Picks: Duke-Florida State Highlights a Busy Weekend in College Hoops
Thanks to the Big Ten, this weekend of college hoops gets going on Friday, with two games featuring four teams that are all tracking for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Saturday gives us a full slate of action from noon to midnight, and while the biggest game of the day is in—surprise—the ACC, there are a few out west worth staying up for, and no, neither is in the Pac-12.
All times Eastern.
No. 22 Indiana at Maryland
Friday, 7 p.m., FS1
Maryland comes into this game winners of four straight, including victories over Nebraska and Minnesota. The Hoosiers just had a seven-game winning streak snapped, but they get a pass considering it happened at No. 2 Michigan. In fact, Indiana trailed that game by 19 points in the first half, and deserves some credit for trimming Michigan’s lead to nine points with 10 minutes left. The Hoosiers will be shorthanded in this one, though, with Rob Phinisee already ruled out because of a concussion, and De’Ron Davis likely to sit with an ankle injury. Indiana may be the ranked team, but Maryland is the favorite in this game, thanks to those injuries, home-court advantage, and the interior duo of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith presenting a significant challenge to Indiana’s frontcourt. Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan must have big games, but Indiana will also need more out of players like Evan Fitzner and Zach McRoberts, who take on larger roles with Phinisee and Davis out.
Maryland 77, Indiana 70
Purdue at Wisconsin
Friday, 9 pm, FS1
This is a huge, early-season game in a Big Ten that might be the deepest conference in the country. Wisconsin rebounded from consecutive losses to Western Kentucky and Minnesota by beating Penn State on the road last weekend. Purdue, meanwhile, continues to take care of business against the teams it’s supposed to beat, but falling short against superior teams, most recently an 18-point loss at Michigan State. The Boilermakers are finally getting offense from people not named Carsen Edwards, but that could be hard to come by in Madison against a Badgers team ranked 13th in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency. What’s more, while Ethan Happ is a unique challenge for any defense, he’s particularly suited to carve up a Purdue squad that struggles to guard scorers in the paint. The emergence of Nate Reuvers alongside Happ makes this an even better matchup for the Badgers.
Wisconsin 73, Purdue 64
No. 4 Virginia at Clemson
Saturday, noon, ACC Network
What makes this year’s Virginia team different from last year’s, the one that became the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16? Namely, it’s the offense. Virginia finished last season ranked 30th in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency, and 98th in effective field goal percentage. This year, the Cavaliers are ranked fifth and 32nd, respectively, in those metrics. Last year, their three primary three-point shooters—Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Devon Hall—combined to shoot 39.8% from behind the arc. This year, Guy, Jerome and De’Andre Hunter are shooting 43.6% from distance. They can still fall into offensive lulls, and could use some more reliable interior scoring, but this is not a team that appears ripe for upset. Clemson, meanwhile, has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, and is off to an 0–2 start in ACC play. The Tigers played five teams of at-large quality and have lost to all five of them, which signals trouble ahead in the conference. They’ve been careless with the ball, turning it over on more than one-fifth of their possessions—not exactly a trait you want to bring into a game against an elite defensive team.
Virginia 68, Clemson 58
Louisville at No. 12 North Carolina
Saturday, noon, ESPN
The Tar Heels showed how special they can be in a 90–82 win at No. 15 NC State earlier this week. All five Tar Heels starters were in double figures, and they held a strong Wolfpack offense that’s ranked 12th in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency to 0.96 points per possession. There aren’t many team that can play that well on both sides of the floor against a high-quality opponent, and North Carolina proved it is one of them. The Tar Heels are 2–0 in conference, and have a real chance to pile up a ton of wins before suffering their first loss. After Louisville, they play Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech at home, Georgia Tech, then Louisville again, NC State at home, and Miami again. When the Tar Heels host Virginia on Feb. 11, it would not be a surprise if they were 10–0 in the ACC. Louisville is going to do what it can to take the air out of the ball in this game, so don’t be surprised if you see Chris Mack have three guys dropping back on defense once a shot goes up. The Cardinals simply can’t afford to let North Carolina get into its primary and secondary breaks. The Cardinals do a good job of cleaning up their own defensive glass, which can counteract one of the Tar Heels’ strengths. How they deal with all the other ones, however, is another question entirely.
North Carolina 87, Louisville 71
Kansas State at No. 20 Iowa State
This game could be the beginning of the end for Kansas State. The Wildcats are already staring long odds in the face without Dean Wade. Saturday’s game against the Cyclones kicks off a four-game stretch that also includes Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech, games in which the Wildcats will likely be underdogs. Lose all four, and it could already be time to start thinking about the NIT as a realistic best-case scenario. Iowa State could use a palate-cleanser after falling at Baylor earlier this week, and this is the right spot to get one. This is actually a nice test for the Cyclones, given that the Wildcats have done a decent job of slowing down the pace against all three of their Big 12 opponents thus far. Iowa State isn’t a run-and-gun team, but it has been one of the country’s brightest surprises thanks, in large part, to its efficient offense. Even without Wade, Kansas State can be a tough defense to crack.
