Picks: Duke-North Carolina headlines intriguing weekend slate
No. 24 Iowa State (20-9) at No. 10 West Virginia (23-7)
Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
It is rare that we get a Friday night meeting between two ranked teams, so let’s savor this one. The Cyclones may live and die with the three, but they’ve been living it up during a six-game win streak that includes victories at home over Baylor and Oklahoma State. However, that’s a tough show to take on the road, and the Mountaineers were actually the better three-point shooting team (10 for 21) when they drubbed the Cyclones in Hilton Coliseum by 13 points on Jan. 31.
West Virginia 80, Iowa State 70
No. 12 Florida (24-6) at Vanderbilt (16-14)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
It won’t be easy for Vanderbilt to rebound emotionally from that near-upset in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, but necessity is the mother of invention. The Commodores, who lead the SEC in made threes per game (10.1), need this win to have a chance at a tourney bid. They also match up well with the Gators, as evidenced by their 68-66 win in Gainesville on Jan. 21.
Vanderbilt 78, Florida 72
Michigan State (18-12) at Maryland (23-7)
Saturday, 2 p.m., BTN
These are two teams going in the opposite direction. The season-ending knee injury to senior guard Eron Harris has forced Tom Izzo to unleash his freshmen. The Spartans have won four of their last six and have regained the bounce in their step. The Terps’ freshmen, meanwhile, look like they’ve hit the proverbial late-season wall as this team has lost three out of four. A home finale against a good team is exactly what the Terps need to recharge their batteries.
Maryland 76, Michigan State 69
No. 19 Notre Dame (23-7) at No. 8 Louisville (23-7)
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
It’s pretty amazing that it’s the first week of March and the Fighting Irish are on a six-game win streak and alone in second place in the ACC. Unfortunately, they’re catching the Cardinals returning home in a bad mood following their defeat at Wake Forest. That was Louisville’s second loss in three games, so it’s a safe bet they will be prepared to defend with purpose.
Louisville 82, Notre Dame 74
No. 25 Miami (20-9) at No. 15 Florida State (23-7)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ACC Network
Nothing like a Saturday afternoon clash between two basketball schools to get you ready for March Madness. Miami lost a tough one at Virginia Tech Monday night, but the Hurricanes have played terrific basketball the last four weeks, and they’ve gotten an unexpected boost from their young backcourt of freshman Bruce Brown and sophomore Anthony Lawrence. On the other hand, the Seminoles trounced Miami on their own homecourt by 18 points back on Feb. 1. Can’t see any reason why the outcome would be different in Tallahassee.
Florida State 79, Miami 69
Wake Forest (17-12) at Virginia Tech (21-8)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., ACC Network
It’s pretty amazing that the Hokies could lose Chris Clarke, their top rebounder and fourth-leading scorer, to an ACL injury yet win four of five games without him. They got a career-high 24 points from his replacement, 6’6” junior Ty Outlaw, in their win over Miami Monday night. It won’t be easy containing Wake Forest forward John Collins, who ranks in the top three in the ACC in scoring (19.3) and rebounding (9.8) and blocks (1.66), but I think the Hokies are up for the challenge, especially at home.
Virginia Tech 69, Wake Forest 65
No. 1 Kansas (27-3) at Oklahoma State (20-10)
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
The Pokes put up quite a fight in Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 14 before losing by seven. They are coming into this one red hot, having won ten of their last 12, with the two losses coming by a combined six points. The Jayhawks have great mental toughness, but they also have zero incentive having already wrapped up their 13th straight Big 12 title. I’ll go with the home team in this one.
Oklahoma State 77, Kansas 74
No. 17 Duke (23-7) at No.5 North Carolina (25-6)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
The Tar Heels are a different team than the one that lost in Cameron Indoor Stadium three weeks ago. That night, they were without 6’9” senior forward Isaiah Hicks, which made it easier for Duke freshman Jayson Tatum to explode for 19 second-half points. Also, 6’6” junior forward Theo Pinson played but he had missed the previous three games with an injury. Those guys are at full strength, Duke is hobbling, and the game is being played in the Dean Dome. Pretty easy call.
North Carolina 81, Duke 71
No. 16 Purdue (24-6) at Northwestern (21-9)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CBS
A couple of weeks ago, this was shaping up to be a game with huge ramifications. But Purdue has locked up the Big Ten title thanks to Wisconsin’s loss at home to Iowa, and the Wildcats sewed up their NCAA bid with that miracle finish Wednesday night against Michigan. Northwestern is going to have a hard getting its emotions back up, and most teams have a hard time dealing with Biggie Swanigan.
Purdue 75, Northwestern 64
Minnesota (23-7) at No. 22 Wisconsin (22-8)
Sunday, 6 p.m., BTN
My goodness, what has happened to the Badgers? Their lack of consistent outside shooters beyond Bronson Koenig is making it way too easy for offenses to key in on Ethan Happ. And this is just not a good enough defensive team to overcome that problem right now. The Golden Gophers are a difficult matchup because they are so physical and athletic. We’re used to thinking of the Badgers as virtually unbeatable in the Kohl Center, but that was so six weeks ago.
Minnesota 64, Wisconsin 60