The New Year is here, and the Duke Blue Devils are still unbeaten and sitting on top of the college basketball rankings. College basketball will continue to take a bit of a back seat to college football and the NFL for the next couple weeks, so bettors may still have a chance to find a little extra value in college hoops right now.
Conference play is now underway in all of the major leagues. These teams have seen a lot of each other over the years, and familiarity typically breeds contempt. The soft teams will have to take a back seat now, and the true contenders must step up. 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 Jan. 7
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (-8.5), (7 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Most Notre Dame fans will undoubtedly have their eyes on the football team, which will be playing for a BCS Championship the same night. That might be a good thing, since their basketball team is in a bad spot here. Two months into the season, this will be Notre Dame’s first road game. Cincinnati’s defense is very good, and I think the Bearcats will be too much. Look for Cincinnati to win comfortably.
Wednesday Jan. 9
Minnesota Golden Gophers (-1) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini, (9 p.m. EST on Big Ten Network)
Tubby Smith’s Minnesota Golden Gophers are one of the most improved teams in the nation this year. Andre Hollins may not be a big name right now, but he is one of the best point guards in the country. Trevor Mbakwe missed all of last year with a knee injury, and he is just now starting to get healthy again. He is one of the most athletic big men you’ll ever see. Illinois is extremely comfortable in John Groce’s new offensive system. This game should be tight the whole way.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels vs. New Mexico Lobos (-4.5), (10 p.m. EST on CBS Sports Network)
The Mountain West Conference doesn’t get enough credit for how good it is in college basketball right now. UNLV and New Mexico will be battling a couple other teams for the top spot in this highly-competitive league. I rate these teams as pretty similar as far as power rankings, but New Mexico has a tremendous home court advantage. You won’t find many tougher venues than The Pit. I think the Lobos win on their home floor.
Thursday Jan. 10
Arizona Wildcats (-1.5) vs. Oregon Ducks, (9 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Arizona has been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this year. The Wildcats have pulled out a couple last-second victories in the last two weeks over San Diego State and Colorado. This will be their first true road test of the season. Oregon beat UNLV on the road early this season, so the Ducks are more than capable of pulling off the upset here. I like the Ducks to give the Wildcats their first loss of the season in this one.
Saturday Jan. 12
Duke Blue Devils (-2.5) vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack, (noon EST on ESPN)
Duke will probably still be unbeaten heading into this one, and it could be their toughest test of the year thus far. NC State was the preseason favorite in the ACC for a reason. The Wolfpack have tons of talent. They haven’t completely put it all together yet this year, but they are extremely dangerous. NC State has been dominating teams at home, and I think they have a good chance to knock Duke off on Saturday. The Wolfpack should be an attractive underdog in this one.
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Indiana Hoosiers (-8), (noon EST on Big Ten Network)
The Golden Gophers have a brutal schedule this week. After battling it out against a very good Illinois team during the week, they travel to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers on Saturday afternoon. Indiana was the preseason No. 1 team in the country. The Hoosiers may have lost a tough overtime battle against Butler, but Indiana has been very impressive overall this year. Two tough games in a row will likely be too much for Minnesota.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (-1.5) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (3 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Both of these teams are noticeably better than they were at this time last year. Oklahoma State has two terrific youngsters in Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash. Oklahoma has been winning with strong defense. The Cowboys are 0-2 on the road so far this year, but they are certainly more talented than the Sooners. Expect this game to go down to the final possession.
Sunday Jan. 13
Michigan Wolverines (-1.5) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (1:30 p.m. EST on CBS)
You could make a solid argument that the Michigan Wolverines are playing the best basketball of anyone in the country right now. Winning in Columbus is never an easy task, but Michigan definitely looks like the better team at this point. What’s the difference here? Michigan has many more scoring options, while the Buckeyes rely heavily on DeShaun Thomas. Keep a close eye on the point guard battle between Trey Burke and Aaron Craft. This should be a very entertaining contest.
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