Saturday’s Essentials

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Ohio State at Nebraska (-7, 136), 12 p.m. ET: The Buckeyes have come up empty in five straight Big Ten Games and have dropped four of them by nine points or more. They’ve scored 67 or fewer points in four consecutive games after surpassing that total in 12 of their first 14. Ohio State will look to win its first game in 2019 against a slumping ‘Huskers squad that has dropped two in a row and four of six, coming off perhaps their most disappointing result after losing at Rutgers on Monday night. Senior guard James Palmer is averaging 19.4 points per game and teams with Glynn Watson, Jr. to form one of the league’s most experienced, dynamic backcourts. The duo should have the edge on Ohio State’s C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods as they attempt to build on a plus-4.3 turnover margin that ranks 12th in the country and has made the difference in most wins. The Buckeyes turned it over 19 times in their most recent loss to Purdue and must clean up their act in a difficult venue. Although must-wins are rare in January, neither likely bubble teams wants to continue their downward spiral. The ‘over’ has prevailed in seven of the last 10 games involving Nebraska.

Iowa State (-1, 147) at Ole Miss, 12 p.m. ET: Ole Miss has been a pleasant surprise in Kermit Davis’ first season since coming in from Middle Tennessee to replace Andy Kennedy, entering the national rankings after a run of 10 consecutive wins between Dec. 1 and Jan. 12. The Rebels have dropped two of their last three and come off their most lopsided loss of the season on Tuesday, a 74-53 demolition at Alabama. Defeating the highly-respected Cyclones in Oxford would certainly get them back on track, but winning one of the most attractive matchups in Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge will require their first-ever victory in this event. Ole Miss went 0-5 under Kennedy and must rebound from its lowest-scoring effort of the season, so look for the Rebels to try and get guards Breein Tyree and Thomas Davis going early. Iowa State is led by Virginia transfer Marial Shayok, the Big 12’s leading scorer (19.8 ppg), and will likely try and turn this into an up-tempo game despite coming off an 80-76 loss at Kansas. They’re 7-1 this season when hitting at least 10 3-pointers. ISU is just 2-3 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The ‘under’ is 6-1-1 in Ole Miss’ last eight.

Florida at TCU (-3.5, 137), 12 p.m. ET: The Gators have pulled off comeback wins over Georgia and Texas A&M in their most recent outings, knocking down 11 of 15 3-pointers in the second half to take down the Aggies on Tuesday. They’ll look for a sweep of Lone Star State teams this week by attempting to upset TCU in Fort Worth, something that on Lipscomb has managed way back in November. After shooting 18-for-37 from beyond the arc in the win over A&M, the Gators aren’t likely to slow down. Freshman Andrew Nembhard finished with 11 assists and an up-tempo system favors top scorers KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke, but the Horned Frogs come in ranked seven in the country in holding opponents to 27.7 3-point shooting. TCU is 38-10 at home since Jamie Dixon took over the program, but he’ll be looking for his first-ever win over Florida. Mike White is perfect in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and the Gators have won four straight after losing in 2014.

Georgia Tech at Duke (-22.5, 147.5), 12 p.m. ET: The Blue Devils will get back freshman point guard Tre Jones from a shoulder injury, having survived his absence unscathed after his departure cost them in an overtime home loss to Syracuse. They dropped Virginia and Pitt without him but will welcome a floor general to set everybody up more easily, likely leading to increased efficiency in this matchup at Cameron against the visiting Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech snapped a two-game losing streak by holding off Notre Dame on Tuesday behind James Banks III’s 16 points and 10 rebounds. Only two Yellow Jackets have ever played in Durham, where they’ve lost nine straight games. Duke has won 11 straight in the series. Zion Williamson is averaging 21.7 points and shooting over 60 percent from the field, the only player in the country doing so. R.J. Barrett leads the ACC in scoring at 23.9 points per game.

Virginia (-12, 124.4) at Notre Dame, 1 p.m. ET: The Fighting Irish fell in Atlanta and has dropped five of six, including three in a row. That doesn’t bode well for their chances of taking down the Cavaliers, who rebounded from their only loss of the season at Duke by winning and covering against Wake Forest. This will be their first road trip since losing in Durham, but they’re 11-2 against Notre Dame all-time, winning last season’s matchup 62-57. The ‘under’ has prevailed in four straight games involving the Fighting Irish. This will be a Homecoming game for Kyle Guy, an Indiana native who last played in the Hoosier state as a freshman, taking the floor in South Bend. He’s made a 3-pointer in 18 straight games.

Marquette (-2, 146) at Xavier, 2 p.m. ET: The Musketeers have dropped two straight and will be looking to avoid their second three-game skid since dropping three in November, two of which came out at the Maui Invitational. After falling at Villanova and being upset at home by Providence, they’ll look to bounce back against a team they fell to 70-52 back on Jan. 6. Markus Howard and Sam Hauser had big games and remain in a great rhythm three weeks later. Meanwhile, Xavier takes the floor with guard Quentin Goodin nursing a sore knee and with wing Naji Marshall nursing a shoulder issue. He’s a game-time decision. Howard leads the Big East in scoring with 24.3 points per game and is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. Marquette is 6-1 in Big East play and has won and covered in each of its last two games.

