Big East Battles
(23) Georgetown at (8) Marquette, 2 p.m. Saturday
The Hoyas are in absolute free fall. Since knocking off UConn in the Big East opener, the Hoyas have lost six of eight games to drop to 3-5 in the conference, a mark that ties Georgetown for 10th in the league.
The defense of John Thompson III's team has been Georgetown's problem since Big East play began. In GU's non-conference slate, the Hoyas allowed a team to score at least one point per possession just once, but since conference play began, the opposing offense has scored at least a point per possession in every single game.
Marquette is Georgetown's complete opposite. The Golden Eagles are streaking through conference play, opening league competition with a sweet seven-game winning streak. Buzz Williams has done a tremendous job getting his team to win without a player over 6'8''.
The Marquette quartet of Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Dominic James, and Lazar Hayward is as good quartet of star players as you'll see in the country. But therein lies Buzz Williams' biggest problem. Those four combine for over 66 of Marquette's 81 points per game. The Golden Eagles essentially play with just four effective players each game.
My pick: Marquette 78, Georgetown 64
(22) Notre Dame at (3) Pittsburgh, Noon Saturday, ESPN
You can almost copy-paste the first two paragraphs above, change a few names and a couple numbers, and that's what Notre Dame has been up to. The Irish have dropped five of seven, hold down an RPI north of 70, and have lost seven games already this year despite being a preseason Top 10 team.
Defense is not in Notre Dame's vernacular. Only a handful of teams force fewer turnovers than Notre Dame and Mike Brey's team ranks 127th in the country in opposition's points per possession. You won't find many defenses in a major conference worse than Notre Dame's.
Like Marquette and Georgetown, Pittsburgh is the absolute opposite of Notre Dame. The Panthers will guard, play physical, and hit the boards hard. Despite a loss Wednesday night to Villanova, Pitt still enters this matchup with only two losses, both to ranked Big East teams.
But the Panthers have been exposed; when DeJuan Blair heads for the bench with foul trouble, Pitt is not a good team. In fact, Jamie Dixon's team is awful without Blair. He's what makes the Panthers go with his incredible offensive rebounding, which ranks top in the country. In Pittsburgh's two losses, Blair spent a bunch of time riding the pine, and in Pitt's close win over Rutgers, the sophomore sat for a significant amount of the second half with foul trouble.
My pick: Pitt 79, Notre Dame 68
Other Top Games
Washington at (14) Arizona State, 5:30 p.m. Saturday
ASU and Washington looked like they were both about to separate themselves from the rest of the conference after both teams beat UCLA.
But after both teams lost Thursday night against Arizona and Washington State, respectively, the Pac-10 looks wide open again between the Huskies, Sun Devils, Bruins, and Cal Bears.
Washington is undersized, but that hasn't stopped Lorenzo Romar's team from being a monster on the offensive glass. The Huskies rebound 43.4 percent of their misses, which is tops in the entire country.
Washington will need all the second opportunities it can get with the Sun Devils' high efficient offense coming at them on the opposite end of the floor. ASU has the best effective field-goal percentage in the country at 57.5 percent
My pick: Arizona State 66, Washington 65
West Virginia at (7) Louisville, Noon Saturday
The Cardinals have a chance to move to 8-0 in the Big East before tipping off with likely future No. 1 UConn on Monday. It won't be easy for Louisville as West Virginia is one the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, but also ranks sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency.
Rick Pitino will likely once again use two different full-court presses to extend pressure on West Virginia's ball-handlers. The Mountaineers could be in deep trouble against Louisville's pressure because running the point for Bob Huggins is freshman Darryl Bryant, who has a poor 1.3 A/T ratio.
The most points the Cardinals have allowed this year? 75 against Austin Peay in a 19-point win over the Governors.
My pick: Louisville 72, West Virginia 59
Valparaiso at (13) Butler, 7:00 p.m. Friday, ESPNU
The Bulldogs are good enough to go undefeated in the Horizon League, so the lowly Crusaders certainly won't be a challenge.
