College Basketball Handicapping: Predicting the Line on Marquee Matchups
by Aaron Smith - 3/4/2013
The calendar has turned to March, which means it is almost time for March Madness. If you are a fan of college basketball, there isn’t a better time of the year. Tournament basketball starts this week with some of the smaller conferences kicking off their conference tournaments.
Gonzaga is well-known for their basketball success, but this week they sit at the top of the college basketball rankings for the first time in the school’s history. The Bulldogs have the best record in the nation at 29-2. Their regular season is over, but they’ll have a couple more games in the West Coast Conference Tournament.
It’s the final week of the regular season for the power conferences, and that means there is some serious jockeying for position going on in the league standings. 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 March 5
Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Indiana Hoosiers (-9.5), (9 p.m. EST on ESPN)
Editor’s note: this line has been released at 8.5 in favor of the Hoosiers.
Indiana’s surprising loss at Minnesota last week paved the way for Gonzaga to take over the top spot in the rankings. The Hoosiers are still in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten, but they have to take care of business in the final week. Ohio State is part of a four-way tie for second place in the Big Ten. Indiana was a 9.5 point favorite at home against Michigan State, so I think a similar number should be expected here. The Hoosiers beat the Buckeyes by 13 on the road earlier this season.
Wednesday March 6
North Carolina Tar Heels (-1) vs. Maryland Terrapins, (7 p.m. EST on ESPN)
A couple weeks ago the discussion was about whether North Carolina would be in the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Tar Heels are in third place in the ACC, and they are looking like a team that will be a tough out in March. Going to the smaller lineup has allowed this team to run the floor more efficiently. Maryland has an RPI in the 60s, which means they’ll be sweating it out on Selection Sunday. Duke was a four-point favorite at Maryland, and I think you have to make North Carolina a small favorite in this one.
Georgetown Hoyas (-1.5) vs. Villanova Wildcats, (7 p.m. EST on ESPN2)
Georgetown is now projected as a No. 1 seed in some bracket predictions. Before the season, Georgetown was expected to be a middle-of-the-pack team fighting for a tournament bid. The Hoyas continue to defy the odds and lead the Big East standings. Georgetown is 6-2 ATS on the road this year. Villanova is squarely on the bubble, which makes this an enormous opportunity for the Wildcats. Georgetown gets the small edge, but this one should go down to the wire.
Thursday March 7
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Michigan State Spartans (-5.5) (9 p.m. EST on ESPN)
Michigan State has lost three straight very tight games heading into this one. Tom Izzo’s team should be ready to bounce back in this game. The Spartans won 49-47 as a five-point underdog at Wisconsin earlier this year. Michigan State has one of the best home court advantages in the nation. Wisconsin was a five-point underdog at Minnesota a few weeks ago, and I rate the Spartans higher than the Golden Gophers. The Spartans should be a solid home favorite.
Saturday March 9
Florida Gators (-3.5) vs. Kentucky Wildcats, (noon. EST on CBS)
The Florida Gators have had a ton of trouble on the road of late. They have lost three of their last four road games despite being a significant favorite in each of those games. Kentucky’s win over Missouri at home in late February showed that this team wasn’t going to give up after Nerlens Noel’s injury. I’ll make Florida a smaller favorite than the oddsmakers likely will, primarily because the Gators still have a lot to prove away from home.
Syracuse Orange vs. Georgetown Hoyas (-2.5), (noon EST on ESPN)
Georgetown leads the Big East going into this week, but they have two very tough tests to withstand in order to finish at the top of this very competitive conference. Their final regular season game comes this weekend against rival Syracuse. The Orange have lost three straight games, and they have dropped six of their last 10. There’s nothing Syracuse would love more than spoiling Georgetown’s chances at a Big East title. This one should be a very physical game.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Louisville Cardinals (-9), (4 p.m. EST on CBS)
It was the best game of the year so far, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish came out on top after five overtimes. The last meeting between these two was a battle for the ages, so all eyes will be on this matchup to see if there can be a repeat performance. Why would I make Louisville a sizable favorite? Notre Dame has struggled on the road all year. They were 8.5-point underdogs at Syracuse, and the Cardinals just beat Syracuse on the road. Louisville is the much more talented team, and I think they’ll get their revenge here.
Duke Blue Devils (-1) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels, (9 p.m. EST on ESPN)
Ryan Kelly’s career night in his first game back propelled Duke to a hard-fought victory over Miami at home last Saturday night. On the Blue Devils final game of the regular season, they’ll take the short trip down the road to Chapel Hill to play their bitter rivals. Duke was a double-digit favorite at home against the Tar Heels. North Carolina is a much better team now, but I still think the oddsmakers will be hesitant to make the Tar Heels a favorite against a healthy Blue Devils team. This one has all the makings of another great game in this storied rivalry.
Sunday March 10
Indiana Hoosiers (-1.5) vs. Michigan Wolverines, (4 p.m. EST on CBS)
Michigan picked up the last-second win over Michigan State last Sunday, but the Wolverines haven’t looked quite as sharp overall as they did earlier this year. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is probably the front runner for Player of the Year right now, and Cody Zeller is the most athletic big man in the country. The Hoosiers are a tough matchup for the Wolverines. Indiana picked up wins at Ohio State and Michigan State, so I think they deserve to be a small favorite here.
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Read more articles by Aaron Smith
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