Howard finished with 38 points on Saturday afternoon, shooting 13-for-24 from the floor and 5-for-11 from three, as the Golden Eagles knocked off Villanova, 66-65, to remain within a game of first place in the Big East regular season title race. This was the third time in the last four games that Howard has reached 30 points, and the fifth time this season he’s scored at least 37 points in a game.
TEAM OF THE DAY: TCU Horned Frogs
There was no bigger winner on the bubble on Saturday than TCU, who went into Ames and landed themselves a top 15 road win by knocking off Iowa State. The game wasn’t all that close, either. A 22-2 first half run put TCU in front, and the Cyclones never really threatened in the second half. Entering the weekend, TCU was slotted in a play-in game in the latest NBC Sports bracket. This is the kind of win that can bump them up a full seed line.
Coby White led the way with 33 points and six assists, but it was Luke Maye’s jumper at the end of regulation that allowed the Tar Heels to avoid an embarrassing home loss to what may be the worst team in the ACC this season, Miami:
KANSAS STATE, BIG 12 FAVORITE: Kansas State rolled into Baylor in a battle for first place in the Big 12, and thanks in part to some injuries to Makai Mason and King McClure, they left with a 70-63 win. With Iowa State taking a home loss to TCU a couple of hours earlier, it means that the Wildcats are now two games against of Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas in the loss column. Who saw that coming?
NEVADA’S REVENGE: The last time we saw Nevada and New Mexico play, the Wolf Pack suffered their only loss of the season … an 85-58 humiliation at the hands of the Lobos. On Saturday, Eric Musselman’s team hosted New Mexico and made a statement of their own, getting revenge and winning the season series by two thanks to a 91-62 smackdown.
CLEMSON AND TCU: TCU was the biggest winner of the day on the bubble, but Clemson landed a monster win of their won. The Tigers entered the day on the bubble despite the fact that they had not yet earned a Q1 win, and then they turned around and picked off a Virginia Tech team that is sitting in the top ten in the NET.
JON TESKE: After Ethan Happ tore up Michigan in the first five minutes of Wisconsin’s visit to Ann Arbor, Teske did a terrific job slowing him down. Happ had just four points on 2-for-9 shooting in the second half as the Wolverines knocked off Wisconsin, 61-52.
THE HYPE FOR KENTUCKY’S UPCOMING WEEK: The Wildcats held of a scrappy Mississippi State team, 71-67, thanks to 23 points from P.J. Washington and some timely buckets from Tyler Herro. This sets the table for a week that might determine the SEC regular season champion: Kentucky hosts both LSU and Tennessee. The Vols hold a one game lead in the standings over both teams.
SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS
ALL OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Duke made 13 threes.
The result was a resounding win in Charlottesville over the Wahoos, a performance that made a very, very good Virginia team look rather pedestrian. If Duke is going to shoot anywhere close to this well the rest of the season, then we might as well give them the national title now and find something else to do for the next two months.
DE’ANDRE HUNTER’S THREE-BALL: That thing vanished:
PHIL BOOTH’S DECISION MAKING: I don’t think that the Villanova star has made the wrong decision at any point this season … until he had a chance to ice the Big East regular season title. Markus Howard left the ball, Booth had a lane and he dribbled into trouble, ending the game:
Gonzaga did not have Tillie when they beat Duke in Maui. They have cruised through a better-than-it-looks WCC with Tillie playing very limited minutes to date. They did not have Tillie when they beat Saint Mary’s, the second-best team in the league, by 48 freakin’ points on Saturday night.
Depth matters when it comes to injuries, foul trouble and getting 5-on-5 reps in practice. Depth does not matter all that much come March, especially when the position that Tillie plays is currently occupied by two of the ten best big men college basketball has to offer in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke.
Hell, I would go as far as to say that Gonzaga’s depth is on full display because they are still very much in the national title hunt despite the fact that Tillie — who is very, very good — has basically had a lost season.
