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Saturday College Hoops Preview: Picks and predictions on Duke-UNC, Tennessee-Kentucky, UConn-St. John's, Houston-Kansas AND MORE!



Well people, we're here: The first full weekend without any football since August (unless you include the "Pro Bowl Games"), which means a loaded slate of college hoops.


And credit to the powers that be for giving us an insane slate.


For the first time since 1994 we have three matchups of Top 10 teams on the same day (with a fourth coming on Sunday), not to mention the No. 1 team in America playing in an electric environment at Madison Square Garden.




Here is our full preview and picks from a LOADED Saturday in college hoops, with odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook.



No. 1 UConn (-4.5) at St. John’s - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX


There’s no hotter team in the country right now than UConn. The defending champions look the part and have won nine straight since a loss to Seton Hall to open Big East play late December. The Huskies excel thanks to their balance, and on Wednesday found even more depth, as five-star freshman broke out with 20 points in a win over Providence. Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer have been the best players with Newton leading the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game, in rebounds at 6.6, and in assists at 5.7. Spencer is right behind in scoring at 14.9 points per game and then leads in steals at 1.4 per game. It's also worth noting that Dan Hurley says veteran forward Alex Karaban - who is averaging 14.5 points per game himself - is questionable for this game with an ankle injury.


Meanwhile, the Red Storm have struggled recently, losing four out of their last five games. Daniss Jenkins and Joel Soriano poured 25 and 21 in their last game against Xavier, but they still lost. Soriano leads the team in scoring at 16.6 PPG and rebounds down low with 10 per game. Jenkins is second in scoring at 13.6 PPG, and he leads the team in assists at 5.6 and in steals at 1.4.


UConn is cemented in the tournament and is in the running to potentially be the top overall seed next to Purdue. They need to keep winning, but the Red Storm need the win more. St. John’s is an 8-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, and they are not quite safe, especially with the recent loss to Xavier. St. John’s should play much better in this game at home in Madison Square Garden. The environment is going to be great, but UConn is the better team. St. John’s covers, but UConn wins a very close game.


Pick: St. John’s (+4.5)



No. 17 Utah State at San Diego State (-5.5): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX


The Mountain West is one of the best conferences in all of college basketball this season and these are two of the best teams in the mix for the conference title. Utah State has won three straight since losing to New Mexico on the road in what was their first loss in conference play.

For those who haven't seen Utah State yet, the Aggies are a top-30 scoring offense, averaging 82.5 points per game. Great Osobor has been a massive key to their success as their do-it-all wing. He leads the team in scoring at 19.1 PPG, in rebounds at 9.6, and in blocks at 1.3 per game. He is also coming off a massive game where he scored 31 points.


The Aztecs are 2-3 in their last five games but have the best history in the Mountain West and were still in the National Championship, just one year ago. Brian Dutcher's squad remains a defense first team, but Jaedon LeDee has evolved into a great scorer. He leads the team in scoring at 20.5 PPG and in rebounds at 8.6. Joe Lunardi has both teams projected high for the Mountain West with Utah State being a 6-seed and San Diego State being a 5-seed. A win would do a lot keep each team where they are and potentially move up, while a loss for either would not hurt a ton.


Utah State has been great and is a tournament team. However, they are visiting Viejas Arena which is one of the hardest environments to play at in all of college basketball. San Diego State should bounce back at home and win and cover against the Aggies to send a message that they are still the best team in the conference.


Pick: San Diego State (-5.5)


 

No. 4 Houston (-1.5) at No. 8 Kansas: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN


How about Houston, who enters Phog Allen Fieldhouse as a slight, road favorite? Houston has won five in a row since losing two straight at the beginning of Big 12 play. They most recently escaped against Texas on the road in overtime this past week. L.J. Cryer is the leading scorer for the Cougars at 15.1 PPG, but the most important player might be Jamal Shead. He averages 12.3 PPG, but he leads the team in assists at 5.8 per game and in steals at 2.2 per game.

What makes the Cougars such a tough team is their defense. They are the top scoring defense in the country at 52.9 points per game.


Meanwhile, Kansas has lost two of their last five games. Kevin McCullar Jr. and Hunter Dickinson are the two biggest keys to Kansas’ success this season. McCullar Jr. leads the team in scoring at 19.8 PPG, while Dickinson is second at 18.7 PPG and then leads the team in rebounding at 11.2 and in blocks at 1.3. The Jayhawks go as they do especially with the depth issues they have had so far. McCullar missed last game due to a bone bruise injury, but it seems like he should be back for this game.


Houston is the better team in the Big 12 this season as compared to Kansas. Houston might lose their grip on the last 1-seed if they lose, while Kansas has potential to move up with a win as good as this would be. The Cougars are healthy too and while McCullar Jr., is expected to be back, he most likely won’t be 100%. Allen Fieldhouse is arguably the best environment in all of college basketball, which is huge for Kansas.


This is going to be a close game, but Kansas should win because of the homecourt advantage. Houston will cover and make this a very close game.


Pick: Kansas (ML)



No. 16 Auburn (-3.5) at Ole Miss: Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network


These are two of the teams that have made the SEC title hunt very interesting.


Auburn is coming off a dominant win over Vanderbilt, which helped them snap a two-game losing streak. Johni Broome is the main key for the Tigers where he leads the team in scoring at 15.7 PPG, in rebounding at 8.8, and in blocks at 2.2. They also excel passing the ball, averaging 18 assists per game, which is 20th in the country.