West Virginia at Tennessee (-15, 152), 4 p.m. ET: This SEC/Big 12 Challenge game was supposed to be one of Saturday’s top matchups, but the Mountaineers haven’t done their share for this to live up to billing. The Vols enter as the nation’s top-ranked team and are a heavy favorite to earn their 14th consecutive win. The Vols have won three of four in this event against Big 12 competition but have failed to cover in each of their last two victories. West Virginia has dropped six of seven and isn’t likely to get Sagaba Konate back this season, so don’t expect to see an upset in Knoxville. Playing well enough to cover is certainly a possibility as the Mountaineers came up with a one-point loss to Kansas last week, but promising freshman Derek Culver would have to play well over his head against the Vols’ standout frontcourt for that to be a possibility.

Washington at Oregon State (-3, 135), 4 p.m. ET: The Huskies have opened with a perfect run through Pac-12 play, not only starting out 6-0 but also covering in each of the victories. They’ve held three teams under 60, including an Oregon team they tamed in Eugene before making this trip over to Corvallis. Oregon State comes off a 90-point outburst in a win over Washington State to get back on track after being swept on the road by the Arizona schools last week. The Beavers have won all three of their league home games, holding serve as a favorite against USC, UCLA and the Cougars, covering each time. Last season’s meetings were decided by just eight points, each coming down to the final possession. Two of the games went to overtime, so it’s not a huge surprise to see Oregon State favored. Tres Tinkle averaged 21.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in last year’s games and returns as the focal point of the Beavers’ attack against the Huskies’ 2-3 zone. Washington has lost its last three games in Corvallis.

Kansas at Kentucky (-6, 144.5), 6 p.m. ET: John Calipari is putting together one of his most impressive head coaching jobs, sparking the ‘Cats to wins in eight of nine, including five straight. Their two most recent conquests have been their best wins, an impressive upset at Auburn and a home blowout of Mississippi State on Tuesday. Freshmen guards Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro have really stepped up over the past few weeks to take the Wildcats to another level as they’ve picked up their offensive rhythm, scoring 70 or more points in 16 of 18 contests. Kansas comes off a comeback win over Iowa State behind 29 points from Dedric Lawson, the Memphis transfer who is among the favorites for Big 12 Player of the Year and All-America honors. Kentucky is perfect at Rupp Arena in 11 contests but has covered only five times. The Jayhawks are 1-3 in true road games, winning only at Baylor. KU has failed to cover any of its last three games and has seen the ‘under’ prevail in five of the last seven.

Syracuse at Virginia Tech (-6.5, 135.5), 8 p.m. ET: The Orange hopes to be as successful in this road venture as they were at Duke and have really been solid outside the Carrier Dome most of the season, winning all three of their true road games entering this stop in Blacksburg. ‘Cuse has won at Ohio State and Notre Dame in addition to its conquest in Durham, but will need to bother a Virginia Tech offense that ranks third in the country in 3-point shooting, making over 42 percent of its attempts. The Hokies haven’t lost on their home floor but come off an embarrassing 103-82 loss at UNC on Monday. They’ve been blown out by over 20 points in two of their past three and hit the road for visits to Miami and N.C. State next week, so this will a big swing game for Buzz Williams’ squad. Syracuse has shot over 41 percent from beyond the arc in its five ACC wins and has really shared the basketball impressively in blowouts of Pitt and Miami. Virginia Tech is playing a short rotation due to P.J. Horne being out indefinitely and scored just 56 points in its loss at the Carrier Dome last season. The ‘over’ has connected in five of the last six involving Virginia Tech.

Arizona State at USC (-1, 152), 8 p.m. ET: The Trojans impressively dominated UCLA last Saturday and pulled off a 23-point win over Arizona on Thursday, so they’re in the midst of their finest stretch of the season. USC scored 80 points against both, bouncing back from losses at both Oregon schools that continued their rough start outside of L.A.’s Galen Center. Protecting their home floor will be critical to making a run in Pac-12 play, and since they came up empty with no quality wins in non-conference play, the only way they’re going to make the NCAA Tournament will be to capture the conference tourney’s automatic bid. The Sun Devils have quality wins over Kansas and Mississippi State to bolster their case and have won five of six since losing at home to Utah to open 2019. ASU has won just 14 of 44 games at USC, but has won three of the last eight at Galen Center.

Auburn at Mississippi State (-PK, 150), 8:30 p.m. ET: Bruce Pearl’s Tigers have dropped consecutive games and are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak since February of 2017. Their defense has been suspect of late and won’t get injured big man Austin Wiley to aid the cause since he’s expected to miss another week with a leg injury. Auburn is 1-3 in league road games. Mississippi State comes off being blown out for the first time this season, falling by 21 points at Rupp Arena. Their 55-point output was their lowest of the season, so since they’ll play at Alabama and Ole Miss next week, finding a way to take down Auburn is essential to potentially avoiding a freefall. The loser will fall to 2-4 in SEC play, so this game should be intense down the stretch since neither Pearl nor Ben Howland want to be put in that position. The ‘over’ has connected in each of the last four Auburn games and a fast pace is expected to be employed here. That should help Mississippi State wave off the stink of a 3-for-20 shooting effort from beyond the arc in the Kentucky loss. The 3-ball could go a long way in deciding this one since the Tigers rank in the Top 25 nationally in makes while the Bulldogs are 211th in defensive 3-point field goal percentage.

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