WATCH: UCLA loses at buzzer despite fouling while up three
UCLA found a new and inventive way to blow one of the biggest leads of the season.
The Bruins led Utah at home by 17 points at the half. They led by as many as 22 points in the second half. They were up 17 points with 6:19 to play. With 2:50 left in the game, the Bruins were up 83-70.
And they still found a way to lose despite fouling when up three.
Here’s what happened: The Utes were able to chip away at the lead until a Both Gach three with eight seconds left cut the lead to 89-88. After two David Singleton free throws made the lead three, UCLA fouled Sedrick Barefield before he had a chance to get a shot off. After Barefield made both of his threes, Singleton was again fouled, but he only hit one of the two free throws.
This isn’t even the wildest finish to a game that UCLA has been a part of.
Last month, they trailed Oregon 72-59 with less than 2:30 on the clock and found a way to win. The end of that game was even crazier, as Oregon fouled UCLA up 80-77 with three seconds left, but UCLA hit the first free throws, missed the second and then got an and-one layup off of an offensive rebound with one second left. They missed the free throws, but ended up winning in overtime.
What a time to be alive.
If the NCAA had the NBA’s trade deadline, what deals would get made?
I’m convinced of it. Imagine, for a second, the offers that would get thrown around as Duke looks for some shooting, or Michigan looks for another playmaker, or Kansas tries to find a way to avoid losing the Big 12 for the first time since Hoobastank was still a thing.
It wouldn’t make the headlines that this Anthony Davis soap opera has, but it would be one of the biggest story in sports.
So with that in mind, let’s pretend this trade deadline exists. What would happen? We have the answers.
One major caveat here: These trades have to benefit both teams, and they have to be trades that, in theory, would be accepted. So, for example, no matter how much I want to imagine someone like Cam Reddish with the freedom he’d have at Kansas. The same can be said for someone like Dylan Windler or Ja Morant or Chris Clemons. Those mid-majors superstars are on teams with the talent to win their league. They’re not making moves right now.
I know it’s kind of silly to require some sensibility for something that could never possibly happen, but it makes the exercise that much more fun.
Anyway, here are the trades. Drop a note in the comments or hit me on twitter with any I missed:
WICHITA STATE’S MARKIS MCDUFFIE TO DUKE FOR ALEX O’CONNELL
McDuffie is everything that Duke is missing at this point in the season. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 wing that is a versatile defender and, most importantly, a senior that has already won a bunch of games in March. He’s have the best year of his career this season, averaging 18.9 points while shooting 38.1 percent from three. He’s a better version of Jack White, a piece that can spell any of Duke’s Big Three while also being able to hold his own if Duke went to their death lineup — with McDuffie on the floor with the four freshmen.
O’Connell would be a good get for Gregg Marshall. He’s going to have to be better defensively to fit in there, but you get better defensively when you spend time in that program. And frankly, playing for one of the better programs in the American is more O’Connell’s level than playing for arguably the best program in America. He hasn’t been great for Duke, but keep in mind, he’s an athletic, 6-foot-6 wing that can shoot it from three and was a top 75 prospect coming out of high school.
Wichita State is dead in the water this year, so it makes sense to give up McDuffie for the rest of a wasted season to get two more years of O’Connell in return.
STANFORD’S KZ OKPALA TO MICHIGAN FOR BRANDON JOHNS AND THE COMMITMENT OF JALEN WILSON
Stanford’s season is done. They’re 11-10 on the year, they’re 4-5 in the horrid Pac-12 and while Jerod Haase isn’t quite on the hot seat just yet, he’s getting closer and closer to that territory by the moment. He also has one of the best sophomores in the country on his roster in K.Z. Okpala, a 6-foot-9 wing that shoots 41 percent from three, can handle the ball and will likely end up being a top 20 pick in this year’s draft.
This season is currently going to waste for Okpala, who is the perfect fit on a Michigan team that can go through stretches were they really struggle to score. Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and, to a point, Charles Matthews are sensational defenders that can be liabilities on the offensive end of the floor, and when all of them are playing roughly 20 minutes together, Michigan can get bogged down on that end of the floor.
