Let’s talk about last weekend’s picks.
They weren’t good. Six top-10 teams lost on the same day for just the fifth time in the history of the Associated Press poll. So last week’s poor results? Meh. Who could have predicted that chaos?
We feel more confident about Saturday’s prime-time game between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s on Saturday in Moraga, California.
Last week: 2-5
No. 1 Gonzaga at No. 20 Saint Mary’s, 8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN: College Gameday’s trip to Moraga, California, proves this is one of college basketball’s most significant rivalries. Gonzaga entered the week with a 34.7 percent chance to win out, according to ESPN’s BPI. Saturday’s game is its most difficult test prior to the West Coast Conference tournament. If the Bulldogs beat Saint Mary’s, their chances of ending the regular season and potentially entering the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record will exponentially increase. They’ll also slide into the driver’s seat for the top overall seed on Selection Sunday.
And they’ll enter this matchup with the confidence from the first game, a 79-56 win. In that meeting, Gonzaga’s starters connected on 70 percent of their shots inside the arc, while Saint Mary’s starters made just 34 percent of their 2-pointers. The latter was far off the Gaels’ top-10 clip. But Jock Landale (5-for-11) was the only Saint Mary’s starter who made an offensive impact.
That should change Saturday. The Gaels have won six consecutive games since the first matchup against Gonzaga. They’ve won three of those games by 20 points or more, including Saturday’s 71-27 win over San Diego.
So don’t expect another lopsided outcome.
But here’s the issue: even if Saint Mary’s shoots closer to its season average, it will still face a Gonzaga defense down the stretch that’s ranked fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com, a number accrued on a resume that features wins over Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Tennessee.
So even in a closer game, Saint Mary’s -- like Gonzaga’s previous opponents -- could struggle during the final minutes on the offensive end of the floor against one of Mark Few’s most effective defensive teams.
Prediction: Gonzaga 89, Saint Mary’s 86 (overtime)
No. 5 Oregon at USC, 10:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Pac-12 Network: Oregon’s double-digit win over Arizona on the same day Kansas suffered a home loss to Iowa State made the Ducks the team with America’s longest home winning streak. They have not lost in Eugene, Oregon, in more than two years. And that’s crazy.
But they have not found the same success on the road in recent years. Last season, they suffered road losses to UNLV and Stanford. This season, they lost by nine at Colorado.
The same USC squad that upset UCLA will create problems for Oregon in Los Angeles, especially with 6-foot-10 forward Bennie Boatwright back in the mix, following an extensive absence due to a knee injury. The zone they used to attack the Bruins could stifle the Ducks, too.
Prediction: USC 77, Oregon 75
No. 2 Villanova at No. 24 Xavier, 2:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Fox: No Edmond Sumner, but the Musketeers continue to roll. They entered the week on a four-game winning streak, which includes last weekend’s remarkable victory at Creighton.
Sumner’s season-ending knee injury changed Xavier in a multitude of ways. But the team had made 39.5 percent of its 3-pointers without him on the floor this season entering the week, according to hooplens.com. How? Trevon Bluiett, who has made nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers this season, finished 9-for-19 from beyond the arc in the three games that followed his team’s win over St. John’s, the night Sumner suffered his injury. The team made 24 of its 56 3-point attempts in that stretch.
They’re getting hot at the right time.
The only problem is this: Villanova is evolving into a monster that could defend its national championship in April.
Prediction: Villanova 78, Xavier 77
Kansas State at No. 13 West Virginia, 12 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN: Remember when Morgantown was a sacred place? Opponents hated to make that trip. They still do. But West Virginia’s failures at home this year against unranked opponents -- losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- cost WVU some of that mystique.
Still a good team. But questions remain about which Mountaineers will show up in March. In their first game against Kansas State, the Mountaineers committed turnovers on 31 percent of their possessions in a loss. Kansas State entered the week second only to West Virginia in defensive turnover rate in Big 12 play.
The Wildcats beat Baylor on the road last week. They turn up for the big shows. But they’d lost four of their previous five games entering the week. Hard to trust a team on the road in a close game when they’re shooting around 67 percent from the free throw line.
Prediction: West Virginia 84, Kansas State 76
No. 15 Kentucky at Alabama, 1 p.m. ET, Saturday, CBS: John Calipari said he wanted to put his team through a three-hour practice after it surrendered 85 points to LSU. Now, the Wildcats will face an Alabama squad that outlasted South Carolina, possessor of the SEC’s top defense, in four overtimes. They can’t sleep on Bama. They won’t.
Prediction: Kentucky 86, Alabama 74