One man’s predictions for an always unpredictable weekend of college basketball. I'm sure one or two of you might disagree with these:
Purdue at Indiana, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: This was more of a rivalry in recent years. Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore gave the Hoosiers fits in Tom Crean’s tougher years at Indiana. But the squads have switched roles. The Hoosiers are the top team in America. The inexperienced Boilermakers are the league’s worst defensive team (68.8 ppg). In the first meeting, the Hoosiers won by 37 and nearly cracked 100 (97-60). The only bright spot for Purdue was A.J. Hammons (30 points). In Bloomington on Saturday, there will be more carnage.
Prediction: Indiana 85, Purdue 65
Duke at Maryland, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN: Remember when Maryland looked like an ACC dark horse? The Terrapins haven’t looked like anything resembling a contender in weeks. You can’t play middle-of-the-pack basketball and get wins if you're shooting just 61.2 percent from the free throw line in conference play (last in the ACC). Maryland has lost four of its past seven and will certainly be hungry when Duke comes to town Saturday. But that can carry Maryland only so far. The Blue Devils haven’t been flawless -- see last weekend’s one-point win against Boston College -- but they’ve been one of America’s best teams since suffering a 27-point loss to Miami. They recovered from that defeat with an 84-64 home win against Maryland in their next game. That was the beginning of an ongoing slide for Maryland's NBA lottery prospect Alex Len, who has failed to achieve double figures in three of the past five contests (all losses). I expect a similar result this week.
Prediction: Duke 75, Maryland 65
Baylor at Kansas State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Baylor is on the bubble. But how? The Bears have the Big 12’s top scoring defense (60.7 ppg allowed). They’re versatile and athletic. They have a freshman star named Isaiah Austin who can block shots (1.5 bpg) and hit the occasional 3-pointer (32.3 percent). They’re 30th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy too. So what’s wrong? Well, this is a great example of a team that can’t be assessed based on stats alone. Kansas State is ranked below the Bears in Pomeroy’s rankings, mostly because its defensive efficiency is just below the top 50. But Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder lead a group that had won four in a row before Monday’s 21-point loss at the Phog. Baylor is catching this Kansas State team, which is still a strong Big 12 title contender, at the wrong time.
Prediction: Kansas State 69, Baylor 65
Pitt at Marquette, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Most teams in the Top 25 have suffered on the road, especially in conference play. Just when you think you have a team figured out, it takes an L against a midlevel adversary. That’s what makes the Top 25 so confusing. Pitt, however, is 4-1 in its past five Big East road games. The Panthers (seventh in adjusted offensive efficiency, ninth in defensive efficiency per Pomeroy) have found a rhythm in hostile venues. So what will happen in Milwaukee? With Marquette, you never know. It won the first matchup in overtime after shooting 48 percent from the field. And the Golden Eagles haven’t lost a Big East game at home this season (6-0). But they are facing a different Panthers squad this time. Jamie Dixon’s crew is more equipped to limit Marquette’s offense, especially since the Golden Eagles are such a poor 3-point shooting team (27.2 percent in league play, 14th in the Big East). And Steven Adams is more comfortable as an offensive contributor. But you can’t deny the magic Buzz Williams has had in Milwaukee.
Prediction: Marquette 72, Pitt 70
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3: Another good Big 12 rivalry game here. The Sooners have won two in a row, a stretch that includes last weekend’s impressive win against Kansas. Oklahoma State has crashed the Big 12 title race by winning six consecutive games. The Pokes are locked in a three-way tie for first place with Kansas and Kansas State. Marcus Smart proved his worth during the nonconference season, and Markel Brown (15.8 ppg) has given Oklahoma State a boost on offense. The Cowboys are 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy. I’m sure Oklahoma is a more confident team after last weekend’s upset of Kansas, but Oklahoma State is playing next-level basketball. And it's at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 74, Oklahoma 65
Detroit at Valparaiso, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2: These Horizon League powers are two of the top mid-major programs in America. When they played Jan. 17, Nick Minnerath scored 36 for a Detroit team that squandered an 18-point halftime lead and an 11-point advantage with just three minutes to play during an 89-88 loss. Now the Titans will travel to Valpo’s campus for another matchup with Horizon League title implications. Detroit is already 1.5 games behind the first-place Crusaders. Another loss would likely end its hopes of a conference title. Ryan Broekhoff (16.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg) has led Valpo to four consecutive wins. The Crusaders are 18th nationally with a 54.3 effective field goal percentage. But Detroit doesn’t make many mistakes (sixth nationally with turnovers on 15.7 percent of its possessions, according to Pomeroy). Get your popcorn ready. This will be a thriller. Again.
