One man’s predictions for an always unpredictable weekend of college basketball. I'm sure one or two of you might disagree with these:
Duke at North Carolina, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN -- No need to prolong the discussion on this one. If you watched college basketball -- ever -- then you know this is a rivalry. One of America’s best, regardless of the sport. Ryan Kelly is back for a Duke team with a renewed vigor. North Carolina has caught fire (six consecutive wins) at the perfect time, and the Tar Heels have finally adjusted to their smaller starting lineup. But that setup is not favorable for a meeting with a squad that will stretch the floor with Kelly on the perimeter.
Prediction: Duke 74, North Carolina 72
Syracuse at Georgetown, noon ET, ESPN -- The Orange were embarrassed in the first meeting. The team had just retired Carmelo Anthony’s jersey. Then it scored 46 points in a home loss to Georgetown on Feb. 23. That was a start of a three-game losing streak that disrupted Cuse’s dreams of securing the Big East title. But Georgetown, locked in a three-way tie for first place, can win a slice of the crown with another victory over Syracuse. The Hoyas should get their scissors ready. Otto Porter Jr. & Co. will cut down the nets Saturday, a fitting conclusion for the end of this rivalry.
Prediction: Georgetown 58, Syracuse 53
Notre Dame at Louisville, 4 p.m. ET, CBS -- In the first meeting, these two squads played the Big East’s longest regular-season matchup. That five-overtime affair was a classic. The Fighting Irish and Cardinals have followed similar paths since Notre Dame earned a win in the game of the 2012-13 season. Louisville is one of three Big East teams that will enter the weekend with a chance to earn a share of the conference crown. Notre Dame can improve its postseason seed with a win. The Fighting Irish (14th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) have one of the league’s most diverse offensive units. But folks have jumped back on the Louisville bandwagon because its defense (No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy) is suffocating foes again.
Prediction: Louisville 64, Notre Dame 61
Florida at Kentucky, noon ET, CBS -- Kentucky’s momentum and at-large hopes took a hit when the Wildcats lost at Georgia on Thursday night -- not a strong performance for a bubble team. But Kentucky could secure a bid with a win over the Gators on Saturday. Against the best 3-point shooting team in the SEC, the Wildcats will need strong perimeter defense (SEC opponents shooting 31.1 percent from beyond the arc, fourth in the league) to earn a win. Florida has stumbled a few times this season, but the Gators (plus-18.8 PPG scoring margin in SEC play, No. 1 in the SEC) have been the most dominant squad in the conference. They’ve struggled, however, in road games against desperate teams.
Prediction: Kentucky 65, Florida 64
La Salle at Saint Louis, 1:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network -- La Salle might be safe as Selection Sunday approaches, but it’s not wise for any bubble team to make that assumption entering the final weekend of the regular season. The Explorers would end any doubts with a road win over the Billikens. La Salle has held A-10 opponents to a 27.7 percent clip from beyond the arc, first in the conference. It can pull off this upset. They’re capable. There’s just one problem. A very good Saint Louis team is coming off an overtime road loss against Xavier. It wasn’t the Billikens’ best effort. They are back home now and would like to erase that memory. That’s not a good situation for this La Salle squad.
Prediction: Saint Louis 65, La Salle 58
Arizona State at Arizona, 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National -- The Pac-12 is a bizarre league, so it makes sense that a four-way tie for first place is a possibility. And it would only make sense that the Wildcats were in the middle of the chaos. Arizona entered the season amid lofty praise and expectations, but it hasn’t been the league’s most dominant team and was swept by UCLA. At least the Wildcats are in the field, though. After five losses in their past seven games, the Sun Devils can’t afford another blemish. Their slim at-large hopes would grow with a win in Tucson. Good luck with that.
Prediction: Arizona 70, Arizona State 63
San Diego State at Boise State, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network -- From mid-January through mid-February, the Broncos struggled. They were 3-6 in that stretch. Then a funny thing happened. Leon Rice’s squad got healthy. Since that rocky chapter, Boise State has won four of its past five games -- a run that has brought the program back into the bubble conversation. The Broncos are shooting 38.2 percent from beyond the arc, first in the Mountain West. The Aztecs have struggled with their perimeter defense, and they’ve lost their past four road games. They’ll lose another road game when they face Boise State.
Prediction: Boise State 74, SDSU 69
Missouri at Tennessee, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN -- This could be a great game for a few reasons. Tennessee is playing for its NCAA tourney future. The Vols might be in; they might be out. A victory over the Tigers would be their eighth win in nine games and minimize any doubt about their status on Selection Sunday. Missouri has really struggled on the road. But the Tigers have won three in a row. They’re rallying late, and Phil Pressey has accepted a role as a distributor (six or more assists in team’s past five games). But Tennessee is facing higher stakes in this matchup. And there’s an old SEC rule that says it’s never a good idea to trust Missouri once it leaves Columbia.
Prediction: Tennessee 70, Missouri 67
Indiana at Michigan, 4 p.m. ET, CBS -- First, the stakes. The Big Ten title is on the line. This game, in the eyes of some voters, could dictate the final outcome for national player of the year honors between Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke. Michigan earned a pair of victories after a surprising loss to Penn State. Indiana has faced criticism following recent losses to Minnesota and Ohio State. But the bottom line is that this is a bad matchup for the Wolverines. The Hoosiers have too many shooters, too much size and too much versatility for this Michigan squad. Burke might win national player of the year, but Oladipo will cut down the net.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Michigan 76
Virginia Commonwealth at Temple, noon ET, CBS -- Shaka Smart’s squad is ranked among the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy, but his program’s offensive development hasn’t received as much attention. The Rams have the top scoring offense in the Atlantic 10 (77.7 PPG) and are ranked 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Pomeroy. They could take the conference crown with a win over Temple. The Owls have been all over the place this season. They beat Syracuse and then struggled in their first month of conference basketball. But now they’ve won six in a row. That stretch, however, has not featured a team that’s comparable to VCU.
Prediction: VCU 75, Temple 70