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Basketball

VIEWER’S GUIDE: Top two games for Saturday are in the Big 12

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Morning Block

A Good One: Xavier at Butler | 1:30 PM, FOX

Butler appears to be back on track after opening conference play 3-6. We know it’s hard to win on the road, but the Bulldogs have done it twice since last Saturday as part of a three-game win streak to get back to .500 in the Big East. They return home for Xavier, who lost by 14 at Creighton on Tuesday, and they have a brutal stretch of games to finish the season. If the Musketeers can dictate tempo, it’s going to be tough for Butler to avenge its 19-point loss from Jan. 2. 

KenPom Line: Bulldogs by 2

Matchup to Watch: Kelan Martin vs. Trevon Bluiett

A Better One: Kentucky at South Carolina | 11:00 AM, ESPN

South Carolina is hard to pin down. Historically, you won’t find a 21-3 major conference team with fewer signature wins than the Gamecocks, who finally picked up a key roadie last Saturday at Texas A&M. But KenPom gives them a 49% chance to knock off Kentucky, who is just 4-6 away from Rupp Arena this season. I think Ulis has been mentioned in each one of my viewer’s guides since the dawn of time. Thornwell (averaging 22, 8 and 5 in February) could be an interesting test for him.

KenPom Line: Wildcats by 1

Matchup to Watch: Sindarius Thornwell vs. Tyler Ulis

GAME OF THE DAY: Kansas at Oklahoma | 1:30 PM, ESPN

Four overtimes and Hield getting 50 is the goal here. Anything less is a failure.

KenPom Line: Sooners by 6

Matchup to Watch: All of them are awesome.

Afternoon Block

A Good One: James Madison at UNC Wilmington | 2:00 PM, NBC Sports Network

Okay, hear me out. What I give you here is the odds-on favorite to win the Colonial Athletic Association, and one of the most exciting players in that conference in Chris Flemmings. Wilmington is on a 10-game tear, nearly knocked off Georgetown back in December and is now 37-19 under second-year coach Kevin Keatts, picked in 2014 from the Rick Pitino coaching tree. James Madison can shoot and defend the three well, but UNCW opponents score just 21.2% of their points from deep, third fewest nationally.

KenPom Line: Seahawks by 4

Matchup to Watch: Chris Flemmings vs. Shakir Brown 

A Better One: Louisville at Notre Dame | 3:00 PM, ESPN2

I’ve learned not to question the motivation of college athletes, but boy it has got to be hard for this Louisville team to go full throttle with this year’s postseason stripped away. Notre Dame has three pretty spectacular wins over Iowa, Duke and North Carolina thus far, but the Cardinals (3rd nationally in defensive efficiency) pose a different kind of test for Mike Brey’s potent offense. Look for this to be decided in the paint. The Irish are 29-3 at home dating back to last season.

KenPom Line: Fighting Irish by 1

Matchup to Watch: Zach Auguste vs. Chinanu Onuaku

The Best One: Virginia at Duke | 3:30 PM, ESPN

Order is restored and Duke has finally pieced together a legitimate win streak in conference play. After losing four games in just 12 days, the Blue Devils appear to be miles away from the panic button at this point, but Virginia should be their toughest test of the year. The Cavaliers have won seven straight, allowing just 56 points a game and logging two double-digit road wins along the way. Freshman Luke Kennard is about to get the matchup of his life against Brogdon, who’s averaging 20 points on 55% shooting during UVA’s seven-game streak.

KenPom Line: Blue Devils by 1

Matchup to Watch: Luke Kennard vs. Malcolm Brogdon

Evening Block

A Good One: Creighton at Marquette | 7:00 PM, Fox Sports Net

The Big East title almost certainly runs through Villanova, but the Blue Jays have played solid enough basketball this season to warrant a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a roller coaster season for Steve Wojciechowski and Marquette, and a back-loaded schedule could likely be the nail in the coffin for a tournament berth. Creighton will need to capitalize on the Eagles’ turnover woes in this one. How bad is it for MU? Try 100 of them in their last six games. Unreal.

KenPom Line: Blue Jays by 2

Matchup to Watch: Henry Ellenson vs. Cole Huff 

A Better One: Gonzaga at SMU | 9:00 PM, ESPN2

A three-point road win over Pepperdine is, sadly, probably Gonzaga’s largest accomplishment of the last two months — but there’s plenty of opportunity to steal one here from a struggling SMU squad. The Mustangs are 3-3 since starting the season a white hot 18-0, and Gonzaga will be their highest rated opponent (per KenPom) since Nov. 25, 2014 against Arkansas. Keep an eye on the perimeter game: SMU is 2nd nationally in 3P%. Gonzaga: 2nd in 3P% defense.

KenPom Line: Mustangs by 6

Matchup to Watch: Ben Moore vs. Kyle Wiltjer

The Best One: Texas at Iowa State | 7:30 PM, ESPN

Iowa State is 27-2 in its last 29 home games following a loss. Of course it was 27-1 before West Virginia. What else is there to say here except that they need a win in a bad way. Texas is scoring just 65 points per game in its last five road contests but hung 94 in this matchup in Austin on Jan. 12. The Cyclones, should they lose this game, would be guaranteed to go at least 26 days without a win at Hilton Coliseum, the longest such streak since 2011. If you don’t feel like staying up for Gonzaga-SMU, then Iowa State-Texas is your nightcap. Just remember to never go to bed mad.

KenPom Line: Cyclones by 6

Matchup to Watch: Monté Morris vs. Isaiah Taylor

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Austin Narber

contributor