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Picks: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 4 Michigan State Leads Weekend of Intriguing Matchups

It’s almost as though the people who meticulously craft the college basketball schedule know what they’re doing. This is the first weekend that college basketball does not have to share with the NFL, and it doubles as one of the finest weekend slates to date this season. We’ve got No. 3 at No. 4, No. 12 at No. 11, and a host of other intriguing matchups pitting ranked teams against likely tournament teams that aren’t part of the top 25 at the moment. And it all comes on the heels of one of the most exciting weeks of the college basketball season that has already seen two top-five teams lose and the latest installment in the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. See, doesn’t it seem like they know what they’re doing?

Butler at No. 1 Villanova

Saturday, noon ET, FOX

I was getting ready all week to say that Villanova would have the chance to avenge its only loss of the season in this game—and then the Wildcats went out and lost to St. John’s at home on Wednesday. So much for that. After Villanova lost to Butler earlier this year, it went out and put 100 points on Marquette (in regulation) in its next game. Butler is a legitimately dangerous team that just lost a heartbreaker to No. 5 Xavier in overtime, but this is a terrible spot. The Wildcats should exact their revenge, and then some. The one thing the Bulldogs do have going for them is that Kamar Baldwin is one of the few on-ball defenders in the country who can make Jalen Brunson’s life tough, but that won’t be enough.

Villanova 92, Butler 77

Texas at TCU

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU

TCU has just three games remaining in the regular season against certain or likely tournament teams. This is not only one of them, but it’s one which the Horned Frogs have the best shot at winning—the other two on the road against West Virginia and Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs once appeared a likely lock for the NCAA tournament, but five nail-biting losses and the injury to Jaylen Fisher have changed everything. The Horned Frogs need at least two resumé-builders to feel good about their tournament chances, which makes this game an absolute must-win. Even without Fisher, TCU has had the No. 1 offense by kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency in Big 12 play. That will have to show up to offset Texas’s No. 4 defense.

TCU 77, Texas 68

Mississippi State at Missouri

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2

The Bulldogs have surged into the at-large picture over the last two weeks with four straight wins over Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, all of which are contending for spots in the NCAA tournament. Missouri, meanwhile, has won three straight since losing to the Bulldogs, knocking off Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi. The Bulldogs are one of the few teams in the country to find consistent success without being a threat from distance, instead relying on a methodical offense that runs through the Weatherspoon brothers, Quinn and Nick, and ranks 14th in the country in two-point percentage. The Tigers rank 26th in two-point defense, which should help make the return matchup one to watch. Kassius Robertson was the only player to show up for Missouri in the first meeting, something that can’t happen if the Tigers are going to draw even in the season series.

Missouri 67, Mississippi State 60

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No. 21 North Carolina at NC State

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ACC Network

The Wolfpack already handled the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. Doing so in Raleigh should be a cakewalk, right? Allerik Freeman was out of his mind in that game, knocking down all seven of his three-point attempts. On the season, however, he’s just a 31.6% shooter from distance on 133 attempts. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels—a team that shoots 37.2% from three on the season—were just 4-for-19 in that game. Omer Yurtseven is a unique challenge for a UNC squad that doesn’t have anyone taller than 6’9” in its rotation, and the Wolfpack have the personnel to keep up in a track meet, but the Heels should even the score.

North Carolina 85, NC State 78

No. 5 Xavier at Creighton

Saturday, 2:30 p.m., FOX

Xavier is one of the hottest teams in the country, riding a seven-game winning streak into the weekend. These two teams met about a month ago, with Xavier cruising to a 92-70 win in Cincinnati. Khyri Thomas really struggled in that game scoring two points and making zero field goals in 34 minutes. It’s unlikely he plays that poorly again, but Xavier’s offense is so rock solid every week, thanks to the pairing of Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. This should be one of the most exciting games to watch this weekend, with these two teams playing at the second- and third-fastest paces in the Big East.

Creighton 83, Xavier 81

No. 3 Purdue at No. 4 Michigan State

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

It took seven weeks, but we finally got an exciting week in the Big Ten. It started with Ohio State upsetting Purdue in West Lafayette on Wednesday, and ends with the Boilermakers licking their wounds and heading up to East Lansing for a game with the Spartans on Saturday. Michigan State has the personnel to upset Purdue’s four-out, one-in offense, thanks largely to the versatility of Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges, but—as is always the case with Purdue—teams have to find a way to run the shooters off the three-point line. This is Purdue’s last chance to make a big statement before the end of the regular season, something that feels even more important after this week’s loss to the Buckeyes.

Purdue 76, Michigan State 74

No. 15 Tennessee at Alabama

Saturday, 6 p.m., SEC Network

Alabama enjoys its current No. 9 seed in the Bracket Watch thanks largely to its best wins. The Crimson Tide have nine losses, including ugly ones to Minnesota and UCF, but they also beat Auburn, Rhode Island, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Florida. In short, Tennessee can’t expect to waltz out of Tuscaloosa with a win. The problem for Alabama, though, is that there’s nothing it does particularly well as a whole where Tennessee is weak. The Volunteers are better defending the two than the three, but Alabama is 297th in the country in three-point shooting. The Vols are just 277th in defensive-rebounding rate, a shocking number for a team ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency, but Alabama cleans up just 29.3% of its misses, which ranks 166th in the country. If Alabama is going to win this game, it will likely take a major scoring effort from Collin Sexton.

