By Jon Rothstein
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IONA AT FAIRFIELD
A match up between the two most talented teams in the MAAC Conference features a chance for the Stags to make a statement and the Gaels to remedy their inconsistencies. Despite monumental expectations entering the season under first year coach Sydney Johnson, Fairfield has yet to show the type of capabilities many expected they would when practice started in October. Iona meanwhile, has had flashes of brilliance in and out of league play but has had two inexcusable losses recently against Manhattan and Siena where they blew double digit leads in both games. There will be more talent on the floor in Bridgeport than most mid-major games this season and whomever leaves the floor victorious will need to have better guard play --- we say that means Iona.
PREDICTION: IONA 79, FAIRFIELD 72
KANSAS AT IOWA STATE
All summer long people harped on what the Jayhawks didn't have --- but what about what they do have? Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson is as good of a one-two punch as there is in college basketball and Jeff Withey and Travis Releford have excelled in their roles as ancillary pieces around Bill Self's two stars. Despite their early conference dominance, this team doesn't have enough depth to absorb the entire Big 12 portion of their schedule unscathed and the first blemish could be Saturday against the Cyclones. Fred Hoiberg's team needs a monumental win to cement their place as an NCAA Tournament contender and they already played the Jayhawks tough a few weeks ago in Lawrence despite getting virtually nothing from shooting guard Chris Babb. Look for that to change this weekend.
PREDICTION: IOWA STATE 72, KANSAS 68
SAINT MARY'S AT BYU
A fascinating tilt between two of the better programs on the West Coast features a terrific point battle between the Gaels' Matthew Dellavedova and the Cougars' Matt Carlino, who transferred to Provo after starting his college career at UCLA. Dave Rose's team is on the heels of a two point victory at Virginia Tech while Randy Bennett's team has flown under the radar all season despite looking better than the Gaels' team in 2010 that reached the Sweet 16. Look for this to be a game that comes down to who makes the best decisions in crucial situations and that means we're betting on Saint Mary's because of Dellavedova --- a player that doesn't necessarily look the part but may very well be the smartest point guard in all of college basketball.
PREDICTION: SAINT MARY'S 71, BYU 69
MARQUETTE AT VILLANOVA
For the last two weeks, the Wildcats have seemed on the cusp of a signature victory and I've got a strange feeling Saturday against the Golden Eagles could finally be it. These two teams always seem to play hard fought games that come down to the final possession and expect this one to be exactly the same. The biggest difference from the first time these two schools met earlier in the season has been the evolution of Villanova freshman forward Jayvaughn Pinkston, whose grabbed 11 rebounds or more in his last three games. Look for Pinkston to be the Wildcats answer to talented combo forward Jae Crowder as Jay Wright's team continues to turn the corner in the second half of the Big East season.
PREDICTION: VILLANOVA 74, MARQUETTE 70
MICHIGAN AT OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes are a different team when they play in Columbus and it will take a remarkable effort from Michigan just to stay close on Sunday. The Wolverines still don't have the best depth and need to get more consistency out of Evan Smotrycz if they want to be considered in the upper echelon of the Big Ten but still, being competitive against Ohio State on the road will be a major step in the right direction. Thad Matta's team may not have the outside shooting ability it had last season but they're still built on the foundation of Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and William Buford --- that should be more than enough to get a victory on Sunday.
PREDICTION: OHIO STATE 82, MICHIGAN 71
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