What makes the Battle of the Boulevard so special?

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NASHVILLE, TN – The last time that Belmont and Lipscomb played at Memorial Coliseum — the home of the Vanderbilt Commodores, a fellow Nashvillian institution of higher learning — they not only packed the house with 16,000 fans, they had to lock out ticket-holders in order to prevent the fire marshall from shutting down the game.

That was all the way back in 1990.

Now, Belmont and Lipscomb have a combined enrollment of about 9,000 students today. But 22 years ago, there were probably have as many enrolled students at the two universities. That fact alone goes to show you just how passionate these fan bases are that they were able to sell out Memorial Coliseum.

Now consider this: Belmont went Division I in 1997. Lipscomb followed suit a couple of years later in 2000.

Back in 1990, the two schools were members of the NAIA. Granted, they were both powerhouse programs competing for national titles year in and year out, but they were still NAIA schools.

Have you ever been to an NAIA game? Me neither. And more than 16,000 still showed up to see these two teams play.

That should give you an idea of what this rivalry is all about.

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What makes the intensity of this rivalry so unique is that both schools embody the lost philosophy of the student-athlete.

There are a couple of players that took the court at the Curb Center on Belmont’s campus on Friday night that may be able to play basketball professionally someday. There are a lot of leagues overseas, and there is a reason these kids were able to get their education paid for through hoops. They certainly aren’t bad basketball players.

But NBA scouts weren’t beating down the doors of the Curb Center trying to get one last credential for the game. John Calipari didn’t recruit any of these kids out of high school. The game wasn’t televised anywhere, let alone on ESPN.

In other words, even if one of the kids from Belmont or Lipscomb does play for pay when their collegiate career comes to a close, they won’t be making a life-changing amount of money. Eventually, they are all going to go pro in something other than sports.

“Its just two programs that are trying to do things the right way,” Lipscomb head coach Scott Sanderson said after the game. “A lot of times people cut corners trying to do a lot of stuff, trying to recruit good kids. Everyone here is going to graduate, which is very important to both of us.”

Belmont is a school with very strong music and arts programs, and being located a stone’s throw from downtown Nashville — the Music City — makes it difficult to get a casual fan base to make time in a busy schedule to come see a game. Lipscomb has similar issues with their athletics programs. Their school is affiliated with the Church of Christ, which means that things like drinking and partying and even staying out past 11 pm is not allowed. The Bison faithful aren’t exactly shotgunning beers outside of Allen Arena prior to the game.

The lack of interest in athletics as a whole is a negative and a positive.

Both the Bruins and the Bison have trouble selling tickets to the majority of their home games, and its understandable. I’m a basketball junkie and you’d have a tough time convincing me its worthwhile to pay for a ticket to the Florida-Gulf Coast come to town. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to convince an aspiring country music star to skip a gig at one of the local honky-tonks to see a game against 2-14 Jacksonville.

But it also helps to build up the intensity for the times that the two schools do share a court. The Battle of the Boulevard is more than just a basketball game; its an event. Its something that people look forward to, talk trash prior to and attend because it fills their social agenda.

“Its an event and everybody hypes it up and talks trash on facebook and everyone promotes the game and comes out,” Belmont senior forward Mick Hedgepeth said. “The news comes to our practice the day of the game and I’m sure it goes to their’s. To see what the coaches and players have to say. Its a blast.”

Case in point: Belmont SID Greg Sage said that even though Belmont’s basketball team has been relevant nationally for the past few years, he still has a tough time convincing some of the local media to come cover a game. That will happen when you’re team is far from the only game in town.

But on Friday afternoon, both of the FM sports radio stations in Nashville were broadcasting their afternoon drive-time shows live from the student center right outside the doors to Belmont’s arena.

That doesn’t happen unless Lipscomb is visiting.

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The Battle of the Boulevard dates all the way back to 1953.

This year’s first installment, an 85-74 come from behind victory on the road for Lipscomb in front of a Curb Center record crowd of 5,227, was the 129th in the history of the series. The Bison improved to 73-56 all-time vs. Belmont with the win. They’ve played as NAIA teams and as members of Division II. They’ve shared conference affiliations in the Volunteer State Athletic Conference and the TransSouth before the Atlantic Sun. And while Belmont is currently the stronger hoops program, it wasn’t always that way.

