Posted: Friday December 2, 2011 12:18PM ; Updated: Friday December 2, 2011 4:04PM
Seth Davis
Seth Davis>WEEKEND PICKS

Syracuse-Florida, Kentucky-North Carolina headline Weekend Picks

Story Highlights

Look for Syracuse to put off-court distractions to the side and out play Florida

Homecourt advantage, Tar Heel injuries will help give Kentucky the edge over UNC

Rare matchup of equally unranked Texas and UCLA should go in Horns favor

The Weekend Forecast
 
Friday, Dec. 2
 
7 p.m. (ESPN) No. 10 Florida (5-1) at No. 4 Syracuse (7-0)
It's anybody's guess how the Syracuse players will react after all that has gone on this week. My hunch is that they'll be glad to play a big game at home. So the second question becomes how Florida will react to the Orange's 2-3 zone. Kenny Boynton and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario are both drilling 48 percent from behind the arc, and 6-foot-3 freshman Bradley Beal might be a better shooter than both of them despite his 35 percent clip. We usually think of a zone as being vulnerable to outside shooting, but Jim Boeheim's is actually designed to lock down three-point shooters, and this team has the length to do that. I also like the defensive matchup of Fab Melo inside against Gators sophomore center Patric Young.
 
9 p.m. (ESPN) No. 20 Vanderbilt (5-2) at No. 6 Louisville (6-0)
Vanderbilt will be without starting center Festus Ezeli for another two weeks, but the Cardinals have had a lot more problems with injuries. Guard Mike Marra has been lost for the season because of a torn ACL, and two other key players, junior forward Rakeem Buckels (torn ACL) and freshman guard Wayne Blackshear (shoulder) have not played a game but are hoping to return at some point this season. Still, this is one of the deepest teams Rick Pitino has had in a long time. (J.R. Smith's younger brother, Chris, just scored 18 points in a win over Long Beach State.) And the Commodores have demonstrated suspect perimeter defense during home losses to Cleveland State and Xavier.
 
Saturday, Dec. 3
 
Noon (CBS) No. 5 North Carolina (6-1) at No. 1 Kentucky (7-0)
Here's an odd take: Kentucky is better off playing North Carolina right now than Wisconsin. The Tar Heels had to think and grind their way to a three-point win over the Badgers Wednesday night, but thinking and grinding is not Kentucky's strong suit at the moment. (Witness the Cats' near-loss on a neutral court to Old Dominion.) The fact that North Carolina will come in to Rupp Arena running and gunning should play right into UK's hands. North Carolina will also have one man down (freshman guard P.J. Hairston won't play because of a bum wrist) and another man hobbling (Harrison Barnes has a tender right ankle). Throw in the homecourt advantage, and the balance is officially tipped.
 
4:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network) No. 16 Marquette (6-0) at No. 9 Wisconsin (6-1)
As I watched the Badgers nearly pull off a road upset against the nation's consensus preseason number one team Wednesday, I kept muttering to myself, "Where does Bo find these guys?" No coach in America does a better job recruiting players who can execute his style and then develop them while they wait their turn. Case in point: Jared Berggren, the 6-10 junior from Princeton, Minn. He redshirted his first year and averaged just 6.9 minutes as a sophomore. Against the Tar Heels, Berggren had 14 points, five rebounds, three steals and knocked down two three-pointers. Marquette has terrific speed, but so does North Carolina. The difference is the Golden Eagles don't have the bodies inside they need to knock off Wisconsin in Madison.
 
3 p.m. (ESPNU) Purdue (7-1) at No. 11 Xavier (5-0)
If you just looked at the box score, you'd think Xavier's Tu Holloway played a so-so game at Vanderbilt last week. He needed 20 shots to score 24 points. If you watched the game, however, you saw one of the signature performances of the young season, as Holloway scored 10 of those points in the extra session, including two huge three-pointers that decided the game. The Musketeers also got contributions from their two transfers, Andre Walker (14 rebounds) and Travis Taylor (11 points off the bench). As for Purdue, it's great to see Robbie Hummel playing so well, but I don't think the Boilermakers have enough firepower to win in Cintas Center.
 
