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College Basketball Handicapping: Predicting the Line on Marquee Matchups
by Aaron Smith - 11/27/2012

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UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad

I hope everyone has recovered from the huge Thanksgiving meals. It’s always a great time of the year, and basketball kicks off in a big way during this late-November period. Indiana still sits at the top of the new Top 25 polls, but Duke is now a strong second. The Blue Devils have wins over Kentucky and Louisville early in the season, and it looks like they are primed for a big season. With Michigan and Ohio State sitting at spots three and four, the Big Ten Conference has three of the top four teams in the nation. Last week’s schedule was a little light on big matchups, but this week is packed full of top teams squaring off against one another. The Big Ten vs. ACC Challenge will take center stage. Please note that all odds listed are my projected lines for that particular game.

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Tuesday Nov. 27

North Carolina State Wolfpack vs. Michigan Wolverines (-6), (7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN)

This is the first game of the Big Ten vs. ACC Challenge, and it is a matchup of two teams who are much better than they were a year ago. NC State was picked by many to win the ACC before the year, but they were blown out by Oklahoma State and they struggled to a two-point win against UNC Asheville. Michigan bested Pitt and Kansas State in Madison Square Garden last weekend. My line is a little lower than the books will likely have it, mainly because I think NC State has two of the most talented players in the nation. If the Wolfpack can take care of the basketball, they have a chance to pick up the upset win.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Indiana Hoosiers (-10.5), (9:30 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Tom Crean’s team faced a stiff test last week against Georgetown, but the Hoosiers pulled out the game in overtime. North Carolina was dominated by Butler, but the young Tar Heels have been good in the rest of their games. This one should be a complete track meet. North Carolina is always a team that likes to run, and the Hoosiers will be pushing the ball all year long. Cody Zeller is my favorite for National Player of the Year, and I think he’ll be tough for anyone on the North Carolina roster to contain. This will be North Carolina’s first game in a tough road environment. I think Indiana wins comfortably.

Wednesday Nov. 28

Michigan State Spartans (-1.5) vs. Miami Hurricanes, (7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Michigan State hasn’t looked like itself so far this year, but it’s tough to gauge if Miami is a legitimate NCAA Tournament team this season or not. I’ll make the Spartans a small favorite here, but I won’t be surprised if Miami wins this one. Michigan State has had small home victories against Boise State and Louisiana Lafayette in the past week. Shane Larkin is a rising star for the Hurricanes, and he is a guy you should keep your eye on in this game. The key to this game will be whether Miami can hold their own on the boards against Michigan State. This one should go right down to the wire.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Duke Blue Devils (-5.5), (9:30 p.m. EST on ESPN)

This is the highest-profile game of the week. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have taken care of business so far this year, but they haven’t really faced a tough test yet. That will change in a big way when they visit Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night. I love Aaron Craft at the point guard position for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have a few more question marks than Duke does right now. Ohio State beat Duke by 22 points in this matchup last year. You better believe that Duke remembers that game, and I think they’ll get some form of revenge this time around.

Saturday Dec. 1

St. Joseph’s Hawks vs. Creighton Blue Jays (-6.5), (3 p.m EST)

St. Joseph’s looks like one of the most improved teams in the nation. The Hawks picked up an impressive 79-70 victory over Notre Dame a couple weeks ago. Creighton is 6-0 on the year, and all of their wins have been by double-digits. Their wins over Wisconsin and Arizona State last week were indicative of the fact that this team may well be ready for bigger and better things this year. Doug McDermott is one of the nation’s best players, and Creighton has a veteran team. The Missouri Valley Conference is strong this year, and I think Creighton sends a message in this matchup of mid-majors.

San Diego State Aztecs vs. UCLA Bruins (-1.5), (10 p.m. EST)

UCLA has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country this year. The Bruins have a ton of young talent, but they don’t yet have the necessary team chemistry. San Diego State lost a lot of talent from last year’s team, but Steve Fisher’s team is fundamentally sound. The Aztecs always play great half-court defense, which will keep them in almost every game this year. I made the Bruins a small favorite because I think they’ll bounce back from a recent rough stretch, but this game should be close all the way.

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