“They had the upper hand, they were a phenomenal NAIA powerhouse,” Belmont head coach Rick Byrd told Kyle Whelliston of the Mid-Majority in his book “One Beautiful Season”, which chronicled his travels during the 2009-2010 season. “But we challenged them, and by 1994-95 we beat them six times in a roe. For the first ten years, I was just trying to get us to the point when we were good enough for us to beat Lipscomb. At the beginning, everyone at the school was saying ‘We’ve got to be Lipscomb, we’ve got to beat Lipscomb’. My thought was that we had to get good enough to beat the other teams in the league, and then we could start thinking about beating the best. That’s how good Lipscomb was.”

When Byrd first took the Belmont job back in the mid-1980’s, Lipscomb was being led by Don Meyer, who just so happens to be the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history. Of the 923 wins he had in his career, 665 of them came with the Bison. He built Lipscomb from a team that won just 11 games in his first season into the 1986 NAIA champions, but it was a game that took place at the end of the 1989 season that will go down as one of the most memorable in the history of the rivalry.

Meyer had perhaps his best team in his tenure with the Bison. Lipscomb was 38-1 heading into the league playoffs, but Byrd’s scrappy group of underdogs knocked off the Bison and kept them from advancing to the National Tournament. With the majority of both rosters returning for the 1989-1990, it set the stage for the game in 1990 when, the Bruins opted to move their home game to Memorial Coliseum.

The 16,000 people that were in attendance is still a record for an NAIA game.

Byrd’s program eventually eclipsed that of Meyer so much so that, in 1997, the Bruins decided to move their athletics to the Division I level. They did so in 1997, and after four years as an independent, Belmont landed safely in the Atlantic Sun. Not to be upstaged by their intercity rivals, Lipscomb did the same in 2000. Their tortuous stint as a Divison I independent lasted only three years before they, too, ended up in the Atlantic Sun.

After an eight year hiatus, Belmont and Lipscomb reignited their rivalry. The Battle of the Boulevard was, once again, a conference clash.

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The athletes aren’t the only members of the schools that take this rivalry incredibly seriously.

The students do as well.

“You gotta beat them,” TJ Ojehomon, a sophomore an Lipscomb and the school’s athletics hype man said. “Its bragging rights. There’s a lot of pride. Having a successful season kind of rides on beating this team.”

Ojehomon is at every single Lipscomb home game, be it women’s basketball, men’s basketball, volleyball. You name it. He has his seat reserved at the end of the front row, and he spends the majority of the game working up a sweat trying to get the fans of his team into the game. As he describes it, he has “a big responsibility with getting the fans a little rowdy at our games and our athletic events.”

Ojehomon made the trek down the Boulevard to attend the game at Belmont. The way he explains it, the rivalry has more to it than just athletics.

“You don’t have to many schools of equal competition that’s right down the street from each other,” he said. “So when you do get two Division I schools who try to pride themselves on the same morals and try to compete with each other with the students they select and not just the athletics they’re performing? This is a huge game.”

Its not just basketball, either. The attendance at the Belmont’s soccer games increases five-fold when Lipscomb visits. Belmont students head over to Allen Arena to take in the women’s volleyball games with regularity. And all the energy and trash talk that we saw from the 5,227 people in the crowd for Friday’s basketball game?

Its present for the other sports as well.

“Its not one of those love-hate rivalries. We don’t like Belmont, Belmont don’t like us,” Ojehomon said. “They came over to our house for Battle of the Boulevard volleyball. We were doing the same thing, kind of heckling each other and talking a lot of trash, and at the end they came over and shook hands and said ‘Hey man, we had a great time.’ So it is friendly, but when we’re in the heat of it, I don’t like them.”

Braxton Wilson is a fifth-year senior at Belmont and a brother in the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Belmont. Playing the role Belmont’s Van Wilder, he’s been to every single Battle of the Boulevard basketball game, home and away, in his time at the school.

But for Wilson, the tone of the rivalry was set the first time he attended a game. As a freshman back in 2007-2008, Lipscomb hosted the first game. Wilson went over with a group of his frat brothers, but the Lipscomb athletic department stuck them up in a corner where their view was blocked by the basket.

