CHICAGO -- Four programs rich in tradition take the floor Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic. It'll be Ohio State vs. UCLA at 3 p.m. followed by Kentucky vs. North Carolina at 5:15 p.m. at the United Center in Chicago in a doubleheader that can be seen on CBS, CBSSports.com, the CBS Sports App and streaming on fuboTV.
CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander are breaking down the teams, players and coaches to prepare for Saturday's gamesas well as letting you know what the top storylines are heading into the event.
UCLA vs. Ohio State, 3 p.m.
Norlander: OK, let's get to this Ohio State-UCLA game first, Parrish. There's arguably more drama around it now, since UCLA got creamed by Cincinnati on Wednesday night, 93-64. This coming in the wake of a 74-72 loss, in messy fashion, to Belmont over the weekend. And that was a home game for UCLA.
So before we get into the actual game, can we talk about Steve Alford? We mentioned his job security on our, and now at 7-4 and with another game looming against a good coach and a good team, things could get really bad by Saturday night.
Parrish: Yeah, Alford is pretty clearly in a tough spot here — which, on some level, is crazy considering he made the NCAA Tournament in four of his first five seasons, advanced to the Sweet 16 three times and just enrolled a top-10 recruiting class. But UCLA has fired accomplished coaches before — most recently Ben Howland just a few weeks after he won an outright Pac-12 title. And when you consider that Alford was an unpopular hire from the jump, and that boosters were flying banners encouraging the school to fire him before Lonzo Ball enrolled, things were likely always headed this direction. Which is not to suggest these Bruins can't turn this season around. It's still early, after all.
But, undeniably, Alford's so-called seat is hot. And, like I've said many times, once you get on the hot seat with your fans, it's nearly impossible to get off. Alford is but the latest example.
Norlander: Too true, GP. It's hard to envision a scenario in which Alford ever escapes from this. Fans have been calling for him to be fired for years now -- but even if things continue to swerve sideways for Alford in the next few weeks/months, he deserved to stay on this long in Westwood. This has not been a failure. Plus, the Pac-12 has been so erratic this season, and UCLA is still talented, that it's not absurd to say the Bruins could finish top-three in that league.
But you know what? Being third in the league this season might not be good enough to get you to the NCAA Tournament. The Ohio State opportunity on Saturday looms large, no doubt. So, let's chat Bruins-Buckeyes.
Parrish: It's an interesting matchup because not only is UCLA coming off of a 29-point loss, it's coming off of a 29-point loss to a Cincinnati team that lost at home earlier this season to the Ohio State team the Bruins are about to play. To be clear, I'm not a big transitive property guy when it comes to basketball because transitive property guys when it comes to basketball are stupid. But it's obviously not great to be on a two-game losing streak heading into a game against a team that's already beaten the team that just beat your brains in.
Is UCLA more talented than Ohio State? Yeah, probably so. But the Bruins are also more talented than Belmont and Cincinnati. And it didn't seem to matter in those games. So I'm not sure it'll matter here either.
Picks for Bruins-Buckeyes
Norlander: And yet ... I think UCLA's going to show up strong on Saturday. Ohio State's been the better team, but I think UCLA is undeniably more talented. It's also up against it. From a betting perspective, I'm guessing the public will heavily be on OSU. But UCLA has to play well in this spot. And Alford's only had one three-game losing streak in nonconference play in the last 11 seasons of his career. Ohio State's young. It's inconsistent on offense. I sorta feel like this will be a messy game and UCLA is going to -- barely -- capitalize on it. My guess is UCLA 72-68. You?
Parrish: I could easily see it playing out the way you described. I mean, I just watched Georgia Tech lose to Gardner-Webb at home and beat Arkansas on the road in a span of three days. College basketball is goofy like that. But, if forced to make a prediction, I'll go Ohio State 76-71. I'll be surprised if the Buckeyes aren't 11-1 when they go to sleep Saturday night.
Kentucky vs. North Carolina, 5:15 p.m.
Norlander: Now, let's talk the headliner. Kentucky-UNC. We'll get to the game in a minute. But I offer you this thought experiment to start: who leaves their school first, Calipari or Roy?