Iowa State 68, Kansas State 57
Mississippi at No. 14 Mississippi State
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
This matchup may not jump off the page, but it should be one of the best, and most consequential, games of the weekend. Ole Miss is coming off a huge win over Auburn, just the sort of signature victory it needed after racking up 10 wins against a weak non-conference schedule. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, dropped a game in overtime at South Carolina earlier this week, which raises some questions as they enter their toughest stretch to date of the season. What’s the one victory on their résumé that stands out? Clemson on a neutral floor? Home against Cincinnati or SoCon powerhouse Wofford? There really isn’t one. After hosting Mississippi, the Bulldogs will play Florida, Kentucky and Auburn over the next two weeks. In other words, this almost—almost—has the feel of a must-win game, given that it’s in Starkville. Get ready for one of the best possible point guard matchups the conference can provide, with Breein Tyree on one side, and Lamar Peters on the other.
Mississippi State 76, Mississippi 70
No. 8 Texas Tech at Texas
Saturday, 2 p.m., Longhorn Network
This game is unique in that both of these teams rely much more heavily on their defense than their offense. We don’t see that too often in the modern game among high-majors with legitimate Final Four hopes, but Texas Tech has turned defense into an art form this season. The Red Raiders rank first in adjusted efficiency, effective field goal percentage, two-point percentage and three-point percentage, and third in turnover rate. The Red Raiders are the only team to slow down Duke at all this season, holding the Blue Devils to 69 points, though they still lost that game by 11. That could be a problem come tournament time, but it shouldn’t be one this weekend.
Texas Tech 66, Texas 56
No. 1 Duke at No. 13 Florida State
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Speak of the (Blue) Devils, they visit Florida State in what should be one of the best games of the weekend. Phil Cofer has been back in the Seminoles’ lineup for three weeks now after missing close to two months because of a foot injury. He has yet to put together a big performance, but has been increasing his playing time game by game, reaching 29 minutes in the win over Miami earlier this week. The Seminoles are going to need not only his offense, but also his size and athleticism in trying to slow down Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Florida State is one of the few teams in the country with the length on the wing to stick with Duke, at least on paper, but it can only do so if Cofer is able to play up to his own standards. It’s a shame this game can’t happen in a month or so when Cofer would almost certainly be at 100%, but there’s always the chance of a rematch in the ACC tournament.
Duke 83, Florida State 72
No. 25 TCU at No. 23 Oklahoma
Saturday, 2 p.m., FOX Sports Southwest
These teams are coming off losses, but there’s no shame in losing at Kansas (in TCU’s case) or at Texas Tech (in Oklahoma’s). If you’ve yet to watch the Sooners this season, let us implore you to tune into this game. A quick glance at their kenpom.com page will show you they rank eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency, 54th in adjusted tempo and 32nd in average possession length. That would suggest a team that turns over its opponents and gets a lot of its offense from its defense. That, however, is not the case. Oklahoma ranks 267th in defensive turnover rate, taking the ball away from its opponents on just 17.4% of possessions. Instead, it cleans up the defensive glass and gets into its sets as quickly as any team in the country. That’s a unique look for any defense and should be a good test for TCU. Jaylen Fisher is still dealing with knee issues dating back to last season’s meniscus tear, and has missed the team’s last two games. Even if he isn’t at full strength, his presence would make a huge difference in this game.
Oklahoma 70, TCU 67
Seton Hall at No. 21 Marquette
Saturday, 2 p.m., FS1
These teams are off to great starts in conference play, with Seton Hall at 3–1 in the Big East, and Marquette a game back at 2–1. The Golden Eagles pulled off one of the most stunning wins of the season earlier this week, erasing a five-point deficit with eight seconds left at Creighton, ultimately winning in overtime, 106–104. Markus Howard was a singular force all night and in overtime, scoring 14 of his 53 points in the extra period to lead the Golden Eagles to victory. Seton Hall has size in its backcourt to bother Howard, but that hasn’t been a problem for the Marquette junior thus far this season. More likely, the Pirates will need a big scoring effort from one of Myles Powell, Myles Cale or Sandro Mamukelashvili to stay in this one. They have an impressive résumé that includes wins over Kentucky, Maryland and Butler, but almost everything in this particular matchup tilts in Marquette’s favor.
Marquette 80, Seton Hall 71
No. 16 Ohio State at Iowa
Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
No one will fault Ohio State for losing to Michigan State at home last weekend, even though the Buckeyes took a seven-point lead into halftime. Everyone will fault the Buckeyes for following that up by losing at Rutgers to fall to 2–2 in the Big Ten. Iowa, on the other hand, is riding high after wins over Nebraska and Northwestern in its last two games. Ohio State’s offense faltered against both Michigan State and Rutgers when Kaleb Wesson wasn’t creating for himself or someone else, and that’s a major issue for the rest of the season. The Buckeyes may catch a big break this weekend, though, with Iowa center Tyler Cook still nursing an undisclosed injury. If Cook is out, the Hawkeyes are going to have a ton of trouble matching up with Wesson. In that case, we could see some zone from the Hawkeyes, especially since Ohio State isn’t especially dangerous from behind the arc or on the offensive glass. Still, no Cook would put the Hawkeyes at a significant disadvantage.
