Weekend Preview: This may be the best weekend of hoops yet this season

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 7 OKLAHOMA at No. 6 WEST VIRGINIA (-4), Sat. 7:15 p.m.

This is quite possibly the best individual matchup that we are going to see all season long: Trae Young, the nation’s best player and the leading candidate for Player of the Year, going up against senior point guard Jevon Carter, one of the best on-ball defenders in all of college basketball, and Press Virginia. If Young does what he has done through the first two months of the season on the road against this West Virginia team, then maybe we should just send him to the NBA now.

  • PREDICTION: I actually think this is the game where Young’s legs start to show. WVU wears down ball-handlers. West Virginia (-4)

No. 12 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 8 VIRGINIA (-7), Sat. 1:00 p.m.

Virginia has won four of the last five regular season meetings with North Carolina, including all three of the games that these two teams have played at John Paul Jones Arena. That’s because the way that the Tar Heels have played is what Virginia’s Pack-Line defense is designed to stop. They double the post, they clean the glass, they don’t allow transition and they force you to make jump shots. The way that Roy Williams wants to play is by scoring in transition, pounding the ball into the paint and attacking the offensive glass. It’s a bad matchup.

  • PREDICTION: UNC is playing differently this season, but that has a lot to do with their bigs being young. I think Virginia’s defense totally flummoxes the Tar Heels. Virginia (-7)

No. 17 KENTUCKY at No. 23 TENNESSEE (-2), Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Kentucky always seems to struggle at Tennessee, and this is a pretty important game for the Vols. Lose here, and they’re 0-3 in the SEC with a pair of home losses to their name. Tennessee has played very, very well against good teams this season … and blown two or three big leads they should have held onto. I don’t expect Kentucky to be getting points when the line comes out in Vegas.

  • PREDICTION: If Kentucky is getting points, then I’m taking them, especially with the way Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been playing. Kentucky (+2)

No. 10 KANSAS (-1) at No. 16 TCU, Sat. 9:15 p.m.

With all the criticism surrounding Kansas this week and what I’m sure was a miserable set of practices to attend, I think this is the bounce back spot for the Jayhawks. Their loss to Texas Tech, to me, has so much to do with how the Red Raiders defend. They run you off the three point line and force turnovers, which is precisely the kind of defense that gives the Jayhawks trouble. I don’t think TCU can execute in that way.

  • PREDICTION: Svi catches fire, Kansas makes 15 threes and they win. Kansas (-1)

SUNDAY’S SLATE IS GOOD, TOO

No. 24 FLORIDA STATE at No. 15 MIAMI (-4), Sun. 6:00 p.m.

This is a critical game for a Miami team that I was very high on entering the season. They’ve lost two of their last four, including a game at Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The Hurricanes can really defend, they’re just waiting for their offense to catchup. I think this is the game that happens.

  • PREDICTION: The Hurricanes bounce-back. Miami (-4)

SMU at No. 19 CINCINNATI (-6), Sun. 6:00 p.m.

This game was a whole lot more intriguing before SMU went and lost at Tulane on Thursday night. The Mustangs should matchup fairly well with Cincinnati, who landed a last-second win a Temple.

  • PREDICTION: The Mustangs small-ball isn’t going to work against a team that has Gary Clark at the four. Cincinnati (-6)

WHAT ELSE IS WORTH WATCHING?

  • No. 5 XAVIER (-4) at PROVIDENCE, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Is Rodney Bullock going to play? If he doesn’t, I love Xavier (-4). If he does … I still like Xavier.
  • No. 2 DUKE (-12) at N.C. STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: N.C. State just gave up 88 points to a Notre Dame team that didn’t have Bonzie Colson and that lost Matt Farrell to a sprained ankle. Let’s see what they do against the nation’s most efficient offense.
  • MARQUETTE at No. 3 VILLANOVA (-15), Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Marquette beat Villanova in Milwaukee last year, and if Markus Howard goes for 52 points again, they’ll beat them in Philly this year.
  • KANSAS STATE at No. 18 TEXAS TECH (-10), Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Will there be a hangover for the Red Raiders? I don’t think so. The Wildcats are going to run into a buzzsaw.
  • No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-7) at OHIO STATE, Sun. 4:30 p.m.: As good as I think Chris Holtmann is, Michigan State is the best team in the country right now and playing some of their best basketball of the season.