ARIZONA (7-3) VS. GONZAGA (6-2)
Time/TV: 4 p.m., CBS (Regional)
Line: Gonzaga -4.5.
Storylines: After strong starts, both teams have stumbled recently. Although Arizona is coming off what coach Sean Miller called his team’s “best win of the season" – a 63-47 win over Clemson – the Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six outings. After a 5-0 start, Gonzaga lost two straight, including a loss in Spokane to Michigan State, before beating Oral Roberts Thursday.
Key Matchup: Freshmen Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner of Arizona vs. Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. Johnson and Turner are averaging 17.5 points between them, while the Bulldog freshmen guard tandem is scoring 22.4 per night.
The Bottom Line: It should be an interesting battle with some intriguing matchups. With the State Farm Battle taking place in Seattle, the Bulldogs have a slight edge.
The Pick: Gonzaga 71, Arizona 64.
INDIANA (9-0) VS. NOTRE DAME (7-4)
Time/TV: 4:30 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Indiana -8.5.
Storylines: Indiana is coming off its biggest win since a Final 4 run in 2002 and is 9-0 for the first time in 21 years. Graduation and injuries have the Irish struggling through the 2011 portion of their schedule.
Key Matchup: PGs Jerian Grant of Notre Dame and Indiana’s Jordy Hulls. Both point guards have been the engines that drive their teams. Grant, who sat out last year, is averaging 12.4 points, and team-bests at 4.2 assists and 14 steals. Hulls is shooting 57 percent from the field, 53 behind the 3-point line and has made all 11 of this free throw attempts.
The Bottom Line: The current Indiana players have never dealt with this kind of success. The Hoosiers may experience a letdown after a week off, but not enough to fall to the struggling Irish.
The Pick: Indiana 72, Notre Dame 62.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (10-1) AT DETROIT MERCY (5-7)
Time/TV: Noon, Fox Sports-Detroit
Line: Mississippi State -3.5
Storylines: Both teams had high expectations coming into the season. Only the Bulldogs have lived up to them. After an early home loss to Akron, Mississippi State has reeled off nine straight victories, including wins over Texas A&M, Arizona and West Virginia. Since some inexplicable losses early, the Titans seemed to have turned a corner and the return of Eli Holman has helped.
Key Matchup: Holman vs. Wendell Lewis. In two games this year, the senior has scored 30 points in 46 minutes and has seven offensive rebound and five blocked shots. With junior Renardo Sidney failing to live up to expectations, Lewis, who is also a junior, has come on strong of late. He is averaging eight points in his last five games and has 30 blocked shots on the season.
The Bottom Line: With Holman in the lineup, Detroit is balanced – and quite frankly – a little scary. Expect the Titans to get on a roll soon, and don’t be shocked if that starts today.
The Pick: Detroit Mercy 71, Mississippi State 68.
MISSISSIPPI (9-1) AT SOUTHERN MISS (7-2)
Time/TV: 4:30 p.m., Fox Sports Regional
Line: Southern Miss -2.5.
Storylines: Despite playing a weak schedule, Mississippi fans have to be thrilled with a 9-1 start. Now the Rebels add guards LaDarius White, who scored 16 points in his debut after meeting his first semester academic requirements, and Jalen Kendrick. Ole Miss now has the depth to compete for an NCAA bid. Southern Miss is ranked 12th in the latest RPI.
Key Matchup: PGs Angelo Williams of Southern Miss and Mississippi’s Jarvis Summers. Both are solid, dependable floor leaders who can score.
The Bottom Line: Another game that should go down to the wire. Eagles’ go-to sophomore LaShay Page and the home-court advantage could be the difference.
The Pick: Southern Miss 73, Mississippi 69.
PURDUE (9-2) VS. BUTLER (4-6)
Time/TV: 2 P.M., CBS
Line: Purdue -10.
Storylines: Purdue and Butler have been two of the best programs in the country the past four years, but 2011-12 has been a different story. The lack of scoring options has been a liability for both, but particularly for Butler.
Key Matchup: Purdue’s Lewis Jackson vs. Butler’s Ronald Nored. Jackson and Nored are too of the best defensive point guards in the nation. Both are also outstanding leaders and distributors.
The Bottom Line: Jackson has a superior offensive game to Nored, and he also has better teammates. Purdue should pull away late for the win.
The Pick: Purdue 66, Butler 55.
UNLV (10-2) AT ILLINOIS (10-0)
Time/TV: 5 p.m., Big Ten Network
Storylines: UNLV has struggled a bit lately, going 3-2 since an upset over then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 26. Illinois remains unbeaten with decent wins over Maryland, Gonzaga and St. Bonaventure in the last three weeks. Illinois beat the Rebels 73-62 in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Key Matchup: UNLV’s Oscar Bellfield vs. Illinois’ D.J. Richardson. Both teams will get production in the middle, so the game may be determined by which team gets a better performance from its best perimeter threat.
The Bottom Line: As the even line indicates, there is no real favorite in this one. UNLV has more explosive offensive players. That could be the difference.
The Pick: UNLV 71, Illinois 70.
VANDERBILT (6-3) VS INDIANA ST (7-2)
Time/TV: 5:30 p.m., CSS
Line: Vanderbilt -11.5.
Storylines: Vandy center Festus Ezeli is back and he couldn’t have returned soon enough. In his first game back, Ezeli scored 15 points in 21 minutes to rescue the Commodores from another disappointing loss at Davidson. Indiana State expects to figure in the Missouri Valley race. The balanced Sycamores are off to a good start, but they’re searching for a go-to player.
Key Matchup: Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins vs. ISU’s Jake Odum. Odum, who averages 9.4 points and 6.6 assists, will be tasked with trying to keep Jenkins from bombarding the Sycamores from the perimeter.
The Bottom Line: Ezeli’s return is bad news for the Sycamores.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 73, Indiana State 59.
VILLANOVA (6-4) AT ST. JOSEPH’S (7-3)
Time/TV: 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Line: St. Joseph’s -4.5
Storylines: St. Joseph’s is coming off its first win over a top-25 team in four years with an 80-71 triumph over Creighton. After opening the season 3-2, the Red Hawks have won four of five. After a 4-0 start, Villanova had dropped four of five before a 68-43 win over Boston U. Tuesday. One of those losses came at Temple in a Big 5 matchup. The Wildcats are 2-1 in Big 5 games, with a wins over Penn and LaSalle.
Key Matchup: Villanova’s Maalik Wayns vs. St. Joseph’s balance. Wayns has established himself as one of the most dependable go-to players in the country, while St. Joe’s has four players averaging in double-figures
The Bottom Line: Big 5 games are always competitive and this one will be, too. Villanova is used to these environs, and behind Wayns, will steal a road victory.
The Pick: Villanova 80, St. Joseph’s 77.
VIRGINIA TECH (7-3) VS. CAMPBELL (8-2)
Time/TV: 4 p.m., None
Storylines: Campbell, which already has a win at Iowa, figures to compete with Coastal Carolina and Charleston Southern for the Big South title. The Hokies are 2-0 since oft-injured redshirt sophomore Cadarian Raines returned to the lineup.
Key Matchup: The boards. Virginia Tech has struggled against good rebounding teams, and every Camel – even the guards – go hard after boards.
The Bottom Line: The Camels will almost certainly be competitive and an upset isn’t out of the question.
The Pick: Virginia Tech 63, Campbell 56.