Best Bets: Previewing weekend’s best college hoops action

Leon Halip/Getty Images
0 Comments

I was one of the lucky ones that survived last week’s bloodbath to reach the finals in two of the four fantasy football leagues that I care about.

So while I’ll be spending much of this weekend sweating out titles for Two Gurleys, One Kupp, it will certainly not come at the expense of what is likely the best weekend of college hoops to date.

Three games between ranked teams. Three of the nation’s best mid-majors heading on the road in very winnable games. And four blue-bloods getting tested in wins they absolutely need.

It doesn’t get much better than this. Here is everything you need to know about this weekend in college hoops.

*Saturday’s games include KenPom projections instead of the Vegas lines, as the lines were not available at the time of publication:

No. 19 KENTUCKY vs. No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 5:15 p.m

  • KenPom Line: North Carolina (-4)
  • O/U: 166
  • KenPom Implied Score: North Carolina 85, Kentucky 81

This game has suddenly turned into the most important game of the non-conference season for Kentucky. The Wildcats have played two games outside of Rupp Arena, and they resulted in a 34-point loss at the hands of Duke and an overtime loss to Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden. Kentucky did bounce back, however, landing a knockout blow in a win over Utah last weekend.

North Carolina is actually in a similar position. They have not been all that impressive this season — they lost to Texas and got worked over pretty good by Michigan in Ann Arbor — but bounced back on Saturday with their win over Gonzaga.

The matchup here is going to depend on how well Kentucky is able to cover Coby White. On paper, Ashton Hagans should be able to win that battle. Hagans is an elite defender and White is a freshman that struggled with elite defenders at times this season. With that in mind, I do think I like Kentucky to cover, but that’s not what is going to determine where to bet this game.

Do you believe that Kentucky is back? Do you think that the win over Utah is evidence that John Calipari has figured out what has ailed this team for the first six weeks of the season? Or was that simply a result of an overmatched opponent walking into Rupp Arena after a week where all Kentucky had heard was how they weren’t good enough?

That’s the decision you are going to have to make if and when you bet on this game.

CBT PICK: If I was forced to bet on this game, I would lean towards North Carolina. I am very high on the Tar Heels this season — when Luke Maye gets going, they are going to be dangerous — and I tend to think that Kentucky’s performance against Utah had as much to do with Utah as it did Kentucky. But I am personally going to stay away from this line simply because it feels like nothing more than a guess.

No. 1 KANSAS at No. 18 ARIZONA STATE, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Kansas (-7)
  • O/U: 151
  • KenPom Implied Score: Kansas 79, Arizona State 72

The Pac-12 desperately needs this win from Arizona State on Saturday evening. To put things into perspective, the league, as a whole, has more losses to sub-200 teams on KenPom (4) than they do wins over top 50 teams (3). That’s a bad, bad sign. There are no elite teams in the league, but there are some terrible programs that are going to hurt computer profiles every time they take the floor.

This is the last chance for the Sun Devils to land something meaningful in non-conference play, and it comes after Arizona State lost on the road to Vanderbilt earlier this week. I fully expect Lu Dort, Zylan Cheatham and Kimani Lawrence. Throw in the fact that Kansas has yet to find their stride this season, will likely be playing without star center Udoka Azubuike and is forced to play their best player, Dedric Lawson, out of position, and all the stars are aligned for Bobby Hurley’s team.

CBT PICKS: It is going to be very interesting to see where the Vegas line lands on this game. I like Arizona State here. I actually think that they will win this game. If the Money Line ends up somewhere around +300 I will be all over it.

No. 14 BUFFALO at No. 20 MARQUETTE, Fri. 8:30 p.m.

  • Line: Marquette (-3.5)
  • O/U: 157
  • Vegas Implied Score: Marquette 80.25, Buffalo 76.75
  • KenPom Projection: Marquette 78, Buffalo 76

In what could very well end up being the most entertaining game of the weekend, Nate Oats will take his Buffalo team up to Milwaukee for their toughest test of the non-conference season. Winning at West Virginia mattered, but the Mountaineers might be the worst team in the Big 12. Winning at Syracuse was a statement on national television, but it came three days after Old Dominion pulled off the same feat.

Marquette is the best team Buffalo will have faced. They might be the best team in the Big East. They are led by a star lead guard in Markus Howard who, like Buffalo star C.J. Massinburg, is capable of putting up 40 on any given night. The floor will be spread, the shots will be aplenty and the entertainment factor will be off the charts. I’m fired up for this one.

CBT PICK: The line is already moving quite a bit in this game. It’s gone from Marquette (-2) to (-3.5), and the total has moved from 153.5 to 157 in some places. I’m always somewhat hesitant to bet too heavily on any game involving Marquette because I never know when Howard is going to turn into Stephen Curry, but I don’t think tonight will be one of those nights. Buffalo has good on-ball defenders, they can match up with Marquette’s downsized lineups and they run teams off of the three-point line. Taking Buffalo money line is really interesting, although I would probably lean towards taking the points and betting the under.

No. 24 FURMAN at LSU, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

  • Line: LSU (-8.5)
  • O/U: 148.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: LSU 78.5, Furman 70
  • KenPom Projection: LSU 78, Furman 71

I love the Furman story, a team from the SoCon going out and winning games over two teams coming off of last year’s Final Four. But I’m also realistic about what Furman is: a team that has one good win — at Villanova — and 11 other wins that do not really resonate. Winning at Loyola is nice, but their other ten games came against teams ranked either outside the top 180 on KenPom or outside the Division I ranks.

This is where the undefeated run dies.

CBT PICK: I think LSU waltzes to a cover in Baton Rouge.

UCLA vs. No. 15 OHIO STATE, Sat. 3:00 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Ohio State (-5)
  • O/U: 143
  • KenPom Implied Score: Ohio State 74, UCLA 69

Desperation time for UCLA. Like Arizona State, this is a team that is in desperate need of a win to try and help boost their resume as we barrel on towards league play. The Bruins, who were embarrassed by Cincinnati, losing by 29 points, need this win to avoid dropping to 7-5 on the season.

That Cincinnati team that UCLA lost to? They lost at home to Ohio State in the season-opener.

CBT PICK: Chris Holtmann is going to be ready on Saturday. Give me the Buckeyes to cover.

MURRAY STATE at No. 7 AUBURN, Sat. 4:30 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Auburn (-11)
  • O/U: 137
  • KenPom Implied Score: Auburn 74, Murray State 63

This game is going to get a ton of hype because it is the final chance, barring a run to the NCAA tournament, for NBA teams to see potential lottery pick Ja Morant go up against some high-major competition, but I do think this ends up being a statement game for an Auburn team that hasn’t looked right in recent weeks. The Tigers struggled with Dayton, they were taken to overtime by UAB and they lost at North Carolina State on Wednesday. This is Auburn’s get-right game, and it will happen with everyone tuning in to see the kid they’re playing again.

CBT PICK: Give me the over on how many points Morant scores, but I’ll take Auburn to cover.

UCONN vs. VILLANOVA, Sat. 12:30 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Villanova (-7)
  • O/U: 147
  • KenPom Implied Score: Villanova 77, UConn 70

This will be a trickier matchup that I think people realize for Villanova. The Huskies are going to be able to match them small for small, and Alterique Gilbert is the kind of point guard that can hound Collin Gillespie, Jahvon Quinerly or whoever is handling the ball for the Wildcats.

CBT PICK: Playing in Madison Square Garden in front of what should be a UConn-dominated crowd, give me the Huskies and the points.