No. 2 UCLA at No. 21 Oregon, 9:00 p.m., ESPN 2
Two months can make a world of difference in sports. Just ask the Oregon Ducks. When this season’s preseason polls were released in October and November, Oregon was a consensus top five team, the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-12 and one of a handful of teams that us “experts” thought had a chance to poach the national title from Duke.
Fast forward to today and the Ducks have posted a 3-2 record against power conference foes, losing by 17 at Baylor and to a mediocre Georgetown team before struggling to put away NIT hopefuls Tennessee, Alabama and UConn. It hasn’t been pretty, but Oregon also hasn’t been truly healthy all season long. Dillon Brooks, a first-team NBC Sports preseason all-american, missed the first three games of the season coming back from foot surgery. He didn’t actually start a game until Oregon played UNLV two weeks ago, which just so happened to be the first game that Chris Boucher missed with an ankle injury.
Dana Altman has been coy publicly about his status, but Boucher is expected to play tonight, meaning that tonight should be the first time all season long that we’ve seen the Oregon team that we expected to see this season.
And what better time for that team to show up than their Pac-12 opener, a home game against the league’s resident powerhouse, UCLA. The Bruins have been steam-rolling everyone this season, including a trip to Rupp Arena where they beat then-No. 1 Kentucky in their only true road game to date.
Here’s another morsel to chew on: Assuming that the now-100 percent Oregon team plays at close to the level that we thought Oregon would play at in October, this is probably the toughest test that the Bruins will face in the conference this season. If UCLA wins this game, just how long will their undefeated run last?
- Prediction: I hate betting on road favorites, but given the uncertain nature of Oregon’s health, I think UCLA (-2.5) is probably the safer bet. That said, the bet I like more is taking the over, which is set at 160 points.
No. 12 Virginia at No. 6 Louisville, 7:00 p.m., ESPN 2
This is not going to be a pretty basketball game to watch.
Let’s start with the obvious: these are the two best defensive teams in the country, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, and when you toss in the fact that Virginia plays at the slowest tempo in all of college basketball, there is not going to be much running-and-gunning on in the Yum! Center tonight.
And that’s before you get into the x’s-and-o’s of those defenses. Let’s start with Virginia, whose Pack-Line defense is designed to bait opponents into shooting contested jumpers while clearing the defensive glass. Louisville is 222nd nationally in three-point shooting, but they are 11th in offensive rebounding percentage. In other words, the things that Louisville does well are precisely the things that Tony Bennett has his team takeaway, and where the Cardinals struggle is what UVA goads opponents into trying to do.
But let’s look at this from the other side of things. The Cardinals run the most confusing defense in the country, an amalgam of different pressure, man-to-man and zone looks that they execute equally well and use to confuse opposing offenses. And while Virginia brought back London Perrantes, they really don’t have anyone else on the roster that has been in a primary role playing against a defense like this in an environment like this. If Louisville can shut down Malik Monk, what are they going to do to Kyle Guy?
That’s a long-winded way of saying that I fully expect this game to be a grind-it-out affair, one where every bucket is earned.
- Prediction: I like Louisville (-3.5) in this game, mainly because I’m of the mindset that Virginia is somewhat overrated because of what they lack on the offensive end of the floor. I also like the under, which has climbed to 121.5 points at the time of this posting.
THE REST OF WEDNESDAY’S INTERESTING GAMES
Seton Hall at No. 10 Creighton, 8:00 p.m., FS2: This will be a good test for Creighton, a team that lights it up offensively but can have some issues when it comes to toughness, particularly in the paint. Seton Hall? They might be the toughest team in the country. Prediction: I like Seton Hall (+6.5), but the line opened at (+9), so get those bets in soon.
Providence at No. 17 Xavier, 7:00 p.m.: The Friars have a guady, 11-2 record on the season, but they have done much to justify that record to date beyond a win over a Rhode Island team that has not lived up to expectation. Xavier, on the other hand, has struggled a bit themselves this season, as their offense has looked limited without Myles Davis on the floor. Prediction: This is the game where Providence gets exposed. Xavier (-10).