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College Basketball Handicapping: Predicting the Line on Marquee Matchups
by Aaron Smith - 12/18/2012

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Deshaun Thomas of the Ohio State Buckeyes

Final exams week is always one of the least exciting for bettors in college basketball. During the week last week the games were few and far between. The games that were on the schedule were top teams against cupcakes. The 30- and 40-point blowouts were all over the place. Thankfully, last Saturday brought a couple of great games. Butler’s historic upset of No. 1 Indiana might have been the best game of the year thus far. Arizona’s last-minute comeback to beat Florida was an exciting one for those who were able to stay up and watch.

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It’s safe to say that this week’s slate of games is quite a bit better than last week’s. There are some interesting matchups during the week, and Saturday is loaded with marquee matchups. 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.

Wednesday Dec. 19

Xavier Musketeers vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (-6.5), (7 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
This is one of the most underrated rivalries in all of college basketball. These two teams from Cincinnati don’t like each other one bit. This game made the non-sports news last year because of the brawl where eight players were suspended. The two teams will likely be on better behavior in this one, but they’ll still be plenty of physical play in the paint. Xavier lost Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, the stars of the team, from last year’s team. Cincinnati returns almost everyone, and the Bearcats are off to a dominating 10-0 start.

North Carolina Tar Heels (-1) vs. Texas Longhorns, (9 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Both of these teams come into this game with plenty of question marks. North Carolina has only lost twice, but they were blown out in both of those games. The Tar Heels struggled to put away East Carolina this past Saturday. Texas was horrible at the Maui Invitational, and they seem to still be searching for an identity right now. The Longhorns are doing fine on the defensive end, but their offense has been dreadful. Without Myck Kabongo, they have absolutely no flow on offense. The oddsmakers should make the pointspread here very close to “pick’em”.

Friday Dec. 21

Brigham Young Cougars vs. Baylor Bears (-7.5), (9 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
This is a rare nice matchup on a Friday night. Baylor and BYU are both teams that could do some damage this year, but they both already have three losses. This is an important game for both teams as they are both looking to get back on track before league play gets underway. The pace here should be quick, and I expect a high-scoring game. Baylor showed what they are capable of in their win at Kentucky, and I think they’ll take care of business here.

Saturday Dec. 22

Syracuse Orange (-11.5) vs. Temple Owls, (Noon EST on ESPN2)
Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team is quietly dominating about as much as anyone in the country. The Orange haven’t lost yet, and their closest win was by a nine-point margin. Michael Carter-Williams is one of the most improved players in the nation. The Orange have scored 84 points or more in seven of their nine games. Temple is no slouch, and their only loss this year was at Duke. This game will be played at Madison Square Garden, and Syracuse has been great here in the past.

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (-4.5), (4 p.m. EST on CBS)
This is the biggest game of the week. Kansas stunned Ohio State with a second-half comeback in the Final Four last year, and the Buckeyes will want some revenge in this one. This will be their 11th game of the year, but it will be the first true road game for the Jayhawks. Ohio State’s only loss on the year thus far came at Duke, and the Buckeyes controlled that game for about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on Deshaun Thomas for the Buckeyes and Jeff Withey for the Jayhawks. I give the edge to the highly-motivated home team.

Illinois Fighting Illini (-1.5) vs. Missouri Tigers, (6 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Another battle of two Top-25 teams, and this one is a border battle. John Groce has done a terrific job getting this Fighting Illini team ready for the season. Illinois comes into this one with a surprising 11-0 record. This is a team that failed to make the NCAA Tournament last year. Missouri’s only loss of the season was against Louisville. The Tigers should be very dangerous again this year with their terrific guard play. This one will be played on a neutral floor in St. Louis. Expect a raucous crowd in this one. This game should go right down to the wire.

Florida Gators (-5.5) vs. Kansas State Wildcats, (8 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Billy Donovan’s Gators really choked away their game last Saturday night in Arizona. The Gators couldn’t take care of the ball when it mattered most in that one. Maybe that will be the learning experience that Florida needs. It’s clear that the Gators have the talent to be a Final Four type of team. Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats have a chance to pick up a statement win. This one will be played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. I think the Gators bounce back here.

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