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Can Fred Hoiberg turn Nebraska into a winner?

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LINCOLN, Neb. — It was Nick Nurse, a man who shared his Iowa upbringing and had risen to the same NBA coaching heights, that perhaps most clearly articulated the general thinking regarding Fred Hoiberg’s decision to become the head coach at Nebraska.

“I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am,” the Toronto Raptors coach told reporters in Chicago last month. “I guess I didn’t know if he’d go right back into it. I thought maybe there’d be one of the real premier jobs or something that he wouldn’t take. Not saying Nebraska isn’t a great job and obviously a premier league. I’m sure he can make it a great job.”

Hoiberg, who turned his alma mater Iowa State from a woebegone program into a perennial NCAA tournament team and Big 12 contender, has gone from coaching a franchise the defined the sport to a generation to guiding a program that has only known generations of losing.

Why, exactly, would Hoiberg come here, to a place where football reigns supreme, high-level local basketball prospects are about as common as beachfront property and has no tradition to speak of?

“We feel that we can build a program that consistently wins,” Hoiberg said earlier this week.

Nebraska is certainly betting on it. Big.

The Huskers have committed $25 million over seven years to Hoiberg along with an assistant salary pool of $1 million per year.

“We paid top dollar,” said Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos, who gave football coach Scott Frost a seven-year, $35 million deal in late 2017.

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Nebraska is spending big on its athletics in the hopes its football program can recapture some semblance of success it had in the 1990s while jumpstarting a basketball program that has rarely been relevant nationally decade after decade. In a world where money talks, the Huskers are beginning to scream as one of the country’s richest athletic departments as it now reaps the benefits for the first time of a full Big Ten revenue distribution share after joining the league in 2011.

“The Big Ten money is huge,” Moos said. “We’ve got tremendous revenue streams coming into our program that I’m comfortable, with the blessing of my chancellor and my president, to pay top dollar for top coaches.

“Nebraska is a destination. That brand means something. I’m really excited for our future with this program.”

If Nebraska is a destination, it’s partly because no coaches have been able to get out alive. Tim Miles was fired after one NCAA tournament appearance in seven years. Doc Sadler was cut loose after six years and no tourney appearances. Six years was how long Barry Collier lasted before resigning, also without a tourney trip. Before that Danny Nee went to four tournaments in four-straight years during his 14-year tenure in Lincoln, but was fired as the school’s winningest coach.

In total, the Huskers have seven all-time NCAA tournament appearances, among the fewest from Power 5 schools. They have zero all-time tournament wins.

Hoiberg, who took Iowa State to four NCAA tournaments in five years, will be among the Big Ten’s wealthiest coaches in a place with one of its poorest traditions. It’s a pairing that makes more sense than it would initially seem, though. Hoiberg could have sat out this upcoming season and collected $5 million from the Bulls and waited to see if one of the high-level gigs – something like Arizona or Texas – opened up, but the famously competitive Hoiberg, who once chucked his Pinewood Derby car across a parking lot in disgust when it failed to take first place, wasn’t inclined to wait around. His post-firing days were spent tagging along with his wife to yoga and coffee, sitting in his robe putting together puzzles and watching ‘Real Housewives’ reruns. A little different than the night-in, night-out adrenaline rush that comes with stalking an NBA sideline.

So sitting out never seemed like a real option, and Nebraska isn’t that far off from what Hoiberg inherited nine years ago at Iowa State, only with deeper pockets.

Hoiberg’s history at his alma mater and in his hometown is well documented, as The Mayor went from high school star to Cyclone All-American to 10-year NBA vet and back to revive a program that had fallen on hard times.

Lincoln has a similar, if far less extensive, pull. His grandfather, Jerry Bush, coached the Huskers from 1954-63. His other grandfather, Otto Hoiberg, was a Nebraska professor for nearly three decades. His parents are Nebraska alums, and he was born in Lincoln before moving to Ames a few years later.

So for Hoiberg, who covets comfort and familiarity, Nebraska made sense. He had history there. It’s the type of reclamation job he’s succeeded at before.

It’s also a marriage of serendipity. Nebraska had a bulging back account, an opening and a desire to raise its profile. Hoiberg had a high price tag, an eagerness to get back on the bench and the resume – both personally and professionally – to excite a fan base focused on football but who also turn out to basketball by the droves at Pinnacle Bank Arena, a $184 million gem in a newly-revitalized downtown.