Prediction: Detroit 77, Valpo 75
San Diego State at UNLV, 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network: When the season began, many figured these teams would battle for the Mountain West crown. SDSU returned the bulk of last season’s talented team, a group that includes Jamaal Franklin. And UNLV added future lottery pick Anthony Bennett and former McDonald’s All American Khem Birch to a team that cracked the NCAA tournament field last year. San Diego State is two games out of first place. UNLV is three games back. The Runnin’ Rebels suffered a 15-point loss at Air Force on Wednesday night. The Aztecs lost at Colorado State by six the same evening. Their parallel struggles are the result of offenses that can’t be trusted. San Diego State (66th) and UNLV (84th) are below the top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency per Pomeroy. The Runnin’ Rebels will likely exhaust any chances they might have of remaining in the Mountain West race if they lose. But San Diego State doesn’t have much room for error either.
Prediction: UNLV 74, SDSU 69
Ohio State at Wisconsin, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Buckeyes struggled in a 10-point win against Northwestern on Thursday night. That’s because their offense is fueled by Deshaun Thomas, and he was 0-for-5 from the 3-point line and 6-for-17 overall. For the first time in weeks, Thomas’ supporting cast filled in as he struggled. When that happens, the Buckeyes can contend with any team in the Big Ten. When that doesn’t happen, they have problems. And most of those problems have come against elite teams that make them pay for their one-dimensional act. With offensive diversity -- the Buckeyes are 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy -- the Buckeyes will win in Madison. But it’s tough to spread the ball against a Badgers team (56.8 ppg allowed in conference play, No. 1 in the Big Ten) that contests every shot. The end of Wisconsin’s Thursday night overtime loss at Minnesota showcased its flaws, though. The Badgers finished 10-for-17 from the free throw line. They didn’t record a field goal for 10-plus minutes. A similar offensive funk will cost the Badgers against Ohio State too.
Prediction: Wisconsin 55, Ohio State 54
Minnesota at Iowa, 2 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: The Gophers were moments away from suffering their seventh loss in nine games on Thursday night, but they fought back in a game they had to have. Iowa, however, is in the same position Minnesota found itself in as it prepared for Wisconsin on Thursday night. The Hawkeyes are a bubble team that has suffered losses in four of its past seven. But Fran McCaffery’s young squad is improving, mostly because of its defensive adjustments. The Hawkeyes are fourth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (67.2 ppg allowed in conference play). Both teams are trying to avoid the late-season tumble down the conference standings that they’ve experienced in recent years.
Prediction: Iowa 67, Minnesota 63
Wichita State at Illinois State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The Missouri Valley Conference is a mess. Everything we thought we knew about the league has been challenged in recent weeks, with Indiana State, Creighton and Wichita State all struggling. Meanwhile, Illinois State has surged. The Redbirds, who lost their first six MVC games, have secured wins in seven of their past eight. They’re top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency per Pomeroy. And they’re making a serious push to the top of the league with Jackie Carmichael (18.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg) leading the way. Wichita State has won two in a row but lost three straight before that. I still believe it's the best team in the Valley and will ultimately win the conference crown (10-4 in the MVC), but the past few weeks have proved that nothing is certain in this league.
Prediction: Illinois State 74, Wichita State 73