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Best Bets: Breaking down the Duke-Virginia rematch, Marquette-Villanova and Wisconsin-Michigan

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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 KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 2 DUKE at No. 3 VIRGINIA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 70, Duke 65
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Virginia 69, Duke 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Virginia 70, Duke 67

(For clarity, I’m writing this as if Ty Jerome is going to be healthy for this game. If Jerome is unavailable, it really changes things. Kihei Clark going up against Tre Jones isn’t going to end well for Virginia.)

On Saturday evening, we get the much-awaited rematch between the two teams that are sitting atop KenPom’s rankings: Duke and Virginia. The first time these two teams played, we got a fascinating tactical battle between two of the best coaches in the sport that involved both of them doing something that they almost never do.

Duke switched every exchange to take Virginia out of their blocker-mover offense, and Virginia responded by using ball-screens to create the switch they wanted and then attacking that switch off the bounce with the likes of De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy.

I’ve written plenty of words about how Virginia is the worst possible matchup for this Duke team, and that is certainly still true. Playing in John Paul Jones Arena, where Virginia likely won’t have another 3-for-17 shooting night, will certainly help make a difference, one that may or may not be negated by the return of Tre Jones.

And it is his presence on the floor that has me wondering if Duke is going to switch as much as they did in the first game. Without Jones available, Duke did not play a single player under 6-foot-6 in the first matchup. That size meant that regardless of matchup, no one was going to be overpowered in the post by anyone on the Virginia roster, and that they would at the very least be athletic enough to stay in front of Virginia’s stars, who are not known for being great in isolation.

This is where the rematch gets interesting.

Since Jones returned, Duke has done a couple of different things defensively. Against Notre Dame, they played exactly like they did against Virginia – switching all exchanges, including every ball-screen. Against St. John’s, the Blue Devils did plenty of switching off the ball, but whenever Shamorie Ponds was involved in a ball-screen, they hedged and allowed Jones to recover or trapped the ball out of his hands. And against Boston College, they switched every ball-screen that Ky Bowman was involved in.

I bring this up because Virginia, which has been known for running the blocker-mover offense that Tony Bennett’s dad created in the 80s, has been running much more continuity ball-screen offense this season. It makes sense, given just how good Jerome can be in ball-screens and how often they have four perimeter players and one true big man on the floor this year:

This is the perfect offense to run against what Duke is likely going to do defensively. Virginia is one of college basketball’s best three-point shooting teams with a number of talented perimeter players that are capable of beating Marques Bolden or Javin DeLaurier on a switch. The ball-screen continuity offense will ensure that there is plenty of space for them to do so, and frankly, I’m not expecting Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett to be able to dominate with penetration like they did at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

PICKS: I think Virginia wins, but what scares me here is where the projections currently sit. Based on the averages above, we’re looking at Virginia (-5), which is a lot of points to be giving against a team as good as Duke. If that number is (-1) or (-1.5), I’d feel a lot more comfortable betting Virginia. If it gets to the higher end of that range — Torvik has Virginia winning by six — I personally will be betting smaller and taking the value on Duke’s money line.

No. 14 VILLANOVA at No. 10 MARQUETTE, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Marquette 72, Villanova 70
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Marquette 73, Villanova 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Marquette 69

The battle between the two titans in the Big East lost a bit of luster when, on Tuesday night, Marquette lost at home to St. John’s. They are now two games off the pace in the league standings, but a win here will ensure that the Golden Eagles can earn at least a share of the league title if they win out.

And I think they have a really good shot to win on Saturday, because I’m not sure how Villanova matches up with them. My guess is that Phil Booth starts out guarding Markus Howard, but Villanova does like to switch a lot and Booth is not exactly the kind of defender that has given Howard trouble. He’s smoked everyone in the Big East except for St. John’s this season because no one else in the Big East has Justin Simon, whose length and athleticism really, really bothered Howard.

That said, I would not be surprised to see Wright run Saddiq Bey or Jermaine Samuels on Howard and let Booth matchup Sam Hauser, which might be more favorable for the Wildcats, but the Hausers are another major reason why I think Marquette gets this win. I can’t see Villanova slowing both of them and Howard down. This is the conundrum that every team faces. The Hausers (especially Joey) are tough as nails and can hold their own banging against bigger defenders, but they are absolutely lethal shooters that cannot be left open on the perimeter. It’s a nightmare matchup, especially when you consider that someone has to help on Howard at some point.

PICKS: Look, Villanova is Villanova. With the way that Booth, Paschall and Collin Gillispie have been playing of late, and with the way that they can shoot the rock, Villanova can beat anyone, anywhere on any night. But I think the fact that they are playing at home combined with how improved the Golden Eagles are defensively will be the difference here, and if the line ends up around Marquette (-2), I think that’s the play.

I would also bet the over if the total ends up in the low 140s, mostly because when two teams that love to shoot threes and don’t love to defend play, I typically lean over.

