Saturday college basketball preview - Kentucky-Auburn, UNC-Wake and more
We wrote up the Divisional previews, now it’s time for the college basketball slate. We weren’t able to give you a write up during the week, so I’m making it up by giving you 10 college basketball plays this Saturday.
There are 133 college basketball contests on Saturday and I'm here to give you plenty of action. To say I love the board is an understatement. I’ll be firing on all cylinders watching the games at the Circa Sportsbook tomorrow. We highlight the big game of the slate Auburn/Kentucky, and much more. Let’s just get to the picks.
As always the picks are presented by DraftKings Sportsbook:
Kentucky at Auburn, 1 p.m. ET CBS
Spread: Auburn -3.5
These are two of the top five teams in college basketball. I’m convinced of this. Auburn’s arena is going to be a madhouse with Kentucky coming to town. The Tigers should be the number one team in the land, if it weren’t for a certain AP Voter ranking them 9th! Freakin ninth, is pretty unreal.
Bruce Pearl is going to have his team ready to go here. They have won 14 straight games since their double overtime loss to UConn all the way back on November 24th. Freshman forward Jabari Smith has been making his case for the number 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft. Kentucky is coming off a game where they squeaked out a win against Texas A&M on the road - a game that followed their best performance of the year against Tennessee.
The boards will be key to watch. Kentucky is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country due to Oscar Tshiebwe’s ability to crash the glass. He is averaging 14.8 rebounds on the season, but I think Auburn center Walker Kessler can be his match. He has been incredible since transferring from North Carolina, averaging 4.4 blocks a game. Tshiebwe won’t be able to bully his way inside. The Wildcats struggle when the opposing team has similar length. We saw this against Duke and LSU. This is one of the biggest games in Auburn’s history as a basketball program, so the crowd should be loud, and the Auburn players should be ready to play. I think Jabari Smith will prove that he is the best player on the court and ultimately be too much for Kentucky’s defense. I’ll pair the Tigers with a money
line parlay with our NFL pick Tennessee. I’ll give out the 3.5 too.
The pick: Auburn -3.5/ ML parlay Auburn/Tennessee Titans/Miami
Florida State at Miami, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
Spread: Miami -2.5
A matchup between the two Florida teams that beat Duke. This is really going to be a fun matchup in Coral Gables. It comes down to the spot, it’s a tough assignment for a Seminoles team coming off an emotional overtime home against Duke. This will also be FSU’s fourth game in eight days. Miami has a chance to avenge a one-point loss against Florida State 10 days ago. Miami has been a different team at home going 9-1 straight up with their only loss coming against UCF at the beginning of the season. Florida State has struggled on the road going 2-4. Miami has 8 wins against Ken Pom top 80 teams. Miami is one of the top teams in experience. They do a good job taking care of the basketball ranking 5th nationally in offensive turnover percentage, an asset that is necessary when facing Leonard Hamilton coached ball clubs. I trust the trio of Charlie Moore, Isaiah Wong, and Cameron McGusty. I think at this point, we have to start the conversation that Miami is the second-best team in the ACC. Love the Hurricanes at home.
The pick: Miami -2.5
Grand Canyon at Sam Houston State
Spread: GCU -1.5
After two consecutive juggernaut offensive performances that saw the Lopes putting up a combined 175 points, the Lopes put up a clunker losing 71-46 to Stephen F Austin last Thursday. Coincidentally, Sam Houston State upset WAC favorite New Mexico State by that exact same score Thursday night as well. That is truy a unique circumstance and don’t know if that has happened in college basketball before. I just think this is a good bounce back spot for GCU. Coach Bryce Drew won’t be on the sideline after being diagnosed with Covid.
Still think GCU takes care of business with first place in the WAC on the line. GCU defends the three better than any team in the country, and that’s where Sam Houston likes to operate on offense. GCU’s offense should come back alive against a Bearkats defense that ranks 238th in effective field goal percentage. Give me the Lopes.
The pick: GCU -1.5
New Mexico State at Stephen F Austin, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Spread: Stephen F Austin -1
We are covering the next biggest game in the WAC featuring the top two preseason teams. It’s a long-anticipated matchup for WAC basketball fans. Both teams have circled this one on the calendar since the Lumberjacks announced their intentions to join the conference last February. I really think this game can go either way.
