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College Basketball Handicapping: Predicting the Line on Marquee Matchups
by Aaron Smith - 11/20/2012

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Murray State Racers guard Isaiah Canaan

The college basketball season has been underway for about 10 days, but it feels like the holiday tournaments this week mark the time when the nation as a whole starts paying attention. College football’s regular season is winding down, and the oddsmakers will certainly start spending more time on college hoops numbers as the season moves along. In this weekly column, we’ll be taking a look at the biggest games of the week and how they may play out. It’s important to note that this week many of the biggest games will come from the Maui Invitational and the other holiday tournaments, but those matchups are currently unknown. We’ll only be looking at big games where we know what the matchup will be. Please note that all odds listed are my projected lines for the game.

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Wednesday Nov. 21

Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Michigan Wolverines (-4), (9:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2)

This one is part of the NIT Season Tipoff at Madison Square Garden in New York. A few years ago, it would have been the Pitt Panthers who were the highly-ranked team. Now, it is the Michigan Wolverines who come into this one ranked fifth in both of the major polls. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. lead the way for Michigan. Glenn Robinson III is the leader of a great crop of freshmen at Michigan this season. The Wolverines are extremely efficient on the offensive end. Pittsburgh will need to make good on their advantage on the boards. I give Michigan the edge here because they are the more disciplined team. Look for Michigan to take care of business.

Thursday Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving Day)

Duke Blue Devils (-3.5) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers, (3:30 p.m. EST)

This game will be played at Paradise Island in Nassau. Duke’s win over Kentucky last week proved this team can definitely be considered an elite team this season. Still, I put the line at only 3.5 because I believe Minnesota is a much-improved team this year. Tubby Smith’s squad made a deep run in the NIT last year without their star. Trevor Mbake is back, and I think he’ll be a major star in the Big Ten this season. Andre Hollins gives the Golden Gophers a very good point guard to lead the team. Minnesota comes into this game holding opponents to just 28.6 percent shooting from the floor. Duke will certainly do better than that, but it won’t surprise me if this game comes down to the final possession. This should be one of the most entertaining games of the week.

Memphis Tigers (-1) vs. VCU Rams-, (7 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Network)

This game will also be played at Paradise Island in Nassau. Josh Pastner has brought in some amazing recruiting classes for the Memphis Tigers in the past few years. Memphis seems to have an extremely talented team each year, but they aren’t quite able to get over the hump when March rolls around. Last year’s team was upset by St. Louis in their first game in the NCAA Tournament. Will this be the year that Joe Jackson, Tarik Black, and the rest of the Tigers come together and show their amazing talent? Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams stand in the way on Thanksgiving Day. The Rams still force turnovers as well as anyone in the nation. Neither of these teams has been particularly impressive in the early season, but both have a high upside.

Friday Nov. 23

Creighton Blue Jays vs. Wisconsin Badgers (-2.5), (10 p.m. EST on ESPN2)

This matchup will take place in Las Vegas. Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers team is never easy to beat, but they will definitely miss Jordan Taylor this year. Without Taylor running the point, Ryan’s team will likely need to depend even more on their defense. Wisconsin will do their best to take the air out of the ball and make this a half-court game. Creighton’s Doug McDermott is one of the best players in the nation. Also, don’t sleep on Gregory Echenique down low for the Blue Jays. I think the oddsmakers will give the Badgers the edge here because of their name, but I believe Creighton has a very solid chance to win this game.

Saturday Nov. 24

Old Dominion Monarchs at Murray State Racers (-9), (8 p.m. EST)

The Murray State Racers deserve your attention as a powerful mid-major team this year. Isaiah Canaan may be the best point guard in the nation. He is fully capable of taking over a game at any point. Old Dominion has been very competitive the last few years in a tough Colonial Athletic Conference, but I think they’ll be down a bit this season since they lost so many veterans from last year. Murray State probably races (pun intended) to a solid victory at home in this battle of solid mid-majors.

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