Picks: Duke-Virginia Leads Loaded Weekend as College Hoops Takes Center Stage

Michael Beller
Sports Illustrated
Picks: Duke-Virginia Leads Loaded Weekend as College Hoops Takes Center Stage
Picks: Duke-Virginia Leads Loaded Weekend as College Hoops Takes Center Stage

It’s the first weekend after the Super Bowl, and wouldn’t you know it, we’ve got a great slate of college basketball games. It’s almost as though that happened on purpose. There are five games featuring two ranked teams this weekend, including the return matchup of Duke and Virginia. Two of those other games include teams in first and second place in their respective conferences, and 11 of the 16 teams seeded fourth or better in our most recent Bracket Watch are playing games deemed worthy of inclusion in the Weekend Preview. It’s time for college hoops to take center stage.

All times Eastern.

No. 19 Wisconsin at No. 7 Michigan

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Saturday, noon, FOX

Saturday kicks off with a bang with this game between two of the best teams in the country’s deepest conference. Wisconsin has won six straight games, a run that started by handing Michigan its first loss of the season back on Jan. 19. Michigan lost a second time since then, at Iowa, but remains one of the country’s elite teams, and gets a chance for revenge on the Badgers at home. Wisconsin did an incredible job defensively in the first one, holding the Wolverines to 0.82 points per possession while shutting out Ignas Brazdeikis on five field goal attempts. The Wolverines had no answer for Ethan Happ, who put up 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the win. These teams are nearly mirror images of one another in almost every way imaginable. Michigan ranks second in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Wisconsin is sixth. Wisconsin is 28th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Michigan is 34th. The Wolverines almost never turn it over, ranking fourth in turnover rate. Wisconsin is even better, ranking third. Both are outside the top 300 in adjusted tempo, with Michigan 307th and Wisconsin 342nd. They both prioritize sending defenders back rather than crashing the glass, which helps them set the half-court defenses that make them such tough nuts to crack. If there’s one major difference, it’s that Wisconsin is an excellent three-point shooting team, ranking ninth in the country with a 39.7% shooting percentage from distance. Still, Michigan has to be considered the favorite to take this one at home.

Michigan 64, Wisconsin 61

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No. 11 Virginia Tech at Clemson

Saturday, noon, ESPN2

This may not seem like your typical weekend-preview worthy game, but it’s a big one for both teams. We’ve discussed Virginia Tech’s lack of signature wins often in this space, with their lone victory against a guaranteed tournament team coming back in November against Purdue. This wouldn’t qualify as a signature win, but it would be a road victory against a quality opponent, and could ultimately go into the books a Quadrant 1 win. Clemson, meanwhile, is on the periphery of the field of 68, but is going to need multiple meaningful wins to earn an at-large bid. The Hokies’ offense looked stagnant without Justin Robinson in a loss to Louisville earlier this week, and the senior may still be out because of his foot injury on Saturday. This game really could turn on his availability. If he’s out, it isn’t hard to see Clemson as the better team. Louisville is a fine defensive team, but that doesn’t fully explain Virginia Tech scoring just 1.02 points per possession at home, especially when you consider that Kerry Blackshear, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Ty Outlaw combined for 53 points on 14 for 29 from the floor, including 8 for 15 from behind the arc. Robinson’s absence was felt then, and it would be felt again if he can’t go this weekend.

Clemson 66, Virginia Tech 60

Butler at Georgetown

Saturday, noon

This is the first of two Big East games with bubble implications that we’ll look at this weekend, the other being Creighton at Seton Hall. While it’s highly unlikely all four of these Big East teams get into the dance, it’s just as likely that two do. That makes any game that matches up any of the four big for bubble purposes. Butler beat Seton Hall last weekend, adding that to wins over potential tourney teams in St. John’s, Creighton, Florida and Mississippi. Georgetown has a win over St. John’s and also beat Butler in Indianapolis the first time these teams played this season. The Hoyas were excellent from distance in that game, making 12 of their 22 triples in an 84–76 win. They’ll try to repeat that script by running the Bulldogs right out of D.C. Georgetown ranks second in kenpom.com’s adjusted tempo in conference play, while Butler ranks seventh.

