College Basketball Handicapping: Predicting the Line on Marquee Matchups
by Aaron Smith - 2/25/2013
Indiana sits at the top of the rankings for a third straight week after coming out of East Lansing with a big win over the Spartans. The Miami Hurricanes had been getting a lot of votes for the top spot, but their loss to Wake Forest sends them down several spots in the rankings this week.
If you are a college basketball fan, it’s hard not to love this time of the year. The calendar flips to March later this week. Over the next couple weeks you’ll hear a lot about bubble teams and which teams should be the top seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The smaller conferences only have a game or two left on their regular season schedules, while the major conferences have three or four contests left on their regular season slate.
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Let’s take a look at some of the biggest games of the week ahead. Please note that all odds listed are my projections for what I believe the line should be in that particular game.
Tuesday Feb. 26
Indiana Hoosiers (-7) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers, (7 p.m. EST on ESPN)
Indiana dominated the first matchup between these two in the first half before Minnesota stormed back to make it a game in the final minutes. The Golden Gophers looked like a Top-10 team in nonconference play, but they have looked awful of late. Minnesota is playing their way onto the bubble with their recent bad losses. If Minnesota can beat Indiana, it will be their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. However, I don’t see it happening.
Memphis Tigers (-1) vs. Xavier Musketeers, (7 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Memphis can’t find anyone who can compete with them in Conference USA, but they’ll play a rare late-season nonconference game at Xavier on Tuesday night. The Musketeers have beaten Butler and LaSalle at home already this year. Xavier jumped out to a big lead this past Saturday against VCU before falling four points short against Shaka Smart’s Rams. The Musketeers get another chance to knock off a top-ranked opponent here. Memphis will be tested much more than they have been recently. This one should go right down to the wire.
Wednesday Feb. 27
Georgetown Hoyas (-1.5) vs. Connecticut Huskies, (7 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
There weren’t many people who expected the Georgetown Hoyas to be in the position they are in right now at the top of the Big East standings. Otto Porter has to be considered the front-runner for Big East Player of the Year after single-handedly willing his team to a big win at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Porter’s excellence on offense and the Hoyas terrific half court defense have been a great combination of late. Kevin Ollie is doing a tremendous job with UConn as well, but I’m not sure they can beat the red-hot Hoyas.
Thursday Feb. 28
Duke Blue Devils (-1.5) vs. Virginia Cavaliers, (9 p.m. EST on ESPN)
Duke may have Miami on deck, but it’s hard to imagine the Blue Devils overlooking a Cavaliers team that hasn’t lost at home since November. These two teams win in very different ways. Duke pushes the tempo and outscores opponents, while Virginia slows the game down to a crawl and wins with defense and ball control. Who will impose their will onto the opponent in this contest? I give Duke the edge here because they have more overall balance.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (-8.5) vs. BYU Cougars, (11 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been absolutely destroying the entire West Coast Conference this year. Mark Few’s team has been as impressive as any in the nation over the past month. Kelly Olynyk’s emergence as a star has made this team a real Final Four threat. Olynyk has to be mentioned in Player of the Year conversations nationally. Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos are also capable of carrying the team. BYU is a borderline bubble team, but they wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament if it started today. The Cougars need a signature win, and this would be it if they could pick it up. The Bulldogs are too good.
Saturday March 2
Louisville Cardinals vs. Syracuse Orange (-2), (noon EST on CBS)
Both of these teams are right in the thick of the Big East race. Syracuse upset the Cardinals in Louisville earlier this year. Louisville is still a very dangerous team that is capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but they haven’t quite put it all together yet. The Cardinals really need Peyton Siva to stay out of foul trouble because Russ Smith has struggled at point guard. Syracuse is right in the middle of a very tough scheduling spot here. I can’t make Syracuse an underdog at home, but they shouldn’t be favored by much.
Butler Bulldogs vs. VCU Rams (-6.5), (noon EST on ESPN2)
It’s a rematch of the 2011 Final Four matchup between Butler and VCU. Butler won that matchup largely because they won the battle of the boards, 46-30. VCU will have to hold their own on the glass in this one. The Rams force more turnovers than any other team in the country. VCU will want to turn this into a fast-paced game, while Butler is going to want to play in the half court. I think VCU gets a small measure of revenge by winning this one.
Miami Hurricanes vs. Duke Blue Devils (-6), (6 p.m. EST on ESPN)
This one is the game of the week. Miami beat Duke at Cameroon Indoor Stadium last season, and the Hurricanes blasted the Blue Devils by 27 points in Miami earlier this year. You better believe that Coach K will have his team ready for this one. Miami may have slipped up at Wake Forest, but this Hurricanes team is one of the best in the nation. It’s a heavyweight battle in Durham on Saturday night. No one has a better home court advantage, and I think that will be the difference here.
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