What to watch: UConn-Indiana in the Empire Classic top a good weekend of games

Can a UConn team without star freshman Stephon Castle keep its winning streak going against Indiana at the Empire Classic on Sunday? David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There is this notion in college basketball that there is always time.

Teams can struggle in the nonconference season and bounce back in league play. And sometimes, the best teams don't even show their best stuff until March. Remember, UConn finished fourth in the Big East standings in 2022-23 and then won the national title.

College basketball loves second chances. Third and fourth chances, too.

But it's dangerous to get greedy and assume that time is always the remedy. And even though we're in just the second weekend of the 2023-24 season, the sense of urgency for a few teams (and coaches) is already rising.

That conversation begins with No. 18 Michigan State. Following his team's loss to the Duke Blue Devils in the Champions Classic in Chicago, Tom Izzo said his team, which has struggled from the 3-point line at a historic clip, is getting good shots. They're just not falling. Izzo has weathered other storms.

But Izzo also has problems that go beyond missed opportunities. A.J. Hoggard's shooting and struggles have been a concern. And the members of a highly touted recruiting class still need some seasoning before they're ready to go. A matchup against Butler this weekend could be more challenging as a result, considering the challenges.

Maryland, a team that returned multiple key players from last year's NCAA tournament team, has lost two of three games. And Villanova is trying to put a loss to Penn this week behind it, too. They'll face off in Philly this weekend.

Plus, the Louisville Cardinals will enter the Empire Classic in New York desperate for a signature win and a sign that brighter things are ahead under Kenny Payne. With Indiana, the Texas Longhorns and UConn in the field, the opportunities will be there.

Yes, it's just Week 2. But the stakes are higher this weekend.

Odds provided by ESPN BET

No. 5 UConn Huskies (3-0) vs. Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)

Empire Classic, Madison Square Garden, New York

Sunday, ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

March 17, 2023. That's the last time Connecticut lost a game. The Huskies have also won 14 of their past 15, including a national title run. They lost a lot from that team but Donovan Clingan, the 7-foot-2 sophomore, has connected on 65.5% of his shots inside the arc this season. Through three games, the Huskies have made 73.2% of their shots inside the arc, No. 1 mark in the country per KenPom. This is a significant test for Indiana. Xavier Johnson, who is healthy after last season's injury-plagued campaign, and Oregon transfer Kel'el Ware are both leading the team with 16.5 PPG apiece. Mike Woodson is playing Mackenzie Mgbako, the five-star prospect in the 2023 class, just 17 minutes per game but those numbers could increase in New York. Woodson will need every athlete he has to stop the reigning national champions. But the loss of UConn star Stephon Castle (14.5 PPG) to a knee injury isn't great news for the Huskies.

Medcalf's pick: UConn 75-71. Against the spread: Indiana (+12.5)

Georgia Bulldogs (2-1) vs. No. 12 Miami Hurricanes (3-0)

Baha Mar Hoops - Bahamas Championship, Nassau, Bahamas

Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

Months after a run to the Final Four, Miami returns with Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier, two stars from the run. Wooga Poplar's role -- he's leading the team in scoring with 20.7 PPG -- has changed this season and the Hurricanes have benefited as a result. Jim Larranaga has a strong squad again. But weird things can happen in the Bahamas. Six years ago, Arizona was ranked second in the country when it floundered in the Battle 4 Atlantis and subsequently played in the seventh-place game against then-No. 18 Purdue. Georgia (top 60 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom compared to 132nd last season) is growing under Mike White.

Medcalf's pick: Miami 78-72. Against the spread: Georgia (+6.5)

Butler Bulldogs (3-0) at No. 18 Michigan State Spartans (1-2)

Friday, FS1, 6:30 p.m. ET

Michigan State's 74-65 loss to Duke in the Champions Classic on Tuesday alone was not cause for concern. Most opponents will probably lose to Duke this season. But Michigan State connected on just 16% of its 3-point attempts through three games, the worst mark for the program over the past 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And Posh Alexander (13.7 PPG) has fueled a Butler squad that's made 62% of its shots inside the arc. Michigan State has more talent. But the way the Spartans are playing, they can't take any game lightly. What happens if the shots stop falling again?

Medcalf's pick: Michigan State 73-64. Against the spread: Michigan State (-8.5)

Maryland Terrapins (1-2) at No. 21 Villanova Wildcats (2-1)

Friday, FS1, 8:30 p.m. ET

Both teams are coming off disappointing developments. On Monday, Villanova suffered a 76-72 loss against Philadelphia Big 5 rival Penn in the Palaestra. That's not the way Kyle Neptune had hoped to kick off his season. And Maryland, which returned Jahmir Young and Julian Reese from last year's NCAA tournament team, has lost back-to-back games to UAB and Davidson.

What's wrong with both teams? Well, the Terps have connected on just 22.6% of their 3-point attempts, which account for 38% of their overall field goal attempts. That's a problem. And Young has 10 turnovers in three games. But Villanova has to avoid the second-half letdown that cost the Wildcats against Penn.

Medcalf's pick: Villanova 70-67. Against the spread: Maryland (+5.5)


Medcalf's picks straight-up: 2-1. Against the spread: 2-1