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College Basketball Weekend Picks and Predictions: Bounce Back

The 2014-15 college basketball season's first Weekend Pick and Predictions!

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

As we mourn the first weekend in months without college football, it's with great pleasure that I enlighten you on a pretty solid weekend of college basketball. Several top 25 teams will be tested with tough road games, and the Razorbacks have a chance to avenge losses at Iowa State and Clemson.

Here's the weekend schedule, beginning with an in-state matchup Friday night:

No. 14 Iowa State (+5.5) at Iowa – 7 p.m. on Big Ten Network

Look, I understand the Cyclones will be without Bryce Dejean-Jones, but Fred Hoiberg still has his key pieces in place. Monte Morris, Georges Niang, Naz Long, everyone but BDJ. If Iowa State plays anything like it did against Arkansas, I'll take them to win straight up.

I'm a believer in Iowa State. Both teams like to get up and down the floor, and despite being on the road, I like the Cyclones to cover 5.5 points. Iowa State brings in a better effective field goal percentage, two-point and three-point field goal percentage and rarely turn the ball over, a big factor when playing away from home.


No. 21 UNC (+10.5) at No. 1 Kentucky – 11 a.m. on CBS

This game plays right into the hands of the Wildcats. In order to beat Kentucky, especially in Rupp Arena, teams have to be able to shoot the 3-ball well. North Carolina is abysmal from deep, connecting on just 28 percent of its threes. Kentucky is actually worse, if that's possible, but I give the Wildcats the edge at home.

If you like watching teams with great defenses go at it, you're in for a treat here. Kentucky's adjusted defensive efficiency is best in the nation, allowing just over 83 points per every 100 possessions, and UNC is not far behind, ranking 12th, at 89. Each team gets out, defends and hold opponents to poor shooting percentages. I like Kentucky in an ugly, low-scoring game.

No. 9 Gonzaga (-4) at UCLA – 8 p.m. on ESPN2

Like Iowa State, I really like the Zags this season. Kevin Pangos, who seems to have been in school for 20 years, leads one of the top offenses in the nation in terms of efficiency. Mark Few's team is top 10 in the nation in shooting inside the arc, but when they misfire, the Bulldog bigs rebound over 40 percent of misses.

I believe this will be an entertaining game and, with it being at UCLA, closer than it probably should be. The Bruins have a high-powered offense as well, but don't get a lot from their bench production-wise. I like Gonzaga to cover four points on the road.

No. 13 Utah (+5) at No. 10 Kansas (Sprint Center) – 2:15 p.m. on ESPN

Go ahead. Call me crazy for taking the Utes to cover five points against the Jayhawks in Kansas City. I like Utah here, though, after a home win over Wichita State and a road win over a run-n-gun BYU team.

The reason I like Utah is because they attack the basket, much like Dayton will against Arkansas, and get to the free throw line. Their FT rate (FTA/FGA) is 58.8, good for second in the nation. Kansas will have to defend well inside. Utah shoots the ball at nearly a 60 percent clip inside the three-point line. Kansas has played better of late, knocking off Florida, Georgetown and Michigan State, but Utah is a hot team, too, and won't be afraid of the Jayhawks.

Dayton (+8) at Arkansas – 1 p.m. on ESPN2

The spread on this one opened up at eight points, which I think is high considering the style of play Dayton wants to bring into Bud Walton Arena. I like Arkansas to win the game, and bounce back from a two-game skid though. The Flyers turn the ball over on 19 percent of their possessions, which plays right into Arkansas' hands, especially at home.

But I think where Dayton keeps it close is at the foul line. The team's FT rate ranks fourth in the nation at 57.5. The Flyers want to attack the basket, get Arkansas' bigs in foul trouble and dictate tempo. I think Dayton covers eight points, but Arkansas wins.

No. 23 Northern Iowa at VCU (-4.5) – 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Network

This is an odd matchup because VCU, who just lost by nearly 20 points at home to Virginia, is a sizable favorite over a ranked Northern Iowa team. Although NIU shoots the ball better than VCU, the Rams rebound their misses better and turn opponents over at a very high rate.

Northern Iowa's best win this season is arguably at Stephen F. Austin, ending its long homecourt win streak. The Panthers' home overtime win over George Mason doesn't impress me at all. I like the Rams to rebound at home.


No. 15 Butler at Tennessee – 1 p.m. on ESPNU

I have a feeling that Tennessee is going to be the next victim of #SECBasketballFever and drop a home game to Butler. The Vols send opponents to the line a lot and give up offensive rebounds more than nearly every team in the nation, a recipe for Butler to leave with a win.

Sitting at 3-3, Tennesse is coming off a solid home win over Kansas State, but the Bulldogs will be more of a true test. I could not find a spread on this game, but I'm taking Butler straight up regardless.

Auburn at Clemson – 3 p.m. on ESPN3

Every now and then there are games that set the sport back 50 years. This is one of those games. And luckily for those of us who value our eyesight, you can only catch this one on ESPN3.

Auburn does hardly anything well on the offensive end of the floor beside getting to the foul line. Clemson also does very little well, but rebounds misses effectively. And because of that, and the fact they beat Arkansas, I'll take Clemson straight up in this one.