“I see real potential here to have long-term success. And a lot of that has to do with the facilities that are here. We played an exhibition game a couple years ago when I was coaching for the Bulls, and I was just absolutely amazed,” Hoiberg said.

The coach, the money and the facilities are in place, but will that translate into winning? The Huskers may never have had a combination in those three areas like they do now, but the every one they’ve tried previously haven’t worked well enough to keep their NCAA tournament alive for more than 40 minutes.

“There are just so many things going for us,” Moos said, “and the myth that we can’t be successful, I’ve never bought into that.

“All this about never won a tournament game – if we’re competing in the upper half of the Big Ten year in and year out, we’re going to go to the tournament and win games.”

Hoiberg was introduced as the 28th coach in the history of Nebraska basketball Tuesday, emerging on the third floor of Memorial Stadium to much fanfare in an elevator that had been adorned with graphics to resembled a bank vault, an allusion to The Vault nickname for Nebraska’s home arena. Cheerleaders waived pom-poms. Fans cheered from a balcony. The football coaching staff watched from the back of the room.

The Huskers had their coach, and their hope.

A little more than an hour later, Hoiberg stepped back into that same elevator and those same doors that opened a new era of Nebraska basketball closed with him inside.

 

Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker declaring for draft

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One of the youngest players in college basketball this season is going to test the draft waters.

Talen Horton-Tucker, an Iowa State freshman who turned 18 just this past November, will declare for the draft, he announced Monday.

“After speaking with my family and coaching staff at Iowa State, I believe that this is in my best interest to begin the next chapter of my life and declare for the 2019 NBA Draft,” Horton-Tucker said in a statement released on social media.

Horton-Tucker intrigues NBA front offices because of his age – he didn’t turn 18 until he’d already played six games this season for the Cyclones – and a 6-foot-4, 248-pound frame that features a plus-7-foot wingspan and guard skills. He averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from distance.

His freshman campaign with Iowa State, which won the Big 12 tournament and bowed out of the NCAA tournament with a first-round upset courtesy of Ohio State, was inconsistent with considerable highs and difficult lows. Given his measurables and a ceiling, it’s easy to see how NBA evaluators could fall in love with his potential as he goes through the predraft process.

Underclassmen have until May 29th to decide whether or not they will return to school.

2019 NCAA Tournament: The guards you need to know

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The saying goes, it’s guards that win games in the NCAA tournament, and the history is there to back it up. Whether it’s a point guard making his teammates better (Tyus Jones, Duke) or dominating play (Kemba Walker, UConn). There will be a whole host of guards, some we know and some we don’t, that’ll make a huge difference over the next month.

Here we’ll take a look at a group that maybe aren’t quite as well known as the country’s absolute top-tier. So you won’t find R.J. Barrett or Cassius Winston or Carsen Edwards or Ja Morant here. You will, however, find a group that can make or break a bracket.

Markus Howard, Marquette

It’s a bit surprising that Howard hasn’t broken through as a major star in college basketball given he’s a 5-foot-11, sweet-shooting guard who absolutely fills it up. He’s a high-volume guy with one of the highest usage rates in the country while still shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range en route to averaging 25 points per game. Howard is certainly no secret to those who follow college basketball closely, but given how celebrated 3-point shooters are in this day and age, Howard, truly one of the country’s elite in that department, seems broadly under-appreciated. His shooting is potent enough to put the Golden Eagles on a run, even if they’re entering the tournament on a downward trajectory.

Josh Perkins, Gonzaga

There have been plenty of questions about Perkins on these pages but he’s largely answered the bell this season for the Zags. He’s averaged 11 points with an assist-to-turnover ratio great than 3:1. He’s shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s run the point for one of the best and most successful teams in the country. But…there are still a couple of red flags. Perkins had four turnovers and was 4 of 14 (0-3 from 3) in the Zags’ loss in the WCC title game to St. Mary’s, and in Gonzaga’s last loss before that, all the way back in December, he had six turnovers against North Carolina. He had nine assists in a loss to Tennessee, but was also 0-6 from the field. There might be some that say Killian Tillie is Gonzaga’s x-factor, but with how good they are already in the frontcourt, I still think Perkins remains the guy that can swing the pendulum the most in either direction for the West’s No. 1 seed.

