One man’s predictions for an always unpredictable weekend of college basketball. I'm sure one or two of you might disagree with these:
Harvard at Princeton, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: As usual, the two rivals sit atop the Ivy League’s standings. At 7-2, the Tigers are one-and-a-half games behind the Crimson. With four games to play, however, anything can happen in the battle for the regular-season title and the conference’s NCAA tourney berth. Harvard won the first matchup (69-57 on Feb. 16), but Princeton’s offense has jelled in recent weeks (57th in adjusted offensive efficiency). However, Crimson freshman guard Siyani Chambers (averaging 13.0 points, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals) is on a mission right now.
Prediction: Harvard 65, Princeton 62
Iowa at No. 1 Indiana, 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: Iowa’s at-large dreams were deferred when the Hawkeyes suffered a loss at Nebraska last weekend. But redemption could come quickly. The same Minnesota team that the Hawkeyes crushed two weeks ago upset Indiana on Tuesday. Could Iowa equal that feat in Bloomington? It’s not likely. The Hawkeyes are actually playing Indiana at the worst time. The Hoosiers want that No. 1 seed, and losing to a mid-tier Big Ten team would not help their cause, especially in their first game since that loss at Minnesota. A motivated Indiana team back at Assembly Hall? That’s not a good situation for Iowa.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Iowa 60
No. 5 Miami at No. 3 Duke, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Blue Devils certainly want vengeance after that 27-point beatdown they suffered at Miami in January. After Thursday’s loss to Virginia, however, the Blue Devils are also looking for a win to secure a top seed. A No. 1 slot might be up for grabs when these two teams play. Miami is certainly the king of the ACC right now. But last weekend’s loss at Wake Forest exposed the Hurricanes’ ongoing struggles on the road. Their defense (ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) is still their ticket to a Final Four run and to continued dominance in the ACC. Defense has been an issue for Duke, but the Blue Devils possess one of the nation’s most fluid offenses (fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). I can’t see Miami amassing the early momentum that led to a lopsided victory in the first meeting. And I can’t see Duke playing the same suspect defense that it demonstrated in the first game. So who wins? Think déjà vu.
Prediction: Miami 68, Duke 65
Alabama at No. 8 Florida, noon ET, ESPN: Anthony Grant’s team is one of the best defensive units in the SEC (57.7 points per game allowed). And it will face a Gators squad that has been vulnerable in recent weeks. But the Gators will be 100 percent -- for once -- when Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II return following injuries. And Billy Donovan’s squad hasn’t been touched at home. I think Bama will put up a fight but the Gators will dictate the pace of this SEC matchup. Trevor Releford just doesn’t have the offensive sidekicks he needs to pull off an upset on the road against a team with Florida’s talent.
Prediction: Florida 75, Alabama 65
No. 10 Louisville at No. 12 Syracuse, noon ET, CBS: Although the Orange didn’t have James Southerland and were on the road, they still upset Louisville -- No. 1 at the time -- in the first matchup between these two squads. Michael Carter-Williams scored nine of his team’s final 11 points. He punctuated his performance with a ferocious dunk over Gorgui Dieng on a fast break in the final seconds. Now, they’ll play again in the Carrier Dome. Cuse is two games behind Georgetown for first place in the Big East. Louisville is one game behind the Hoyas. Those stakes should intensify this matchup. But the Cardinals have won seven of their past eight games. They’re finishing strong a la 2011-12.
Prediction: Louisville 70, Syracuse 63
No. 11 Arizona at UCLA, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Wildcats were embarrassed in the first matchup between these two. The Bruins' 84-73 victory in January sent a message to the league that they were finally beginning to jell. Both teams are chasing Oregon in the Pac 12, but the Ducks have wins over both teams in their lone meetings this season. Unless the Ducks slip in their final two games, they’ll secure the regular-season championship. UCLA and Arizona -- the top two scoring offenses in the Pac 12, respectively -- are playing for other reasons. The Bruins’ at-large résumé could use a boost. And after suffering a loss to USC this week, the Wildcats’ seed placement took another hit. They’ve lost three of their past six. Joe Lunardi gave the Wildcats a No. 3 seed before the loss to the Trojans. The last thing the Wildcats want in a wacky year like this is to fall into a matchup of No. 4 versus No. 13 or No. 5 versus No. 12. That could happen, however, if they lose in Los Angeles. I mean … when they lose in Los Angeles.
Prediction: UCLA 76, Arizona 73
No. 20 Butler at VCU, noon ET, ESPN2: The Atlantic 10 is a gauntlet. The Rams and Bulldogs are two of the contenders who’ve jousted for position in this league. Shaka Smart’s VCU squad is recognized for its "Havoc" defense, and the Rams top the conference with 76.1 ppg. Butler is holding its A-10 opponents to a 39.7 percent clip from the field, No. 1 in the league. Both squads hope to catch Saint Louis in the final three games of the season, but the Billikens possess a 3-0 record against them (two wins over the Bulldogs, one versus the Rams). The winner of this game will remain in the hunt for a share of the crown.
Prediction: Butler 68, VCU 67
No. 21 Notre Dame at No. 22 Marquette, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN : The Fighting Irish are two games behind Big East leader Georgetown, while Buzz Williams’ Golden Eagles are just a game behind the Hoyas. Marquette has not lost in Milwaukee this season. But the Fighting Irish, who’ve won four of their past five, are built for the upset. They have a strong backcourt led by Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. And Jack Cooley's size could be a problem for Marquette inside. The Golden Eagles, however, are tougher than they look (28th in offensive rebounding rate per Ken Pomeroy). And they form a special group when they’re on their home floor. That won’t change this weekend.
Prediction: Marquette 71, Notre Dame 65
Wichita State at Creighton, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2: It all comes down to this. Wichita State and Creighton are tied atop the Missouri Valley Conference standings. So this is the MVC title game. The winner gets the crown and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The Shockers earned a win in the first game. But Evansville snapped their five-game winning streak on Wednesday, the same night that Creighton defeated Bradley. This should be a battle. The stakes are high. Creighton wants to avenge the first loss. The Shockers have been tough all year, but the Bluejays won’t let Wichita State snatch the MVC crown in Omaha.
Prediction: Creighton 76, Wichita State 68
No. 9 Michigan State at No. 4 Michigan, 4 p.m. ET, CBS: Recent struggles by both teams have put their respective fan bases on alert. The Wolverines’ defense has been questioned all season. But it hadn’t faced the level of scrutiny that followed this week’s road loss at Penn State, the Nittany Lions’ first Big Ten victory. It was Michigan’s third loss in five games. Tom Izzo, however, has had some concerns about his team, too. The Spartans have lost two in a row, but they’re still a game behind Indiana for first place in the Big Ten. Whoever wins this rivalry game will gain some momentum entering the final stretch of the season.
Prediction: Michigan State 70, Michigan 67