The Rebels have been great this season under Chris Beard and are currently on a three-game winning streak, including a signature win last Saturday at Texas A&M, as well as a rivalry win over Mississippi State at home on Tuesday. The Rebels are led by their guards with Matthew Murrell leading the team in both scoring (16.7 PPG) and steals at (1.9 per game). Allen Flanigan and Jaylen Murray are right behind, averaging 15 PPG and Flanigan leads in rebounds per game at 6.9, while Murray leads in assists at 4.1 per game.


Both these teams are comfortably in the tournament, so this one is about pride and picking up another big for their respective resumes (or avoiding a bad loss) Expect the Tigers to compete in this game, but the home court advantage for Ole Miss, on top of how well they are playing should be the difference. Expect Ole Miss to win this game outright at home and make the SEC title even more interesting.


Pick: Ole Miss (ML)


 

No. 7 Duke at No. 3 North Carolina (-4.5): Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN


Duke has won three straight games since losing to Pitt with their most recent game being an impressive win against Virginia Tech on the road where they shot 52.9% from three-point range. Kyle Filipowski has been the biggest x-factor for the Blue Devils this season. He leads the team in scoring at 17.5 PPG, in rebounding at 8.7, and in blocks at 1.9 per game. He is the player that makes the Blue Devils go this season. They have been solid scoring and defending this season, scoring 81 PPG, and allowing 67.2 PPG.


The Tar Heels are coming into this game after losing a stunner to Georgia Tech on the road, their first ACC loss this season. RJ Davis is the key cog that makes the Tar Heel go this season. He leads the team in scoring at 21.5 PPG and in steals at 1.3 per game. Davis is legitimately in the mix to win the player of the year award in college basketball next to Zach Edey. The Tar Heels are a top-30 offense, scoring 82.6 PPG and thanks in large part to Davis.


Looking ahead to Saturday, a win in this game would benefit Duke the most because Joe Lunardi has the Blue Devils as a 4-seed and all a win could do is boost them up. On top of that, it would have them tied with Carolina in the loss column atop the ACC standings. Meanwhile, a loss here would probably bump North Carolina off the No. 1 seed line.


This is the best rivalry in the sport and this game should be great once again. Duke has recovered and is playing well, but the Tar Heels were shocked earlier this week and should be determined to bounce back against their rival at home. This game is going to be close but expect North Carolina to win a very close one and bounce back.


Pick: Duke (+4.5) (But North Carolina wins outright)



No. 12 Iowa State at No. 18 Baylor (-3.5): Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2


This is just another day in the gauntlet of the Big 12. Iowa State has won three straight since a loss to BYU, including a win last Saturday against Kansas. Tamin Lipsey has been great for the Cyclones this season in the backcourt. He leads the team in scoring at 13.9 PPG, in assists at 5.7, and in steals at 3.1 per game. The Cyclones are set apart by their scoring defense, allowing 61.8 PPG, which is good for 6th in all of college basketball.


The Bears have been led by their offense this season and have been able to outscore a lot of teams. They average 84.7 PPG, which is good for 15th in college basketball, with freshman Ja’Kobe Walter leading the team in scoring at 14.9 PPG. Baylor also just bounced back from a three-game losing streak with a win against UCF on the road. Walter needs to step up more after only scoring eight points in their last game.


According to Lunardi, Iowa State is a projected 3-seed, while Baylor is a projected 5-seed in the tournament field. A win would help Baylor the most and move them up potentially while a loss might move Iowa State down. This Big 12 clash will be great because of the contrast of a great defense in Iowa State playing a great offense in Baylor. Iowa State has been better than Baylor and has more momentum, but the Bears being at home is a massive issue for the Cyclones.

This game is going to be close and while defense travels, expect Baylor’s offense to get an extra jolt at home. Baylor wins a very close at home.


Pick: Baylor (ML)


 

No. 5 Tennessee (-1.5) at No. 10 Kentucky: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN


These are the two best teams in the SEC talent-wise, but both are coming off losses in their most recent time out and at home.


Tennessee lost to South Carolina at home on Tuesday 63-59, despite Dalton Knecht’s 31 points for the Volunteers. Knecht has been nothing short of a difference-maker for Tennessee this season. He leads the team in scoring at 20.1 PPG and has burst onto the scene ever since he transferred from Northern Colorado. The Volunteers are still great on defense and are top-45 in scoring defense, allowing 65.9 PPG.




They have a tough test against the most talented team in the SEC in Kentucky.


The Wildcats have been great this season but have recently lost two out their last three games. Antonio Reeves continued his consistent play despite Kentucky’s loss with 19 points against Florida, while Reed Sheppard led the way with 24 points. Reeves is the most consistent player for the Wildcats on offense, averaging 19.5 PPG., but the players that can get hot across their lineup, from Rob Dillingham to Reed Sheppard. Kentucky is also third in the country in scoring offense at 88.7 PPG. Kentucky is a 4-seed and Tennessee is a 2-seed in Lunardi’s latest bracket.


A win would do more for Kentucky to vault them forward and up the seed list. Tennessee would also not fall that much if they lost this game to the Wildcats. Both teams need a win in this spot, especially after both losing their last game. The pick in this game is Kentucky and it’s because they are at home and need a win like this, even more than Tennessee. Kentucky should win a very close one at home.


Pick: Kentucky (ML)




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