No. 19 WISCONSIN at No. 7 MICHIGAN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 62, Wisconsin 56
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan 62, Wisconsin 55
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan 61, Michigan 57

Another rematch, and this time around, the narrative surrounding the two teams involved has been flipped.

The last time we saw these two teams face-off, Wisconsin had just lost four of their last five games and Michigan was undefeated, which, of course, led to Ethan Happ putting up one of the most impressive individual performances of the season in a Wisconsin win. The Badgers have not lost since that game, which Michigan struggled to put away Minnesota at home, lost by 15 at Iowa and is now coming off of an unconvincing win at Rutgers.

Beyond the simple fact that Happ reminded Jon Teske that he is still just Jon Teske, what the Badgers did to win that game was completely take away Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews for the game and Jordan Poole for the second half. Wisconsin has developed into a top ten defense in college hoops, and I don’t really expect anything to change in regards to that in this game.

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

And for my money, I think Michigan gets it done. In the first game, Happ had his ceiling games while Brazdeikis, Matthews and Poole — for a half — had their floor games. Brazdeikis has scored double-figures in every game since Dec. 22nd except for when he went scoreless against the Badgers in the first meeting.

PICKS: I do think that Michigan is going to win. I also think that this is going to be a close, low-scoring dogfight that plays out the same way as the first game. Think about it like this: Michigan is the nation’s second-best defense and Wisconsin is the nation’s seventh-best. Neither team ranks in the top 25 of adjusted offensive efficiency, neither of them draw a lot of fouls and both of them fade offensive rebounding while doing everything they can to prevent fast breaks.

This is going to be a prototypical Big Ten slugfest. Assuming the total opens in the mid-120s, I will be all over the under. I’d lean the Michigan side if forced to make a pick, but at Michigan (-5.5), which is what the metrics are suggesting, I’ll likely stay away. That’s a lot of points in a low-scoring game.

No. 5 KENTUCKY at MISSISSIPPI STATE, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 70
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 70

There has not been a hotter team in college basketball in the last month than Kentucky, and including in that run was a game against Mississippi State in Lexington on January 22nd that saw the Wildcats knock off Ben Howland’s club, 76-55.

In total, Kentucky has won nine straight and 12 of their last 13 games. They are 8-1 in the SEC, a run that includes wins at Auburn and Florida as well as a home win over Kansas. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have lost three of their last five and five of their last nine, including a pair of home games against Ole Miss and LSU.

The first matchup was won by P.J. Washington — Mississippi State’s less mobile bigs did not have an answer for the way he could wreak havoc on the perimeter — and he is going to have his work cut out for him dealing with Reggie Perry. The 6-foot-10 freshman has had the three best games of his season in the last three games, averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 boards during that stretch. He and Aric Holman both fouled out in the first game against Kentucky.

I’m not too concerned with Quinndary Weatherspoon in this game. I know that he is going to get his, and I think that Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson will be able to make him work for his buckets. That’s all you can really ask. I also think that Ashton Hagans will, once again, assert his alpha status against whoever Howland has handling the ball on a given possession. For me, what this game comes down to is Washington. His value here is that he’s the guy that is tough enough to be able to bang in the paint while being the guy that Mississippi State’s bigger fours cannot guard at the other end of the floor.

He creates the mismatches, and he has arguably been the best frontcourt player in the country over the court of the last three weeks.

PICKS: I’ll take him to Washington to win his matchup, and if the line ends up at Kentucky (-2), as all the metrics are projecting, then I will be heavy on the Wildcats Saturday. Go Big Blue.

No. 16 LOUISVILLE at No. 22 FLORIDA STATE, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Florida State 72, Louisville 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Florida State 73, Louisville 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Louisville 73, Florida State 72

Both Louisville and Florida State enter this game having played very well of late. The Cardinals lost to North Carolina at home last Saturday, but they bounced back with a win at Virginia Tech on Monday night, their seventh win in the last eight games.

Florida State, on the other hand, has won four straight to get back over .500 in ACC play, but the best win in that bunch in a win at Syracuse, where Old Dominion and Georgia Tech have also won.

The Seminoles actually matchup really well with Louisville from a personnel perspective. They’ll have the length, athleticism and versatility to throw bodies at Jordan Nwora, and the things that Dwayne Sutton does well are the things that Florida State’s team is built on. But the other side of it is that Louisville’s scheme is not ideal for Florida State. The Cards are a Pack-Line team, meaning that they force teams to shoot jumpers, really protect the offensive glass and prevent dribble penetration and post touches. For context, Florida State was down 65-36 at Virginia with two minutes left when they played.

PICKS: I don’t love either side here, so I’ll bet on the locale. If this game ends up as a pick-em or with Florida State as a small favorite, I’ll take the Seminoles. The only team to beat them at home this season is Duke, who won on a buzzer-beater. It’s also probably worth noting that Louisville hosts Duke on Tuesday. It will be easy for them to look ahead here.