Key Games of the Weekend
No. 15 Memphis at No. 18 Gonzaga, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Mid-major power, meet mid-major power. After both Memphis and Gonzaga struggled through non-conference play, losing a combined seven games, the Tigers and Zags are still undefeated in conference play.
Memphis turned things around when Jon Calipari moved freshman stud Tyreke Evans to the point. The super frosh is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the country already and holds one of the highest steal rates in the country.
There hasn't been a real noticeable change in Gonzaga's play other than Mark Few's team is simply playing better every night. The Bulldogs are one of the most efficient teams in the country, ranking in the top 11 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
The winner of this game will likely receive a No. 4 seed in March barring a meltdown during the rest of conference action. Gonzaga has the better case for a No. 4 seed, or maybe even something better, with wins over Tennessee (twice), Saint Mary's, and Oklahoma State. Memphis has a win over Tennessee and that's about it out of conference.
My pick: Gonzaga 79, Memphis 74
No. 20 Syracuse at No. 16 Villanova, Noon (ESPN)
'Nova will move this home game into the Wachovia Center to maximize its crowd against one of its top conference rivals, Syracuse. Villanova and Syracuse keep splitting their regular-season series, but the Orange has added motivation to take down the Wildcats after 'Nova thumped Syracuse out of the first round of the Big East Tournament last year, costing the 'Cuse an NCAA Tournament bid.
Before the season, several Syracuse players said this was the game they were looking forward to the most because of how the 2008 season ended. That motivation and the return to health of Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku might be enough to take down Villanova.
Plus, Jim Boeheim finally has gotten quality minutes again out of forward Kristof Ongenaet, who 'Nova fans might be remember as the lanky European guy who uncharacteristically drilled a three at the shot-clock buzzer that proved to be a dagger in last year's matchup in Philadelphia.
A win certainly won't come easy for the 'Cuse as Villanova is playing some its best ball of the year. Jay Wright's squad has won four straight, including a road win over Providence and a home win over one of the Big East's best, Pittsburgh. Scottie Reynolds had been struggling prior to his game against the Friars, but exploded for 31 points in the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
My pick: Villanova 82, Syracuse 80
Michigan at No.1 UConn, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
The Wolverines need marquee wins to make the NCAA Tournament at this point after floundering through Big Ten play. Beating UConn would make it three wins over top-five teams for Michigan. That of course will be extremely difficult, considering UConn is the top-ranked team and definitely playing like it after thrashing Louisville on Big Monday.
The Wolverines did just obliterate a hot Penn State team behind Manny Harris' 28 points, seven assists, and six rebounds, so things might finally be looking up in Ann Arbor. But one game doesn't make a team hot. Winning 10 Big East games in a row does.
The Huskies dropped the Big East opener to Georgetown but, since then, have been barely challenged in what's supposed to be the best conference in America. Hasheem Thabeet has been stepping his game up and when you throw in forward Jeff Adrien, that duo is without a doubt the best frontcourt in America. Dickie Vitale described Thabeet's presence as being worth 20 points alone.
If Michigan is going to win this game, the Wolverines will need to force UConn's guards into hoisting 3-pointers and hitting the defensive glass. Manny Harris will also need to have one of the best games of his career. With that said, it's not very likely Michigan heads back to Ann Arbor with a victory.
My pick: UConn 87, Michigan 74
No. 13 Purdue at No. 21 Illinois, 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS)
One night, Illinois looks like it could be the best team in the Big Ten. Other nights, the Fighting Illini can't score more points than minutes in a game. Purdue is somewhat similar. When Robbie Hummel isn't bothered by the stress fracture in his back, the Boilermakers look like the best team in the Big Ten. When Hummel is hurt and a non-factor, Purdue might as well pack it in against good teams.
So, good luck figuring this one out. It should definitely be low scoring, the Orange Crush student section will be going nuts, and Michael Jordan's son Jeff Jordan will be lucky to see quality minutes.
In all seriousness, Illinois has started to play poorly and showing why this team wasn't considered a preseason candidate to make a run at the Big Ten title. A nine-loss Wisconsin team is handling the Illini pretty easily Thursday night.
If Purdue can get enough quality minutes out of Hummel, the Boilermakers should head into Illinois and sneak away with a victory.
My pick: Purdue 58, Illinois 52
No. 8 Marquette at South Florida, 7 p.m. Friday
The Golden Eagles are still undefeated, while the Bulls can't beat most mid-majors. Shocking would be the appropriate word to describe a South Florida victory.
My pick: Marquette 82, South Florida 65
Notre Dame at No. 12 UCLA, 1 p.m. Saturday (CBS)
Go back about 10 days before President Obama was inaugurated and you'd find Notre Dame's last victory. UCLA in Pauley Pavilion shouldn't lose to the struggling Luke Harangody's (he's a one-man team and Notre Dame deserves to be referred to as the Harangodies).
