This is the end, my friends. The end.
Our last weekend picks of the season.
Another fun ride. We had some good stretches and some horrible ones.
But thanks for joining us again.
Last week: 3-3
No. 17 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina, 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN: After Duke beat North Carolina on Feb. 9 in Durham -- midway through its seven-game winning streak -- talk of Saturday’s rematch could not wait. Would the matchup double as an ACC regular-season championship game? Would the winner secure a No. 1 seed entering the conference tournament?
But those stakes no longer headline the hype around this game. North Carolina already owns a share of the ACC title and probably a top seed, but Monday’s 43-point effort -- the worst offensive output by the Tar Heels in the shot-clock era -- in a road loss to Virginia ended a four-game winning streak. UNC could seal the outright crown, however, with a victory.
And Duke will enter this game after losing two of its past three, no longer racing toward a top seed.
Both Grayson Allen -- who led the Blue Devils with 25 points in the first matchup against North Carolina and missed Saturday’s loss at Miami -- and Amile Jefferson were game-time decisions in this week’s matchup against Florida State. Forget seeds. Duke just hopes it’s healthy on Selection Sunday.
And now we have the perfect rivalry backdrop. Why? Because North Carolina and Duke don’t need each other for the reasons we anticipated after the first game. This is about the vibe each team will carry into the postseason.
No, Duke and North Carolina won’t compete for a title Saturday. But they’ll search for the truth about their seasons.
Are the Tar Heels a talented team that can dominate any opponent but just can’t counterpunch when wounded early (five of six losses by eight points or more)? Are the Blue Devils that team that rumbled through the ACC for three weeks and looked the part of a contender or just the same teetering crew standing a step from greatness but a foot from chaos?
After this classic rivalry game Saturday, we’ll all agree: They’re both as good as we thought they’d be this time of year.
Prediction: Duke 99, North Carolina 96 (overtime)
No. 24 Iowa State at No. 10 West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2: You looking for a scary roster that could shake up the bracket, a squad boasting a résumé to prove as much? How about an Iowa State team that has won six in a row and recorded a road win over Kansas? The Cyclones lead the Big 12 in turnover rate, while West Virginia forces more turnovers (24.8 percent defensive turnover rate, per KenPom.com) than any other team in league play. But Iowa State has committed just 8.6 turnovers per game during this winning streak. The Cyclones lead the league in 3-point shooting, and they’re traveling to Morgantown, where lesser foes have left with victories this season.
Prediction: Iowa State 80, West Virginia 76
No. 19 Notre Dame at No. 8 Louisville, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, CBS: Days after suffering an eight-point road loss to Wake Forest, Louisville will meet a Notre Dame squad that hasn’t lost since Feb. 5, beat the Cards by seven points in the first meeting and scored 80 or more in five of its past six games.
Prediction: Louisville 79, Notre Dame 75
No. 12 Florida at Vanderbilt, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN: Earlier this week, Vanderbilt amassed a 19-point lead but still lost at Kentucky by six points. Now a Commodores squad on the bubble needs to secure the second most significant victory opportunity in the SEC when the Gators come to town. The Commodores should be confident. Vandy committed turnovers on one-fifth of its possessions in the first meeting in Gainesville but still won. The Commodores won’t be as careless with their at-large hopes at stake.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 69, Florida 65
No. 25 Miami at No. 15 Florida State, 4 p.m. ET Saturday, ACC Network/WatchESPN: Florida State is 2-6 in its past eight road games. But the Seminoles tend to look like title contenders whenever they’re home in Tallahassee.
Prediction: Florida State 75, Miami 70
No. 1 Kansas at Oklahoma State, 6 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN: Quick note on streaks: The Jayhawks have won 13 consecutive Big 12 titles. And they’ve also lost their past three games at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Jawun Evans leads a Cowboys squad that started 0-6 in league play but solidified its résumé by going 9-2 over the next 11 Big 12 matchups.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 79, Kansas 77