Georgetown 79, Butler 70

No. 5 Kentucky at Mississippi State

Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS

Kentucky has won eight straight games, 11 of its last 12, and looks as dangerous as any team in the country, up to and including Duke and Virginia. Don’t be swayed by some recency bias trap and think that Kentucky is beating up on a solid, but not great, SEC. Before conference play began, the Wildcats ended the non-conference portion of their schedule with wins over North Carolina and Louisville. The first time these teams met this season, Kentucky cruised to a 76–55 win in Lexington, getting 21 points from P.J. Washington and 18 from Tyler Herro. Given the respective styles of play here, this is a terrible matchup for the Bulldogs. They turn it over a lot, and Kentucky ranks second in conference play in defensive turnover rate. They struggle at cleaning up their defensive glass, and Kentucky is second in the country in offensive-rebounding rate. The Bulldogs can get hot from behind the arc on the right night, but their high-volume shooters—Lamar Peters, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Tyson Carter—are all streaky from deep. They went 3 for 20 in the first loss to Kentucky. The bet here is they’ll need at least 10 threes in this one to have a shot at evening up the season series.

Kentucky 77, Mississippi State 68

Minnesota at No. 9 Michigan State

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN

This is an important game for the Spartans, losers of three straight. Joshua Langford won’t be back this year, but the Spartans won their first seven games without him, so it’s not like his absence completely scuttles their Final Four hopes. Minnesota is at its best when it can get out and run, just like it did when it rolled up 92 points on Iowa in one of its most impressive wins of the season. Teams can only run when they get stops, though, and it’s hard to see where the Gophers get them consistently against a motivated Spartans team on the road. Expect the home team to get right in this one.

Michigan State 82, Minnesota 64

Auburn at No. 21 LSU

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Auburn has won three straight games after a three-game losing streak, and you could argue that this is its most important game to date this season. In fact, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. The metrics love Auburn, but there’s no sidestepping the reality that their best wins of the season have come against Washington, Alabama, Arizona and Florida, none of which are sure things for the NCAA tournament. A win at LSU would be a major coup for a team still hunting for a signature win. Thanks to Tremont Waters and Naz Reid, LSU is expert at getting into the lane, finding easy scores, and getting its opponents in foul trouble. LSU turns those fouls into points, too, with the 16th-best free throw shooting percentage in the country. If Auburn is going to get the win it desperately needs, Jared Harper is going to have to be just as good on defense as he typically is on offense. Keeping Waters out of the paint is critical to Auburn’s chances. One other stat to note: Auburn ranks first in defensive turnover rate, while LSU turns the ball over on nearly 20% of its possessions.

Auburn 83, LSU 81

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TCU at No. 17 Iowa State

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU

TCU has appeared in every version of the Bracket Watch this year, but it has yet to do two things critical to every bubble case. First, the Horned Frogs have not proved they can beat high-quality tournament competition, with their best wins of the season against Texas and Baylor. Second, they have no meaningful wins away from home, even on neutral floors. This game is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, but it’s also much easier said than done. Iowa State’s offense is a brutal matchup for TCU, both individually and collectively. It’s hard to find someone on TCU’s roster who can regularly check Marial Shayok or Talen Horton-Tucker, and the Cyclones likely have the highest ceiling of any Big 12 team offensively, ranking 13th in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. TCU may yet get that big win away from home, but it won’t happen Saturday.

Iowa State 84, TCU 68

No. 14 Villanova at No. 10 Marquette

Saturday, 2:30 p.m., FOX

The first meeting between the top two teams in the Big East lost a tiny bit of luster when Marquette fell to St. John’s earlier this week, giving the Golden Eagles their second loss in conference. No matter what happens in this game, Villanova will be in first place in the Big East at the end of it. Still, these teams have separated themselves from the rest of the conference, and both have legitimate Final Four aspirations. The Wildcats should feel good about Phil Booth manning up Markus Howard, or at least as good as any team can feel about slowing down one of the country’s most dynamic scorers. St. John’s has handed Marquette both of its conference losses this season, and it did a remarkable job on Howard, holding him to 25 total points on 7 for 32 shooting from the floor. It’s safe to say that the Wildcats have watched plenty of that tape over the last few days. The bigs on both sides of this game are comfortable away from the hoop, but Marquette still has the advantage there, as it does in most games. We like Marquette’s pace and shooting to make the difference in this one.