Enter Okpala, who has the length and athleticism to be a plus-defender and whose shooting and playmaking ability will fit in perfectly with a John Beilein offense. He’ll create depth on a roster that doesn’t have a ton of it, and suddenly give Beilein the option of playing a lineup that includes Iggy Brazdeikis, Isaiah Livers, Matthews and Okpala.
Johns is going to end up being pretty good, and Wilson is a top 50 prospect, so that’s a lot to give up, but Johns will play at least one more year behind Teske and Livers, and Wilson can be replaced on the recruiting trail still. Okpala gives Michigan a real chance to win a title this season, and Stanford will be getting good foundational pieces to add to a young core in return.
NORTHWESTERN’S VIC LAW TO KANSAS FOR CHARLIE MOORE
SOUTH CAROLINA’S CHRIS SILVA TO KANSAS FOR MARCUS GARRETT
Charlie Moore has not had anywhere near the impact we thought he would have this season for Kansas. Devon Dotson has taken over starting point guard duties, and Moore — who was good for a bad Cal team as a freshman — has been forced into essentially being a back-up point guard that shoots a bunch of threes. Northwestern is closer to his level, and Law is a perfect piece to add to the Kansas roster. He’s a versatile and talented 6-foot-7 wing defender — he’s averaging better than 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game this season — that is averaging 15.0 points and 2.9 assists this season. He’s not shooting it all that well this year, but the last two seasons, he was a 39 percent three-point shooter.
But it is the second trade here that really gets the juice flowing. Marcus Garrett has become surplus to requirements for the Jayhawks with the emergence of Ochai Agbaji and the struggles of Quentin Grimes, which has made it seem more and more likely he’ll end up in Lawrence for a second season. Garrett is one of the nation’s best defenders, but he is not the offensive weapon that Self needs him to be.
He is, however, the perfect fit longterm for a South Carolina program that is more or less dead in the water right now. They aren’t going to get an at-large bid and currently sit three games behind the No. 1 team in the country and two games behind the No. 5 team in the country in the SEC title race. Chris Silva is a hoss in the paint and maybe the most underrated big man in the sport. He’s precisely what Kansas needs for the rest of the year with Udoka Azubuike out and the rest of their frontcourt not ready.
These two deals would make Kansas the best team in the Big 12 and would not totally mortgage the program’s future.
USC’S BENNIE BOATWRIGHT TO SYRACUSE FOR JALEN CAREY
Bennie Boatwright is perfect for Syracuse. He’s 6-foot-10 and he’s not all that interested in playing defense, which makes him a perfect fit to be hidden in that zone. He also can shooting the cover off the ball, and what the Orange need more than anything else is someone that can create some space offensively. He’ll pull defenses out of the lane and allow Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett to do what they do best.
Jalen Carey has had some flashes for the Orange, but he’s on the smaller side and he can’t really shoot it, which has limited his effectiveness as the season has gone on.
TULSA’S DAQUAN JEFFRIES TO TEXAS TECH FOR KYLER EDWARDS
Finding the right fit for Texas Tech was tough. I toyed with Justin James of Wyoming, a number of the other wings you currently see on this list as well as Robert Franks from Washington State. I finally settled on Jeffries.
A lot of people won’t be familiar with Jeffries, but he would be a perfect fit for the Red Raiders. He’s tough as hell, he’s a really good defender and, most importantly, he can shoot it from three. That is the big thing that this team needs — floor-spacing. Someone that can ease the burden that is on Jarrett Culver’s shoulders. Jeffries can be that guy.
Giving up Kyler Edwards would not be ideal, but Texas Tech does have some depth on their perimeter and some pieces coming in in their backcourt. He’ll be a star for Tulsa in the American, and would give Frank Haith a nice building block moving forward.