5:15 p.m.(ESPN) No. 17 Pittsburgh (5-1) at Tennessee (3-3)
Is Jamie Dixon flipping the script on us? We usually think of Pittsburgh as being tenacious and tough on D, but streaky and unreliable on O. But look at their KenPom profile: They lead the nation in offensive efficiency, but they're 153rd in defensive efficiency. They're fifth in three-point percentage, 321st in two-point defense. They're also 322nd in turnover percentage and 312th in steal percentage. In other words, they're -- dare I say it? -- soft. And the team is certainly not helped with Tray Woodall being sidelined for the next month with a groin strain and abdominal tear. Tennessee has long had that reputation, but this year's team, which features a bull in a china shop known as Jeronne Maymon, knows how to scrap and fight, and they've been tested against a rigorous schedule. I think the Vols are gonna feast on the home cookin'.
 
3:15 p.m. (ESPN2) No. 19 Gonzaga (4-0) at Illinois (7-0)
I wish I could tell you Illinois is for real, but how would I know? Two of their better wins came against middling competition at the Cancun Challenge. (What, you didn't know there was a Cancun Challenge?). Last week they won on the road against a lousy Maryland team. We'll find out more about the Illini after this one, and I'm guessing -- just guessing -- we'll find out they're pretty good. Sam Maniscalo, the 6-foot senior transfer from Bradley, has been a pleasant surprise -- he leads the team in scoring with 13.3 points per game on 42 percent three-point shooting -- and sophomore center Meyers Leonard is ready for a breakout season. Gonzaga is pretty good, too, but this will be the Zags' first true road game of the season, and their competition to this point has been weak.
 
4:30 p.m. (Fox Sports Net) Texas (4-2) at UCLA (2-4)
I don't know exactly when (and I'm too lazy to look it up), but I'll bet it has been a looooong time since both of these teams entered December unranked. The Bruins haven't just been bad, they've been demoralized. Even when they whooped a terrible Pepperdine team Tuesday night, it happened in front of barely 3,000 people at their temporary home, the L.A. Sports Arena. Texas's losses to N.C. State and Oregon State don't inspire much confidence, either, and J'Covan Brown hasn't done much since his technical foul flameout against the Wolfpack. But this is a big game by comparison, and I think Brown will come to play. I also like what I see from freshman point guard Myck Kabongo, who is coming off a 16-point, seven assists performance.
 
Sunday, Dec. 4
 
4 p.m. No. 18 UNLV (7-0) at Wichita State (4-2)
This game is part of the vastly underrated (and way-too-unwatched) Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge. I only hope it's half as good as Creighton's comeback win at San Diego State Wednesday night. If anyone questioned whether UNLV could handle the aftermath of beating North Carolina (and I certainly did), that was answered with their road win at a solid UCSB team Wednesday night. Believe it or not, the nation's leading rebounder is someone named Mike Moser. (He's a transfer from UCLA; think that stings Bruins fans?) Moser also scored 34 points in the win over the Broncos. In some ways, a win over Wichita State would be almost as impressive as beating the Tar Heels because it is a true road game against an NCAA tournament-caliber team. In other words, this is a classic trap game, and I believe the Shockers are ready to pounce.
 
5 p.m. (MountainWest Net.) No. 24 California (6-1) at San Diego State (7-1)
San Diego State is obviously not as good as it was last year, but it's impressive that a midmajor program could lose its top four scorers -- including a lottery pick in Kawhi Leonard -- and still be this competitive. Despite their meltdown against Creighton (they led by 17 points in the first half), the Aztecs have been road-tested, playing tough at Baylor before losing by 10 and winning at Arizona. Meanwhile, in Cal's only real test of the season, Missouri embarrassed the Bears by 39 points. I don't think the Bears will get embarrassed in the Viejas Arena, but I don't think they'll win, either.
 
Last Pickoff: 10-0               Overall: 10-0
 

 
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