It's Tuesday and it's February which can only mean one thing: We have ourselves a loaded night of college hoops. Baylor is at Texas. Michigan State tries to get right at Iowa. Indiana desperately tries to pick up a win against Illinois.
What more could you ask for? Not much, I tell ya. Not much.
So with that, let's get to the gambling picks. As always, our best bets are up top, then we'll share some quick thoughts on the other big games below, even if they aren't official picks.
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Now, to Tuesday's card:
No. 11 Tennessee at Ole Miss (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Spread: Tennessee (-4)
The over/under tells you everything you need to know about this one: Vegas expects a game in the 60's and with good reason. These are two of the best defensive teams in the country, with both ranking in the Top 30 nationally in scoring defense.
Therefore, in the least surprising news ever, this game will be won on the offense end, which is why I like Tennessee.
To be clear, this isn't a "Tennessee just beat Kansas, so I love them all of a sudden" pick. Instead, the Vols are slowly, finally starting to turn a corner, but they also have the nasty taste in their mouths of losing two straight just a week ago. Normally I'd be worried about them going on the road after a big win, but this team is just now starting to build momentum. And it feels like the Vols know they're not good enough to overlook anyone at this point.
And this feels like the perfect team to do it against.
That's because as awesome as Kermit Davis' team is on the defensive end, the offensive end is another deal all together. Incredibly, they have broken the 70 point barrier a grand total of one time in the last seven games. I just can't see them exploding offensively here.
Tennessee doesn't have all its problems figured out, but this is simply too few points, against an Ole Miss team that struggles to score.
The Pick: Tennessee (-4)
North Carolina at Clemson (7:00 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
Spread: North Carolina (-3)
Yes, this is a totally square play. And yes, I'm probably a little pissed off after backing Clemson last Saturday against Duke only to see them get absolutely slaughtered. Am I on tilt? Maybe, but I also think this is the right play.
Look, the bottom line is that Clemson really only does one thing well: They defend. They don't rebound, they don't make shots, they're impotent offensively. And while normally, a team being able to defend would scare me against UNC - which isn't a great shooting team - I just don't know that I'm worried in this particular case, and here is why: UNC rebounds the ball so well I'm not sure it will matter. The Tar Heels rank No. 1 in the country in rebound margin, ripping down an average of 11 more boards per game than their opponents. Clemson is 227th in the same category.
Again, I'm sure there's some fancy analytic that says the right play is to take Clemson here and if you've found that analytic I respect you. But I also trust my eyes, and the eye test tells me that Clemson will have trouble keeping up with Carolina for 40 minutes.
The Pick: North Carolina (-3)
Here is a look at some of the other big games on the slate. While I'll be watching - and enjoying - these games, I won't be betting them for various reasons.
Here is why:
No. 2 Baylor at No. 6 Texas (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Spread: Baylor (-5.5)
It's the game of the night in college hoops, and quite possibly has "Game of the Year" potential. It's a Top 10 showdown between the seemingly unbeatable Baylor Bears and the sixth ranked Texas Longhorns.
On paper, Texas seems to be the ideal makeup to beat Baylor: They have bigger, athletic guards that should be able to give Baylor's smaller backcourt fits, and a slew of bodies (Kai Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims) that could the Bears problems at the rim.
Again, it's a seemingly perfect matchup to take Texas here.
But a few things do scare me.
One, for all the talk about Baylor's small guards, Baylor actually ranks first in the Big 12 in rebounding margin (and 36th overall). Put simply, their lack of size isn't as big of a deal as you think it is. Two, the way Baylor beats you is by getting you to turn the ball over, and despite Texas having veteran, experienced guards, the Longhorns actually turn the ball over quite a bit (13 times per game). Advantage Baylor.
Finally, I feel like we kind of have seen this game before. Remember, Villanova went to Texas early in the season, with a similar makeup and profile and lack of obvious size down low - and Villanova still won by four.
Weirdly it feels like Texas has been a trendy upset pick in things I've read, but if I were betting, I'd back the Bears to cover... again.
Lean: Baylor (-5.5)
(Sort of related, I had Baylor's MaCio Teague on the Aaron Torres Podcast a few weeks back. If you missed it, you can watch below)
Michigan State at No. 8 Iowa (7:00 p.m. ET, FS1)
Spread: Iowa (-10)
The reason I can't bet this game is because it's a matchup of weakness on weakness. Who will have the edge: Michigan State's anemic offense? Or Iowa's anemic defense?
It's basically the "immaculate force vs. the immovable object" here. Only the exact opposite.
Put simply, I think Michigan State will be a pretty strong fade candidate throughout the rest of the season. They just can't score in the half-court and once they fall down by double figures it's just hard to see the scenario where they can come back and win. Even if they can string together a few defensive stops back-to-back, they just can't score quickly enough to overcome big deficits.
In the end, Iowa just doesn't play good enough where I feel comfortable taking them here. The Hawkeyes will win, but the backdoor will be open.
I feel confident putting Iowa in a moneyline parlay, but that's really it.
Lean: Iowa (Money Line Parlay)
No. 12 Illinois at Indiana (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Spread: Illinois (-2.5)
Another weird Big Ten game, with too many differing dynamics for me to love one side here.
Indiana, weirdly plays better on the road, which is advantage Illinois. Illinois is coming off a big home win a few days ago, which is advantage Indiana. These two teams also played just a few weeks ago and Illinois pulled out the win, which should be advantage Indiana, since it's tough for good teams to beat other good teams twice in a short period.
Really at the end of the day though, it's kind of the same deal with Michigan State and Iowa above: Indiana's defense is awesome. But even if they get stops, can they score enough to take advantage? I'm honestly just not sure.
If anything, I lean UNDER here.
Lean: UNDER 141.5
Mississippi State at Arkansas (9:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Spread: Arkansas (-7.5)
This is easily the weirdest line of the night. I like Arkansas, think they're a tournament team and know they're coming off a loss to Oklahoma State where they had a legitimate chance to win. I also know they play significantly better at Bud Walton Arena than they do on the road.
But 7.5 just feels like way too many to be comfortable, against a bruising, physical, Mississippi State team.
If I had a strong lean it's that the game is close early and Arkansas pulls away late. Mississippi State in the first half is most appealing to me.
Lean: Mississippi State first half (+4)
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