Tennessee 72, Alabama 65

Virginia Tech at No. 2 Virginia

Saturday, 6:15 p.m., ESPN

Virginia is one win away from being the No. 1 team in the country and is a significant favorite to get it against a Virginia Tech team that could not possibly play any different a style. If the Hokies are going to have any chance at pulling off the upset, they’ll have to go into Charlottesville and force Virginia into the type of game it does not want to play. When was the last time that worked for an opponent in Charlottesville when Tony Bennett has as good a team as he does this year? The Cavaliers strangled the Hokies offense when these teams met in Blacksburg, holding them to 52 points and 0.76 points per possession. It would be a surprise if the story were any different this time around.

Virginia 68, Virginia Tech 51

UCLA at Arizona State

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

UCLA scored a monster win on Thursday, going into Tucson and emerging with an 82-74 win over Arizona. We had them just on the outside of the field of 68 in our Thursday Bracket Watch, but that win likely got them on just the right side of the bubble. A sweep of the state of Arizona would leave no doubt about where they stand with one month until Selection Sunday. The Bruins and Sun Devils teams are quite similar. They both feature mediocre-at-best defenses and strong, efficient offenses that like to play fast. They both shoot it decently from behind the arc, but mostly excel at getting a lot of possessions and playing to a tempo that puts the defense in unfamiliar, uncomfortable positions. The bet here is that Arizona State will play a better style of that game, especially at home.

Arizona State 84, UCLA 77

No. 7 Texas Tech at Kansas State

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The country forgot about Texas Tech when it dropped three of four games over a two-week stretch in January and it’s tempting to say that the Red Raiders bounced back since then, but it’s also worth noting that they haven’t seen the cream of the Big 12 crop on their current five-game winning streak. The Red Raiders match up exceedingly well with Kansas State, one of the few teams in the conference that plays at a slower pace. Kamau Stokes is back for the Wildcats, but it’s likely Barry Brown who will have to figure out a way to slow down Keenan Evans. The Texas Tech senior went for 27 points the first time these teams met, a 74-58 Red Raiders win.

Texas Tech 70, Kansas State 63

No. 24 Kentucky at Texas A&M

Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Kentucky has a way of making every game it plays about the Wildcats, but we’re not going to let that happen here. Texas A&M is back in a big way after winning three straight games, the most recent of which was a huge 81-80 triumph at Auburn. That was the Aggies best win of the season and it marked their return as a potentially dangerous tournament team. They were without at least two of Duane Wilson, D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder for most of their five-game losing streak to start SEC play. With all three of them back on the floor, they look like the team that started the season 11-1, with a win over West Virginia and its only loss a three-point reversal against Arizona. If the Aggies win this one, don’t let anyone tell you that it was an upset.

Texas A&M 73, Kentucky 67

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No. 12 Gonzaga at No. 11 Saint Mary’s

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Saint Mary’s has a golden opportunity to sweep the season series from Gonzaga, which would all but lock up the outright WCC regular season title. This game could go a long way toward NCAA tournament seeding for both of these teams. The Bulldogs clearly have the superior non-conference resumé, with neutral-floor wins over Ohio State and Texas, and a home victory over Creighton. Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, lost to Georgia and Washington State, with their best non-conference victory coming at home against New Mexico State. If the Gaels sweep the Bulldogs, though, it might be hard for the Selection Committee to give Gonzaga the better seed. Gonzaga will need to find a way to slow down Jock Landale, who had 26 points on 12-for-15 shooting in the first game, to even the series.

Saint Mary’s 72, Gonzaga 70

USC at No. 13 Arizona

Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Trojans are in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament, despite what looks like a strong case when considering the cosmetic numbers. The Trojans may have 17 wins and an 8-4 record in the Pac-12, but they do not have a win over a likely at-large team. Their only wins against likely tournament teams came against Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State, powerhouses in Conference USA and the WAC, respectively. They missed an opportunity on Thursday, losing at Arizona State. Saturday’s game with Arizona—which has lost twice since Thanksgiving—is the Trojans last chance to get a win over an at-large quality team in the regular season. If they don’t get it, they’ll have to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament.

Arizona 83, USC 73

No. 6 Cincinnati at SMU

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

If SMU wants to prove it belongs in the NCAA tournament, this is the game it needs to win. The Mustangs won on a neutral floor over Arizona and at Wichita State, but that might not be enough to offset losses to Tulsa, Connecticut, Tulane and Northern Iowa. Adding Cincinnati to the resumé could do the trick. The problem, however, is that this is a terrible matchup for the Mustangs. You won’t run into too many teams that hold offenses to 85.6 points per 100 possessions (second in the country behind Virginia), grab 39.2% of their own misses (second in the country behind Duke) and feature a scorer like Gary Clark, who’s eighth in kenpom.com’s Player of the Year rankings. Cincinnati is far and away the better team and it will likely manifest on Sunday.

Cincinnati 68, SMU, 59

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