“We ended up being so loud and so obnoxious that they never gave us a bad seat again,” Wilson said.

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It would be impossible to recap all of the legendary battles waged between these two schools over the past 59 years, but in the mind of John Langdon, a member of Belmont’s athletic department for 14 years and a big enough Bruin supporter that he’s stopped attending the Battle of the Boulevard games in Allen Arena because he can’t handle seeing Belmont losing to their rivals, one game in particular sticks out.

Belmont’s 74-69 overtime win over Lipscomb in the 2006 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament title game.

“That win kind of sent the two programs on their divergent paths,” Langdon said. Belmont to the top of the league and Lipscomb back to the middle of the pack.

In just their third season in the Division I ranks, Lipscomb had managed a tie with the Bruins for the league’s regular season title. The two teams had split during the regular season, meaning that not only were bragging rights in the city on the line, a first-ever NCAA Tournament bid for either school was up for grabs. The importance of the game for the two programs could not have been overstated.

The excitement of the game didn’t let the crowd down, either. With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, Jordan Hare drove for an and-one layup, hitting the free throw to tie the game and force overtime, where the Bruins would eventually win and advance to their first of four NCAA Tournament. In 2008, Belmont lost to Duke by one in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when Gerald Henderson scored on a driving layup with 11.9 seconds left and the Bruins came up short on two opportunities in the final ten seconds.

Last season, the Bruins won 30 games and earned a 13 seed in the Big Dance, where they lost to Wisconsin by 14 in the first round. With the majority of their roster returning, Belmont was once again considered the favorite in the Atlantic Sun and one of the few mid-majors to get consideration for the top 25 prior to the season. Lipscomb has yet to make another serious run at getting an NCAA Tournament bid.

And if you believe the folks at Belmont, it was that win in 2006 that made all the difference.

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The other unique part of this rivalry is that for all the hatred on the court and the vitriol spewed from the stands during the games, the majority of the players are friends.

Or, the very least, friendly.

“I know some of their older guys being a senior,” Hedgepeth said. “I see them around, I like a couple of those guys. I’m friendly with them. But once you cross those lines, their is no friends.”

The way the Atlantic Sun is set up, every team in the league has a travel partner, and, obviously, Belmont and Lipscomb are travel partners. When Belmont plays at Jacksonville, Lipscomb plays at North Florida. Two days later, when Lipscomb is playing at Jacksonville, Belmont is playing at North Florida. Its like that every time they travel.

And it can set up some awkward situations.

“We flew back from Jacksonville Thursday, [a day before the Battle of the Boulevard], and we were on the same plane,” Sanderson said. “[Coach Byrd] was on one side of the aisle watching film and I was on the other side of the aisle watching film.”

Can you imagine Coach K and Roy Williams watching tape of each other’s teams sitting across the aisle from each other on a plane the day before UNC played Duke? I can’t.

“We’re friends. We don’t talk all the time, but we’re nice to one another and we respect one another,” Sanderson said.

Players at this level are no different than players are the high-major programs. They know that they shouldn’t tell members of the press anything that would make it up onto the wall of an opponent’s locker room, even if those members of the press are simply a pair of bloggers on a cross-country trip. That said, you could still get a sense of the intensity of this rivalry through the sugar-coated quotes from members of both teams.

“I do think that it’s not any fun to lose this game. It’s not any fun to lose any game, but it’s been a long, long time since we’ve been upset,” Byrd said after his team’s loss on Friday night. “If you want to say that last year’s loss at their place was an upset, you can, but they were picked to win the league and it was on their home floor. I don’t remember when we’ve been upset before that. It’s a long, long stretch, so I’m proud of what our team has accomplished. There aren’t many people who can go back over a year and a half and say that they haven’t been upset. This was an upset, based on where the teams were at the time, and how they’ve played to this point, but they outplayed us and deserved to win.”

“The games haven’t been as close here recently. When Scott first got in the league, it seemed like we had overtime games every time. They haven’t been as good recently, but it’s the toughest game for us to lose … a Lipscomb game on our floor.”

Its not just the coaches, either.

“We do play some pickup in the summer and we do have some friends on the other team,” Jacob Arnett, a redshirt junior at Lipscomb, said after Friday’s win. “We’ll hang out and stuff like that. Its not all hatred except on the court.”

