College Basketball Odds and Analysis: Saturday Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 2/27/2015
March is right around the corner, boys and girls, so buckle up and get ready for a 31-day thrill ride that will serve as the final chapter for another college basketball campaign.
But before we get to March, February has one more trick up its sleeve: the biggest regular-season college basketball day of the season tips off on Saturday, Feb. 28 and this month has saved its best for last.
The storylines are endless for this weekend's action. Utah and Arizona meet in Salt Lake City for the Pac-12 biggest game. Northern Iowa and Wichita State - two Top-15 teams - will square off to determine the Missouri Valley regular season championship and likely vault the winner into the Top 10. Arkansas serves as the last real impediment to Kentucky's perfect regular season. And the Big 12 continues its shockingly brutal regular season with several more games featuring Top 20 squads.
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All of these games have national ramifications and will go a long way towards setting the table for March Madness. But there are still games on Saturday that are lurking in the shadows. These are games of import - though admittedly not with the scope of the marquee matchups on the docket - and games that I will have my eye on during one of the biggest days of the year.
Here is a quick breakdown on some of the key under-the-radar games dotting this Saturday's action:
Georgetown at St. John's (Noon, Saturday, Feb. 28)
A classic Big East rivalry will be renewed in Madison Square Garden on Saturday and leads off this spectacular day of college hoops. St. John's desperately needs this win to stay viable as an NCAA Tournament at-large team. But Georgetown slaughtered the Red Storm 79-57 down in D.C. just 11 short days ago.
St. John's has won five of its last six games , with that blowout loss at Georgetown the lone blemish. They were able to gut out a huge win over Xavier on Monday, and the Red Storm's three senior starters will be playing their final home game. Volatile guard D'Angelo Harrison is one of the best scorers in the country at 18.4 points per game. But St. John's can't beat the Hoyas unless he gets some help.
Georgetown has been quietly building momentum with three straight wins. They've also played very well away from home over the last five weeks, going 4-1 straight up in their last five Big East road games. They've positioned themselves into second place in the league despite getting swept by both Xavier and Providence. Their go-to guy is D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (15.5 PPG), but the key player for the Hoyas is brutish forward Josh Smith.
The Hoyas have dominated this series, winning seven of the last eight dating back to 2011. Going back to 2009 the home team has won eight of 10 in this series, and the favorite has been the play (7-3 against the spread). Both teams are capable of playing from behind, so no matter who jumps out early this one should be a dogfight for the full 40 minutes.
Mississippi at LSU (2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28)
Is either of these teams actually any good and does either of them truly deserve an at-large bid out of the sad-sack SEC? I still don't know. But I do know that somebody is leaving with a key win on Saturday. And this victory could be the decisive factor in choosing one team over the other on Selection Sunday.
Ole Miss is a guard-oriented squad that has quietly won eight of 10 games. Their only two losses during that stretch have come by four points (Wednesday against Georgia) and one point (Valentine's Day against Arkansas). Andy Kennedy's group is extremely experienced with three senior starters. And that has helped them post four straight road wins. In fact, they haven't lost a game by more than four points since Christmas, and that includes that three-point double-overtime defeat in Lexington.
LSU is a talented-but-erratic team. They swept Florida easily and have a marquee win over West Virginia on the road. But they've also lost to Mississippi State and Missouri, and they are just 3-3 SU in their last six home games. Their sophomore forward duo of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey is as good as any in the nation. But with no seniors in the rotation this young team suffers from erratic guard play.
Ole Miss has had the upper hand in this series, winning seven of the last nine meetings and going 7-3 ATS dating back to 2009. But LSU already won at Oxford this year and they are looking for the season sweep.
Dayton at VCU (2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28)
This is a little bit of a cheat on my part because VCU is in the Top 25 and Dayton has had its moments in the Top 25 this year. But, honestly, with bigger fish to fry no one is talking about this crucial Atlantic 10 game on Saturday.
Both teams have been racked by injuries in conference play. VCU lost all-league point guard and leader Briante Weber to a knee injury two weeks ago. Dayton has dealt with a bevy of ailments, and they have been playing with just seven scholarship players for the past month.
This is just the third meeting between these quality mid-major programs, and VCU won the first two handily. They won by 14 at Dayton last year and by 12 hosting the Flyers in 2013. VCU is just 4-4 straight up without Weber, and they are coming off a tough overtime loss to rival Richmond. Dayton plays only six guys, and they have scrapped their way to a 4-1 record in their last five. But I don't know that the Flyers can hold up to 40 minutes of VCU's Havoc pressure with such a short bench.
Montana at Eastern Washington (5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28)
Not up-to-date on your Big Sky action, are you? This is a critical game in this league and pits one of the best mid-major teams in the country, Eastern Washington, against a Montana program that's played in the conference championship game in four of the last five years (winning thrice). EWU is tied with Sacramento State for first place, but Montana is just a game back with three league games remaining.
This is the same Eastern Washington team that took down Indiana back in November and played toe-to-toe with SMU, Washington and Cal (back when Washington and Cal were good). Tyler Harvey and Venky Jois are a pair of junior studs and two of the best players in this league. The Eagles already won in Montana, and they are 3-0 ATS in the last three meetings.
Montana is trying to stay in the top tier in the Big Sky in its first season without mammoth head coach Wayne Tinkle, who left for Oregon State. The Grizzlies are one of the more efficient offenses in the country and boast their own dynamic duo of Jordan Gregory and Martin Breunig. The underdog is 10-4 ATS in this series, and the Grizzlies have gone 5-2-2 ATS in their last nine games.
Here are four other mid-major games that will have significant conference ramifications:
Buffalo at Kent State (7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28)
Kent State is tied with Bowling Green at 10-5 atop the Mid-American East. Buffalo is in third place, just one game back, with three games to play. Kent State is coming off a bad OT loss at Miami, OH, and they have Bowling Green on deck. Buffalo is riding high after taking down Akron, and the Bulls won at Bowling Green just last Saturday.
Murray State at Tennessee-Martin (7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28)
The Racers are 15-0 in Ohio Valley play and have won the regular-season title going away. But this is still a tricky game for a team that's won 23 straight games. They're facing the No. 2 team in the South Division, and UT-Martin lost the first meeting on the road by only three points. This is the final home game for a veteran Skyhawks squad, and Murray State is definitely on upset alert.
George Washington at Davidson (7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28)
The Atlantic 10 is the best conference no one talks about, rated ahead of the American Athletic, the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West. Right now four teams are tied for first place with 11-4 league records, one of which is Davidson. They've overcome injuries and a tough schedule, and they are hosting a very dangerous GW team that's better than its 2-6 recent record suggests.
Georgia Southern at UL-Lafayette (8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28)
Georgia Southern is trying to take another big step toward a surprise Sun Belt title by winning on the home court of the team that won the 2014 Sun Belt conference tournament and represented the league in the Big Dance. Lafayette has been a big disappointment this season, but they have won three straight and they boast one of the best forwards in the league in Shawn Long.
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