Sam Merrill, Utah State

Merrill has been the best player you haven’t heard of this season. He’s averaging 21.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.0 boards for a Utah State team that won the Mountain West tournament. He’s averaging 27.2 points over the last five games, in which the Aggies beat Nevada to lock up an at-large bid and then rolled through the field to win their league’s automatic bid. He’s terrific.

Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State

An foot injury sidelined Wigginton for most of November and December, and the former five-star prospect has been coming off the bench for an up-and-down Iowa State team since returning. A year after being the Cyclones’ best and perhaps only scoring option, Wigginton now finds himself a part of a more balanced attack that actually features another player – Virginia transfer Marial Shayok – more than him. Still, he’s a 38 percent 3-point shooter with high-level athleticism, and his ability to score in bunches could be the catalyst that keeps the Cyclones hot after their Big 12 tournament championship.

Fletcher Magee, Wofford

The Terrier senior has a chance to become a Big Dance darling thanks to his 41.3 percent shooting from 3-point range and his prowess for big-scoring games ( he’s averaged 20-plus for two years). Wofford became something of a national novelty as they cracked the Top 25 for the first time in school history, but here’s guessing Magee shows why the Terriers weren’t just a collecting wins in the Southern Conference – they’re actually a serious threat over the next few weeks.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

If St. John’s is going to storm out of the First Four and make a dent in coach Chris Mullin’s first NCAA tournament with his alma mater, Ponds is going to be what’s powering it. The 6-foot-1 Brooklyn native is averaging just under 20 ppg with 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game as well. Ponds is a threat to go for 30-plus every time he steps on the floor.

C.J. Massinburg, Buffalo

It’s hard to live up to the hype when you drop 43 in an overtime win at West Virginia in the season’s first week, but the Bulls’ senior has been really good all season. Massinburg is a statsheet stuffer with 18.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3 assists per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3 and 46.4 percent overall. It’s not going to be surprising at all to see Buffalo outperform its six seed with its senior guard leading the way.

BJ Taylor, UCF

The Orlando native has starred for the hometown Knights as they’ve secured their first NCAA tournament berth since 2005.  The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 16 points and 3.3 assists per game. He converts at a 36.8 percent clip from 3-point range.

NBC Sports Top 25: The final power rankings of the college basketball season

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Yes, I’m the guy that still has Duke at No. 1. I explained why in detail last week, and I’m not going to do it again, especially now that it appears Zion Williamson will be back for the ACC tournament.

And just to make it clear: This does not mean that I believe Duke should be a No. 1 seed. I don’t. Losses, even if they come when a team is not at full strength, need to matter for things like NCAA tournament seeding. They don’t matter when it comes to how the industry — and me, specifically — rank which of those teams are the best.

Beyond that, there isn’t all that much to talk about in what will be the final top 25 of the 2018-19 season.

I bumped Texas Tech up to fifth after they won a share of the Big 12 regular season title. Outside of a three-week stretch in January when Jarrett Culver forgot how to shoot, the Red Raiders were the best team in that conference. With the way they are shooting and scoring the ball in the last month combined with that defense, they are very much a threat to win a national title.

One other thing that I’ll note here: I think there are three tiers at the top of college hoops. At the top is a healthy Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia. Right behind that trio sits North Carolina, Texas Tech, Tennessee and Kentucky. I think those seven are pretty clearly the top seven teams in the country, and one you get past them, it starts to get wild. Purdue, Kansas State, Michigan State, Houston, Michigan, Florida State, Nevada. I think there is an argument for all of these teams to be ranked in the back end of the top ten.

