Weekend picks: Kansas sweeps Baylor in pivotal top-five clash
Took some time, but we're rolling again.
We finished 4-1 last weekend. Let's keep the party going this weekend.
Last weekend: 4-1
No. 3 Kansas at No. 4 Baylor, 1 p.m. ET, Saturday, CBS: In the teams' first matchup, a five-point win for the Jayhawks on Feb. 1, Kansas accrued 27 free throw attempts to Baylor's six. Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III finished a combined 17-for-21 from the free throw line in that game. Overall, Baylor attempts nearly a free throw for every three field goal attempts, eighth in Big 12 play. Against the zone scheme Baylor has employed on more than half of its defensive possessions this season, Kansas has connected on 48.2 percent of its shots and committed turnovers on just 14.2 percent of its possessions, per Synergy Sports scouting data.
Here's the barbershop/sports-bar translation to all of that: Doesn’t matter where the game is played, Kansas' personnel and style will continue to create problems for Baylor. On Saturday, Jackson and Mason will attack again, draw fouls, force Baylor's zone to sink against their aggression, and subsequently create space on the edges for a squad connecting on 41.3 percent of its 3-point attempts (fifth in the nation) to frustrate Scott Drew again.
In another close game, Kansas will possess the advantages to seal the win late.
Prediction: Kansas 77, Baylor 75
No. 14 Virginia at No. 10 North Carolina, 8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN: Facing a North Carolina powerhouse that leads the nation in offensive rebounding rate and connects on 51.9 percent of its shots inside the arc in ACC play, Virginia's pack-line defense and defensive rebounding capabilities could disrupt the Tar Heels' offensive scheme. Virginia held North Carolina to just five offensive rebounds in a loss during the ACC tournament.
But can the Cavaliers maintain the early pressure? In the second halves of their seven losses this season, they were outscored by nine points or more. Duke outscored Tony Bennett's squad by 14 points after halftime on Wednesday night. It's had trouble with late momentum.
Prediction: North Carolina 71, Virginia 64
No. 23 Maryland at No. 11 Wisconsin, 1 p.m. ET, Sunday, CBS: Part of this is connected to Bronson Koenig's status. Wisconsin's point guard missed Thursday's matchup against Michigan because of a leg strain, which perhaps explain his 14-for-55 slump in the past five games. However, if he's available but not 100 percent, Wisconsin's defensive principles will remain. The Badgers have forced turnovers on more than one-fifth of their Big Ten opponents' possessions, they protect the rim and rarely send league foes to the free throw line. And Melo Trimble and the Terrapins (39.9 percent from the 3-point line in Big Ten play) love to attack late, draw fouls, get to the free throw line and win the grind-it-out games that have made them the best road team in the conference.
Prediction: Wisconsin 76, Maryland 72
USC at No. 6 UCLA, 10 p.m. ET, Saturday, Pac-12 Network: The Trojans won all three matchups against UCLA last season and dominated the Bruins again in the first meeting this season. Their zone led to 17 UCLA turnovers and a 6-for-20 clip from beyond the arc for Steve Alford's squad. Lonzo Ball committed seven of those turnovers that night. But Andy Enfield's plan also presented great risk. Ball leads a squad that has connected on more than 40 percent of its 3-point attempts this season, the most efficient offensive team in America, per KenPom.com. Sloppy ballhandling ruined possessions in the first game for UCLA, and the Bruins missed a bunch of open 3-pointers they'd hit in past games. Hard to imagine the Trojans giving the Bruins the same looks on the road and finding a way to win.
Prediction: UCLA 86, USC 80
Michigan State at No. 16 Purdue, 4 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN: Caleb Swanigan initially committed to Michigan State because he thought the Spartans would satisfy the requirements established by him and his guardian, Roosevelt Barnes. But Barnes ultimately decided Michigan State created two problems for Swanigan. He didn't want Swanigan to play center and didn't want him to live on campus, where he'd have access to an abundance of food choices. So he picked Purdue, Barnes' alma mater. Spartans fans will never forget it. And another big afternoon by the national player of the year candidate will create another bad memory Saturday.