College Basketball Weekend Top 25 Preview: Sunday Games Dominate Action
(10) Marquette at (6) Louisville, Noon Sunday on CBS
One of the premier matchups of the week features two former Conference USA teams, but it lost a bit of its luster after Golden Eagle senior guard Dominic James suffered a collegiate career-ending injury Wednesday night against UConn.
Without James, Marquette's depth thins a bit more and should come into play against a Louisville team that absolutely wears squads out of with its pressure defense. Just 23.2 percent of the Golden Eagles' available minutes go to bench players, which is 315th in the nation.
Maurice Acker will likely move into the starting lineup, but the junior gives up size, court management skills, and long-range shooting ability to James. Acker will have to run the point against the Cardinals' defense, which ranks second in the entire country.
Look for Rick Pitino to employ more aggressive pressure when the ball is the hands of Marquette's other star guards, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal, to make Acker be the primary ball-handler.
Louisville has the length and athleticism to frustrate Marquette's smaller lineup. The Cards have three stud players, Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, and Samardo Samuels, who can put points on the board in the paint, while Marquette has just one post player, Dwight Burke, who stands 6'8" or taller.
Louisville owns the mismatches in the contest as well as the home court advantage, which make this top 10 contest a dud.
My pick: Louisville 82, Marquette 72
(9) Michigan State at (20) Illinois, TBD Sunday on CBS
The Spartans and Fighting Illini will square off in a game that could turn the Big Ten regular season title chase into a three-horse race. A somewhat likely chain of events could fall into place to allow MSU, Illinois, and Purdue to tie atop the conference with a 13-5 record.
If Illinois wins out, the Illini will own two victories over the Boilermakers and a split with the Spartans. Then if MSU also loses to Purdue, then the Spartans will be winless against the conference's top two teams. For a three-way tie to happen, Purdue would need to win out against Michigan State, Ohio State, and Northwestern.
If this scenario takes place, Illinois will be the conference champ according to the conference tiebreaker rules. The Illini would be 3-1 against Purdue and Michigan State, who would be 2-2 and 1-3.
Onto the actual game—Illinois is one of the hardest teams to predict. It seems like the Illini generally show up for the biggest games, but struggle against mid-rate Big Ten teams (sometimes not even cracking the 35-point barrier). The Illini generally have dominated at home in front of the Orange Crush, but Michigan State has also played extremely well on the road, winning six of seven league games when away from the Breslin Center.
This contest will feature two teams that excel on the defensive end of the floor. A game played in the 40s or low 50s is likely. Illinois rates sixth in defensive efficiency, while Michigan State is 11th.
This game will be won on the boards. The odds are there will be an incredible number of missed shots Saturday, so MSU's rebounding advantage should win the Spartans the game. Michigan State rebounds 41 percent of its misses while allowing opponents to do the same just 26.7 percent of the time. Illinois sits at about 31 percent on both ends of the floor.
My pick: Michigan State 52, Illinois 45
(8) Missouri at (15) Kansas, 2:00 Sunday on CBS
The Border War Round Two takes center stage Sunday afternoon as two of the more surprising teams in the country are battling it out for potentially a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Both the Tigers and Jayhawks are putting together résumés that few teams in the country can top, and a win in one of the nation's tensest collegiate rivalries will go a long way in the eyes of the selection committee.
The two rivals both rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, but with the frenetic pace this game will be played at, the scoring could still reach into the 70s and maybe low 80s.
In the first installment of the Border War about four weeks ago, Mizzou used a late shot to knock off KU on the Tigers' home court. Kansas rarely loses on its home court, but Missouri provides the kind of matchup that could make that possible.
Between the fact this is a rivalry game—and absolutely bizarre things tend to happen in rivalry games—and the Jayhawks' tendency to turn the ball over, this could be a recipe for trouble for Bill Self's squad.
Missouri is fifth in the country in forcing turnovers while Kansas ranks just 255th in protecting the ball. In the first meeting, the turnover battle helped decide the game, as Kansas turned the rock over in an astounding 35 percent of the team's possessions.
My pick: Missouri 73, Kansas 70
Georgia Tech at (5) North Carolina, Noon Saturday on CBS
The Tar Heels were rolling through the ACC until Maryland made an astounding comeback last weekend to end UNC's 10-game winning streak. North Carolina will bounce back easily against Georgia Tech.
My pick: UNC 94, Georgia Tech 72
Georgetown at (12) Villanova, Noon Saturday on ESPN
If Georgetown's at-large hopes were the Wile E. Coyote, the Hoyas would be at the point where they realize they've just stopped running, there's no more cliff, and they are holding a "Help" sign. This game provides Georgetown with a chance to grab for a weak tree growing out of the cliffside.