Parrish: I know Roy just signed a lengthy contract extension. And I know it has to be exhausting for Cal to coach under constant pressure while having to start a team mostly from scratch each season. But I don't think either of these guys are going to A) leave for another college job, or B) jump to the NBA. So, barring a surprise, we're really discussing which one will retire first. And I'm just going to assume the 68 year-old (Roy) will retire before the 59 year-old (Cal).
That said, I don't think either plans to walk away soon. When the current class of high school seniors are college seniors, my assumption is that Roy will still be in Chapel Hill, and Cal will still be in Lexington.
Norlander: I will say Roy as well. But I don't think he's coaching through the end of this contract. The length of that deal was a big statement on behalf of the university, and I think it was arranged as a statement of appreciation for all he's done as much as it was about establishing shield around recruiting for the next five years.
I'm torn on this game, by the way. UNC has the shooting and playmaking to win by double digits. Coby White, not projected top-10 pick Nassir Little, has been the star. Cam Johnson has been the not-so-normal case of an up-transfer meeting the hype. What storylines in this game are you most interested in? It's a pretty important game for UK, after all.
Parrish: To me, this is a game you leave talking about, or writing about, Kentucky. UK is the story -- win or lose. North Carolina just beat Gonzaga and is ranked fifth at KenPom. UNC is fine. But Kentucky? Man, I'm not sure. The Wildcats are 0-2 away from Rupp Arena, 0-2 against top-90 KenPom opponents and, at this point, probably the most disappointing team in the nation. Beat North Carolina, and the narrative is that the Wildcats are maybe starting to figure things out. But if they lose and drop to 0-3 away from Rupp Arena, and 0-3 against top-90 KenPom teams, then big questions remain for a team that I, obviously incorrectly, had No. 1 in the preseason Top 25 And 1. So this is a big spot for the Wildcats. I'm interested to see how they respond.
Norlander: Barring an injury or something downright bizarre from UNC, there's probably not a lot we'll take away from this game on its behalf that will drastically change our outlook on the Heels. It's a team with the talent and coaching to get to a third Final Four in four years. It's got enough to toss with Duke and Virginia atop the ACC standings.
I'm mostly looking forward to seeing Coby White in person and watching UNC try to go against Kentucky. But you're right. All the fascination lies with Big Blue. Because if it loses in this spot, guess what's next? At Louisville on Dec. 29. And then SEC play starts on the road at Alabama. Things are urgent now. And it's another season in which we're approaching Christmas and truly wondering what UK's identity is. One trait: Kentucky's never been this poor defensively from 3-point range under Cal. Opponents are making 39 percent of their attempts from deep. Will UNC run-and-shoot on UK all day?
So, GP, I took an upset with UCLA or OSU. You gonna get frisky and say your preseason No. 1 team can win this one on Saturday at the United Center?
Picks for Wildcats-Tar Heels
Parrish: If asked to pick this game in October, I would've picked Kentucky But knowing what we know now, I think I have to go with the Tar Heels. The reason I loved UK in the preseason is because UK had three non-freshmen who averaged at least 9.0 points per game last season to pair with four five-star freshmen.
Well, one of those non-freshmen has already announced a transfer to Washington, and the only five-star freshman averaging more than 7.6 points per game is Keldon Johnson. So this has not worked the way I anticipated. Consequently, I think North Carolina wins. It'll likely be competitive. But I think UNC wins 81-77.
Norlander: Yeah, you know what? I'm gonna get nuts. I'm going to take both underdogs to win straight up this weekend. It's going to be a CBS Sports Classic to remember! We're going to have Steve Alford salvage himself a bit, and then we're going to see Kentucky play its best game of the season and get big-time performances out of Reid Travis, Keldon Johnson and P.J. Washington.
I think Kentucky-UNC will be gripping from the get-go. I'll take the Wildcats 78-86. In the win, Kentucky changes its course for this season and alters the way it's been perceived since that season-opening blowout against Duke. And UNC? Well it rates as the best three-loss team in America if it does drop to UK on Saturday. Should be a really fun afternoon here in the Windy City.