By Jon Rothstein
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MICHIGAN AT INDIANA
The battle between two of the top three teams in the country could wind up being the best game we’ve seen all season. Indiana was mightily impressive in their 97-60 win at Purdue on Wednesday night, and Michigan has looked all season long like the best offensive team in college basketball. Expect lots of scoring, fluid offense, and tons of made shots in this one. In a game of two truly elite teams, we’re taking the the squad with the best guards. That means Michigan.
PREDICTION: MICHIGAN 88, INDIANA 85
MIAMI AT NC STATE
Are these the top two teams in the ACC? Quite possibly. Duke hasn’t been the same team since they lost Ryan Kelly to injury, and both Miami and NC State look like they could be candidates for deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack have one of the nation’s more talented rosters while the Hurricanes are beyond terrific defensively. The X-Factor in this game? Miami point guard Shane Larkin. The 5-11 sophomore has been sensational and always seems to save his best for big stages. It says here he’s the difference as Jim Larranaga’s team stays perfect in ACC play.
PREDICTION: MIAMI 69, NC STATE 65
ST. JOHN’S AT GEORGETOWN
Are the Red Storm for real? We’ll have a better idea after this game on Saturday. Steve Lavin has assembled a roster that’s among the top three in the Big East in terms of overall talent — but can this team win on the road against a team like Georgetown? We’re still not so sure. The Hoyas have remained brilliant defensively without Greg Whittington in the lineup, and they have may have the Big East Player of the Year in sophomore forward Otto Porter. We love the young talent on St. John’s roster, but we can’t go against Georgetown on their home floor.
PREDICTION: GEORGETOWN 70, ST. JOHN’S 62
SYRACUSE AT PITT
This is a dangerous time for the Orange. Syracuse is already shorthanded playing without James Southerland, and now Jim Boeheim’s team will be without freshman Dajuan Coleman for the next month due to a knee injury. One of the things we’ve learned this season is that having a depleted roster is a scary notion when you’re playing Pitt. The Panthers don’t have one dominant player, but Jamie Dixon’s squad has ten legitimate people in their rotation who can contribute. It says here depth will be the difference as Pitt gets a much needed home win.
PREDICTION: PITT 77, SYRACUSE 69
OLE MISS AT FLORIDA
Just how good are the Gators right now? Scary good. Florida isn’t just dominating teams — they’re embarrassing them. Billy Donovan’s squad held South Carolina to 36 points earlier this week, and all signs point to this team winning the SEC and being a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss meanwhile, took a bit of a shot to the chin when they lost at home on Tuesday night to Kentucky. We expect Andy Kennedy’s team to be in the field of 68, but right now we can’t see anyone beating the Gators in Gainesville.
PREDICTION: FLORIDA 78, OLE MISS 66
THIS AND THAT:
– Please say a prayer for Iowa State freshman Nkereuwem Okoro, who lost his brother Idiongo this past week after a long battle with cancer. God bless.
– Saint Louis showed they’re still a legitimate contender in the Atlantic 10 after last night’s 75-58 blowout win over Butler. The Billikens dominated the Bulldogs from start to finish and now have another quality victory to go along with their early season win over New Mexico.
– Justin Hawkins has emerged as a big-time intangibles guy for UNLV. On a team stocked with great individual talent, Hawkins has made his mark as a player who doesn’t need the ball to have an impact. A terrific defender and willing teammate, the 6-3 senior has been extremely valuable to the Runnin Rebels this season.
– Kentucky’s win at Ole Miss on Tuesday night was the best game the Wildcats have played all season. Kentucky’s role allocation was top notch, and Kyle Wiltjer seemed to thrive as this team’s go-to scorer with Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress flourishing as secondary options. The Wildcats haven’t been the juggernaut many of us expected — but they’re getting better. John Calipari’s team will travel to Texas A & M on Saturday.
– The light is starting to go on for Oklahoma forward Amath M’Baye. The 6-9 transfer from Wyoming is emerging for the Sooners, and had 20 points, seven rebounds, and four blocked shots in Wednesday’s win at Baylor. M’Baye sat out last season per NCAA rules and seems to be on the verge on becoming one of the better players in the Big 12. Lon Kruger’s team is 14-5 and hosts Kansas State on Saturday.
– Cincinnati may lack a low post scorer and go through offensive droughts with regularity, but you won’t find a tougher team than the Bearcats. Mick Cronin’s squad simply turns every game they play into a street fight. All four of Cincinnati’s losses are by a combined 10 points, and all of them came against teams who have a legitimate chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
– Lost somewhere in Creighton’s 19-3 start has been the development of sophomore point guard Austin Chatman. The 6-foot floor general has dished out 16 assists while only committing four turnovers in the Bluejays’ last two games.
– Melsahn Basabe is gradually starting to regain the promising form he showed when he was a freshman. The 6-7 junior forward had 10 points and 10 rebounds in Iowa’s win over Penn State last night, while grabbing a total of 28 rebounds in his last three games. After a disappointing sophomore season, Basabe appears to be headed back on the right track. The Hawkeyes are 3-5 in Big Ten play and still could make a push in the second half of the conference season.
– Vander Blue has emerged as Marquette’s go-to perimeter scorer. The 6-4 junior scored 30 points in the Golden Eagles’ win earlier in the week over South Florida and has reached double figures in 12 of his last 13 games. Buzz Williams’ team has a big one on Sunday at Louisville.
– I’ll be handling sidelines and halftime for the Butler/Rhode Island game on Saturday. Tip off is at 4 PM ET on CBS Sports Network. After the tilt at Hinkle Fieldhouse, I’m heading to Bloomington to take in the highly anticipated showdown between Indiana and Michigan. Should be a terrific day of hoops.
What’s your can’t-miss game of the weekend? Let us know in the comments!