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Weekend Picks: Pokes over Jayhawks?

What can I say?

When you go 2-5 on your previous round of weekend picks, you can’t say much.

What was I thinking when I picked Colorado over Arizona and Michigan State over Michigan? I wasn't thinking. Not clearly, at least.

But that’s college basketball. And that’s what I love about it.

You never know what’s going to happen.

I know I don’t.

Last week: 2-5

Overall: 39-23

Saturday

No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Before the season began, this was the game, the one that many expected to play a vital role in the Big 12 title race. But that’s not the case. Obviously. Bill Self now has more Big 12 championships (10) than losses at Allen Fieldhouse (nine). It took the Jayhawks some time to find their swagger, but right now, they’re clearly the class of the league. If Oklahoma State secures an at-large berth on Selection Sunday, it would only be the second time since NCAA tourney expansion in 1985 that a squad earned a bid after weathering a seven-game losing streak, according to Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Info). Marcus Smart has looked like a man on a mission in the two games he has played since his three-game suspension. But he has struggled against Kansas throughout his career (13-for-45 and 1-for-17 from the 3-point line in three games versus the Jayhawks, according to ESPN Stats & Info). Plus, OSU doesn’t have an answer for Joel Embiid (13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks in the first matchup this season). Desperation, however, will be a factor as Kansas tries to secure its 10th Big 12 championship under Self outright.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 82, Kansas 80

Popcorn Factor (9)

No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: The past few weeks have been interesting for previously undefeated Syracuse. The Orange looked like America’s best team for a stretch, and then the wheels fell off in a loss to Boston College. It suffered another loss to Duke in its next game and nearly fell at Maryland days later. So now, there’s no guarantee that Cuse will end the year atop the ACC. Virginia, however, can seal the ACC title, outright, with a victory over Syracuse this weekend. It’s a remarkable progression for a Virginia squad that has pursued conference title contention as quietly as any high-major program this season. Don’t expect to see a 1980s Lakers versus Celtics pace in this game. Both programs are plodding in their offensive execution and constricting on defense (both top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). Yet, they’re also effective. Virginia is shooting an ACC-high 44.9 percent against zone, while Syracuse is shooting 43.4 percent against the man-to-man scheme the Cavs employ, per ESPN Stats & Info. Virginia has some impressive, lopsided wins, but few have come against a team with Cuse’s talent, athleticism and length. But Tyler Ennis, the late-game savant in so many games, has struggled in similar moments in recent weeks. The freshman, however, will shake that funk and lead Cuse to another thrilling victory in the final seconds.

Prediction: Syracuse 53, Virginia 52

Popcorn Factor (10)

No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2: On Thursday night, Duquesne upset Saint Louis. On the road. That’s a story alone. Prior to its 71-64 victory over the Billikens, Duquesne had amassed a 3-10 record in the Atlantic 10. Saint Louis’ 19-game winning streak wasn't supposed to end that way. But it did. The stat sheet, however, tells a story about a Saint Louis team that has wrestled with turnovers all year. The Billikens finished with 16 of them. They've committed turnovers on 18 percent of their possessions this season, 143rd nationally per Ken Pomeroy. Shaka Smart’s program forces turnovers better than any team in America (first in defensive turnover rate). And the Rams are seeking another signature win that would make them feel more comfortable about where they’ll stand on Selection Sunday. The Billikens held off the Rams in a 64-62 win a few weeks ago, but their 17 turnovers contributed to the squandering of a 12-point lead. Now they’re on the road, where VCU will finish the late rally it started in the first game.

Prediction: VCU 68, Saint Louis 61

Popcorn Factor (8)

Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Let’s pretend as though Gonzaga isn't Gonzaga for a moment. And let’s pretend as though we’re just talking about a team with a resume only highlighted by nonconference wins that came against West Virginia and Arkansas. Would you think that it was a lock for the Big Dance? It's lost two of its last three in a so-so West Coast Conference. It might not be time to panic, but a Saturday loss to its rival wouldn't be a good thing for Gonzaga. And Gonzaga’s 22-point win in the first game suggests that it has nothing to worry about, unless of course you look at the fact Saint Mary’s has only lost two homes game this year by a combined five points. Plus, the Zags haven’t exactly been Teflon on the road. Ken Pomeroy gives the Zags only a 49 percent chance of winning this one. Sounds about right, especially since Randy Bennett will be on the sideline (missed the first game because of suspension) and it’s not likely that the Gaels (39 percent from the 3-point line this season) will shoot 1-for-12 from beyond the arc again.

Prediction: Saint Mary’s 72, Gonzaga 67

Popcorn Factor (10)

No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: There are heartbreakers. But Saturday’s loss to Louisville was something worse for Cincinnati. The Bearcats were at home in a sold-out arena and they had the victory locked, it seemed, until Russ Smith connected on a buzzer-beater. That matchup was also additional evidence about the significance of Sean Kilpatrick (9-for-26 overall, 3-for-14 from the 3-point line) to Mick Cronin’s offense. Connecticut is equally dependent on the offensive theatrics of Shabazz Napier, who went 5-for-19 in a 63-58 loss to Cincy in the first matchup this season. The second meeting will be another war, one that ends on a Napier buzzer-beater.

Prediction: UConn 65, Cincy 64

Popcorn Factor (9)