Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.
No. 12 KANSAS at No. 14 TEXAS TECH, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, Kansas 63
- TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, Kansas 64
- HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 71, Kansas 62
The biggest game of the day will be taking place in Lubbock as the Red Raiders and the Jayhawks face off in a battle of top 15 teams looking to remain one game behind Kansas State for first place in the Big 12 regular season standings.
The last time these two teams got together, the Jayhawks had Lagerald Vick (he’ll be gone Saturday) and did not have Marcus Garret (it looks like he’ll be back). They made six of their first eight threes, shot 13-for-30 from beyond the arc as a team and won 79-63 after jumping out to a 23 point lead early in the second half. Texas Tech shot 6-for-28 from beyond the arc in that game, but in their four-game winning streak since that loss, they are a combined 30-for-69 from beyond the arc, a very nice 43.5 percent.
With Garrett back in the fold, it is going to be very interesting to see how Self decides to play. The first time he played Tech, the Jayhawks went with four guards around Lawson, caught fire from deep and showcased Lawson’s newfound confidence on the perimeter. In the last three games, with Vick out of the picture and Garrett still dealing with his ankle injury, Kansas has gone back to playing big, using Lawson at the four with David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot averaging a combined 40 minutes per game.
Here’s the catch-22 — Texas Tech usually plays small. They’ll use Jarrett Culver, their all-american and de-facto point guard in the half court, at the four with three guards and one of Tariq Owens or Norense Odiase at the five. If Kansas plays big, that will force Dedric Lawson into guarding Culver, and that would not end well for the Jayhawks. But the flip side is that if they opt to play small — Garrett alongside Devin Dotson, Ochai Agbaji and Quentin Grimes — they’ll be using a lineup that simply did not work well early in the season. The problem with the lineup that had Garrett at the four, which I detailed here, is a lack of spacing created by the inability of Garrett to makes defenses pay for not guarding him.
Texas Tech is the nation’s best defense, and they have already shown a willingness to completely fade guarding someone that isn’t an offensive weapon — see: Jones, Tre. Kansas needs to be willing to shoot and capable of making threes to beat Texas Tech, and without their best shooter on the roster anymore, do you think they’ll be able to do that?
PICKS: So there are competing narratives here that we need to discuss.
For starters, it’s a given that Kansas is going to find a way to win the Big 12 regular season title somehow. It just is. We all know it, and if they are going to get that done this year, winning at Texas Tech will be a massive step in the right direction. The problem is that the Jayhawks have been dreadful on the road this year. All six of their losses have come in true road games — including at West Virginia, who stinks — and their only wins are at Baylor in their first game without Tristan Clark and at TCU.
I don’t think they get it done. I’ll be on Texas Tech, especially if the line creeps below (-5).
No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE at No. 7 MICHIGAN, Sun. 3:45 (CBS)
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 67, Michigan State 65
- TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan 68, Michigan State 64
- HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 66, Michigan 65
It is going to be really, really interesting to see where this line opens up. The metrics are saying that it should be close, but those metrics factor in Nick Ward’s presence on the Michigan State roster.
Those metrics also fail to factor in that Zavier Simpson, arguably the nation’s best and most annoying on-ball defender, owns beachfront real estate in Cassius Winston’s head.
In two games against Simpson last season, Winston averaged 11.0 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 6-for-17 from the floor and 1-for-6 from three with five turnovers. Michigan State lost both games despite being favored to win both. In his career, Winston is 1-3 against Michigan, and while he had his best game — 16 points in 21 minutes — when the Spartans won his freshman season, Simpson played just four minutes in that game.
And here’s the kicker: With no Josh Langford and no Nick Ward, Winston will be the sole source of offensive creation for the Spartans.
PICKS: Wherever it opens, take Michigan.
No. 3 VIRGINIA at No. 18 LOUISVILLE, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ACCNET)
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 64, Louisville 59
- TORVIK PROJECTION: Virginia 63, Louisville 59
- HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Virginia 64, Louisville 58
Pack-Line vs. Pack-Line.
On the one hand, Louisville head coach Chris Mack should be very well-versed in how to breakdown Tony Bennett’s vaunted defensive scheme; Louisville runs the exact same defense. On the other hand, Louisville is a team that seems to be completely devoid of confidence right now. They’ve lost four of their last six games. They blew a ten point second half lead at Florida State and lost in overtime. They blew a 23 point lead with nine minutes left and lost to Duke at home. They very nearly blew an eight point lead in the final minute at home against Clemson and got bailed out by a spectacular Jordan Nwora block in the final seconds. On Wednesday, they went into the Carrier Dome and lost by 20 points.
The last thing you want to see you want to see when you are struggling is a team that is as unforgiving, ruthless and efficient as Virginia. To make matters worse, Louisville won’t even have the benefit of advantageous matchups on Saturday. Part of what makes Louisville effective is that Dwayne Sutton and Nwora play the forward spots, and their ability on the perimeter is not something a lot of teams can match. On Saturday, they will be going up against De’Andre Hunter and Braxton Key for much of the game, and that has the potential to be an absolute nightmare.
PICKS: I fully expect this game to be low-scoring and while I have the utmost respect for that Louisville coaching staff, I just don’t see how they are going to be able to score against that defense. The metrics are projecting Virginia to be favored by five points, and I’ll take them to cover on the road.
No. 16 FLORIDA STATE at No. 8 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 3:45 p.m. (CBS)
- KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 83, Florida State 75
- TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Florida State 77
- HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Florida State 75
Is this a letdown spot for North Carolina? The Tar Heels are coming off of an absolutely monstrous win over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, vaulting them into the race for an ACC regular season title — as things stand, there is a three-way tie for first place between the Tar Heels, Virginia and Duke.
