What to watch this weekend: Xavier-Cincinnati highlights fun slate

The Dagger
Xavier's Trevon Bluiett runs up the court in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Wright State, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Cincinnati. Xavier won 90-55. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Bluiett has 22, No. 12 Xavier beats Wright State 90-55

Xavier's Trevon Bluiett runs up the court in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Wright State, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Cincinnati. Xavier won 90-55. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

An intriguing crosstown rivalry game between Cincinnati and Xavier highlights a loaded Saturday in college basketball. Here's a look at the 10 best matchups and projections on which teams will emerge as winners. 

Ohio State (4-4) at Connecticut (5-3) (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST.): While both UConn and Ohio State have more early losses than either are accustomed to so far this season, the Huskies enter this game in far better position than the Buckeyes. UConn's three narrow losses have come against teams that are either good or elite this season. Among youthful Ohio State's four losses are upsets at the hands of Texas Arlington and Louisiana Tech. Expect the Huskies to take this one because they're at home, they're less turnover-prone and they're exceptional at defending the rim. Projected winner: UConn.

Marquette (7-2) at Wisconsin (6-4) (Saturday, 1:30 p.m. EST): Fueled by the skilled frontcourt tandem of Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer, Marquette takes a six-game win streak into its showdown with in-state rival Wisconsin. The Golden Eagles will face a topsy-turvy Badgers team nowhere near as efficient on offense as last season as a result of the departure of five of their top seven players. The key for Wisconsin will be generating offense from other players besides Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Vitto Brown cannot go 1-for-9 from the field for a second straight game and Ethan Happ must be assertive from the get-go. Projected winner: Wisconsin. 

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Arizona State (6-2) at Kentucky (8-1) (Saturday, 3:15 p.m. EST): John Calipari was right to call Arizona State the type of test his young but talented team needs. Not only do the Sun Devils boast victories over NC State, Creighton and Texas A&M already this season, they also have a physical, experienced frontcourt that excels attacking the offensive glass. Arizona State's lack of outside shooting is certainly worrisome, but Willie Atwood, Savon Goodman, Eric Jacobsen and Obinna Oleka are capable of securing enough second-chance opportunities to make this a close game if Kentucky's frontcourt doesn't box them out. Projected winner: Kentucky.

Utah (7-1) at Wichita State (4-4) (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST): This is a huge, huge game for a Wichita State team that suffered four November losses while trying to overcome injuries to star point guard Fred VanVleet, top big man Anton Grady and key rotation player Landry Shemet. The Shockers don't have many more chances left for marquee wins the rest of the season, so they may need this one to have a realistic chance of building an at-large-caliber resume. 7-foot NBA prospect Jakob Poeltl will be very difficult for Wichita State to handle in the paint, but Utah has not defended the 3-point shot well at all this year. Projected winner: Utah.

Ivan Rabb rebounds during basketball practice (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ivan Rabb rebounds during basketball practice (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Saint Mary's (6-0) at Cal (7-2) (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST): Hailed as a Pac-12 title contender after adding two McDonald's All-Americans to a veteran core, Cal has not looked the part so far this season. The Bears lost to San Diego State and Richmond and needed overtime to survive at Wyoming mostly because they're neither forcing turnovers nor defending the perimeter well on defense. That's a big concern against an unbeaten Saint Mary's team that is exceptional offensively. The Gaels will be at a massive size and athleticism deficit in this game, but sharpshooter Emmett Naar, point guard Joe Rahon and interior standout Dane Pineau will pick the Bears apart if they're not focused on defense. Projected winner: Cal.

North Carolina (7-1) at Texas (5-3) (Saturday, 5:15 p.m. EST): The last time North Carolina played a true road game, the Tar Heels suffered their lone loss of the season at Northern Iowa. Don't expect that to happen a second time since Roy Williams' team has star guard Marcus Paige back and is facing an opponent that has been mediocre from day one this season. Texas hasn't beaten anyone in the KenPom top 75 so far this season and has been particularly dreadful on the defensive glass. That's not ideal against a North Carolina team that already rebounds 36.2 percent of its misses. Projected winner: North Carolina.

Cincinnati (8-1) at Xavier (9-0) (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. EST): With every key player back from a defensive-oriented team that reached the NCAA tournament's round of 32 last March, Cincinnati has been underrated all season. The Bearcats have remained elite on defense while showing marked improvement on offense thanks to the outside shooting of Farad Cobb, the creativity of Troy Caupain and the offensive rebounding of Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis. As good as the Bearcats are, winning on the road at rival Xavier will not be easy. The Musketeers have rolled through every opponent on their schedule so far this season by playing stingy defense, dominating the glass at both ends and getting to the foul line consistently. Projected winner: Xavier.

Florida (6-2) at Michigan State (9-0) (Saturday, 6 p.m. EST): Here's a crazy stat that illustrates one of the biggest reasons Michigan State is among the nation's most efficient offensive teams so far this season: A remarkable 80 percent of the Spartans' baskets come via assists, by far the highest percentage in the country. Florida's formidable defense will pose a greater challenge to Michigan State's attack than most previous opponents, but the Gators probably don't score well enough to make this game close. John Egbunu and Dorian Finney-Smith have formed a solid frontcourt duo, but Kasey Hill is no closer to turning the corner at point guard and the Gators still can't make jump shots Projected winner: Michigan State.

Oregon State (6-1) vs. Kansas (7-1) (Saturday, 8 p.m. EST in Kansas City): The arrival of a promising freshman class has Oregon State optimistic about its future, but the Beavers have shown that this year has promise too. Gary Payton II has shown improvement as a scorer and remained elite in other facets, helping the Beavers start 6-1 even as their freshmen are still getting accustomed to college basketball. Facing third-ranked Kansas in Kansas City represents a huge step up in class for Oregon State. The Beavers may stay in the game with their defense, but this will be a tough game for them to win. Projected winner: Kansas.

UCLA (6-3) at Gonzaga (6-2) (Saturday, 10 p.m. EST): With Przemek Karnowski sidelined by back spasms and opponents committing help defenders to slowing down Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga needs its backcourt to improve. Point guard Josh Perkins has committed far too turnovers so far this season and wings Kyle Dranginis, Silas Melson and Eric McClellan aren't hitting enough outside shots. The concern for UCLA is that it doesn't have a defender well-suited to keeping Wiltjer in check. Starting power forward Tony Parker can't defend effectively out to the perimeter, so Jonah Bolden may see long stretches of playing time off the bench. Projected winner: UCLA.

 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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