Everyone assumed that Kentucky would win the SEC in a landslide again this season, and I'll admit I was one of those people. The SEC looked like the worst of the Power 5 Conferences in terms of depth (Power 6 if you want to include Big East) as it was last year. As of now, the Cats might not even be the third-best team in the improved league and they could fall out of the Top 25 with a loss Thursday at Arkansas, which is quite possible.
No. 23 Kentucky at Arkansas (+1)
A 7 p.m. ET tip on ESPN. Kentucky's stellar freshmen largely haven't lived up to the billing, especially Skal Labissiere. The Cats (13-4, 3-2) are off a 75-70 upset loss at Auburn on Saturday. Kentucky led 35-30 at the half, and the Wildcats were able to increase the lead to as many as 12 in the second half when Tyler Ulis hit a pair of free throws with 15:41 remaining. But then Auburn went on a 21-4 run. The game would see-saw back for a while from there, but the Tigers closed on a 10-3 run for the win. UK had won 18 in a row in the series. Jamal Murray has been the lone freshman to shine this season and had 20 points, while Ulis had 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Without Ulis, this team might be around .500. UK has had a player score at least 20 points in all five SEC games this season. That hasn't happened in the first five SEC games since 2009. Murray has scored in double digits in 15 straight.
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Arkansas (9-8, 3-2) had a three-game winning streak snapped at LSU on Saturday, 76-74. . With the score tied 74-74, the Tigers' Craig Victor II put back an air-ball rebound with 4.2 seconds left. The Hogs' Anton Beard had a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer come up short. Arkansas has five losses this season by four points or fewer. Anthlon Bell led the Razorbacks with 19 points. He is one of 10 players in the country with four-plus 3-pointers in nine or more games this season.
Key trends: UK is 1-5 against the spread in its past six road games. It is 1-8 ATS in its past nine on Thursday. The Hogs are 4-0 ATS in their past four SEC games. The home team is 7-1 ATS in the past eight meetings.
I'm leaning: Only senior Alex Poythress and a few seldom-used reserves have ever been to Arkansas' Bud Walton Arena, where Kentucky has lost all three of its games under John Calipari. It will be a "whiteout" in the arena. Still, I'm a tad surprised the Cats aren't bigger favorites. I'll take Kentucky.
No. 9 Iowa at Rutgers (+21)
Big Ten matchup at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Is it time to start talking about Iowa (14-3, 5-0) as a potential Final Four contender? The Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan State twice already -- first team since 1965 to beat the same Top-5 opponent by at least 10 points twice in same season -- and bring a seven-game winning streak into this one off an 82-71 home win over Michigan on Sunday. The 5-0 start is Iowa's best in the conference since 1996-97. The Hawkeyes have won 11 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games dating back to last year, the school's longest streak since the 1969-70 conference season (14-0). Peter Jok is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, averaging 19.5 points and 3.5 rebounds last week. The Hawkeyes have won 10 of their past 14 true road games. They are 3-1 in true road games this season, with the lone loss by one at a very good Iowa State team.
Rutgers (6-13, 0-6) could well be the worst Power 5 team in the nation. The Scarlet Knights simply haven't even been competitive in their six Big Ten losses yet. They were obliterated 107-57 at home against Purdue on Monday. That was the worst home defeat in school history, and Purdue had rebounds (63) than the Scarlet Knights had points. It was the school's 21st straight Big Ten loss. Why is Coach Eddie Jordan still employed? Forwards Deshawn Freeman (knee), Shaq Doorson (broken foot) and Ibrahima Diallo (broken foot) are out for the season. Freshman wing Jonathan Laurent (concussion) may be back for Thursday's game. He has missed the past four games. Not like it will matter. Rutgers was beaten 81-47 in Iowa City last year.
Key trends: Iowa is 9-2-1 ATS in its past 12 vs. the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are 7-3 ATS in their past 10 on the road. Rutgers is 4-18 ATS in its past 22 following a loss.
I'm leaning: Potential letdown game for Hawkeyes. Take the points.
No. 21 USC at Oregon (-3.5)
A 9 p.m. ET tip on the Pac-12 Network. How about the coaching job done at USC by Andy Enfield? The Trojans (15-3, 4-1) enter on a three-game winning streak, including a very impressive four-OT win over ranked Arizona and then an 89-75 win at UCLA last Wednesday. The Trojans raced out to an early 18-point lead vs. the Bruins and didn't look back in ending a six-game losing streak in the series. This is the first time USC has been ranked since Nov. 17, 2008. That season's roster included future NBA players DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Nikola Vucevic. The Trojans haven't finished above .500 since the 2010-11 season and won only three Pac-12 games last year.
Oregon (14-4, 3-2) had a three-game winning streak snapped in a 91-87 loss at Colorado on Sunday. Dillon Brooks scored 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting with five assists for the Ducks, while freshman guard Tyler Dorsey finished with 19 points. All four of Oregon's losses have come when allowing more than 70 points. All four of those losses also have come away from home. USC is the second ranked team Oregon has faced this season. The Ducks beat No. 20 Baylor back on Nov. 16 in Eugene. Oregon swept USC last year, winning 75-67 at home. The Ducks have won 10 straight against the Trojans, the longest streak in the series.
Key trends: USC is 6-1-1 ATS in its past eight vs. teams with a winning record. Oregon is 11-3 ATS in its past 14 at home. The underdog is 8-2 ATS in the past 10 meetings.
I'm leaning: Ducks are way better at home. Take them.
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