ST. JOSEPH’S CHARLIE BROWN TO KENTUCKY FOR JEMARL BAKER
Charlie Brown is a talented, 6-foot-7 sophomore with an NBA future that has struggled to find his way within the St. Joe’s program. He needs a fresh start, and his length and athleticism on the perimeter would be a really nice fit on Kentucky’s roster. He can shoot it as well, meaning that the Wildcats won’t lose much with Baker leaving.
St. Joe’s, on the other hand, will be getting a former four-star recruit that needs a place where he can get more minutes to prove how good he can be.
UTAH’S SEDRICK BAREFIELD TO INDIANA FOR TWO FRESHMEN TO BE NAMED LATER
There are two things that this Indiana program needs: Veteran leadership at the point guard spot, and someone that can consistently hit jumpers to create space for Romeo Langford, Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis to operate. Barefield is a senior that is averaging 16.3 points and 3.8 assists for Utah while shooting 40.6 percent from three. He’s the perfect fit for the Hoosiers, who, in exchange, would send back some of their young pieces. Who do you like? Clifton Moore? Damezi Anderson? Jake Forrester? Jerome Hunter? If I’m Archie Miller, the only guy that I’m not giving up is Robert Phinisee.
NEW MEXICO’S ANTHONY MATHIS TO VCU FOR P.J. BYRD
I really think that this VCU team has a chance to be dangerous this year … if they can find a way to start consistently making threes. Anthony Mathis is a guy that will consistently take, and make, threes. He plays in a system at UNM that is not all that different from what VCU does, and while Byrd has looked promising in his limited minute with the Rams, VCU will be getting Marcus Evans back next season. There won’t be many minutes for him available, and it shouldn’t be that hard for Mike Rhoades to find another point guard to fit what he wants to do.
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?
What is still left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Pac-12.
MIDSEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
The Pac-12 doesn’t have a ton of great teams and star power this season. But the 6-foot-8 Tinkle has been the league’s best and most consistent player to this point.
Averaging 19.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game, Tinkle rates in the top seven among Pac-12 players in all of those categories. While Tinkle is a noted scorer and double-double threat, his passing has improved over the course of his college career as he’s smart enough to find the open man when opposing defenses collapse.
Consistency has also been a huge part of Tinkle’s year. Only once has Tinkle played less than 33 minutes in a game this season while 12 points is his season low.
THE ALL PAC 12 FIRST TEAM
Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
Luguentz Dort, ArizonaState: Surprising many with his play as a true freshman, Dort narrowly missed mid season Player of the Year honors. Dort is putting up 18.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, but he’s struggled over the past few weeks to find his offense.
Robert Franks, Washington State: The Pac-12’s leading scorer is putting together a solid senior season. Franks is averaging 22.1 points, 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Clearly Washington State’s best player, the Cougars recently lost multiple games while Franks dealt with a hip issue.
Bol Bol, Oregon: Much like Dort, this freshman big man would in the thick of the league’s POY race if he was healthy. Bol is averaging 21.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, but he’s been sidelined with a foot injury since mid-December.
Jaylen Nowell, Washington: The sophomore has blossomed into one of the league’s best all-around guards. Nowell is putting up solid numbers as he’s at 17.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the season while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three.
NCAA: Arizona State, Oregon
NIT: Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Oregon State
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: UCLA, USC, Stanford, Washington State, Utah, Cal
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. The Pac-12 is dreadful
It’s a new year, so I’ll try to be as nice as possible while describing the atrocity that is Pac-12 basketball. But this league is horrendous, so that is going to be tough.
There are numerous other metrics that point to the Pac-12’s overall awfulness. The eye test is probably all you need. Every Pac-12 team has at least three losses, with a sizable chunk of those losses coming in buy games. They are, as a league, 4-31 in Quadrant 1 games. They are 7-10 against the WCC. Nine teams have beaten two Pac-12 teams already this season. Among them: San Francisco (Stanford, Cal), Santa Clara (USC, Washington State), San Diego (Colorado, Washington State), Seattle (Washington State, Cal) and Hawaii (Colorado, Utah).
