NCAA Basketball Expert Betting Advice: Three Interesting Opening Lines 2/22/2018
I pretty clearly remember watching Louisville beat Michigan in the 2013 NCAA title game at the old Georgia Dome, but according to the NCAA that actually didn't happen. That's because on Tuesday, the organization denied Louisville's appeal of some sanctions, meaning U of L will have to vacate its 2013 national championship and 2012 Final Four appearance. The Cardinals are the first Division I men's basketball program to vacate a national title during the Final Four era. I'm guessing they won't be the last - especially once this ongoing federal investigation shakes out. Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino no longer is the only coach to guide two Division I men's programs to national titles as only his 1996 championship in Kentucky counts. Perhaps Pitino shouldn't have gotten that back tattoo following the Cards' title?
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Wisconsin at Northwestern ( -5.5 )
Big Ten matchup at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. These are easily two of the most disappointing programs in the country and which both fully expected to return to the NCAA Tournament this year. Instead, the Badgers and Wildcats are tied at 6-10 in the conference and will need a title run in next week's Big Ten Tournament to get back. Northwestern showed some signs of life a couple of weeks ago when it handily beat Michigan to get to 6-6 in the league but has lost four straight since. It was 71-64 at home to Maryland on Monday; the Terps had lost seven straight on the road going in. It was the third game in a row that the Wildcats blew a double-digit lead. Injuries have certainly been an issue for Coach Chris Collins' club, and the news isn't any better at the moment. Collins said star guard Bryant McIntosh remains day-to-day after missing his second consecutive game because of a shoulder injury. Junior forward Vic Law left late in the Maryland game after appearing to turn his ankle, so his status for this one is unclear.
Wisconsin also has been hammered by injuries but lost a lot off last year's team that fell on a buzzer-beater to Florida in the Sweet 16. The Badgers did win for the third time in four games Monday, 73-63 in overtime over a depleted/terrible Minnesota squad. Badgers star Ethan Happ sent it to OT on a layup with 5.2 seconds left. The Gophers were without a field goal for a seven-plus minute stretch from the second half into overtime. Wisconsin has now won nine of its last 10 overtime games, with the lone loss coming to the Gators last March. On Feb. 1, Wisconsin lost at home to Northwestern, 60-52. The Wildcats opened the game on an 18-1 run. Derek Pardon scored 17 points on 8-for-8 shooting. McIntosh did play then and had 10 points but seven turnovers.
Key trends: The Badgers are 4-1 against the spread in their past five. The Wildcats have covered six straight on Thursday. Wisconsin is 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings.
The pick: Wisconsin.
No. 23 Houston at Memphis (+7)
American Athletic Conference game at 9 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Network. You may remember last Thursday that I predicted Houston would upset then-No. 5 Cincinnati - and that's what happened with the Cougars winning 67-62 at home. I'll admit I thought they might be caught in a trap game Sunday, but the Cougars won easily at Temple, 80-59. UH jumped out to a 15-0 lead so never had to much worry. It remains a game behind the Bearcats for the AAC lead, but I think Houston has now done enough to get an at-large NCAA berth. ESPN's Bracketology has the Cougars as a No. 9 seed.
That said, this feels like a team ripe for an upset as Memphis is a decent team at 16-11 overall and 7-7 in the conference. The Tigers are off back-to-back road wins at SMU and Tulane. Top scorer Jeremiah Martin returned from a one-game injury absence vs. Tulane and scored 22 points. There is some talk that the school could fire Coach Tubby Smith after this season barring winning the conference tournament. Why? There's a guy named Penny Hardaway coaching at Memphis East High School, one of the nation's top programs, and he's apparently ready to jump to the NCAA. Of course, Memphis is Penny's alma mater and if the school doesn't act, there are reports Ole Miss already is after Hardaway to replace the departed Andy Kennedy. The Memphis program needs a shot in the arm, and fans would at least show up to see Penny on the bench. This is the only scheduled meeting this season between the schools.
Key trends: The Cougars are 4-0-1 ATS in their past five. The Tigers are 2-6 ATS in their previous eight vs. teams with a winning percentage above .600. The Cougars are 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings.
The pick: Memphis.
UCLA at Utah (-3)
Pac-12 matchup at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. This might be the most "bubble-worthy" game on the schedule and it's important for the conference tournament as the top-four teams get a first-round bye. UCLA is currently in ESPN's "First Four Out" and Utah is in the "Next Four Out." Thus, the loser could really be up the creek. The Bruins are trending the right way in winning six of seven. They closed their home schedule Saturday with a big 86-78 overtime win over Oregon. Star guard Aaron Holiday had 29 points and was named Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 23.0 points and 8.0 assists last week. He leads the league with 20.9 points per game in conference games only. Senior center Thomas Welsh also had a big week, averaging 14.5 points and 15.5 rebounds in the two victories.
Utah is on a four-game winning streak and concluded its road slate with a sweep of the Washington schools last weekend. The Utes thus became the only team in the Pac-12 to register two weekend sweeps when playing on the road this year. They also swept the Oregon schools when they opened Pac-12 play back in December. UCLA is 5-3 against Utah since the Utes joined the Pac-12. The Bruins beat Utah in L.A. on Jan. 11, 83-64. Holiday had 20 points and freshman Kris Wilkes added 19. UCLA never trailed. Should UCLA complete the regular-season sweep, there's really no way the NCAA selection committee could take Utah over the Bruins.
Key trends: The Bruins are 5-1 ATS in their past six. The Utes are 6-2-1 ATS in their previous nine. The home team is 8-1 ATS in the past nine meetings.
The pick: Utah.
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