Anyway, here is my final Top 25 of the season:

1. Duke (26-5, Last Week: 1)
2. Gonzaga (29-2, 2)
3. Virginia (28-2, 3)
4. North Carolina (26-5, 4)
5. Texas Tech (26-5, 6)
6. Tennessee (27-4, 5)
7. Kentucky (26-5, 7)
8. Michigan State (25-6, 12)
9. Purdue (23-8, 9)
10. Kansas State (24-7, 10)
11. LSU (26-5, 11)
12. Houston (29-2, 12)
13. Michigan (26-5, 8)
14. Nevada (28-3, 15)
15. Florida State (25-6, 18)
16. Virginia Tech (23-7, 17)
17. Buffalo (28-3, 20)
18. Wofford (27-4, 22)
19. Wisconsin (22-9, 19)
20. Kansas (23-8, 16)
21. Marquette (23-8, 14)
22. Auburn (22-9, NR)
23. VCU (25-6, NR)
24. Mississippi State (22-9, NR)
25. UCF (23-7, 25)

Dropped Out: 21. Iowa State, 23. Villanova, 24. Cincinnati
New Additions: 22. Auburn, 23. VCU, 24. Mississippi State

No. 8 Texas Tech earns at least share of Big 12 title with win at Iowa State

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Texas Tech clinched at least a share of the Big 12 title on Saturday as the No. 8 Red Raiders held off Iowa State for an 80-73 road win.

Sophomore Jarrett Culver put together another monster effort on Saturday as he poured in 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting to pace the Red Raider offense. Kansas State will also get a chance to share the Big 12 title if they can secure a home win over Oklahoma later on Saturday night.

While the nation has been mostly talking about the Kansas Big 12 title streak coming to a halt — and it’s hard not to given how the Big 12 and Kansas basketball itself has become synonymous with the 14-year streak — head coach Chris Beard leading Texas Tech to a conference title is one of the best stories in college basketball this season.

Coming off an Elite Eight appearance last season, nobody expected Texas Tech would be the team that knocked off the Kansas streak. It makes sense for Kansas State, also coming off of an Elite Eight appearance, to be in this position. The Wildcats returned nearly everyone from last season while making that deep tournament run despite being without forward Dean Wade.

But Texas Tech had to basically start from scratch this season in terms of its regular rotation. The Red Raiders lost six of their eight top scorers from last season. Clutch guard and go-to scorer Keenan Evans was one of five seniors who exhausted their eligibility. Zhaire Smith went from an underrated-and-overlooked prospect into a surprising NBA lottery pick. In the preseason, Texas Tech was picked seventh in the Big 12 poll.

And, yet, here we are, as Beard is looking like the favorite for National Coach of the Year (although Purdue’s Matt Painter also has a very credible case). In his sophomore season, Culver has developed into a star and potential lottery pick of his own. Beard intelligently found graduate transfers like Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens as plug-and-play options who have become valuable role players. Program guys like Davide Moretti and Brandone Francis have improved and become vital parts of the Red Raiders as well.

Beard had to develop his own players while recruiting guys who fit his culture and somehow found all of the perfect pieces on-the-fly while coming off of an Elite Eight appearance. If Texas Tech limped into the NCAA tournament this season, people would still be giving Beard kudos for replacing all that he had to change.

With the No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency in the country on KenPom, and a takeover star in Culver, would you want to face Texas Tech at this point in the season? The Red Raiders have won nine straight games as a once sluggish-looking offense has slowly improved over the final weeks of the regular season.

A team that wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near this position now finds itself as one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball entering the postseason.

Best Bets: Previewing Duke-North Carolina, Michigan-Michigan State, Saturday’s slate

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Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.

As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPomTorvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 4 DUKE at No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 84, Duke 83
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85

This game is going to be one that is difficult to project because we don’t have an absolute answer on Zion Williamson’s status as of this writing. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski hinted at the idea that he would not be playing after their 71-70 miracle win over Wake Forest in Cameron on Tuesday night, so I would guess that he will likely be out.

I also have no feel for what the line or the total is going to end up being because there is no way that Vegas is going to rely on the projections for this one. Put another way, if the line opens at North Carolina (-2), I will bet everything I own including the dog on the Tar Heels.

Remember, this is a North Carolina team that went into Cameron and beat the Blue Devils by 16 points when Zion Williamson wasn’t playing. This time, they will be playing at home with a chance to land a sweep over their archrivals with a share of the ACC title — or, if Virginia loses to Louisville earlier in the day, the outright ACC title — on the line.

PICKS: We have talked plenty about just how much Williamson’s absence affects Duke, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Without him, they lose rim protection. They lose their best rebounder. They lose the guy that forces live-ball turnovers and pick-six layups. They lose the guy that they can put on Luke Maye and know that they’ll have him neutralized.

