I'm really looking forward to that Duke vs. Kentucky NIT Championship Game! OK, I am kidding. The two powerhouses will both make the NCAA Tournament but each could be outside the Top 25 in the new polls. Duke already is there and may or may not get back in Monday depending on what it does Saturday at home vs. NC State. Kentucky is going to fall out for sure if it loses its third straight game as it hosts Florida on Saturday.
No. 3 Villanova at No. 11 Providence (TBA)
A 2:30 p.m. ET start for the Big East showdown on Fox Sports 1. Villanova (19-3, 9-1) leads the conference by a game over Xavier, and the Wildcats have their eyes on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They plastered visiting Creighton 83-58 on Wednesday. Villanova hit a season-high 16 3-pointers on 29 attempts, a terrific 55 percent. Kris Jenkins led all scorers with 22 points. The Wildcats relied so heavily on the 3-pointer because senior forward Daniel Ochefu missed a second straight game with a concussion. He averages 9.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
Providence (18-5, 6-4) has its own injury concern in sophomore forward Ben Bentil, who leads the Big East in scoring at 19.7 points per game and the team in rebounding at 7.8. He hurt his ankle midway through the first half of the Friars' 77-70 upset loss at DePaul on Tuesday. X-rays were negative, but he's certainly questionable here and officially called day-to-day. Bentil hadn't practiced through Thursday. The Friars were killed on the boards by the Blue Demons without Bentil. He has bounced back quickly from an ankle injury before, hurting his left ankle on Dec. 9 vs. Boston College but playing three days later. Providence won at Villanova 82-76 in overtime on Jan. 24, ending the Wildcats' 22-game Big East winning streak. Bentil dominated with 31 points and 13 rebounds. Ochefu had seven points and 11 rebounds.
Key trends: Villanova is 8-3 against the spread in its past 11 Saturday games. The Friars are 5-1 ATS in their past six after a loss. Providence is 2-5 ATS in its past seven at home. Villanova is 7-3 in its past 10 in Providence.
I'm leaning: No surprise this is TBA. The only way I take Providence here is if Bentil plays and Ochefu doesn't. Otherwise, the Cats in a payback game.
Florida at No. 20 Kentucky (-5)
SEC game tips off at 4 p.m. ET and is nationally televised by CBS. Florida (15-7, 6-3) is in the NCAA Tournament field right now, but the Gators don't have much wiggle room with just one win in five games against ranked teams. All four losses were outside of Gainesville. UF also doesn't have any quality nonconference wins. But in the latest ESPN Bracketology projection, the Gators were a No. 8 seed. They have won five of six following an 87-83 home escape against Arkansas on Wednesday. The Hogs cut a 10-point deficit with 2:20 remaining to just two with under 10 seconds left, but UF's KeVaughn Allen hit two clinching free throws. UF was 30-for-36 from the line and entered as the SEC's worst team from the charity stripe.
Kentucky (16-6, 6-3) might have been on empty in Tuesday's 84-77 loss at unranked Tennessee as the Cats were pushed to the limit last Saturday in an entertaining 90-84 overtime loss at then-No. 4 Kansas. But there's no excuse for blowing a 21-point first-half lead or 14-point advantage in the second to a mediocre Vols squad. Freshman Jamal Murray had a team-high 21 points for Kentucky and Tyler Ulis had 20, his fifth straight with at least that many. The magic number for UK this season is apparently 74 as the opponent has scored at least that many in all six Kentucky losses. Five of those are to unranked teams. That's not even close to a school record. In fact, in the 67 seasons that the AP has conducted polls, Kentucky has lost to at least five unranked teams 26 times in a season. The most for a John Calipari team was nine in 2012-13. The team landed in the NIT. Kentucky beat Florida three times last year, but that UK team was obviously way better than this one.
Key trends: UF is 5-0 ATS in its past five on Saturday. UK is 5-1 ATS in its past six at home. The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings.
I'm leaning: Kentucky, which seems to flip a switch at home.
Gonzaga at Pepperdine (+4.5)
This West Coast Conference game is your last NCAA betting option of the night with a midnight ET start time on ESPN2. Gonzaga (18-5, 10-2) isn't a lock NCAA Tournament team yet because the Bulldogs really only have one quality win this season and that was back in November against UConn. The Zags have won four straight following a 92-63 rout at Loyola Marymount on Thursday. All-American Kyle Wiltjer had 23 points and Domantas Sabonis 21 points and 11 rebounds. Gonzaga shot 57 percent from the field. The win moved Gonzaga a half-game ahead of Saint Mary's atop the WCC after the Gaels lost at BYU on Thursday.
Pepperdine (14-9, 7-5) lost a second straight Thursday, 73-70 at home to Portland. The Waves should have won that game but were just 17-for-37 from the free-throw line, missing all six in the final two minutes. Jett Raines had a career-high 27 points and Stacy Davis 27 points and 13 rebounds, but he missed two key free throws with 9.2 seconds left and his team down two. It was Pepperdine's first home loss of the season, having won 10 straight there. Pepperdine has lost an amazing 30 straight to Gonzaga. On Dec. 21 in Spokane, the Zags won 99-73 in the conference opener for both. Gonzaga made 16 of 26 3-pointers. It was up 37-9 midway through the first half after making 15 of its first 18 shots.
Key trends: Gonzaga has covered four of its past 15 road games. The Waves are 4-0 ATS in their past four vs. teams with a winning record. The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings.
I'm leaning: I'd like to call a Pepperdine upset. Can't do that, but it's the game of the year there so the Waves do cover.
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