Best Bets: Previewing Louisville-Kentucky and West Virginia-Ohio State

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The Vegas lines for these games were not released at the time of this publishing. Score projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics were used in their stead. 

No. 3 LOUISVILLE at No. 19 KENTUCKY, Sat. 3:45 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Louisville 66, Kentucky 65
  • TORVIK: Louisville 66, Kentucky 63
  • HASLAMETRICS: Louisville 69, Kentucky 62

It’s going to feel pretty gross, but I think the smart money here will be on Kentucky.

We’ve seen this story before with the Wildcats. They struggle throughout the first two months of the season before they put together one, statement performance that lights a fire under the program and turns the season around.

I think this is going to be the performance.

Kentucky is coming home after five days and two losses in Vegas. They are going to be playing their first meaningful game in Rupp Arena this season, and it just so happens to come against their arch-rival Louisville.

I also think this is going to be a tough matchup for the Cardinals. They struggled against Texas Tech when the Red Raiders were able to get out and pressure Louisville’s ball-handlers. They beat Michigan at home, but that win was a product of Louisville’s defense. They only managed to score 58 points on 66 possessions. This is also going to be their first road game since the first game of the season, a win over Miami.

BEST BET: I’m hoping to be able to get this at Kentucky (+3), in which case I’d probably just end up on the Kentucky ML. What will worry me is if the line ends up around a pick-em or with Kentucky laying points. The major concern here is that the Cardinals are the second-best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom, and Kentucky has not exactly proven to be good offensively this year.

No. 22 WEST VIRGINIA at No. 2 OHIO STATE, Sun. 12:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Ohio State 72, West Virginia 65
  • TORVIK: Ohio State 70, West Virginia 66
  • HASLAMETRICS: Ohio State 74, West Virginia 60

West Virginia has quietly put together a pretty impressive resume this season. They sit at 10-1 overall with wins over Pitt, Northern Iowa, Wichita State and Rhode Island, all of which are top 100 wins on KenPom. They are top 25 in the AP Poll and on KenPom.

The strength of this team is their frontcourt, where Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver are both threats to go for a double-double on a nightly basis. They pound the offensive glass, they erase the paint defensively and they are as good as anyone in the country at running opponents off of the three-point line.

This matters in this matchup, because the Buckeyes are a team that ideally wants to have four shooters on the floor surrounding Kaleb Wesson, who also happens to be a 46 percent three-point shooter. The trouble this causes is that this will pull one of their big men away from the bucket, and they can do it even if they are forced to play with Wesson and Kyle Young for the majority of the game.

BEST BET: Without knowing what the line is this is tough to project. If it is Ohio State (-4), as Torvik projects, then the value is on Ohio State. If it’s West Virginia (+14), as Haslam projects, then the value is on the Mountaineers. And if it is Ohio State (-7), than I’d lean the Buckeyes, but it will probably be a stay-away for me.

No. 5 KANSAS at STANFORD, Sun. 3:00 p.m. (ABC)

  • KENPOM: Kansas 69, Stanford 64
  • TORVIK: Kansas 70, Stanford 63
  • HASLAMETRICS: Kansas 70, Stanford 60

This is a sneaky game for the Jayhawks, who played on the road in their final pre-Christmas game – a loss at Villanova – and will start out their post-holiday run with a road game on the other side of the country.

The Cardinal have not exactly played a loaded schedule this season, but they’ve looked really good in the games that they have played. Their best win is over Oklahoma on a neutral, and they played Butler to a one-possession game in Kansas City, but those are the only two high-major programs they’ve faced. In the week before Christmas, the Cardinal had closer-than-expected wins over San Francisco and San Diego.

The key here is going to be how well you think the Cardinal can score against Kansas and whether or not Marcus Garrett plays. Let’s start with the latter: Garrett practiced on Thursday and, at this point, the Jayhawks staff believes they are going to have him available on Saturday afternoon. That’s big, He is not only the secondary playmaker and the best perimeter defender on the Stanford roster, but he is one of the guys that lets them play small.

He’s one of the biggest reasons the Jayhawks have been a top five defense in the country this season, which brings me to the other point: Stanford’s strength this season has been on the defensive end. They have not been great offensively despite shooting the ball really well because they turn the rock too much and fade the offensive glass.

BEST BET: It’s hard to make a pick here without knowing what the line is going to be. Assuming it is Kansas (-5), which is what KenPom’s projections list, I lean the Kansas side but will personally be staying away. If the line is Stanford (+10), as Haslametrics projects, then there is value on the Cardinal and I’ll be on Stanford.

WISCONSIN at TENNESSEE, Sat. 1:30 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Tennessee 62, Wisconsin 57
  • TORVIK: Tennessee 59, Wisconsin 56
  • HASLAMETRICS: Tennessee 59, Wisconsin 56

I’ve included Wisconsin-Tennessee here because I think that it is worth noting that this is the first game that the Vols have played since losing point guard Lamonte Turner. He has not been healthy for the majority of the season when he has played, and his ineffectiveness was a major reason why the Vols had been struggling to score of late.

The Vols have a freshman point guard from Uruguay coming in, Santiago Vescovi, but he only just enrolled and will not arrive in Knoxville until Saturday morning. That means that the only player that can even pretend to be a point guard on the Tennessee roster is five-star freshman Josiah-Jordan James.

That’s not an ideal situation.

And neither is betting on a Wisconsin team that has lost four of their last six games and is 0-5 in games away from the Kohl Center.

BEST BET: If the line ends up being Wisconsin (+5), which is where KenPom has it, I think that’s where the value is. But I’m going to assume that this will open lower and get bet towards the Wisconsin side, at which point I’ll be on Tennessee, hopefully somewhere around a pick-em.

I also think the under is in play if the total opens at 119. The Vols already were a really good defensive team that is only going to get better now that they’ll be playing five guys 6-foot-6 or taller.

LIBERTY at LSU, Sun. 1:30 p.m. (SECN)

  • KENPOM: LSU 70, Liberty 66
  • TORVIK: LSU 68, Liberty 66
  • HASLAMETRICS: LSU 69, Liberty 66

Wherever this line opens up, I think I am going to be on Liberty here. This is a chance for the Flames to really make a statement. They are currently undefeated on the season, but they only have one win over a high-major opponent, and it came against Vanderbilt, which may not even count. Ritchie McKay is one of the best x’s and o’s coaches in the sport – ask Mississippi State, who lost in last year’s NCAA tournament to Liberty – and while I do respect Will Wade’s coaching acumen, he does not exactly have the most disciplined team.

BEST BET: I like the Liberty side, and anything less than (+2.5) I’ll be betting the money line.