Weekend picks: Villanova over Syracuse?

Well, I went 3-2 again last weekend. I missed Michigan State-Texas, obviously. I thought the Longhorns would thrive on the comforts of its home floor and their growing confidence following a win over North Carolina the previous week. But sometimes, it’s as simple as talent. And Adreian Payne and Gary Harris were just too much for a young Texas team.

I also had no idea that UMass standouts Sampson Carter and Chaz Williams would go 6-for-26 combined in the Minutemen’s loss to Florida State.

Let’s see what happens with this post-Christmas slate.

Last week: 3-2

Overall: 10-5


No. 8 Villanova at No. 2 Syracuse, 2 p.m. ET, CBS: Get your popcorn ready for this one. Two of the best teams in the country. A pair of former (old) Big East contenders. Both undefeated. Even though Kentucky and Louisville will face off on Saturday, this is the day’s must-see matchup. JayVaughn Pinkston and Co. have already knocked off Iowa and Kansas at neutral sites. But this will be Villanova’s first true road game of the year outside the city of Philadelphia (the Wildcats secured a 98-68 win at Saint Joseph’s on Dec. 7). The Carrier Dome won’t be its biggest issue. Syracuse’s ability to force turnovers (third in defensive turnover percentage according to Ken Pomeroy) could stall Villanova’s potent offense (82.5 ppg).

Prediction: Villanova 76, Syracuse 75

No. 6 Louisville at No. 18 Kentucky, 4 p.m. ET, CBS: Well, Kentucky isn’t the Kentucky we thought it would be before the season began. John Calipari doesn’t have as many NBA-ready players on his roster as the early hype suggested. But the Wildcats are still one of the most talented teams in America. Louisville, however, is another complete and thorough opponent for the young program. The emergence of Montrezl Harrell on Rick Pitino’s roster has allowed the Cardinals to implement various lineups and showcase their depth. They’re top-five in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. But they’ve accrued those numbers with a schedule that has featured squads that lack a fraction of Kentucky’s talent. The Wildcats couldn’t top Baylor or North Carolina or Michigan State. But they’ve played some of the best in the country. Will that help on Saturday?

Prediction: Louisville 72, Kentucky 68

No. 25 Missouri at North Carolina State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2: North Carolina State lost every significant player from a 2012-13 squad that failed to meet its potential except T.J. Warren. Expectations are much lower this year with a young Wolfpack squad. Warren (23.6 ppg) has led his team to seven consecutive wins. North Carolina State has been solid in recent weeks. And this is a home game. But Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross comprise one of the top backcourts in the country. The Tigers average 14.0 turnovers per game. But ballhandling issues won’t stop them from earning a win in their first road game of the season.

Prediction: Missouri 82, North Carolina State 74

Alabama at UCLA, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Alabama lost some of its best players as the result of offseason turmoil. A potential NCAA tourney squad before the drama is now 5-6 entering the final stretch of the nonconference season. But Trevor Releford (17.0 ppg) has kept Bama alive in multiple games throughout his career. He’s carrying as much weight as any player in the country. The Bruins are nearly top-25 good. They have NBA-level talent in Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson. But this might be interesting. Although Alabama has lost more games than it has won this season, four of its losses were by five or less. Bama has pushed multiple opponents to the brink. Will it finally finish a game against UCLA?

Prediction: UCLA 78, Alabama 75

Providence at No. 23 Massachusetts, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Last week, UMass suffered its first loss of the year when it was outplayed in a sloppy outing against Florida State. The Minutemen were ultimately doomed by their 17 turnovers. The latter have been an issue all year for the speedy group. They’re averaging 15.0 a game. Providence has endured injuries, suspensions and drama all year. The Friars have won 10 games against a fairly weak schedule, excluding Kentucky. They have to slow Derek Kellogg’s offense and not only force turnovers but capitalize on them. And if this is a close game, Providence will rely on its 81.6 percent clip from the free throw line. That could be a factor. But UMass has been humbled. And it really can’t play much worse than it did last week in a game that it still had a chance to win.

Prediction: UMass 77, Providence 70