“And maybe a little bit off it.”

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Last year, Belmont hosted the Battle of the Boulevard on January 13th. It was a Thursday and came just one day after Belmont started classes for the spring semester. In 2009-2010, the game was held at Belmont on January 26th, a full two weeks into the semester. In 2008-2009, Belmont hosted the game on January 12th. It was a Monday and while classes had yet to start — they were beginning the Wednesday of that week — the dorms had opened on the 11th, meaning that the students were back on campus.

This season, the Curb Center played host to the Battle of the Boulevard on January 6th, which is the earliest that this rivalry has taken place since both school became members of the Atlantic Sun back in the 2003-2004 season.

This year, Belmont’s dorms opened up on New Year’s Day. Their classes started on Wednesday, January 4th. Every Belmont student was back on campus for the game.

Coincidence?

“We don’t start school until Monday,” Sanderson said. “We usually have a whole section full with our people. That’s what the rivalry is about, to have that environment in here.”

Does that make this win feel that much better?

With a smile as he walked away, Sanderson simply said “It does.”

No. 5 Butler loses second straight as DePaul gets first Big East win

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Paul Reed scored 23 points and shot 8-for-9 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the line as DePaul finally found a way into the win column on Saturday, pounding No. 5 Butler at home, 79-66.

The Blue Demons jumped out to a 22-6 lead early in the first half, and outside of a late first half surge that cut the lead to five, were never really threatened by the Bulldogs. Jalen Coleman-Lands finished with 19 points and Romeo Weekms added 11 as Dave Leitao’s club was able to land their biggest win of the season despite the fact that leading scorer Charlie Moore finished with just nine points to go along with his eight assists.

It helps that Moore was the only player that did not shoot the ball well for the Blue Demons. He was 3-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-4 from three. The rest of the team shot 18-for-30 from the field and 9-for-13 from three.

The truth is that DePaul, who entered the game in sole possession of last place in the conference with an 0-4 record, has been much closer to being this good than they have been to being a typical, winless DePaul program. They won non-conference road wins at Iowa and Minnesota — and we know how hard it is to win on the road in the Big Ten — while beating Texas Tech in overtime in Chicago. Their four losses have come by a total of 20 points, one of which came in overtime at Villanova.

Put another way, DePaul has taken as many tough losses as anyone in league play.

They were never going to be an easy out.

Butler found that out the hard way.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start asking questions about the Bulldogs, who have now been outscored 123-88 in the last three halves of basketball that they have played. For a team that prides themselves on their defense, their execution and their ability to prepare for an opponent, this is worrisome.

The Bulldogs aren’t winning based on talent. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that is willing to say that Butler is more talented than DePaul. Where they make up the difference is in being able to blow up anything that a team wants to run against them while executing well enough offensively to be able to land a win.

They haven’t been able to do that since the first half of the loss to Seton Hall.

Now, this could be as simple as the Bulldogs shooting poorly and running into a couple of tough, athletic teams that got hot at the right time.

Or it could be a sign that Butler has been figured out.

Either way, the truth is that the Bulldogs needed to find an answer, because things do not get easier for them this week.

They head to No. 14 Villanova next.

No. 2 Baylor pushes winning streak to 15 with come-from-behind win at Oklahoma State

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STILLWATER, Okla. — Devonte Bandoo hit four threes in the final 11 minutes, including two in the last three minutes, as No. 2 Baylor rallied past Oklahoma State 75-68 for the Bears’ 15th straight victory. Oklahoma State has now lost five in a row.

Jared Butler scored 19 points and had six assists.

Baylor (15-1, 5-0 Big 12) has the second-longest active streak in the nation and the third longest in school history.

Freddie Gillespie had 17 points and four rebounds and Devonte Bandoo scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for Baylor, which overcame a 12-point deficit in the last 20 minutes.

Isaac Likekele scored 16 points and added nine rebounds and five assists for Oklahoma State (9-8, 0-5). Cameron McGriff had 16 points and five rebounds while Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters each scored 14. Oklahoma State shot 41%, the highest allowed by Baylor since Nov. 24, a span of 10 games.

