Friday, January 31, 2014
Weekend Picks: Syracuse over Duke?
By Myron Medcalf
The games will mean more as Selection Sunday approaches.
But the games also make less sense now, right?
Northwestern over Wisconsin? Texas in the hunt for the Big 12 title? Utah putting up a fight against No. 1 Arizona?
Anything can happen.
But I admit it was still a bit audacious -- maybe crazy -- to pick Florida State to upset Duke in Cameron Indoor last weekend. I guess I hadn’t realized that the Blue Devils had suddenly morphed into a serious national contender again. They’re rolling. Capable of beating any team in the ACC.
Let’s see if they can keep it up Saturday when they travel to Syracuse.
Last week: 4-1
No. 23 Oklahoma at No. 16 Iowa State, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com: The Sooners (6-2 Big 12), along with Texas (5-2 Big 12), are one of the few teams in the stacked Big 12 that can catch Kansas and grab a sliver of the Big 12 title. Iowa State is just trying to stop a slide that has thrown it toward the bottom of the league. Possessing the worst scoring defense in the conference doesn’t help (78.7 points per game allowed), although a rough stretch (two games against Kansas in two weeks) contributed to Iowa State's stumbles. After Oklahoma (No. 2 scoring offense in the Big 12) and an upcoming road test against Oklahoma State, things should get easier in Ames. These two games, however, could extend the slide. This is the same Oklahoma team that beat the Cyclones in Norman, Okla., on Jan. 11 and has won five of its past six. One team rising, the other falling.
Prediction: Iowa State 83, Oklahoma 82
No. 17 Duke at No. 2 Syracuse, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: There were so many concerns about this Duke team after it lost to Clemson a few weeks ago. It has an impressive collection of playmakers, including a likely top-three pick named Jabari Parker who could be the antidote to Cuse’s zone. But its defense had been inconsistent. That was the past. Duke is a sturdier defensive unit now. Barely top-100 a few weeks ago, the Blue Devils (58.4 points per game allowed in their past five games, per ESPN Stats & Info) are ranked 60th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. But Cuse has been a juggernaut this season. The Orange have forced turnovers on 23.8 percent of their opponents’ possessions. And Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair anchor one of the most talented units in the country. Cuse doesn’t always win pretty, but Jim Boeheim’s team continues to come out on top.
Prediction: Syracuse 68, Duke 66
No. 6 Kansas at No. 25 Texas, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: Rick Barnes might be the front-runner in the Big 12’s coach of the year conversation. And that’s one of the greatest reversals in the country. He entered the season on a seat that had gotten warmer after Texas missed the NCAA tournament last season. Now his Longhorns are just two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 race after winning seven in a row and 10 of their past 11. Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley have been a major part of the progress for a team that’s been successful on the offensive glass and defensively (21st in adjusted defensive efficiency, 17.6 block percentage per Ken Pomeroy). But they’re hosting a Kansas team that might be as dangerous as any group in America right now. Andrew Wiggins has averaged 24.3 points per game in KU’s past three contests, squashing doubts about his ability to be a more dominant presence. But leaving Austin with a victory will be tough.
Prediction: Kansas 87, Texas 84
No. 21 UMass at Saint Joseph’s, 6 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: The Minutemen have had their struggles in recent weeks as the Atlantic 10 race has intensified. Derek Kellogg’s program has lost two of three (St. Bonaventure, Richmond). And it’s not difficult to see why. Chaz Williams, a strong conference player of the year contender, couldn’t find the rim in both losses. He went 5-for-21 in those games. He also committed eight combined turnovers. If Saint Joseph’s can limit Williams, a player who affects every aspect of Kellogg’s game plan, it will have a shot. The Hawks didn’t do that in a four-point loss to UMass on Jan. 8 (Williams scored 22, shot 5-for-10). They’ll lose again, however, if they fail to pressure UMass’ senior star.
Prediction: Saint Joseph’s 69, UMass 67
Virginia at No. 18 Pitt, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Virginia quietly has climbed the ACC standings. The Cavaliers are 7-1 and second behind Syracuse. Their only ACC loss came against Duke. They’re ranked third in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy, and their seven conference wins have all been by 12 points or more. But Tony Bennett’s squad is still missing a true signature victory. Virginia will have a chance to change that when it faces Pitt, a team that’s coming off a 15-point loss to Duke earlier this week. Duke did a great job of limiting Lamar Patterson’s early touches and making sure that he didn’t have any easy looks. Patterson, No. 6 in Ken Pomeroy’s individual offensive ratings, went 4-for-14 in that game. Losing Durand Johnson to injury a few weeks ago changed Jamie Dixon’s offensive capabilities. That puts more pressure on Patterson, Cameron Wright and Talib Zanna. But they can handle it.