Marquette 78, Villanova 71

No. 16 Louisville at No. 22 Florida State

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2

The Seminoles are back on track, sort of, after losing to Pittsburgh and Boston College in consecutive games last month. They’ve won their last four contests, though the best win of the four was at Syracuse. This is decidedly a step up in weight class, even though it’s at home, with Louisville sitting at 8–2 in the ACC with wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech. This matchup gets really interesting on the wing and in the frontcourt, with Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton on one side, and Terance Mann and M.J. Walker on the other. Sutton has been particularly lethal recently, averaging 17.7 points and nine rebounds over his last three games. One area where Louisville has a significant advantage is at the free throw line. Not only are they excellent at the stripe, ranking 14th in the country in free throw percentage, but Florida State fouls more than most teams in the country, ranking 299th in defensive free throw rate. With two evenly matched teams, we’ll back the team with the homecourt advantage.

Florida State 75, Louisville 73

No. 18 Texas Tech at Oklahoma

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNU

The slide Oklahoma is on is all too familiar, and it doesn’t have Trae Young to save it this season. The Sooners have lost three straight games, five of their last seven, and are now 3–7 in the Big 12. Their best wins of the season came against TCU and Wofford, and they don’t have a victory against a team guaranteed to make the dance. Texas Tech, too, is playing some of its worst basketball of the season, losing its last four games against likely tournament teams. Neither of these teams can find offense with any consistency, which puts too much pressure on their respective defenses. It won’t get any easier for either team in the near future, especially Oklahoma, which plays Baylor, Texas and Iowa State in three of its next four games. We’ve considered both of these teams safely in the field of 68 for most of the season, but that may not be the case much longer, for at least one of them.

Texas Tech 62, Oklahoma 57

No. 2 Duke at No. 3 Virginia

Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

It’s almost a shame that these two teams will be done with one another, at least in the regular season, with more than a month to go until Selection Sunday. Duke won the first game between the two in Durham without Tre Jones behind huge games from R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson. Barrett scored 30 points while Williamson poured in 27, and the two shot a combined 57.1% from the floor. Virginia, which is shooting nearly 40% from behind the arc as a team, made just three of its 17 attempts from distance in the loss, and absolutely must improve on that to even the score on Saturday. Jones’s return is a huge upgrade for Duke from the first meeting, but this game is in Charlottesville and it’s unlikely the Cavaliers shoot it as poorly as they did the first time around. In what looks like the best weekend on paper of the season, this is easily the marquee game. That’s how good—and fun—these two teams are.

Virginia 71, Duke 70

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Kansas State at Baylor

Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2

The Weekend Preview Committee absolutely loves these two teams because of the way they lurked around during the non-conference portion of the schedule, and then turned on the jets immediately when Big 12 play began. Kansas State is a truly elite defensive team that gets enough offense behind Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes. Baylor’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts that, despite not doing any one thing exceptionally well on offense, ranks first in conference play in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency, comfortably ahead of Iowa State and Kansas. This is the first meeting between these teams in the regular season, so it’s hard to get a read on how the Bears will handle the Wildcats’ defense. Baylor is also undersized, which makes Wade a particularly tough cover. The last time Baylor played a great defensive team, it lived outside the three-point line, attempting 29 triples and making 11 of them in a win over Texas Tech. The big difference between Texas Tech and Kansas State defensively, though, is that the latter is an excellent rebounding team, while the former is merely average at cleaning up its defensive glass. This game may be in Waco, but everything about the matchup trends in Kansas State’s favor.