The Bears trailed 47-35 with 14 minutes remaining but used an 18-4 run over the next four-plus minutes to get back in the game. When MaCio Teague hit a 3-pointer 8:41 left, Baylor had its first lead.

The teams exchanged leads four times down the stretch before the Bears sank seven of eight free throws in the final minute to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears entered the day having trailed for a total of just 22 minutes, 13 seconds, over their previous nine games. Their largest deficit in that span was a 20-15 margin in the first half of a 67-55 win over then-No. 3 Kansas on Jan. 11. Oklahoma State led 36-27 at the half, just the fourth time this season Baylor wasn’t up at halftime.

Oklahoma State: After shooting just 30% or less in three of their previous four outings, the Cowboys found their mojo. Their shooting percentage was the highest in five games.

UP NEXT

Baylor: The Bears have a quick turnaround, hosting Oklahoma on Monday.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys play at Iowa State on Tuesday.

No. 14 Villanova survives UConn, 61-55

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In a game with ever-changing momentum, Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels stepped up to make crucial shots as the Wildcats held on for a narrow 61-55 win over the Huskies.

In crunch time, the Wildcats turned to their experienced players — juniors Samuels and Collin Gillespie.

Samuels hit a three with 31 seconds left to give ‘Nova a four-point lead, ending the game with a team-high 19 points and going 4-of-6 from long. Collin Gillespie helped the Wildcats turn around a slow second-half start, scoring 10 straight after going scoreless for almost 27 minutes.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl played an important role in the Wildcats’ win as well, knocking down four critical free throws to extend the lead at the end of the game. The freshman crashed the boards for a total of seven rebounds, including three huge offensive boards.

Villanova (14-3) closed the game on an 18-7 run to pull off the victory, as UConn (10-7) gave it everything they had, keeping it close to the very end.

The Huskies got out to an early lead over the Wildcats, with Akok Akok making impressive plays on both sides of the court — turning a blocked shot into a three-pointer on the other end. Akok led the team with three blocks, grabbing two of five first-half blocks. UConn made clear why it is one of the nation’s best shot-blocking teams, totaling six blocks on the game and forcing Villanova to hit perimeter shots by taking away the paint.

After getting off to a slow start, Villanova shot lights out from beyond the arc in the first half, going 6-of-11 and utilizing spacing to avoid UConn’s high-level shot blocking. Six different Wildcats sank one from deep as ‘Nova finished 11-of-23 on the day.

After the game, Villanova coach Jay Wright commented on the team’s two slow starts on the day, saying the team had to learn how to play every possession intently.

While UConn wasn’t able to keep up from beyond the arc — shooting only 2-of-15 — the Huskies took advantage down low, with a whopping 36 points coming from inside the paint compared to the Wildcats’ 12.

Turnovers also plagued the Huskies, as they lost the ball 17 times, which the Wildcats capitalized on to score 23 of their 61 points.

UConn is clearly on the rise under the coaching of Dan Hurley and made it a tough game for Villanova. The Huskies will rejoin the Big East next season, making this a rivalry to watch moving forward.

Gators guard Andrew Nembhard has flu, could miss Auburn game

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida could be without point guard Andrew Nembhard against No. 4 Auburn on Saturday.

Coach Mike White said Nembhard has the flu and missed practice Thursday and Friday. The sophomore and Canadian national team player has started all 52 games in two seasons.

“We all better be ready to play potentially without him,” White said.

Nembhard is averaging 11.1 points, 5.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds this season. He also ranks second on the team with 21 steals. If he doesn’t play, the Gators (11-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) would start one of two freshmen: Tre Mann or Ques Glover.

Neither option seems ideal against Auburn (15-1, 3-1), which starts four seniors including two in the backcourt.

“Great opportunity for freshmen guards,” White said. “All these guys want opportunities. They have to take advantage of it. We have to be ready.”

Although Florida has plenty of time remaining to bolster its postseason resume, White acknowledged that his team could use a victory against an Auburn team that sits 11th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings. The Gators have only one win against a team currently ranked in the NET top 50.

You’ve got to start taking advantage of some of them,” White said. “You want to play postseason and you want to play in that one tournament as opposed to the others, and you’ve got to win some of these.

