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Weekend picks: Michigan-UCLA highlights key battles across country

Well, the first week wasn’t as pleasant as we’d hoped.

But if you would have told me Lonzo Ball would go 2-for-8 from the 3-point line overall and commit five turnovers in the first half against a top-ranked Kentucky team in Lexington … and still find a way to win, we would have taken that bet every time. Kudos to a UCLA squad that’s off to a strong start as one of the top teams in the country.

West Virginia pounced on Virginia, too. Didn’t expect that.

We hit Arizona-Gonzaga and Baylor-Xavier, but we won’t accept 50 percent.

We’re perfect this week.

Last week: 2-2

Overall: 2-2

Michigan at No. 2 UCLA, 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN2: If Michigan’s 3-point mark of 34.9 percent stood for the duration of the season, it would be coach John Beilein’s lowest success rate from beyond the arc since the 2009-10 season. That Michigan team finished 15-17 and lost to Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. In Steve Alford’s first three seasons at UCLA, fewer than 30 percent of his team’s field goal attempts were 3s. This season, per KenPom.com, 37 percent of his squad’s tries come from beyond the arc. Not surprising for a team that shoots 45.4 percent from the 3-point line (second in the nation). More than 45 percent of Michigan’s attempts have been 3-pointers. Expect to see a bunch of long-range shots at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. That’s a great scenario for a UCLA squad that’s making those shots.

Prediction: UCLA 85, Michigan 74

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 23 Notre Dame (Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey), 12 p.m. ET, Saturday, CBS: Yes, Villanova is the No. 1 team in America, another highlight in the team’s attempt to become the first program since Florida in the mid-2000s to defend a national title. Yet Jay Wright’s undefeated squad still seems underappreciated, and its leader, Josh Hart (17.6 ppg, 62 percent inside the arc, 44 percent from the 3-point line), is still awaiting more buzz for his national player of the year campaign. A win over a dazzling Notre Dame offense that leads the nation in turnover rate and free-throw percentage (85.9 percent) will remind people of Villanova’s merits.

Prediction: Villanova 75, Notre Dame 72

No. 17 Wisconsin at Marquette, 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, FS1: A Badgers team that lost to Creighton and North Carolina had no reason to pout. Greg Gard’s squad had just lost to a Big East contender and a Tar Heels team that turned talk of ACC contention to a conversation about North Carolina’s shot at winning the national championship a year after losing the crown on a buzzer-beater. But the Badgers have won four in a row, a stretch that includes a 17-point victory over Syracuse during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Marquette is a solid team but Wisconsin continues to grow as Nigel Hayes (19-for-34 inside the arc in his last four games) continues to seek better looks (he’s made his only two 3-point attempts in the past four games after shooting 9-for-31 from behind the line in his first six games).

Prediction: Wisconsin 71, Marquette 65

No. 22 Cincinnati at No. 16 Butler, 4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, FS1: How did Butler lose to Indiana State on Wednesday despite shooting 56 percent from the 3-point line and forcing turnovers on one-fifth of its opponent’s possessions, per KenPom.com? The Bulldogs surrendered a 50 percent clip inside the arc and snatched just 27 percent of its missed shots. Bottom line: Butler couldn’t hang inside. And now Chris Holtmann’s squad will face a hot Cincinnati team (five consecutive wins) that, per hoop-math.com, is ranked third nationally in field goal percentage at the rim (81.2). That’s a problem for the Bulldogs.

Prediction: Cincinnati 73, Butler 67