Remember that thing I said about going 5-0 last weekend?
I made the mistake of betting against a Virginia team that can win the ACC again and betting on a VCU squad that hasn’t delivered in critical moments this season.
Other than that, everything worked out.
Kentucky handled Texas, Kansas beat Florida, Wisconsin topped Marquette, and Arizona squeezed by a good Gonzaga squad in overtime.
I’m even more confident in this weekend’s slate. Forget this 4-1 nonsense.
I’ll go a perfect 5-0. For real this time.
Last week: 4-1
No. 21 North Carolina at No. 1 Kentucky, 12 p.m. ET, Saturday, CBS: Well, here we go. This game doesn’t have the same fire we assumed it would a few months back, but it’s still another chance for Kentucky to face an elite-ish program with the athletes and size to make this game interesting. And the Wildcats, who were down at halftime to Columbia earlier this week, haven’t looked invincible in their past couple of games. But if North Carolina can’t get to the rim (Kentucky has the best defense inside the arc in the country, per Ken Pomeroy) and the Tar Heels can’t hit 3s (299th in the nation at 28 percent) then they’re done. A Marcus Paige-goes-Michael Jordan performance wouldn’t change that.
Prediction: Kentucky 80, North Carolina 65
No. 14 Iowa State at Iowa, 8:06 p.m. ET, Friday, Big Ten Network: This rivalry didn’t need any drama, but Bryce Dejean-Jones' arrest on Thursday and subsequent suspension will have a major impact on this game. He’s the Cyclones’ No. 2 scorer, top rebounder and one of their best 3-point shooters. He’s arguably the most significant player on the roster. Iowa State loses a key shooter and a big defender it could use to help against Iowa’s big front line. The Hawkeyes are holding teams to a 25.7 percent clip from the 3-point line, where the Cyclones thrive. That’s why the loss of BDJ will be so damaging for the Cyclones and such a plus for Aaron White and Iowa on Friday night.
Prediction: Iowa 72, Iowa State 69
No. 9 Gonzaga at UCLA, 10 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN2: Sure, I was hard on Kevin Pangos & Co. after Mark Few’s program unraveled in Saturday’s loss to Arizona in overtime. But the Bulldogs are elite. They’re a balanced team with a varied offense and they’re playing some of the best defense in the country (33rd in defensive efficiency). The Bruins are still threats in the Pac-12. Norman Powell is one of the best all-around players in the country, Bryce Alford has been an efficient PG, Kevon Looney might be a lottery pick and Tony Parker is finally living up to some of the hype. But mediocre defense (71st in defensive efficiency), especially around the arc, will be UCLA’s downfall.
Prediction: Gonzaga 79, UCLA 69
No. 13 Utah vs. No. 10 Kansas, Sprint Center, Kansas City, 3:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN: Utah is rolling right now. A four-point loss at San Diego State in mid-November is the only blemish on its résumé. It has a respectable top-40 offense and defense, wins over Wichita State and at BYU in its past two games, and a star in Delon Wright. The Utes have been strong, even though they’re playing without Jordan Loveridge. Just one problem: They’re facing a Kansas team that just got its swagger back. The Jayhawks have issues and inconsistency. But they also have a more confident Brannen Greene, a tough frontcourt anchored by Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander, and talent that's learning how to play together. All of that matters. But Jakob Poeltl will still lead the Utes to a big upset.
Prediction: Utah 67, Kansas 64
No. 23 Northern Iowa at VCU, 7 p.m., Saturday, NBC Sports Network: Don’t call this a mid-major matchup. Northern Iowa will make the Missouri Valley Conference more than the Wichita State Show this season. And VCU is so desperate for something, anything, positive in a season that was supposed to be Shaka Smart’s best since the 2011 Final Four run. As we discussed last week, the biggest difference between VCU’s defense last season and this season is that these Rams aren't wreaking havoc on the perimeter (from 30 percent to 41 percent shooting allowed from behind the arc). The Panthers are respectable from the 3-point line (38 percent) and they have a bunch of gritty guys such as Seth Tuttle and Marvin Singleton who will make this a war.
Prediction: UNI 75, VCU 72 (OT)