I ask that because the Seminoles are rolling. They are the least-discussed 21-5 team in college basketball. They have won eight straight games since a 1-4 start to conference play. Four of those eight wins came on the road, and while the best team that they have beaten in this run is either Syracuse or Louisville, it is worth nothing that FSU matches up pretty well with the Tar Heels. They want to play fast. They also want to play small, and while Phil Cofer hasn’t been great this year, I think that he is good enough to earn a draw in a matchup with Luke Maye.
PICKS: I do not think that Florida State will win this game, but the average of the metrics is projecting Florida State to be getting 10 points. I’ll take the Seminoles (+10), and if the total ends up being in the low 150s, I’ll also take a long look at the over.
No. 1 DUKE at SYRACUSE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 77, Syracuse 67
- TORVIK PROJECTION: Duke 76, Syracuse 69
- HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 81, Syracuse 68
It’s too early to make any kind of picks or predictions for this game. As of this publication, we are still 36 hours out from tip-off and we have no idea yet if Jim Boeheim will coach, and with Zion Williamson already ruled out, it is tough to know exactly what the line is going to open at.
What I will say is this: I don’t expect this game to be anywhere near as high-scoring as the first time these two teams got together, when Duke lost to the Orange 95-91 in overtime. Cam Reddish did not play in that game and Jones got hurt, but Zion did. Reddish and Jones will be back for this one. If the total opens up in the high-140s, I’ll be on the under, regardless of whether or not Zion is on the floor. If he doesn’t play, I’ll feel even better about it.
I also think that it is important to note that Duke will have time to prepare for playing without Zion. In the first loss to Syracuse, they learned 15 minutes before tip-off that Reddish would not be playing and lost Jones six minutes into the game to a shoulder injury. In the loss to North Carolina, Zion was injured in the first 30 seconds. They’ll have two days to figure out what they want to do to beat the Syracuse zone without Zion this time around. That matters.
PICKS: It’s hard to make a prediction without having any idea what the line is going to be, but I will say this: Any bet on the over or on the Duke side is a bet that the Blue Devils are going to be able to make perimeter shots. They were 9-for-43 from three in the first game. Jack White was 0-for-10. Barrett was 4-for-17. On Wednesday against North Carolina, Duke players not named Cam or R.J. were 1-for-16 from three. If the Blue Devils don’t make perimeter shots, I can’t see them winning.
No. 5 TENNESSEE at No. 13 LSU, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 81, LSU 79
- TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 81, LSU 80
- HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 83, LSU 80
The way to slow down this Tennessee team is to take away the offense they want to get in the paint. They are a weird team in the sense that they are the nation’s No. 2 offense based on KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, but they score less than 25 percent of their points from beyond the three-point line. We normally equate efficiency with teams that play like Villanova did last year, not throwback offenses that run things through the post.
And frankly, I just do not think that the Tigers have enough defensive mettle to be able to handle that frontline. Naz Reid is uber-talented for LSU. Naz Reid is also a mess on the defensive end. I’m not sold on Kavell Bigby-Williams or Emmitt Williams being able to slow down that Tennessee frontcourt, either.
If there is something that concerns me, it’s that LSU’s frontline is going to be so much bigger and more athletic than Tennessee, and where that will come into play is on the offensive glass. LSU gets a ton of second chances and Tennessee gives up a ton of offensive rebounds.
PICKS: I’m not buying LSU the way other people are right now. They have a lot of weird wins during this run through the SEC. They came back from 14 points down at Missouri in the final two minutes. They won at Kentucky on a tip-in that shouldn’t have counted. They needed OT to win at Mississippi State and at Arkansas. They lost at home to Florida in OT. They lost at home to Arkansas by one. They lost to Florida State in overtime.
That said, this is a talented LSU team that seems to get up for big games and will be playing at home for first-place in the SEC after a weird loss on Wednesday night. If they are getting points, I’m taking the money line.
AUBURN at No. 4 KENTUCKY, Sat. 1:30 p.m. (CBS)
- KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 75, Auburn 68
- TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 76, Auburn 69
- HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 74, Auburn 68
The first time these two teams played was one of the most entertaining games of the season. Kentucky jumped out to a big lead on the Tigers before Bryce Brown caught fire in the second half and led Auburn all the way back. Auburn had a couple chances to tie and win the game in the final seconds, but Kentucky held on.
And as weird as this is going to sound to the Kentucky fans that absolutely despite Reid Travis, I think this is the kind of game where they are really going to miss his mass inside. He had 17 points and seven boards at Auburn, grabbing three offensive boards and shooting 6-for-7 from the floor in 29 minutes. Auburn’s frontline is athletic and skilled, but both Chuma Okeke and Anfernee McLemore and around 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds. Travis buried them.
I don’t think Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery are going to be able to do that, and it plays into Auburn’s hands. The Tigers are one of the nation’s worst defensive rebounding teams while Kentucky is the fourth-best offensive rebounding team in the sport. Richards and Montgomery actually are better offensive rebounders based on per minute stats, but I think it will be difficult for them against Auburn defenders that will be as athletic and mobile as they are.
And that’s really what it comes down to for me. Can Kentucky get to the offensive glass and beat Auburn in the paint, and can they control tempo and keep Auburn from forcing turnovers and turning this into a run-and-gun game. Those two things go hand-in-hand.
PICKS: Auburn is coming off of one of their best performances of the season against Arkansas this week, and they could really, really use the win to bolster a resume that doesn’t have all that much at the top. Kentucky, on the other hand, must win this game to keep pace with LSU and Tennessee at the top of the SEC.
I don’t think this is the letdown spot for the Wildcats. That comes Tuesday, when they host Arkansas. So I’ll take UK here, up to about (-7).