“I don’t think any of them are do or die. I don’t think you put your team – especially this team – in the right mindset to execute (by saying that). But our guys also have to understand and we all have to understand that at this time of year – really from now to finish, really from the first game to finish – you’ve got to take advantage of some of these opportunities.”

It might be without Nembhard, who’s assist-to-turnover ratio is slightly better than 2 to 1.

“He’s one of the best guards in our league,” senior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. said. “He’s somebody who calms us down on both ends of the plays, accountable on both ends. But I think we have some guys ready to step up, been really good in practice these last few days.

“I think we got a good chance of winning this one.”

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Best Bets: Where is the value in college basketball this weekend?

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Friday night’s lines have been released, but Saturday’s have not yet been put out by the fine folks running sportsbooks. Until they are, we will be using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to analyze Saturday’s games.

FRIDAY

No. 13 DAYTON (-7) at SAINT LOUIS, 137.5 (7:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Dayton 73, Saint Louis 65
  • TORVIK: Dayton 73, Saint Louis 64
  • HASLAM: Dayton 76, Saint Louis 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Dayton 72.25, Saint Louis 65.25

I love this Dayton team. They are so efficient and so hard to guard on the offensive end of the floor because of their spacing, they number of quality perimeter weapons that they have and the fact that Anthony Grant has implemented a pro-style offense with a roster of upperclassmen.

Oh, and they happen to have this guy, Obi Toppin, who just so happens to be a perfect fit at the five for what they want to run.

But I think I lean Saint Louis here. Chaifetz Arena is always a tough place to play, and the Billikens have been playing well of late. They have talent, too, and they have traditionally been one of the better defensive teams in the Atlantic 10 under Travis Ford. They also happen to have Hasahn French on the roster, and he is about as good of a matchup as you can ask for with Toppin. They can play small, and they actually do have some high-level talent on the roster — Jordan Goodwin is a first-team all-Atlantic 10 player.

BEST BET: Here’s the catch: Saint Louis (+7) feels like a very sharp line. At (+6.5), I think there’s an argument to be made that the value is on Dayton. So I’ll probably stay away unless it gets to (+7.5) or, ideally, (+8).

WISCONSIN at No. 15 MICHIGAN STATE (-9.5), 130.5 (7:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 62
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 68, Wisconsin 62
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 61
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 70, Wisconsin 60.5

Michigan State is the play for me here. They’re in a perfect spot. Wisconsin has won two games in a row and six of their last seven, they are coming off of a somewhat fluky win over Maryland at home on Tuesday night and now have to turn around and head on the road to take on the best team in the league.

The Spartans?

They were just humiliated at Purdue, losing by 29 points in Mackey Arena, before having a full week off to prep for the Badgers.

BEST BET: I liked this line significantly more when it opened at Michigan State (-8), but I think the Spartans run away with this so I will be on Sparty (-9.5), as well.

No. 19 MICHIGAN at IOWA (-4.5), 149.5 (9:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Iowa 76, Michigan 72
  • TORVIK: Iowa 76, Michigan 72
  • HASLAM: Iowa 76, Michigan 71
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa 77, Michigan 72.5

The last time these two teams got together, Iowa beat Michigan 103-91 in a game where the Hawkeyes got 44 points from Luka Garza. After that game, the Hawkeyes ranked 175th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

Since that game, Iowa has ranked 28th nationally in AdjDE. The under has hit in seven of their last eight games. The total in this game opened at 148, spiked at 151 and has come down to 149.5.

Should I mention that Isaiah Livers, Michigan’s leading scorer and most talented player, is not going to be available?

BEST BET: I like Iowa (-4.5). I love under 149.5. I would probably take the under all the way down to 147, which is the lowest total among any of the projections I use.

SATURDAY

No. 3 DUKE at No. 11 LOUISVILLE, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Duke 72, Louisville 64
  • TORVIK: Duke 71, Louisville 64
  • HASLAM: Duke 76, Louisville 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The biggest game of the weekend feels like a prime bounceback spot for Duke.

The Blue Devils are coming off of a loss at Clemson on Tuesday night where their perimeter defense was exposed. The Tigers played four guards and a perimeter-oriented five in Aamir Simms that pulled Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt away from the paint and made them guard in space. It did not go well.

