- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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It has been fun, folks. Unless, of course, you’ve been consulting my Weekend Picks prior to contacting your bookie in Vegas. Then it probably has been quite sad. Or scary.
In my last installment of Weekend Picks for 2013-14, I’ll try to finish strong. I went 3-2 last week.
I’ll be flawless this weekend, or flawed -- one of the two.
Last week: 3-2
No. 25 Kentucky at No. 1 Florida, noon ET, CBS: In the first meeting, Florida wasn’t necessarily the better team. The Gators were just the better team in the final five minutes, when it mattered. Kentucky squandered a seven-point lead midway through the second half, and Scottie Wilbekin carried his team to a 10-point win. Kentucky’s 13 turnovers didn’t help, either. But it was much closer than the 10-point margin illustrated. It usually is with Kentucky, which has suffered seven of its eight losses by five points or less. The Wildcats have been competitive in every game, but they’ve failed to close. And that’s not a good thing in a road game against America’s top team.
Prediction: Florida 74, Kentucky 70
Popcorn Factor (9)
No. 14 North Carolina at No. 4 Duke, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Well, Duke lost to Wake Forest earlier this week. So there’s that. Wasn’t exactly the setup we’d imagined as we prepped for the second installment of the greatest rivalry in sports. But it actually makes this thing even more intriguing. Duke at home, desperate for a win to hold onto a probable 2-seed and maintain any hopes of grabbing a top seed in the Big Dance, while North Carolina continues to fatten its resume for a favorable position on Selection Sunday. This is also about momentum, a word you’ll hear 50,000 times in the coming weeks. The Tar Heels have as much as any team in the country after winning 12 in a row. Duke needs it. But the Blue Devils, who have struggled from the perimeter, will continue to slide and the Tar Heels will, once again, make Petey Pablo proud. Raise up.
Prediction: North Carolina 89, Duke 86 (double OT)
Popcorn Factor (10)
No. 21 New Mexico at No. 10 San Diego State, 10 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: You can’t miss this game. Don’t do it. This is it. This is the Mountain West championship matchup. Winner goes home with the crown. The Lobos secured a 14-point win over their Mountain West rivals in the first game. One major factor? A pair of giants. Cameron Bairstow (6-9, 250 pounds) and Alex Kirk (7-0, 260 pounds) combined to finish with 32 points (Bairstow had 26), 18 rebounds and six blocks in the first meeting. The duo helped the Lobos limit SDSU star Xavier Thames to one of his worst games of the season (3-for-15, seven points), too. But, the Lobos will be in San Diego this time. And “The Show” will be bananas all night. Plus, Thames won’t struggle again with the home crowd behind him.
Prediction: San Diego State 63, New Mexico 60
Popcorn Factor (10)
No. 19 Connecticut at No. 11 Louisville, 2 p.m. ET, CBS: This matchup will feature two of America’s best guards, Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith. But this game is much bigger than two players. The Huskies know that. In the first meeting, a 74-64 road win by Louisville, Kevin Ollie’s program couldn’t get anything out of Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels, who went 5-for-23 in the loss. Napier is a dynamic player who can carry the Huskies. But he can’t beat the Cardinals on the road by himself. Rick Pitino’s program, which could grab a slice of the AAC title with a win, has grown in recent weeks. It’s not just Smith. Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell are playing well. Mangok Mathiang and Terry Rozier are contributing as freshmen. That takes a lot of pressure off Smith, who has reliable threats around him. And that’s not always the case for the Napier.
Prediction: Louisville 80, UConn 70
Popcorn Factor (8)
Oklahoma State at No. 16 Iowa State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: Marcus Smart is back. I mean, Marcus Smart is back! Whoa. He deserves most of the credit for a four-game winning streak that has pulled the Pokes out of purgatory and pushed them into the NCAA tourney conversation. How impressive is this finish? Well, only one team since the tourney expanded in 1985 has earned an at-large bid after enduring a seven-game losing streak, according to the folks at ESPN Stats & Info. Oklahoma State could be the second, especially if it earns a win over Iowa State in Ames. That won’t be an easy task, although the Cyclones have looked more like Wind Gusts in recent weeks. Tuesday night’s loss at Baylor told an important story about Fred Hoiberg’s program. Sometimes, his leaders don’t show up together on the same night. DeAndre Kane played well, but Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang are still missing. And that’s a troubling pattern.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 75, Iowa State 73
Popcorn Factor (10)