Kansas State 74, Baylor 69

Creighton at Seton Hall

Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Seton Hall has the best résumé of any of the Big East’s second-tier teams thanks to wins over Kentucky and Maryland, but it hasn’t won a meaningful game in more than a month. As for the Bluejays, it’s borderline unfathomable that they haven’t won a signature game this year, considering how good they are offensively. They’re 17th in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency, fourth in effective field goal percentage, eighth in three-point percentage, and sixth in two-point percentage. That’s a daunting matchup for any team, let alone a Seton Hall squad that surrendered 97 points to DePaul three weeks ago. When in doubt, trust the team that you know does at least one thing well.

Creighton 81, Seton Hall 74

New Mexico State at Grand Canyon

Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN3

The balance of power in the Western Athletic Conference rests on this game, the last meeting between the clear two best teams in the league. New Mexico State won the first meeting on a half-court buzzer beater by Johnny McCants. Grand Canyon lost its second conference game on Thursday, giving New Mexico State a leg up for seeding in the WAC tournament, no matter the result on Saturday. The conference does stage its tournament at a neutral site, and without a third team that’s a major threat to either of the top two, seeding may end up being somewhat irrelevant. Still, this is a fun matchup between two teams that would be dangerous should they get into the field of 68. Grand Canyon not only has the homecourt advantage, but catches a break with New Mexico State’s Ivan Aurrecoechea out indefinitely because of a knee injury.?

Grand Canyon 68, New Mexico State 61

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Washington at Arizona State

Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN

Before Thursday, this had the look of a game between two teams trending in the right direction in terms of getting an invite to the dance. That’s still true of Washington, which moved to 10–0 in the Pac-12 with a win over Arizona on Thursday. The Sun Devils, however, suffered an embarrassing loss at home at the hands of Washington State, a team that entered the game 8–14 overall, 1–8 in the Pac-12, and 230th in the NET. The impact of the loss on the Sun Devils cannot be overstated. They now have three losses outside the top-two Quadrants, effectively using up the goodwill they built by beating Kansas and Mississippi State. If Washington wins, which looks increasingly likely on the strength of a defense that’s easily the best in the conference, a one-bid Pac-12 will start to become something we need to talk about seriously.?

Arizona State 72, Washington 64

Ohio State at Indiana

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Two of the Big Ten’s true bubble teams meet in what could ultimately be a huge game when the Selection Committee sits down to decide who’s in and who’s out of the field of 68. The belief here is that both teams will get an invite, but this will be a big win for whoever gets it. For all of the doom and gloom surrounding the Hoosiers during their seven-game losing streak, they’ve yet to suffer a loss all season outside Quadrant 2, and they own wins over Michigan State and Louisville. Ohio State is in a similar boat, though it doesn’t have quite the peaks or valleys of Indiana’s résumé. The Buckeyes will always run through Kaleb Wesson, but the rest of the team is finally starting to wake up. C.J. Jackson poured in 20 points in their win over Rutgers last weekend, and Luther Muhammad scored 24 in a victory against Nebraska two weekends ago. Indiana, too, finally got some output from its supporting players, with Alijami Durham, Justin Smith and De’Ron Davis combining for 39 points in the win over Michigan State. Outside a herculean effort from Wesson, Romeo Langford or Juwan Morgan, the team whose supporting cast shows up in a bigger way on Saturday will likely get the win.

Indiana 68, Ohio State 63

No. 25 Cincinnati at No. 12 Houston

Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN

The two best teams in the American Athletic Conference enter this game at 9–1 in the league. This is a big game because it’s the first time either will play a likely tournament team in a long time. Houston’s last game against a team that should hear its name called on Selection Sunday was way back on Dec. 12 when it beat LSU, 82–76. Cincinnati, meanwhile, hasn’t played any team of that caliber all season. It has played three teams in our current field of 68, but all three—Ohio State, Mississippi and Temple—are far from sure things at this point of the season. No matter what happens the rest of the season, these teams are going to enter the tournament with real question marks based on their strength of schedule. That makes the results of their head-to-head matchups, this one and the return date in Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, big measuring sticks for both of them.

Houston 67, Cincinnati 59

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