This weekend of college basketball may be a key lesson in the important of matchups in college basketball.
Let’s start with Duke: A team that’s had trouble with stopping opposing guards. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant knows first hand and would like to again prove that guards like him are Blue Devil Kryptonite.
Then there’s Villanova, a team that’s made easy work most of its Big East schedule but lost in a blowout to Georgetown. Does John Thompson III hold the key to beating up on Nova? The Wildcats will find out.
In the Big 12, West Virginia often wins the matchup in the full-court press, and Baylor often wins the matchup on the offensive glass. Which one will take over in Morgantown?
And Virginia’s ability to defend might only be only matched by their resilience in the last week. Louisville has displayed plenty of mental fortitude, too, this season, but do the Cardinals have the offensive game to beat Virginia in Charlottesville? Maybe not.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 7-8
All times Eastern
Tennessee at Georgia
Saturday, noon, ESPN2
With a top 25 RPI and a 2-4 record against the top 50, Georgia has a passable NCAA resume. The Bulldogs have lost their last two games, but that came without leading scorer Marcus Thornton, who was out with a concussion. If Thornton returns, Georgia can re-establish itself during the next week against a pesky Tennessee team and on the road against Texas A&M.
Pick: Georgia 70-59
Baylor at West Virginia
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
Neither is going to catch up to Kansas for the Big 12 title, but these are two squads that each do one thing really, really well. West Virginia is an average defensive team in the halfcourt, but the Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate and steal percentage. Led by Rico Gathers, Baylor is the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Steals and second-chance points will be the name of the game. We’ll take it.
Pick: West Virginia 68-62
Notre Dame at Duke
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
Duke gets another shot at Notre Dame after the Irish got two late miracle shots to help defeat the Blue Devils 77-73 on Jan. 28. Expect another shootout as Notre Dame and Duke rank in the top four nationally on offensive efficiency. Duke is only getting more dangerous, especially as freshman Justise Winslow (30 points and 21 rebounds in his last two games) rounds into March form.
Pick: Duke 75-70
Georgetown at Villanova
Saturday, 2 p.m., FOX
Villanova had a bit of a Creighton problem last season, losing twice to the Bluejays in routs. Might the Wildcats have the same issue with Georgetown this year? Villanova has lost twice this season; the only time in regulation came by 20 to Georgetown. That meeting truly was an outlier against a solid defensive squad from Nova. Georgetown averaged 1.18 points per possession in that game and shot 51.5 percent from 2 and 50 percent from 3 in that meeting. Does Villanova get revenge?
Pick: Georgetown 68-65
Kansas at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Never doubt Kansas in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have reeled off five wins in a row since an 86-81 loss at Iowa State. Kansas, though, has played three of those five games at the Phog, the only road games against TCU and slumping Texas. Kansas beat Oklahoma State 67-57 on Jan. 13, but it wasn’t easy. In a sloppy effort, the two teams combined for 71 free throw attempts and shot 6-of-28 from 3-point range.
Pick: Kansas 72-68
Louisville at Virginia
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Virginia deserves credit for answering its first loss of the season with a quick, resilient win. The Cavaliers lost in the final five minutes to Duke on Saturday and then turned around to beat North Carolina convincingly on the road on Monday. The Cardinals have re-established themselves as contenders, but they may be an awful matchup against Virginia’s defense. Long-range shooting from multiple players is one of they keys to the pack-line defense, and Louisville doesn’t exactly meet that criteria.
Pick: Virginia 67-57
SMU at Tulsa
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPNU
SMU-Tulsa probably wasn’t many people’s idea of a key American Athletic Conference game to start the season, but it’s turned out to be a game between the top two teams in the league standings. Tulsa has been one of the surprises of the league, starting 5-5 and then winning 11 in a row, including 10 in the AAC. SMU won eight in a row before losing at home to Cincinnati on Thursday. The Bearcats are 2-0 against SMU for the Mustangs' only two AAC losses.
Pick: SMU 63-60
UCLA at Cal
Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
OK, UCLA, you have our attention. Since Jan. 29, the Bruins have defeated Utah at home and Stanford on the road, the latter giving UCLA a season sweep of the Cardinal. The Bruins have had some poor performances against top 100 teams this season, but they also haven’t lost to a team outside of the RPI top 100. That makes for a team inching its way into the NCAA Tournament, provided it can sustain its momentum on the road against a Cal team riding a three-game win streak.
Pick: UCLA 70-65
Kentucky at Florida
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Kentucky may not be challenged in SEC play, but the Wildcats going on the road against one of its top rivals in conference is worth keeping an eye on. The Gators started to play their way into being one of the more interesting teams in the second half of the conference season before a no-show against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The matchup of Kentucky’s frontcourt size does not favor Florida, to say the least.
Pick: Kentucky 70-59
Maryland at Iowa
Sunday, 3:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
A key game for confidence for both teams. Iowa has lost three of the last five, albeit twice to Wisconsin. Maryland hasn’t won a Big Ten road game since Jan. 10 against Purdue, losing in lospided fashion to Indiana and Ohio State. All the action, though, will be on one side of the court — Maryland’s offense and Iowa’s defense are in the bottom four of the Big Ten in efficiency while Iowa’s offense and Maryland’s defense are both in the top four.
Pick: Maryland 68-66