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College Basketball Handicapping: Predicting the Line on Marquee Matchups
by Aaron Smith - 12/30/2012

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UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad

Most of the sports world is paying attention to college football right now, but bettors looking for value should keep an eye on college basketball as the New Year nears. The oddsmakers tend to spend a little less time on these college hoops matchups this time of the season, so there is always that chance of finding some soft lines.

If you are a fan of college basketball, there are going to be plenty of good games to watch this week. Conference basketball starts in some leagues, and there are a couple nice nonconference games early in the week as well. The Big Ten appears to be the best conference in the nation, and the teams in that league start conference action this week. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest games of the week. Please note that all odds listed are my projections for what I believe the line should be in that particular game.

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Monday Dec. 31

Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (-1.5), (noon EST on ESPN2)
Big East Conference play kicks off with the Cincinnati Bearcats meeting the Pittsburgh Panthers in a battle of two Top-25 teams. Both teams enter this game with just one loss on the season. Pittsburgh lost to Michigan at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, while Cincinnati lost last week at home to New Mexico, 55-54. Pittsburgh’s best win of the year was a victory over Lehigh, so they still have quite a bit to prove. Look for this game to go down to the final buzzer.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (-5.5), (2 p.m. EST on ESPN2)

Minnesota looks like one of the most improved teams in the country this year. The Golden Gophers only loss of the season came to the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils. Michigan State hasn’t been quite as impressive as they were last year, but the Spartans are never an easy team to beat. Keep an eye on the battle on the boards in this one. Minnesota leads the nation in offensive rebounding, but Tom Izzo’s team is always one of the best in the country on the glass. I think Minnesota makes a statement with a big win here.

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (-1), (6 p.m. EST on ESPN2)

Travis Ford’s Oklahoma State Cowboys got the attention of the college basketball world with a 20-point victory over NC State on a neutral court earlier this year. This is Gonzaga’s most athletic team in quite a few years. The Bulldogs absolutely have a team that could compete for a Final Four spot. I expect this to be one of the best games of the week in college basketball. Gallagher-Iba Arena gives the Cowboys one of the best home-court advantages in the nation, so I’ll make the Cowboys a tiny favorite.

Thursday Jan. 3

Colorado Buffaloes vs. Arizona Wildcats (-9.5), (8 p.m. EST on ESPNU)

Arizona is unbeaten and the Wildcats are now ranked in the Top 10. The Wildcats won the Diamond Head Classic with a nice 68-67 win over San Diego State on Christmas Day. Arizona beat Florida 65-64 in a shocking comeback victory a couple weeks ago. Mark Lyons is doing a great job getting this Arizona offense going. Colorado made a nice run in the NCAA Tournament last year. The Buffaloes were thumped at Kansas earlier this year. They should fare better here, but I expect Arizona to stay undefeated.

Saturday Jan. 5

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Kansas State Wildcats (-1.5), (1:30 p.m. EST)

It’s definitely going to be a big week one way or the other for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They are either going to prove they are for real, or they will look like an overrated group by the end of this week. Kansas State picked up their much-needed signature win when they knocked off Florida last weekend. I think the Wildcats should be favored here, but I do give the Cowboys a pretty good chance of pulling off a minor upset.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (-2), (2:15 p.m. EST on Big Ten Network)

Thad Matta’s Buckeyes are still very talented, but they have struggled on the offensive end against top teams this season. Deshaun Thomas is an elite scorer, but Ohio State hasn’t really had anyone step up as a great second option in the offense. Illinois didn’t have a very good season last year, but they did beat the Buckeyes at home. John Groce’s offensive scheme seems to work well with this Illinois team. This is not an easy place to play if you are a road team. I think Illinois picks up the win here.

Stanford Cardinal vs. UCLA Bruins (-6), (3 p.m. EST on PAC-12 Networks)

The UCLA Bruins overtime win over Missouri last Friday was a huge win for this team. Can the Bruins keep the momentum going and turn into the team many thought they could be this season? Shabazz Muhammad appears to be getting more comfortable, and the Bruins are really effective when getting out and running in transition. Stanford won the NIT last year, and they are certainly a team that could make the NCAA Tournament this season. Offensively, the Cardinal have struggled shooting the basketball so far this year. UCLA’s high-powered offense should lead them to a victory.

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