Let’s take a look at this weekend’s college basketball games from a betting perspective.
At the time this was published, the Vegas lines for the games have not yet been released, so we will be using KenPom’s projections, which are generally pretty close to what Vegas produces.
No. 16 KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
- LINE: Kentucky (-1)
- TOTAL: 147
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 74, Louisville 73
This is quite clearly the biggest game of the weekend in the college basketball world, and for good reason: Kentucky and Louisville is as fierce as any rivalry in American sports, and both teams are trending up this season and playing for a chance at landing a critical non-conference win on their resume.
Kentucky is coming off of their first dominant performance of the season, as they knocked off North Carolina last Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in a game here the Tar Heels never really looked to be threatening for the final 30 minutes. Louisville, on the other hand, was able to pick off Michigan State at home already this season and has also beaten Seton Hall on the road while losing one-possession games against Marquette on a neutral floor and Indiana in Bloomington.
It’s important to recognize here that this Louisville team is different than Louisville teams that we became accustomed to under Rick Pitino. This group is not the pressing type. They are not out there gambling for steals. They are not playing that hybrid man-zone defense that Rick Pitino teaches. Mack runs the Pack-Line defense, the same style of defense that is employed by Sean Miller, Archie Miller and, most notably, Tony Bennett at Virginia. The theory is simple: don’t gamble for steals, force opponents into contested jumpers and pounds the defensive glass.
This actually matches up fairly well with this Kentucky team. The Wildcats are one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams and, at times, their best offense has been a missed shot. It’s going to be hard to get a ton of second chance points against this Louisville team, and while Kentucky has shot the ball better from beyond the arc this year, they’re making 36.6 percent of their threes but taking just 30.5 percent of their field goal attempts fro beyond the arc; only 20 teams shoot fewer threes.
Where Kentucky is going to have their greatest advantage is in the backcourt, where Ashton Hagans has proven himself to be a game-changer defensively. It will be interesting to see how Mack schemes playmaking duties away from whoever Hagans is guarding. The reason that matters is that Kentucky has really struggled running opponents off of the three-point line this season. Louisville has shooters, but I’m worried about how those shooters are going to get themselves free if Hagans takes the Cardinals out of their stuff.
I think it’s also important to note here that both Kentucky and Louisville are among the very best in the country at drawing fouls, getting to the foul line and converting once there. No team in the country gets a higher percentage of their offense from the foul line than Louisville, and Kentucky is seventh. Conversly, Kentucky is one of the best in the country at avoiding fouling — their defensive free throw rate is top 25 nationally — while Louisville is middle of the road.
PICKS: The line on KenPom is (-1), and I would expect it to be a bit more skewed towards Kentucky when the lines are released late on Friday night or early Saturday morning. I think Kentucky ends up winning this game even though it is on the road. On paper, the Wildcats are clearly the better team, and as I discussed on the podcast above, Kentucky appears to have turned a corner. I also think that it is worth noting that Louisville was able to close out the win over Michigan State in November because Cassius Winston made a terrible decision that led to him fouling out with four minutes left, leaving a freshman to play the point because MSU’s back-up point guard was injured. I’d take Kentucky up to about (-4.5), depending on the odds I can get.
I do think that this will be a game that is played at a slower pace, but I would probably stay away from the under. Kentucky tends to run only when their opponents want to run, and Louisville is not going to want to run with UK. That said, the amount of fouls both of these teams draw combined with the fact that I’d expect referees to be fast and loose with the whistle in what will assuredly be a testy rivalry game makes me think we’ll be in the bonus early and spending plenty of time at the charity stripe. If you have to bet the total, I’d take the over, but I’m probably staying away.
ST. JOHN’S at SETON HALL, Sat. 8:30 p.m.
- LINE: Seton Hall (-3)
- TOTAL: 155
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Seton Hall 79, St. John’s 76
My analysis for this game is pretty simple, honestly: I think Seton Hall is good and I don’t think St. John’s is as good as their record. The Pirates have beaten Miami, Kentucky and Maryland on the road. The Johnnies have just one win against a top 100 KenPom opponent — No. 74 VCU — and that came in an overtime game where officials swallowed their whistles on a foul call at the overtime buzzer.
PICKS: I’ll be all over the Pirates at (-3).
BUTLER at FLORIDA, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
- LINE: Florida (-4)
- TOTAL: 128
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Florida 66, Butler 62
I’m probably going to be staying away from this game because I don’t really have a great feel for either of these teams. The guys I thought were the two best players on the Gators — Kevaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson — haven’t really done anything noteworthy this season even as this group has struggled to score. And while Butler has looked good in flashes, they’re 9-3 on the season and their only good win was … a 61-54 victory over Florida on a neutral court.
I did think this was important to mention here because both of these teams could really, really use the win on their tournament resume. They have lost seven games between them, but both are still top 30 teams on KenPom.
PICKS: If I’m betting anything here, it’s the under. I’ll let someone else try to figure out what these two teams are.
BELMONT at PURDUE, Sat. 4:30 p.m.
- LINE: Purdue (-11)
- TOTAL: 161
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Purdue 86, Belmont 75
Belmont is fresh off of a win at UCLA and sitting pretty with a 9-1 record that also includes a sweep of Lipscomb and home win over Western Kentucky. Winning at Purdue would certainly get them into the bubble conversation if they roll through an OVC schedule that only sees them face Murray State once.
I do not expect the line to be (-11). Purdue is 7-5 on the season, with all five losses coming to teams ranked in the top 55 on KenPom away from home. Their best home win on the season (Maryland) was by two points. If you can slow down Carsen Edwards, you can beat Purdue.
PICKS: I don’t think Belmont beats Purdue — although I could be talked into taking the Belmont money line if the odds are good enough. I do, however, think Belmont covers 11. If you can get that line, jump on it.
No. 6 NEVADA at UTAH, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
- LINE: Nevada (-10)
- TOTAL: 146
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 78, Utah 68
I think this is a dangerous spot for Nevada. They’re coming off of a holiday layoff and heading to play in one of the tougher gyms in the country to win in: The Huntsmann Center, at roughly a mile above sea level. The Wolf Pack have played with fire all season long, digging themselves massive holes they find a way to dig out of. This is a game that the Utes desperately need if they want any prater of getting into the NCAA tournament, and I think they show up.
PICKS: I think Nevada gets out of Salt Lake City with a win, but if you’re giving me 10 points I’m taking them. I would not be shocked to see that line creep higher as well.
No. 15 WISCONSIN at WESTERN KENTUCKY, Sat. 5:30 p.m.
- LINE: Wisconsin (-8)
- TOTAL: 134
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Wisconsin 71, Western Kentucky 63
I do not think that Western Kentucky has a shot of hanging with Wisconsin, not with the way Ethan Happ can dissect a defense and not when Rick Stansbury has to try and outcoach someone. I do, however, think it’s worth mentioning the game here simply because seeing Happ square off with Charles Bassey will be entertaining. My gut says that it is very clear by 7:30 p.m. on Saturday that Bassey is a freshman and Happ is a three-time All-American.
PICKS: Wisconsin (-8)
DAVIDSON at No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
- LINE: North Carolina (-15)
- TOTAL: 159
- KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Davidson 72
This game loses quite a bit of its appeal if Kellan Grady can’t play. He practiced on Friday, but he has missed the last three games.
LIBERTY at UCLA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
Liberty lost by nine at Vanderbilt, by 10 at Georgetown and by nine to Austin Peay on a neutral court. #FadeCLA is still in effect.