No team in the Pac-12 currently has more than a two-game winning streak. While I don’t believe the Pac-12 will end up a one-bid league this season (more on that below), it’s definitely a conversation we might still be having in March.
2. Arizona State has a chance to be pretty good thanks to freshman Luguentz Dort’s breakout start
Arizona State freshman guard Luguentz Dort has been perhaps the Pac-12’s most positive surprise through the first part of the season. Although Dort was regarded as a consensus four-star prospect and top-50 type of talent, not many envisioned that Dort would immediately be this good.
Over the last several weeks, however, Dort has seen his blistering start slow down. The past four games, Dort is only shooting 9-for-45 from the field as his high point total is 13 over that span. Arizona State is still talented enough to knock off Kansas while Dort was in the midst of his funk. The Sun Devils were also bad enough to drop a home game to Princeton during Dort’s worst outing of the season.
So what happened to Dort these last few weeks and how will it impact Arizona State going forward? Was it merely a hot start? Are opposing defenses catching on to Dort’s tendencies and slowing him down? If Dort plays at the level he displayed to start the season, then the Sun Devils should have no issues making the NCAA tournament. But it remains to be seen how Dort will handle conference play and how he breaks out of this slump.
3. Younger players will determine the outcome of this league
College basketball has increasingly become an underclass game at the high-major level as the years have rolled along.
But this year’s Pac-12 is particularly young. Many of the league’s best players thus far have been freshmen and sophomores. And most of the teams hoping to make the NCAA tournament will have to rely on those same players to come through and take them to March.
Given the shaky start of the league this season, that’s not guaranteed to happen. Some talented young teams like UCLA have already fizzled out. Others like Oregon need to get healthy. Many of these teams are going to depend on freshmen for the rest of the season and it’s going to come with mixed results.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. Can the Pac-12 rebound and get multiple teams in the NCAA tournament?
So, we already know the Pac-12 is really bad. Can the league still rebound and salvage the season?
It will likely take a few of the top teams like Arizona State, Oregon, Arizona and Washington pooling together and beating up on the other teams in the conference to create a lead pack. As things currently stand, those are the only four programs rated in the top 75 on KenPom with any sort of chance at making an at-large bid.
As long as those four teams don’t suffer horrible losses to teams like Cal, while winning some games against each other, the Pac-12 will have plenty of chances to improve its at-large status before March.
2. Can Arizona get over the hump and make it back to the tournament?
This season was always going to be a difficult one for Sean Miller and Arizona. The FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal hit the Wildcats hard.
It led to many of Arizona’s top recruiting targets going elsewhere. Yet Arizona still finds itself at 9-4 and in good position to make at least some kind of postseason. Whether that’s the NCAA tournament or not remains to be seen.
Arizona finally had its seven-year non-conference home winning streak snapped this season. They haven’t defeated anyone of note besides for Iowa State and UConn. But there’s just something about this team that’s intriguing for some reason. The Wildcats usually defend at a high level. Miller is still one of the best coaches in the country. The three-point shooting has been dreadful at times, but Arizona has still managed. If the Wildcats can figure out some things on offense, then they could be a dangerous team in a down conference.
3. The health of Oregon
Oregon has a chance to figure things out and be pretty good. It all starts with getting healthy.
Freshman Bol Bol has been sidelined with a left foot injury since mid-December as he’s missed the past four games for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman has been pretty vague about Bol’s injury, so there’s some uncertainty as to when he might return to the team.
Big man Kenny Wooten will also be sidelined four-to-six months after suffering a broken jaw. And another highly-touted freshman, Louis King, is still working himself back into proper game shape after missing the first several weeks of the season.
If Oregon is able to get fully healthy, they have the weapons to be the best team in the Pac-12. But for right now, that’s a major question mark
1. The Pac-12 goes winless in the NCAA tournament after getting two teams in
The Pac-12 went 0-3 in the 2018 NCAA tournament. And two of those teams were featured in First Four games.