My pick: Georgetown 74, Villanova 71
Cleveland State at (23) Butler, Noon Saturday on ESPN2
The Bulldogs must win this game in order to keep their at-large hopes alive should they lose in the conference tournament. If Butler loses this game and a game in the conference tournament, a six-loss Horizon League with one quality win against Xavier is definitely a bubble team. The Vikings come in hot winning eight of nine and will deliver the upset.
My pick: Cleveland State 63, Butler 55
Southern Mississippi at (4) Memphis, 1:00 Saturday
Raise your hand if you think Southern Miss is going to stop Memphis' 55-game conference winning streak. *Looks around...sees no hands.*
My pick: Memphis 78, Southern Mississippi 48
(14) Wake Forest at Virginia, 2:00 Saturday on ESPN360
The Demon Deacons need to right the ship after splitting the last 10 games. Dino Gaudio's club started moving back in the right direction against North Carolina State Thursday night and should continue to do so against an improving Cavalier team.
My pick: Wake Forest 83, Virginia 70
Notre Dame at (2) Connecticut, 2:00 Saturday on CBS
The Irish will get a rematch with the Huskies, who ended Notre Dame's long home winning streak in January. This game has much more riding on it as an Irish loss will continue to dig the proverbial fork further into South Bend's Best.
My pick: UConn 85, Notre Dame 76
(13) Clemson at (25) Florida State, 2:00 Saturday on ESPN360
Both of these teams are slowly heading south in the ACC, but only Clemson, not Florida State, is safely in the field of 65. The Seminoles can and will change that in a defensive battle.
My pick: Florida State 68, Clemson 64
Arizona at (21) Washington, 3:00 Saturday
'Zona is likely in the field right now, but every win will push them closer to an NCAA Tournament berth. A victory over a Pac-10 favorite would almost make the Wildcats a lock, but the Huskies should stall Arizona's run to the tourney.
My pick: Washington 83, Arizona 77
(3) Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 3:30 Saturday on ABC
The Sooners may be without superstar Blake Griffin and the suspended freakishly athletic forward Juan Pattillo, but the Red Raiders won't be enough of an obstacle to slow down Tornado Alley's best basketball team.
My pick: Oklahoma 80, Texas Tech 67
(7) Duke at Virginia Tech, 3:30 Saturday on ABC
The Hokies are scrounging around for any win they can get, and if Virginia Tech delivers a victory this weekend against Duke, VTech might be back on track again for an NCAA Tournament berth. If the Hokies' trio of A.D. Vassallo, Jeff Allen, and Malcolm Delaney produce big-time numbers, look for a storming of the court at the expense of the Blue Devils.
My pick: Virginia Tech 84, Duke 82
(18) LSU at Kentucky, 4:00 Saturday on CBS
With three games left in SEC play, the Wildcats are running out of chances to prove they are worthy of an at-large bid. The Tigers on Saturday and Gators to end the regular season are Kentucky's only remaining notable games. The Big Blue will defend Rupp Arena as LSU is bound to lose another SEC game at some point.
My pick: Kentucky 78, LSU 73
Ohio State at (16) Purdue, 4:00 Saturday on ESPN
The Boilermakers started to get hot at the right time in conference play but took a hard loss on the road to Michigan. They will look to rebound by taking on a Buckeye team that's slowly creeping closer to dangerous bubble. OSU has struggled on the road in the Big Ten with a 2-5 record, and that trend should continue Saturday.
My pick: Purdue 68, Ohio State 62
(11) Arizona State at Washington State, 5:00 Saturday
The Sun Devils will continue its tour of the Evergreen State with a date with the Cougars in Pullman. Both teams play agonizingly slow, so if this contest breaks 60, there will probably be a Blue Moon over the West Coast.
My pick: Arizona State 57, Washington State 50
(24) Texas at Oklahoma State, 6:00 Saturday on ESPN
The Longhorns are very close to lock status after their big win over Red River rival Oklahoma, so a win on the road against the Cowboys would put them in the lock box. OSU also needs this game desperately to keep its at-large hopes alive.
My pick: Texas 85, Oklahoma State 81
(17) Gonzaga at San Diego, 7:30 Saturday on ESPN2
The Toreros are one of the nation's biggest disappointments after last year's upset over UConn and will continue to disappoint, as they won't be stopping the West Coast Conference-leading Bulldogs.
My pick: Gonzaga 73, San Diego 61
(1) Pittsburgh at Seton Hall, 8:30 Saturday on ESPN360
The Panthers are coming off a shocking loss to Providence. The Friars got the job done by getting center DeJuan Blair in foul trouble, but the Pirates won't have the same luck.
My pick: Pittsburgh 78, Seton Hall 66
(19) UCLA at California, 9:00 Saturday on ESPN
UCLA handled the Golden Bears the first time around, but on its home court Cal will take care of business against a youthful UCLA team.
My pick: California 75, UCLA 70
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