One man’s predictions for an always unpredictable weekend of college basketball. I'm sure one or two of you might disagree with these:
Michigan at Wisconsin, Noon ET, ESPN: The Wolverines have America’s most efficient offense. The Badgers have the Big Ten’s top scoring defense. Something has to give. Michigan hasn’t been the same team on the road, but it played like a team that recognized the moment when it beat Ohio State in overtime this week. I think the Wolverines are too motivated and too versatile for a Wisconsin squad that could make this a tight game but can’t be counted on to hit free throws down the stretch (58.7 percent from the line in conference games, last in the Big Ten).
Prediction: Michigan 59, Wisconsin 54
Ole Miss at Missouri, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Tigers lost to the Rebels in their first meeting, but they played without Laurence Bowers. Now we’ll see how they perform when they’re healthy. Keion Bell is ready. Bowers is back. They’re in Columbia. Yet they’re coming off a road loss to Texas A&M on Thursday night. And the Rebels have the top scoring offense in SEC play (75.2 ppg). Those numbers, however, are inflated by a few monster performances against the SEC’s underachievers (a large list). The truth is that Ole Miss has not scored more than 64 points in four of its past eight games. Marshall Henderson has been a star as usual, but sidekick Murphy Holloway is 9-for-30 in the team’s two SEC losses. But turnovers will hurt the Tigers again (114th nationally with turnovers on 19.1 percent of their possessions) in another SEC loss.
Prediction: Ole Miss 68, Missouri 67
North Carolina at Miami, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Hurricanes have been one of America’s surprises in 2012-13. Once they reached full strength (see Durand Scott's suspension, Reggie Johnson's thumb injury), they proved that they’re not only a team that can win the ACC but a program that can compete for a national title. And they’re doing it with defense (fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings). But they can’t keep this up, right? Or can they? Saturday is a great opportunity for North Carolina to make a statement and boost its résumé. The Tar Heels have defeated only one ranked team (UNLV was 20th when it lost to UNC in December). That was at home and they needed 79 points to pull it off. Not happening in Miami.
Prediction: Miami 68, UNC 60
Kansas at Oklahoma, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: Huh? Kansas lost to TCU on Wednesday? In a real game? I still don’t understand exactly what happened the other night, but I know enough to be concerned about a Kansas team that was questioned by Bill Self after a weekend loss to Oklahoma State. On Saturday, the Jayhawks travel to face an Oklahoma squad that is looking for more solid footing in the at-large conversation. A win against a struggling Kansas squad would certainly help. Too bad it won’t happen. The Jayhawks will be ready.
Prediction: Kansas 75, Oklahoma 65
Iowa State at Kansas State, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2: This is a matchup of the Big 12’s top scoring offense (ISU is averaging 73.9 ppg in Big 12 play) and its top scoring defense (KSU is giving up 60.3 ppg in conference play). What I appreciate about this game is that both teams recognize how the Big 12 has changed in the past week. Kansas State (7-2) and Iowa State (6-3) are not only chasing an NCAA tournament slot, but they’re also going after a Big 12 crown that is no longer a given for the Jayhawks. Will Clyburn has been a star for the Cyclones in recent weeks. He scored 28 in a win against Baylor and 24 in a win against Kansas State in their first matchup. The Cyclones are 4-1 when he scores 16 or more in league play. He’ll show up Saturday and lead Iowa State to another win against the Wildcats.
Prediction: Iowa State 69, Kansas State 63
Louisville at Notre Dame, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Louisville has followed its surprising three-game losing skid with wins against Pitt, Marquette and Rutgers. The defensive prowess (second in defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) that eluded the Cardinals in that slide returned during the current winning streak. Notre Dame has been much tougher at home than it has been on the road, but it’s allowing Big East opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field, 14th in the conference. Nevertheless, the Cardinals’ offense has struggled on the road, and Jack Cooley’s physicality (14.2 ppg, 11.2 rpg in league play) inside could lead to early foul trouble for Louisville’s bigs. "GameDay" is in town, and the crowd will be revved up. I'm going with the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame 62, Louisville 58
Indiana at Ohio State, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Buckeyes nearly upset Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday. Any doubts about Ohio State’s standing in the Big Ten and nationally should have been erased by that performance. When it’s not just the Deshaun Thomas Show, and Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, Aaron Craft and others are contributing, the Buckeyes are dangerous. And they’re far more fluid at home than they are on the road. If there’s one question about Indiana, it’s this: Can the Hoosiers beat elite teams outside Assembly Hall? They failed to convince doubters when they lost to Illinois in Champaign on Thursday night. Sunday’s matchup, IU’s first of the year against a ranked team on the road, will be another test for Tom Crean’s program, which is suddenly in a crucial spot in Columbus. It’s a test that I don’t believe the Hoosiers will pass.
Prediction: Ohio State 73, Indiana 70
St. John’s at Syracuse, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Red Storm have quietly authored a stretch that’s elevated them into Big East title contention. St. John’s is 7-4 after winning six of its past seven. That run includes wins against Notre Dame and UConn. Yes, the Johnnies are young, but Steve Lavin’s team has played with more poise in recent weeks (11th in the country with turnovers on 15.9 percent of its possessions). The Red Storm are getting better. They’re maturing. And they have one of the nation’s great defensive stoppers in freshman Chris Obekpa (4.4 blocks per game, second in the nation). Syracuse is not 100 percent. No James Southerland, and DaJuan Coleman is out with a knee injury. But the Orange’s depth has helped them during this stretch. As the team was trying to shake a two-game losing streak, it found Jerami Grant, a freshman who scored 14 points in Monday’s win against Notre Dame. Cuse is still potent, even short-handed.
Prediction: Syracuse 72, St. John’s 65
Illinois at Minnesota, 6 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: The Gophers are ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll, but they’ve lost five of their past seven. And Illinois has gone from a 12-0 start to a 3-7 mark in Big Ten play. The Illini had the worst scoring defense in the league (69.8 ppg allowed) entering Thursday’s 74-72 come-from-behind victory against No. 1 Indiana, but that win was the Fighting Illini’s fourth of the season against a team that is currently ranked in the top 15 (Butler, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Indiana). The Gophers, to their credit, have played some of the toughest teams in the country/Big Ten thus far. Illinois is a much different foe than Indiana, Michigan or Michigan State. The IU upset doesn’t erase the fact that Illinois’ defense has been a mess all season. Plus, Minnesota is so tough at the Barn, and it’s convinced that it is a squad with the potential to reach the NCAA tournament and win a few games in the Big Dance. Sunday will be another opportunity for the Gophers to prove it.
Prediction: Minnesota 71, Illinois 65
California at Arizona, 7 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network: The Wildcats haven’t exactly looked like a top-10 team lately. Part of that is inconsistency. But the Pac-12’s limited depth hasn’t helped either. You can’t get too excited about a win against a team such as Washington State, which has won three games since Christmas. But the Wildcats will need to avoid another regular-season loss in the Pac-12 to challenge for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A March 2 road game at UCLA might be the only matchup that could threaten that pursuit. Still, Cal has one of the country’s most underrated point guards in Justin Cobbs (4.3 apg), and the Bears have given up only 65.3 ppg in conference play (third in the Pac-12). The Wildcats could certainly become an upset victim if they’re lazy or soft.
Prediction: Arizona 72, Cal 62