But beyond that, they lose a guy that can score in transition and a guy that can get them easy buckets on the offensive glass. North Carolina isn’t exactly known for being a defensive powerhouse, but they are 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and Duke, as we know, can struggle to score when they are forced into the halfcourt and their shots aren’t falling.

Put another way, there is no chance that I am going to be on the Duke side of this bet. The question is just how high the line needs to be before I think the Tar Heels lose value, and for me, it’s probably right around (-9). I also want no part of betting the under here, but I would probably only consider the over if the total opens around the mid-150s.

No. 7 MICHIGAN at No. 9 MICHIGAN STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 69, Michigan 65
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan State 68, Michigan 66
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 70, Michigan 64

A rivalry game between two top ten teams with a Big Ten regular season title on the line. That sounds like a great way to end the final Saturday of the college hoops regular season.

The first time these two teams got together, Michigan State was playing just their second game after Nick Ward fractured a bone in his hand. We don’t have a definitive answer on Ward either way, and there was some speculation earlier this week that he might be ready to go, but for now I am going to operate with the mindset that he is not playing. The same can be said about Charles Matthews.

When these two teams squared off just 13 days ago, Michigan State changed the way that the defend ball-screens to tailor their defense to Michigan’s personnel: They went way under every ball-screen that Zavier Simpson was involved and, when it was Jon Teske setting those screens, they switch 1-to-5. The Wolverines haven’t played since Sunday, meaning that John Beilein will have had a full week to figure out a way to attack that defense.

I also think that it’s important to note that Zavier Simpson is as competitive as anyone in the country, and that he is not going to be happy about just how badly Cassius Winston cooked him when they played. Winston had 27 points and eight assists, and of the 57 possessions that Michigan State had before the Wolverines started fouling, 36 were a result of Winston ball-screens and another nine were run through Winston. He shoulders a massive load offensively, and Simpson is going to be the guy tasked with stopping him.

PICKS: This will likely be a stay-away from me, depending on what the lines opens at. I don’t want to bet on Michigan on the road, but I also don’t want to bet on Michigan State sweeping their archrival without three of their top seven or eight players. I fully expect this game to be close, so if the line gets to, say, Michigan (+5.5), I’ll buy the Wolverines.

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No. 8 TEXAS TECH at IOWA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPNNews)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, Iowa State 68
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 68
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 72, Iowa State 67

These are two teams trending in very, very different directions.

Texas Tech has won eight in a row and ten of their last 11. They are currently tied for first in the Big 12 title race with Kansas State, and a win on Saturday afternoon would guarantee at least a share of — and possibly the outright — Big 12 regular season title. Iowa State, on the other hand, has lost two in a row and five of their last seven. They were blown out at Texas and at West Virginia in the last six days and they have lost three games in Hilton Coliseum this season.

The Red Raiders lost at home against the Cyclones earlier this year, but that was a different time and place for both of these teams. Texas Tech has been the best shooting team in the country over the course of the last six weeks, vaulting themselves from outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency into the top 40. Iowa State, on the other hand, may or may not have had a fight in practice that may or may not have resulted in Marial Shayok possibly breaking a toe by kicking a door. He did not play against WVU. On Wednesday night, Talen Horton-Tucker and Michael Jacobson had a bit of a shoving match on the court in the second half.

It’s a mess in Ames right now.

PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens. up. The average of the projections is about Texas Tech (-2.5), and while this game is going to be played in Ames, I think that number will climb. Considering that the Red Raiders have won three straight road games by an average of 15 points and that they will be playing with the Big 12 title on the line, I’d probably take Tech up to about (-8). There’s only one side that I want to be on in this game.

OKLAHOMA at No. 18 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Oklahoma 59
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 60
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 61

The first thing to note here is that Kansas State is going to know what they are playing for. If Texas Tech wins, they will be playing for a share of the Big 12 title. If Texas Tech loses, they get to be the first team not named Kansas to win an outright Big 12 title since Oklahoma State in 2004. Either way, there is a ton of motivation here for K-State.

I also think it is worth noting that Oklahoma more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a win over Kansas on Tuesday night. Now they are turning around and playing on the road against a team that beat them by 13 points in Norman.

