For the first time this season, College Gameday is actually going to the right game. Last week, we were stuck with Creighton at Southern Illinois, and while last season that would have been an outstanding game, it was a snoozer this season (neither team broke the 50 point mark). The week before was Kentucky at Florida, and while we at least got a fun ballgame (went to overtime), the match-up was nothing like what we’re going to see this week. Arizona travels to Pauley Pavilion to take on UCLA, and ESPN will be there to cover it all. But don’t forget about some other critical games during the day on Saturday. Texas and Baylor face off in an intra-state battle, Stanford and Washington State duke it out in the West, and even the Big South will provide us its own marquee game.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Arizona at UCLA
It’s hard to say that UCLA is under the radar. And while the Bruins don’t truly fit that description, as a top 5 team UCLA does not seem to make as many headlines as Memphis, Kansas, North Carolina, or even Duke. Because of an early loss to Texas, the Bruins were taken out of the conversation as one of the remaining unbeaten, and an upset loss at home to USC helped keep UCLA out of the spotlight. The Bruins’ opponent is staying out of the headlines as well, but Arizona will soon capture the attention of the nation, assuming Kevin O’Neill’s team keeps up its recent hot streak.
The Wildcats have now won four straight games and with a win on national television Saturday, this could be a team looking to make a run in the Pac-10. This team is still somewhat of an unknown, however, and although recently they have looked good, there was a point in this season when the Wildcats looked very shaky. Of course, now that Jerryd Bayless is healthy, we should be seeing more of the “good” Arizona.
Unfortunately for UCLA, the “good” Arizona is good enough to pull an upset. But if the Bruins show up and play their patented hard-nosed style, they should be able to overpower the Wildcats. I’m not willing to pick Arizona in this game, but it’s not anything the Wildcats have done. It’s because of how much UCLA has impressed me lately, including a complete and utter shellacking of a good Arizona State team last night, winning by 33 points.
Prediction: UCLA 76, Arizona 71
Baylor at Texas
Rick Barnes has never lost a single game to Baylor since he’s been the head coach at Texas. And if you would have predicted a few years ago that Baylor could seriously compete with the rest of the Texas schools, including the Longhorns, in the Big 12, your friends would have checked you into a mental health facility. But amazingly, Scott Drew has transformed this Baylor program into an up-and-coming Big 12 powerhouse. Even coming off a discouraging blowout loss at Texas A&M, Texas should be able to take care of the Bears on Saturday. While I expect an battle for 40 minutes, the Longhorns have the athleticism and explosion at the guard position to match Baylor and will not be at a significant disadvantage inside like they were against Texas A&M.
Prediction: Texas 83, Baylor 80
Stanford at Washington State
Usually, when you are one of the top teams in the conference, you shouldn’t struggle with the 9th place team at home. But when the conference you play in is the Pac-10, it’s not all that surprising. So who was really that shocked when California beat Washington State in Pullman last night? Now, an even better team in Stanford will try to make it two consecutive losses for Wazzu. Stanford rides a four game winning streak into this game and may be on the verge of cracking the top of the Pac-10.
Prediction: Stanford 66, Washington State 65
Oklahoma at Texas A&M
Finally, Texas A&M got back on track by thrashing Texas, but the Aggies are still not in a favorable position in the Big 12 at 3-3. Surprisingly, the Aggies are fighting for their lives for an NCAA tournament berth, which Oklahoma is doing as well. That sets this game up as an even more important match-up. Both teams will be fighting for position in the Big 12 all year long, and whichever team comes away the winner in this one will hold a huge advantage. With Blake Griffin back, the Sooners look to be in great shape. Their next two games are against A&M, obviously, and then Texas- if OU can win one of these games, it can start talking NCAA tournament. Texas A&M righted the ship with its win over Texas and I see it continuing against Oklahoma.
Prediction: Texas A&M 75, Oklahoma 71
Pittsburgh at Connecticut
Without two key players in Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins, Connecticut rolled to two victories against Indiana and Louisville. The Huskies did not seem to have been much improved early on, but Jim Calhoun’s team is beginning to find some success. Pittsburgh may be the team ranked in the top 25, but Connecticut has been the better team as of late. Wild inconsistency has plagued Pittsburgh lately, and that hasn’t been a problem for the Huskies over the past several games.
Prediction: Connecticut 68, Pittsburgh 67
Tennessee at Mississippi State
Perhaps it was just time for Mississippi State to lose a basketball game- the Bulldogs recently lost to Arkansas for the first time since mid-December. It had to happen eventually, but what a run it was for the Bulldogs. A nine game winning streak, capped by a huge win over Mississippi, has the Bulldogs as one of the front-runners for the SEC West. Tennessee will most likely prove over the course of the season that it is the top team in the SEC, but there’s no reason why Mississippi State can’t compete with them. The Volunteers will have a great deal of trouble with the Bulldogs but Bruce Pearl should be able to come out of Starksville with a win if his team can perform relatively well.
Prediction: Tennessee 88, Mississippi State 82
Winthrop at North Carolina-Asheville
This game won’t get much attention from ESPN and the other media outlets, but this is the game that may decide the Big South regular season title. A rematch will take place on March 1, the last regular season game of the year for both teams, but if UNC-Asheville can win on Saturday it will gain a two game advantage. The Bulldogs are undefeated in the conference, but Winthrop has the experience advantage, having been to an NCAA tournament (even winning a game) last season.
Prediction: UNC-Asheville 69, Winthrop 66
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
Seton Hall at Georgetown
If Seton Hall wins five games in a row and nobody sees it, does it still count? Somehow, the Pirates are now 5-3 in the Big East and, believe it or not, might be able to sneak into the NCAA tournament this season. They still don’t have any victories over teams of Georgetown’s caliber. After Saturday they still won’t.
Prediction: Georgetown 73, Seton Hall 60
Florida at Arkansas
The Gators are streaking but Arkansas may be finally getting things together after blowing out Mississippi State. Even though Florida has been winning games, I can’t bring myself to be impressed. If they can win on the road here the Gators will have convinced me, but I’m picking Arkansas at home.
Prediction: Arkansas 83, Florida 76
Maryland at Georgia Tech
Gary Williams’ team was left for dead after a few embarrassing non-conference losses. Maryland’s outlook on the season quickly changed after a win at North Carolina, a close loss against Duke, and now a victory over Virginia. There is time to turn this season around, but I like the way Georgia Tech has been playing lately.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 76, Maryland 69
Syacuse at Villanova
Such a promising start turned into a catastrophe for Villanova. A loss on Saturday could send the Wildcats into an even more severe disaster mode. Even though they won at Syracuse a few weeks ago, the Orange will get revenge.
Prediction: Syracuse 68, Villanova 60
Miami at Duke
Miami couldn’t win at Wake Forest on Thursday. There’s no way the Hurricanes can win at Duke on Saturday.
Prediction: Duke 88, Miami 70
Marquette at Cincinnati
After holding West Virginia to less than 40 points, Cincinnati will look to keep playing that stifling defense against Marquette. The Bearcats keep on winning, but Marquette is good enough to hold them down for a game.
Prediction: Marquette 77, Cincinnati 66
Kansas State at Missouri
The only way Missouri wins this game, even if its suspended players return, will be if Kansas State suffers from the dreaded hangover resulting from Wednesday’s epic win over Kansas. The Tigers are so depleted right now it would take a no-show by the Wildcats for an upset to occur.
Prediction: Kansas State 85, Missouri 63
Daniel's overall prediction record: 79-34