While I don’t think the Pac-12 is so bad that it’s only a one-bid league this season, things are certainly trending in a negative direction once again. Even if the Pac-12 gets multiple teams into the Field of 68, none of its teams are going to have a desirable enough profile to merit a great seed. The entire process is going to be an uphill battle.
And while Arizona State knocked off Kansas, there haven’t been a lot of marquee wins against quality competition for the Pac-12 this season. Even if the Pac-12 is fortunate enough to get multiple teams into the tournament, I don’t have confidence that they’ll win any games once they get there.
2. Arizona State wins the Pac-12
To this point in the season, Arizona State has defeated two top-25 teams. The rest of the Pac-12 combined has one top-25 win.
And while Arizona State has shown plenty of flaws in some recent losses — particularly some woeful stretches of poor shooting — they have the talent to compete with any team in the country. Dort has looked like a go-to player at times this season and he’s flanked by three more double-figure scorers in Remy Martin, Kimani Lawrence and Zylan Cheatham. The Sun Devils currently have a top-50 defense.
In a league that doesn’t have any truly goodteams it says something when Arizona State knocks off a national title contender like the Jayhawks. Unless Oregon gets healthy and figures it all out, the Sun Devils look like the favorite in the league at this point.
3. The UCLA coaching search becomes more interesting than the on-court action
Let’s be honest, with the Pac-12 being as bad as it is on the court this year, the off-court movement of the UCLA coaching search is going to be more fun to watch (or hear about).
The Bruins likely won’t be able to start conducting serious interviews until the end of the season — since most of their presumed targets are currently coaching. But if UCLA decides to make some early moves on an out-of-work coach like Fred Hoiberg or Earl Watson then things could get really interesting.
To be clear, UCLA is not making a change for this current season. But the framework will be put in place for the coaching search, as we’ll start to hear names trickle out of the Westwood over the next several months. The UCLA job isn’t what it used to be. It’s still an elite program with an unmatched history conducting a coaching search with big names being thrown around in the middle of the season. That sort of thing rarely, if ever, happens in college hoops.
SALT LAKE CITY — Caleb Martin scored a career-high 33 points, Jordan Caroline added 17, and No. 6 Nevada beat Utah 86-71 on Saturday.
Jazz Johnson went 4 for 4 from the beyond the arc as the Wolf Pack made 12 3s and shot 46 percent from long range. Coming into the game, the Wolf Pack had made just 27 of their last 112 3-pint attempts.
Nevada, which forced Utah into 18 turnovers, remained just one of five undefeated NCAA Division I teams.
Martin emerged from a shooting slump in a big way with six 3-pointers to go along with seven assists and four steals.
Sedrick Barefield countered with season-best 33 points for the Utes (6-6), who couldn’t bounce back from Nevada’s big run early in the second half. Donnie Tillman had 13 points and 10 rebounds for Utah, which lost for the first time at home this season.
Trailing by double-digits most of the second half, Utah pulled to 75-66 with 4:17 to play on Charles Jones Jr.’s 3-pointer.
But Martin made a couple more baskets and Nevada grabbed three timely offensive rebounds to seal the win.
Utah had height to content with the formidable Wolf Pack frontline, but the Utes couldn’t stay with the Nevada on drives to the hoop and scrambles for loose balls.
After a back-and-forth first half, the Wolf Pack ratcheted up the pressure and turned a 38-37 edge into an 11-point lead. The Nevada defense forced Utah into five turnovers on their first six possessions of the second half. Caleb Martin sparked the 13-3 run with an off-balance 3 and capped it with an assist to Jordan Caroline to make it 51-40.
Neither team was happy with how tight the officials called any contact and it finally boiled over when Cody Martin got a technical foul with 13:57 left. Trey Porter, who had nine points, fouled out with 9:30 to play and Martin missed significant time with foul trouble.
The win marked the best start since Nevada became a Division I school in 1969 and the only time the Wolf Pack have completed non-conference play with an unblemished record.
College Basketball Best Bets: Where do you want to invest your money this weekend?
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.