PICKS: Oklahoma has finished the season strong after losing five straight in the middle of Big 12 play. They’ve won four of their last five games, and while their defense has regressed to the mean a little bit, they are still better on that end of the floor than they are offensively. I think they can make it interesting, and I think that brings the over into play.

But the best bet here is, I think, Kansas State (-5.5) or so. I’ll be a little bit worried if the line climbs past (-7.5) because, like I said, I can see Oklahoma hanging with the Wildcats.

That said, this game will be played on Senior Night in Bramlage Coliseum, which has been known as the Octagon of Doom. They will be playing for the right to either be co-Big 12 champs or outright Big 12 champs in the first year that Kansas has not one the league in 14 years. To get a sense of what that rivalry means to Kansas State, the Wildcat fans stormed the floor after beating Kansas earlier this year despite the fact that they were in first place in the Big 12 at the time.

That building will be rocking on Saturday.

No. 5 TENNESSEE at AUBURN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 76, Auburn 75
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 76
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 75

Do you trust Tennessee’s defense? In the last two games, the Vols have put together their best two defensive performances of the season. They held Kentucky to 52 points and Mississippi State to 54 points. They’ve forced 17 turnovers in each of the last two games and held them to a combined 31 percent shooting from the floor and 25.7 percent shooting from three. Auburn, as we know, shoots a ton of threes, and the two biggest weaknesses the Vols have had defensively this season have been the defensive glass and running opponents off of the three-point line.

And that brings me to a larger point: The status of Austin Wiley. Wiley is a guy that might be able to play the role that Reid Travis did for Kentucky the first time the Vols and the Wildcats played, someone that can keep Tennessee from sealing in the paint and force Grant Williams out of the lane. He’s missed the last three games and has say eight of the last 14 in SEC play. There are only two high-major programs — Arkansas and Washington — that are worse on the defensive glass that Auburn, and Tennessee does have some guys that can create second chance points.

PICKS: Auburn is going to have a lot to play for here — they really don’t have many great wins — but I have a hard time seeing Tennessee losing. The Vols will be playing for an SEC title, and while LSU plays after them, the Tigers are playing Vanderbilt (0-17 in the SEC) at home. The Vols have to win, and rolling the way they are rolling, I can’t see them losing.

And the more I think about it, the more I like the under … despite the fact that I said the opposite on the podcast. (Whoops.) Tennessee’s defense is playing much better and so much of what Auburn does offensively comes off of their ability to force turnovers. They lead the nation in defensive turnover rate. Tennessee is 23rd nationally in offensive turnover rate.

No. 23 VILLANOVA at SETON HALL, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68

Seton Hall more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night with a come-from-behind win over Marquette, and while they’ll still have something to play for — better seeding in the NCAA and Big East tournaments, senior night, etc. — Villanova will have a lot more on the line. The Wildcats are playing for the outright Big East regular season title. Win and they get it.

PICKS: I am probably staying away from this game. I have no interest in betting against Villanova to win a championship of any sort. I also have no interest in betting on Villanova to win on the road when they have lost their last four games on the road.

No. 12 HOUSTON at No. 20 CINCINNATI, Sun. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Cincinnati 63, Houston 62
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Cincinnati 64, Houston 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Cincinnati 65, Houston 64

Houston picked off SMU on Thursday night, but Cincinnati could not fulfill their side of the bargain. The Bearcats lost at UCF, which means that the Cougars now hold a one game lead on Cincinnati. Instead of a game that is being played for the outright AAC regular season title, Cincinnati is hoping to earn a share of the crown.

PICKS: When it comes down to it, in a game like that, I tend to lean towards the home team. Unless Houston is getting three or four points, I’ll probably end up on Cincinnati.

FLORIDA at No. 6 KENTUCKY, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 58
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 67, Florida 59
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 56

The is a must-win game for Florida, who has found a way to lose close quite a bit this season. They are 17-13, but thanks to the fact that they haven’t lost a game by more than 14 since Nov. 6th, they are still 30th in KenPom and 32nd in the NET.

PICKS: That is more or less where I am at with this game. Kentucky has struggled in the last weeks. Florida has lost two in a row, both at home, but they almost always play teams close.