Ohio State 73, Iowa 72
Montana at Northern Colorado
Saturday, 4 p.m.
These are the two best teams in the Big Sky Conference, and while Montana is the favorite to take the league’s automatic bid, Northern Colorado is atop the standings at 4–0. Northern Colorado point guard Jordan Davis is first in the country with a ridiculous 38.1% usage rate. The senior is averaging 25.2 points while attempting 17.7 field goals per game. He’s the sort of scorer who can put a smaller team on his back, shooting 48.5% from the floor, 39.7% from three, and 80.5% at the line. On the other side, we find another high-usage point guard, senior Ahmaad Rorie, who’s scoring 15.7 points per game. Montana, however, gets a scoring punch inside, as well, from senior center Jamar Akoh, who’s averaging 16.6 points in eight games this season. These teams aren’t at-large contenders so this game won’t move the needle on the bubble, but it will be an early statement for the winner with an eye on the conference tournament.
Montana 75, Northern Colorado 72
No. 3 Tennessee at Florida
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
Florida had itself moving in the right direction before a home loss to South Carolina last weekend. Now the Gators are a team without a signature win and with one ugly loss, a formula that would have them closer to being out of the tournament than safely in if Selection Sunday were this weekend. They have a great opportunity to get that marquee victory on Saturday with No. 3 Tennessee in town. The Volunteers continue to steamroll opponents, winning all of their last six games by at least double-digits. Their last game that wasn’t decided by at least 10 points was a 76–73 win over No. 5 Gonzaga. The major concern for Florida is its lack of length on the wing. It’s hard enough for teams that can match up in size to slow down Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, and Florida is smaller than a lot of teams on the wing. Don’t be surprised if Mike White asks point guard Andrew Nembhard to match up with Schofield in this one.
Tennessee 78, Florida 71
No. 10 Nevada at Fresno State
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPNU
Nevada rebounded from its shocking 27-point loss at New Mexico by crushing San Jose State, 92–53. Still, it’s impossible to overstate what that loss could do to Nevada’s eventual seeding. As good as this team looks when it’s at its best, it may end the year without a win over a team worthy of an at-large bid. That will cap the Wolf Pack’s seed ceiling, even if they run the table the rest of the way. Fresno State finds itself on the fringes of the early at-large discussion, but could change that with a win on Saturday. If the Bulldogs are going to hang with the talented trio of Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline, they’ll need a big night from senior wing Braxton Huggins, who’s averaging 18.9 points per game while making more than 40% of his three-point attempts on the season. If he and Noah Blackwell are feeling good from distance, there’s sneaky upset potential here.
Nevada 78, Fresno State 73
No. 5 Gonzaga at San Francisco
Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2
The college basketball community is used to a second team from the West Coast Conference making a run at an at-large bid alongside Gonzaga, but that team has been either Saint Mary’s or BYU, with few exceptions. There’s a second WCC squad challenging for an at-large bid again, and that team has a potentially season-making chance on Saturday. The San Francisco Dons are making a run at what would be their first NCAA tournament bid since 1988. A one-time powerhouse that won consecutive national championships in 1955 and 1956 behind Bill Russell, the Dons have been an afterthought in the WCC for the better part of two decades. That’s not the case this season, thanks to the backcourt of Charles Minlend and Frankie Ferrari being the engine that makes this team go. Despite a strong performance in the non-conference, they’re likely going to need a win over Gonzaga if they’re going to earn an at-large bid. This is their best chance to get one, with this weekend’s game at home. The Dons do not have the firepower to keep up with Gonzaga in an up-and-down game over 40 minutes, so they need to do what they can to limit this game to as few possessions as possible. It’ll be fun to watch them try, even if they ultimately can’t do it.
Gonzaga 81, San Francisco 75
Villanova at Creighton
Sunday, noon, FOX
Villanova has righted the ship of late, winning its first three Big East games, including victories over Providence and St. John’s. Creighton, meanwhile, has lost to Butler and Marquette in its last two games, the latter of which in the heartbreaking fashion that we discussed earlier. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth have become do-it-all players for the Wildcats, partly out of necessity, and it will be interesting to see if they can carry the team to a victory with a step up in weight class. It’s not that Creighton is necessarily a better team than St. John’s, but Villanova won that game at home. This one is on the road, and the Wildcats’ best win outside Philadelphia this season was over Florida State on a neutral floor. Creighton doesn’t play much defense and doesn’t have the personnel to slow down big-time scorers like Paschall and Booth, but it has more than enough offense to counteract whatever those two do. The Bluejays are ranked sixth in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency, sixth in effective field goal percentage, third in three-point percentage and 13th in two-point percentage.
Creighton 84, Villanova 82