My pick: UCLA 72, Notre Dame 68
Miami at No. 3 Duke, 1:30 p.m. Saturday
The Blue Devils have lost two of three and take on a Hurricane team fresh off a 27-point beat down of the Demon Deacons. Even though the Cameron Crazies will be out in full force, an experienced Miami team will make it two wins in a row against some of the ACC's best.
My pick: Miami 88, Duke 81
No. 17 Texas at Nebraska, 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
The Longhorns have been struggling, losing two straight, to Kansas State and Missouri. Nebraska isn't very good, but with the way Rick Barnes' team has been playing you have to think the Cornhuskers have a legitimate shot at home.
My pick: Texas 71, Nebraska 69
Oklahoma State at No. 24 Kansas, 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
The Jayhawks are closing in on lock status in March after starting out conference play undefeated at 7-0. OSU doesn't have the depth to hang with KU in Phog Allen.
My pick: Kansas 92, Oklahoma State 81
No. 5 Pittsburgh at DePaul, 4 p.m. Saturday
The Panthers have the big bodies to put the Blue Demons away handily, something Marquette struggled to do.
My pick: Pittsburgh 75, DePaul 53
Virginia at No. 4 North Carolina, 4:30 p.m. Saturday
The Tar Heels are really starting to roll through the ACC and the hapless Cavaliers certainly won't be stopping them anytime soon.
My pick: North Carolina 102, Virginia 75
Indiana at No. 14 Michigan State, 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
The Hoosiers finally won a Big Ten game against Iowa, but that winning streak starts and stops at one as Tom Crean's club travels to East Lansing. MSU have lost to Northwestern and Penn State at home, but it certainly isn't taking a loss to Indiana.
My pick: Michigan State 69, Indiana 44
Florida State at No. 10 Clemson, 7 p.m. Saturday
The Seminoles are extremely strong defensively and could give the Tigers a run for their money if FSU can do something Duke couldn't: beat the press. Oliver Purnell won't let his team have a letdown after defeating Duke.
My pick: Clemson 69, Florida State 63
No. 11 Butler at Wright State, 7 p.m. Saturday
The Bulldogs finally lost a Horizon League game, and it will happen again Saturday night. Wright State struggled in non-conference play, but has started to turn it on. With the game on the road for Butler, Brad Steven's team is in trouble.
My pick: Wright State 61, Butler 55
No. 9 Xavier at Duquesne, 7 p.m. Saturday
One mid-major upset isn't enough this weekend. The Dukes are one of the better teams in the conference, and on their home floor they'll take down the Musketeers, who are due to lose an Atlantic 10 game.
My pick: Duquesne 76, Xavier 72
No. 19 Minnesota at Ohio State, 8 p.m. Saturday
Saturday night will be chock-full of upsets, although the Buckeyes at home against a Golden Gopher team that just took a major-league shellacking Wednesday isn't much of an upset. No matter how you want to classify it, OSU will beat Minnesota Saturday.
My pick: Ohio State 67, Minnesota 53
No. 23 Arizona State at Oregon State, 8:30 p.m. Saturday
The Sun Devils have been struggling in a weak Pac-10, but won't have trouble on the Beavers' home floor. OSU won't have an answer for James Harden and the rest of Herb Sendek's incredibly efficient offense.
My pick: Arizona State 61, Oregon State 54
Louisiana Tech at No. 22 Utah State, 9:05 p.m. Saturday
The Aggies are undefeated in conference play and have won 17 games in a row overall. The 11-11 Bulldogs aren't stopping this new WAC juggernaut anytime soon.
My pick: Utah State 74, La Tech 52
No. 7 Louisville at St. John's, 1:30 p.m. Sunday
The Red Storm knocked off Notre Dame on its home floor (granted, that win no longer looks impressive), but won't have the same luck against the Cardinals Sunday. Louisville will rebound from its loss against UConn to demolish St. John's.
My pick: Louisville 71, St. John's 48
Boston College at No. 6 Wake Forest, 4 p.m. Sunday
The Eagles have a lot of things going for them. They've beaten UNC, have been playing well, and Wake Forest is struggling, but that won't be enough to knock of the Demon Deacons. Dino Gaudio's club will rebound on its home floor after losing three of four.
My pick: Wake Forest 85, Boston College 78
No. 25 Washington at Stanford, 5:30 p.m. Sunday
The Huskies are a part of the Pac-10 that's impossible to figure out right now. It seems like anyone can beat anyone, but that won't be the case Sunday night. Washington should not have much of a problem with the Cardinal.
My pick: Washington 79, Stanford 62