Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer 279d

Weekend picks: Louisville extends Duke's troubles in a weekend of high-powered battles



Well, another step back last week.

We gave Wisconsin a boost after its victory at Indiana. Figured the Badgers would achieve the same feat against Purdue. But the Boilermakers proved a more complex matchup.

But how about Oakland going to Valpo and winning?

Last week: 2-2

Overall: 11-12

No. 7 Duke at No. 14 Louisville, noon ET Saturday, ESPN: If only you could merge the two. Louisville’s defense and Duke’s offense. The Cardinals are ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency and Duke is ranked eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency, per ESPN.com research.

Louisville held seven of its first 16 opponents under 60 points. And Duke’s squad features four players -- Luke Kennard, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden -- who are on Chad Ford’s Big Board. Plus Grayson Allen is still a capable force.

Yet their respective flaws will affect the game. Without Amile Jefferson -- who could miss Saturday’s meeting or play sparingly due to a foot injury -- Duke surrendered 88 points in a loss to Florida State earlier this week. The Blue Devils could fall behind in the ACC race if Jefferson misses multiple games with the ailment.

The Cardinals are unreliable shooters. They needed a more effective offense when they scored just 53 points against Virginia and 70 against Notre Dame, both losses. They’ve made just 47.9 of their shots inside the arc. Georgia Tech is the only team in the ACC that’s less effective inside the 3-point line.

So what do you get when you match a talented offensive unit potentially missing its senior leader and a strong defensive unit that might fall behind if Duke gets hot? Well, a great offense usually earns the nod over a great defense in these scenarios. But Duke’s challenges on the road will continue against a Louisville squad that defeated Kentucky at the KFC YUM! Center in December.

Prediction: Louisville 78, Duke 76

No. 9 Florida State at No. 11 North Carolina, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN: Is Florida State for real? Yes, we know Leonard Hamilton’s squad has victories over Duke, Virginia, Florida and Minnesota. Yes, we know Hamilton is a legit national coach of the year candidate after soaring to an early lead in the ACC with a 4-0 record in conference play.

But this is Florida State, a squad that has endured four three-game losing streaks in ACC play since the start of the 2013-14 season. Hamilton’s squad also suffered a five-game skid in conference play last season. Will the Seminoles sustain their current pace? Can this squad compete for the ACC title? Valid questions. We’ll know more Saturday. Champions win road matchups against the blue bloods. At a minimum, they’re competitive.

Hamilton’s squad has the length, athleticism and firepower to compete with a talented North Carolina squad. Noles guard Dwayne Bacon (17.8 points per game) is an ACC player of the year contender. His team plays fast and connects on 37.4 percent of its 3-pointers.

This still doesn’t feel real, though. Saturday’s victory at North Carolina won’t, either.

Prediction: Florida State 84, North Carolina 80

No. 15 Xavier at No. 12 Butler, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, FS1: Edmond Sumner returned to Xavier for his sophomore season because he hoped to lead the Musketeers to a Big East title and the Final Four, two reasonable goals for a strong squad. But the guard has to address his trend of trouble in the team’s losses to make that happen; he's a combined 11-for-37 from the field in Xavier’s three defeats.

Butler’s Kelan Martin encountered similar problems in his team’s three losses, finishing those games a combined 13-for-45 from the field. We expect both players to bring it Saturday, however, in a crucial Big East matchup. The ultimate difference in the game? Butler’s range (38.7 percent from the 3-point line).

Prediction: Butler 77, Xavier 72

No. 1 Baylor at No. 25 Kansas State, 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU: How did the Big 12 congratulate Baylor for its first-ever No. 1 ranking? By sending the Bears to Morgantown to face a West Virginia team forcing turnovers on 37 percent of its opponents' possessions.

Baylor has manufactured its impressive résumé -- wins over Louisville, Oregon, Michigan State, Xavier, VCU and Iowa State -- by earning significant victories at home or on neutral courts. But the West Virginia loss kicked off a stretch in which the Bears play five of seven games on the road.

Kansas State hasn’t lost at home yet. Baylor will, however, overwhelm Bruce Weber’s squad with its size and efficiency around the rim. But Wesley Iwundu and the Wildcats are strong and they force a lot of turnovers (12th in defensive turnover rate). They’re no West Virginia, though.

Prediction: Baylor 83, Kansas State 77

No. 21 Saint Mary’s at No. 5 Gonzaga, 10 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2: The fear this week? Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s might somehow overlook their opponents as they prepared for the rivalry game Saturday. That didn’t happen.

On Thursday, Gonzaga made 56 percent of its 3-pointers in a win Thursday over Loyola Marymount, and Saint Mary’s outscored Portland 37-9 in the first half of its victory. They’re ready to go.

Both squads have made nearly 40 percent of their 3-point attempts. And they’re anchored by fluid big men. Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams comprise one of the nation’s best frontcourts for the Zags. Dane Pineau and Jock Landale lead a talented Saint Mary’s squad.

Gonzaga, however, is ranked eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. The Bulldogs have defeated Florida, Iowa State and Arizona. Saint Mary’s, which lost to UT-Arlington, just hasn’t proved itself against an elite foe like Gonzaga yet.

The Gaels are a good team. But they’re not on Gonzaga’s level right now.

Prediction: Gonzaga 77, Saint Mary’s 71

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