Stephen F Austin has shown moments of greatness highlighted by their close loss against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. But they have also had questionable results like their home loss against Louisiana-Monroe and their overtime road loss against Tarleton State. New Mexico State has been much more consistent winning 10 straight until Thursday’s loss against Sam Houston State. Both teams are very gritty on the defensive end. New Mexico State is long and athletic, they defend the rim well. While Stephen F Austin lives by turning teams over. Stephen F Austin also struggles turning the ball over themselves on the offensive end.
The matchup between the league’s best front court offensive player Gavin Kemsil for SFA will go against the league’s best front court defender Johnny McCants. I think this game is going to be tough and physical throughout. SFA will take away the three and New Mexico State’s bigs will have to do most of their work in the paint. The Aggies are going to want to slow this game down, and I think they will control the pace. I like NMSU, but I like it more. First team to 65 wins, I can see the Aggies pulling out a close one 69-66. Which gives us an under.
The pick: NMSU/SFA Under 139
Missouri State at Loyola Chicago, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Spread: Missouri State +6.5
We got a matchup between the two best teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. (Sorry Drake fans). Both teams are steaming hot. The Ramblers are ranked after winning 10 straight games. While Missouri State is on a three-game winning streak of their own. The Bears have been competitive in every game this season outside of an opening loss against Southeast Missouri and a road loss against Saint Mary’s. The Bears have been tested against solid competition this year. They won’t back down from the Ramblers.
This is the rare opportunity where the underdog will have the two best players on the floor. Missouri State’s leading scorer Isaiah Mosley is averaging 20.2 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting and he is sniping 41 percent from behind the arc. The Bears rank 13th nationally in three-point percentage as a team. The Ramblers rank 252nd in three-point attempts allowed. Missouri State forward Gaige Prim is a double-double waiting to happen, he ranks in the top 60 in rebounding percentage. He is going to keep the Ramblers accountable in the paint on both ends. This game means a little bit more for the Bears. Loyola beat them by a combined 46 points last season. Revenge will be fresh in my mind. Most of the bets are on Loyola because of name recognition alone. I’ll take Missouri State to get an outright road win here.
The pick: Missouri State +6.5
Norte Dame at Louisville, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Spread: Louisville (-2.5)
It’s Russ Smith jersey retirement night at KFC Yum Center. Emotions may run a little high. Louisville broke a three-game losing skid earlier this week against Boston College. A lot of people are picking Louisville in this one. Mark Williams has been playing better, but Notre Dame is on a roll winning seven of their last eight games - the most impressive being wins over North Carolina and Clemson. Notre Dame ranks in the top 50 in scoring and offensive efficiency. While Notre Dame isn’t a defensive stalwart, I don’t know exactly know where the Cardinals are going to consistently score. Projected first round pick Blake Wesley and Prentis Hubb give the Irish significant advantage in the back court. I’m willing to back Notre Dame as a short road underdog.
The pick: Notre Dame +2.5
UAB at Louisiana Tech, 4 p.m. ET, Stadium
Spread: UAB (-1.5)
We are going back to the mid-majors for our next play. It’s a top matchup between Conference USA’s top two teams. UAB has won six out of their last seven games. They rank in the top 60 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their offense ranks 32nd in three-point shooting percentage, but they are only averaging 21 three point attempts per game. They are led by 5-foot-11 guard Jordan Walker who is averaging 16.9 points per game. The Bulldogs have a star of their own with sophomore forward Kenneth Lofton Jr who is averaging 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Lofton will have one of his toughest matchups of the year facing a UAB defense that ranks 15th nationally in two-point defense.
UAB has yet to face an interior presence that is close to Lofton all year. Louisiana Tech is pretty solid on the defensive end as well. They are ranked 51st in the country in defensive near-proximity percentage, allowing opponents to make good on only 54.5% of their attempts from close-up. The Bulldogs are more than willing to play UAB’s up tempo style. Louisiana Tech should be able to win this game at home in front of a solid home crowd. Give me the Bulldogs.
