meaning it won’t be a meeting of West Coast Conference unbeatens. But the winner will at least claim sole possession of first place in the league. The edge in this one may go to the Gaels simply because they have the more experienced backcourt in Boston College transfer Joe Rahon and sophomore Emmett Naar.

Prediction: Saint Mary’s 79, Gonzaga 70.

Last week’s record: 4-3 (.571)

Season record: 49-23 (.680)