My pick: Butler 70, Valparaiso 47
(4) Wake Forest at Georgia Tech, Noon Saturday
Paul Hewitt has a couple future NBA players on his roster, so even though the Yellow Jackets are winless in the ACC, they still have enough talent to knock off Wake Forest.
My pick: Wake Forest 84, Georgia Tech 69
UMass at (10) Xavier, Noon Saturday, ESPNU
The Minutemen have been a major disappointment this year; The Musketeers shouldn't have any trouble with them.
My pick: Xavier 82, UMass 70
Michigan at (17) Purdue, 1 p.m. Saturday, CBS
After beating both UCLA and Duke in consecutive games, Michigan is suddenly in danger of missing the tournament if the Wolverines don't turn it around soon. Purdue won't let that happen on Gene Keady's court.
My pick: Purdue 63, Michigan 59
Houston at (19) Memphis, 1 p.m. Saturday
No Aubrey Coleman, no problem for Memphis. The Tigers are absolutely rolling through conference play and that will continue Saturday.
My pick: Memphis 78, Houston 63
(5) Oklahoma at Iowa State, 1:45 p.m. Saturday
The odd starting time for this game might be the only thing Saturday that could possibly throw off Blake Griffin and the rest of the Sooners.
My pick: Oklahoma 86, Iowa State 66
Stanford at (16) UCLA, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC
The Bruins are struggling a bit, but Saturday's game against the Cardinal won't prove to be a problem for the Baby Bruins.
My pick: UCLA 71, Stanford 56
(6) North Carolina at North Carolina State, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC
The Tar Heels are coming off a hard fought road win against Florida State, but Saturday's tilt against the Wolfpack won't be nearly as difficult.
My pick: North Carolina 97, North Carolina State 74
Kansas State at (12) Texas, 4 p.m. Saturday
The Longhorns hold home court and should hold serve against the rebuilding Wildcats.
My pick: Texas 82, Kansas State 67
Providence at (2) UConn, 4 p.m. Saturday
The Friars are trying to build their resume for March and have a nice start with their win over Syracuse Wednesday, but a win against fellow New England club UConn Saturday is unlikely.
My pick: UConn 88, Providence 81
San Diego at (25) Gonzaga, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
The Toreros had high hopes in 2009 after upsetting four-seed UConn in the first round of the tournament in 2008. A slow start killed San Diego's at-large hopes, but USD can move to 5-1 in the West Coast Conference with a win over ranked foe Gonzaga.
My pick: Gonzaga 79, San Diego 74
(18) St. Mary's at Portland, 9 p.m. Saturday
This won't be easy for the Gaels as the Pilots already knocked off Washington this year and are 4-1 in conference. SMC should still come away with a hard-earned victory.
My pick: St. Mary's 79, Portland 73
Penn State at (9) Michigan State, Noon Sunday
The Nittany Lions will not be a push over for Tom Izzo's squad as the Spartans and the IzZone will want revenge for last year's loss at Penn State. Revenge will be sweet on this Super Bowl Sunday.
My pick: Michigan State 68, Penn State 62
Cincinnati at (21) Villanova, Noon Sunday
The Wildcats are hot after a big victory on their homecourt against Pittsburgh Wednesday night. The Bearcats are also playing well after knocking off Georgetown at home Wednesday night as well.
My pick: Cincinnati 76, Villanova 75
Iowa at (20) Illinois, 2 p.m. Sunday
The Fighting Illini are rolling and won't have any trouble at all with the visiting Hawkeyes.
My pick: Illinois 72, Iowa 53
Virginia at (1) Duke, 2 p.m. Sunday
The Blue Devils' reign as the top-ranked team unofficially lasted two days. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will have this team ready to play and stomp the Cavaliers.
My pick: Duke 91, Virginia 64