The pick: Louisiana Tech +1.5
LSU at Tennessee, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Spread: Tennessee -5
No Darius Days or Xavier Pinson for LSU. To to be fair, Brandon Murray and Eric Gaines have done their best to take on a larger role without Pinson. But Murray had just two points in the loss to Arkansas while Gaines isn’t a strong outside shooter. To avoid suffering three straight losses, the Tigers will rely on their defense that ranks first nationally in points per possession. I expect this game to be pretty sloppy, both teams turn the ball over at a high rate. If you have watched Tennessee games this year, you know they struggle to score in stretches at a time. Kennedy Chandler is talented, but he is a young freshman, who makes questionable freshmen decisions routinely.
Brandon Murray will be able to guard Kennedy Chandler and put pressure on the freshmen. LSU athletic size will give the Volunteers post players fits. It doesn’t help that the Volunteers rank 218th nationally in three-point shooting percentage. I think LSU is going to bounce back, but they will be competitive with their defense. The Tigers rank 1st in defensive efficiency while Tennessee ranks 6th in defensive efficiency. This is the second-best game in the SEC. But this game is going to be a rock fight on rocky top. I would take the total all the way down to 128. This is one of my favorite bets of the day. Let’s go with the under here.
The pick: under 130.5
East Carolina at Houston, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Spread: Houston -19.5
This game is kind of random to put on the card. But I like the Pirates here. East Carolina has covered four out of their last five. Their one loss against the spread was a seven-point overtime loss against UCF. The Pirates have yet to lose a game by more than 15. Over their last eight games, Houston is 3-5 ATS when they have been favored by 10 or more. Houston has had significant injuries to Marcus Sasser and Tramon Marks.
While Houston is still solid, I think they are still overvalued when laying big numbers. East Carolina ranks 32nd nationally in three-point percentage. Historically, teams that can shoot the ball can hang around with the Cougars. Tristan Newton and Vance Jackson provide a solid scoring duo for the Pirates. Houston has a big road game against UCF coming up next Tuesday. I can see this being a look ahead spot, and the Pirates play Houston closer than the experts think.
The pick: East Carolina +19.5
Furman at Wofford, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Spread: Furman (-2)
Another top mid-major matchup in the So-Con. The narrative is simple, Wofford has won 11 straight against the Paladins, and that streak ends today. Both teams play similar styles, they like to bomb it away from three. The Paladins play a five out offense that is elite at getting open three-point shots. Furman ranks 19th nationally in three-point percentage (38.2%) while Wofford ranks 303rd in three-point percentage defense. Furman has three senior starters who have never beaten Wofford.
That changes Saturday night. Love the Paladins to beat Wofford handily, moving one game back of Mocs for 1st place in the So-Con.
The pick: Furman +2
North Carolina at Wake Forest, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Spread: Wake Forest +1.5
We have another ACC game on the docket. The Tar Heels were embarrassed on the road against Miami. UNC ran into a cold shooting night, and when you can’t score, you will get blown out giving up wide open looks. Both Wake Forest and UNC rank in the top 100 in pace. UNC is giving up open looks to the rim. The Demon Deacons have scored over 75 in five out of their last six. UNC is going to have to put up a big number in order to be competitive. Armando Bacot should have his way down low. Wake Forest ranks 26th nationally in effective field goal percentage on offense. It’s a late-night game the Packers are on. But if you want to watch a high scoring college basketball game, this one is for you. Take the over.
The pick: over 150
UCLA at Colorado, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Spread: UCLA (-3)
The final game of the slate. This could be a look ahead spot with UCLA playing Arizona next. But this number should be closer to six. I understand the Buffs played USC tough in stretches. UCLA dominated the first matchup without Cody Riley, and Jaime Jacquez exited the game after the seven-minute mark. UCLA is undervalued in this spot. The Buffs are lacking a serious perimeter shooting threat. They had a lot of trouble keeping with UCLA’s guards. Cody Riley does enough to hold up in the interior. This is a statement game for Johnny Juzang on the defensive end, where he will be tasked to guard Colorado’s rising star Jabari Walker. Give me the Bruins as a short road favorite.
The pick: UCLA -3
Follow Austin on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive
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