Louisville is playing their third-straight road game, and the first two were not exactly statement wins. The Cardinals blew a double-digit lead at Notre Dame in a 67-64 win and they needed overtime (and this controversial call) to beat Pitt.

The kicker here is that Louisville cannot spread the floor the way that Miami can — they typically always have one low-post banger on the court in Steve Enoch and Malik Williams — and their questionable point guard play has been an issue in every game they’re lost. Tre Jones is as good of a defender at the point of attack as anyone.

BEST BET: We’ll see where the line opens, but if you can get Duke (-8.5) or lower, that seems pretty tasty.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Duke opened at (-7) and is still available at (-7.5) for me. This is my favorite bet of the day.

No. 10 KENTUCKY at ARKANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arkansas 69, Kentucky 66
  • TORVIK: Arkansas 69, Kentucky 65
  • HASLAM: Arkansas 73, Kentucky 65
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is the toughest game on Saturday’s slate to get a good feel for. Kentucky is coming off of a loss at South Carolina where they held a big lead early in the second half and choked it away on a banked-in, buzzer-beating three.

Arkansas, on the other hand, is 14-2 on the season and their two losses have come on the road at LSU by two and at Western Kentucky in overtime (before WKU’s best player hurt his knee).

The Razorbacks basically run everything through Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones offensively, and I do think that Kentucky has the perimeter defenders to be able to deal with them, but I think it’s worth noting that Arkansas is the best in the country at running opponents off of the three-point line and Kentucky has been shooting the three at a 41.4 percent clip in SEC play, which leads the league.

BEST BET: I lean Arkansas (-3) here, and I will take a gander at the under if it gets to 139 or higher. If you want to bet on Kentucky, take the ML.

BYU at NO. 1 GONZAGA, 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 82, BYU 73
  • TORVIK: Gonzaga 81, BYU 73
  • HASLAM: Gonzaga 87, BYU 73
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

I felt like I needed to mention this game because BYU is probably the second-best team in the Mountain West and, when they have a healthy Yoeli Childs, might be a top 25 team nationally.

The problem is that they don’t have a healthy Yoeli Childs, and that creates a bit of a problem when projecting this line.

I do think that BYU has the horses to run with Gonzaga even without him, and their ability to shoot and space the floor could give a bigger Gonzaga team some issues. The Cougars have also had some success playing at Gonzaga in past seasons — they won in the Kennel in 2015, 2016 and 2017. So I’m not necessarily going to get scared of by the opponent here.

BEST BET: It’s impossible to say without knowing where the line is going to open, so check back on Saturday morning when we have that info.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: BYU (+13) is not going to feel comfortable, but I think we have to take the points here.

No. 20 COLORADO at ARIZONA, 2:30 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arizona 73, Colorado 68
  • TORVIK: Arizona 71, Colorado 67
  • HASLAM: Arizona 70, Colorado 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Both Colorado and Arizona played late on Thursday night, meaning that there will be a 36-hour turnaround between games, which makes me lean towards the home team.

I also think it’s worth noting that these two teams have been trending in opposite directions. Prior to beating Utah on Thursday night, Arizona has lost four of their last five and five of their last seven and were coming off of a sweep at the Oregon schools. Colorado, on the other hand, is currently sitting in second place in the Pac-12 race.

BEST BET: Assuming this line opens at Arizona (-4.5), I think the value is on the Wildcats. Playing two road games in three days is never easy, and you know the McKale Center is going to be rocking with a ranked team coming to town.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: At Arizona (-6), I am going to stay away. If you have to bet this, I like the Arizona side more.

PURDUE at No. 17 MARYLAND, 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 62, Purdue 58
  • TORVIK: Maryland 59, Purdue 58
  • HASLAM: Maryland 59, Purdue 56
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a perfect spot play.

Maryland has lost their last two games on the road, the latter of which was an L because of a fluky turnover with 12 seconds left in a game the Terps were leading. Purdue, on the other hand, is riding high after they beat Michigan State by 29 points at home.

The Boilermakers are 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten this season and also lost at Marquette. Maryland is 0-4 on the road but they have not lost at home this season.

BEST BET: If the line is Maryland (-4), I love it. If the line is lower than that, I love it even more.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Maryland opened at (-5) and has moved to (-5.5). The Terps are my second-favorite bet of the day.