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Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Midweek Watch: King's Wednesday picks

By Jason King

Wednesday night is about as good as it gets in college basketball. Six of the top 11 teams in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll are squaring off against one another in three marquee games, with the headliner being the Duke-North Carolina tilt in Chapel Hill.

But that’s not all. Kevin Jones and West Virginia are looking to get back on track against surging Notre Dame; Wichita State will attempt to grab sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference against Northern Iowa; and better-late-than-never Pittsburgh will continue what once seemed like an impossible quest for an NCAA tournament berth. Here are my predictions for Wednesday’s big games.

Kansas at Baylor -- The Bears are just 2-16 all-time against Kansas, which will be extra-motivated following Saturday’s 74-71 loss at Missouri. The Jayhawks haven’t lost consecutive games since January 2006. Kansas, which defeated Baylor by 18 points in Lawrence on Jan. 16, is vying for its eighth straight Big 12 title. Baylor hasn’t won a league crown in men’s basketball since 1945. The game is a sellout, but the Bears have lost 16 straight home games against top-10 teams. (For more on this game, click here.)

Prediction: Kansas 78-69

Georgetown at Syracuse -- This could be the toughest test of the season for the second-ranked Orange. Opponents are scoring a Big East-low 58.6 points per game against the Hoyas, who are 4-1 against ranked opponents. The last four games of this series have been decided by single digits, and Syracuse has won six of the past seven meetings at the Carrier Dome. A victory would give Orange coach Jim Boeheim career win No. 880, which would move him into third place on the all-time list.

Prediction: Syracuse 64-58

Duke at North Carolina -- The Tar Heels have won a school-record 32 straight home games but are just 4-4 in the Roy Williams era against Duke at the Smith Center. Williams wants more output from reserves such as James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston and Justin Watts. North Carolina’s bench has combined for just nine points in its past two games. Leading scorer Harrison Barnes has been nursing a sore ankle, but he doesn’t expect it to limit him against Duke. The Blue Devils are trying to bounce back from Sunday’s overtime home loss to Miami.

Prediction: North Carolina 84-72

Notre Dame at West Virginia -- The Fighting Irish have won four straight games, including three against ranked opponents (Syracuse, Marquette and Connecticut). A victory at West Virginia would do wonders for their NCAA tournament hopes. The Mountaineers are struggling. Bob Huggins’ squad had lost three straight before defeating Providence in overtime Sunday. National player of the year candidate Kevin Jones averages 20.8 points and 11.2 rebounds.

Prediction: West Virginia 68-61

Northern Iowa at Wichita State -- Back-to-back losses by Creighton have thrust Wichita State into first place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings with an 11-2 record. Creighton is 11-3, and the Shockers and Bluejays meet Saturday in Omaha. Wichita State can’t get caught looking ahead against a Northern Iowa squad that is much better than its 16-9 record indicates. Koch Arena is one of the country’s most underrated venues. Just ask UNLV, which suffered a 19-point loss there in December.

Prediction: Wichita State 72-60

Saint Louis at Saint Joseph’s -- The race for the Atlantic 10 championship is still wide open, with eight teams toting between two and four league losses. The Billikens (6-3) could take a huge step Wednesday by beating Saint Joseph’s (5-4) on the road, but it won’t be easy. Phil Martelli’s squad has just one home loss this season. Both teams are on two-game winning streaks.

Prediction: Saint Joseph’s 64-63

LSU at Vanderbilt -- The Commodores have lost two in a row and three of their past five. Overall, the season has been a huge disappointment for a team that was ranked as high as seventh. At 5-3, Vanderbilt is still tied with Mississippi State for third in the SEC standings. LSU is 0-4 in conference road games, but most of the scores have been respectable. The Tigers are regarded as one of the better bottom-tier teams in the league.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 71-59

Cincinnati at St. John’s -- The Red Storm defeated Cincinnati on the road back on Jan. 7, so they should enter this game full of confidence. Even though St. John’s has lost six of its past eight games, it has definitely made strides by defeating West Virginia and nearly upsetting Duke before falling 83-76. Moe Harkless (15.8 points) has been one of the country’s top freshmen. Cincinnati snapped a three-game losing streak by beating DePaul Saturday.

Prediction: St. John’s 78-69

Pittsburgh at South Florida -- The Panthers have won four straight games after opening Big East play with seven consecutive losses. One of the main reasons has been the play of guard Travon Woodall, who has averaged 26.5 points in Pittsburgh’s past two victories. At 6-4, South Florida has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big East race. However, Stan Heath’s Bulls are coming off a 20-point loss to Marquette and a 30-point setback against Georgetown, although both occurred on the road.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 64-59

Michigan at Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers are just 11-11 overall and 3-8 in Big Ten play, but it’s not as if they’re not capable of an upset. Nebraska defeated Indiana at home last month and nearly upset Wisconsin on the road. Michigan, meanwhile, has been terrible away from home. The Wolverines are just 2-6 in road games, with the only wins coming at Purdue and Oakland.

Prediction: Nebraska 59-58