Huge Saturday of college basketball on the junket this weekend. Mid-December is all about gearing up for conference play with real competition. Sure, it’s been fun showering in the tears of Michigan Men:
but I’ve got no more patience for the the NJITs or EMUs or Incarnate Words of the world. Enough of the pipsqueaks. They’ll have plenty of time to get some shine come March. As far as full-day game slates with ranked match-ups go, it’s been a relatively slow start to the hoops season. That ends this weekend. With the CFB bowl games still a week away, we can focus all our attention (and monies) on the first big Saturday of college hoops. Let’s get into it.
– Ranked Games:
#21 North Carolina at #1 Kentucky, Noon ET on CBS –
Perfect start to the day. Nursing a hangover from a few too many Diserrona shots last night? Fine, treat yoself and sleep in all morning. Plenty of time to stumble to the couch and bet on Kentucky before noon. Or, maybe you’re an overachiever and enjoy exercising and getting things done. That works, too. Lots of time to order takeout brunch, slip back into sweatpants, and bet on Kentucky before noon. If it’s a close game at half, double down on UK 2nd half and start boozing. Bar tab’s on the Wildcats this weekend.
That’s the play here, folks. The line isn’t out yet but it will most likely be in the UK -7.5 range. That’s a line that will make a lot of people think twice. Two ranked squads and two of the most storied programs in history, but don’t over think it. UK is coming off an extremely underwhelming thirteen point win over Columbia on Wednesday night. The Wildcats were losing at half, didn’t take a lead until the 25-minute mark, and didn’t pull away until about 8 minutes left. A win is a win is a win, but Coach Cal was not pleased and you can imagine he’ll show even more disgust when the cameras aren’t rolling. Bet that those boys are in for some “suicides” and “16-in-60’s.” Top tier players don’t take kindly to punishment, and Kentucky has a roster full of that talent. Calipari knows how to shape a team, mentally and physically, and those guys will turn it around against Carolina. As embarrassing as the Wildcats played for most of the game on Wednesday, they’ll play equally as hard and efficient come Saturday. Mark that down.
UNC is a good team right now, but far from great. In true Roy Williams fashion, they push the ball and can light up the scoreboard against teams that allow the Tar Heels to control the tempo. This has been evident in all their wins, two of which came against UCLA and Florida (both have since slipped out of the top-25). What’s also clear is that UNC is a so-so defensive team, and they struggle when not controlling the pace on offense. Iowa and Butler both slowed Carolina down and came away with convincing wins. That can’t happen tif you want to stay a top-5 team. UNC has a lot of work to do, but can definitely send a statement with a win Saturday.
Bottomline, both teams have tons of room to improve. UK is so talented that they seem to play down, or up, to their opponent (e.g. Columbia and Kansas games). I’ve got a feeling that they’ll be college hoops’ equivalent of Jameis Winston and Florida State this season. Just an immensely talented team that plays to it’s competition but turns it on in crunch time. Can you say “2nd Half bets?” Kentucky will be up for this game and will bring the defensive intensity from the tip. Both coaches are gurus, but Kentucky can match all the talent that UNC puts on the floor (and then some), and I just see Cal and his guys playing better D and controlling the tempo by feeding their massive frontcourt. Kentucky by 10.
#13 Utah at #10 Kansas, 3:15pm ET on ESPN
Hopefully, at this point your nursing a nice little buzz and still wearing sweatpants. Maybe you’ve been switching around from some unranked matchups, to Home Alone, to the FCS football playoffs, and back again. #16Oklahoma/Tulsa is on at 2ET if you want to watch Frank Haith make a fool of himself again.
By 3:15, it’s time to get serious. If we’re being honest, Utah at #13 surprised me. I know that Delon Wright is a jack of all trades, but the rest of this team is a mystery to me. Either way, this should be a helluva Pac12/Big12 matchup. Utah still hears whispers about not belonging in a Big-5 conference and for those to cease they need to score an occasional upset against a Kansas or an Arizona. Gotta knock off a big dog.
That won’t happen on Saturday. I’m guessing that this line will be in the neighborhood of Kansas -4, and I’ll be rolling my Kentucky winnings onto the Jayhawks. Utah is tough, but Kansas has experienced guards to stick on Wright, and the combo of Perry Ellis/Cliff Alexander should dominate down low. Jamari Traylor is a beast on the glass, too. Expect him to factor in huge defensively. Utah is coming off a win on Wednesday at BYU and a huge overtime win last week against Wichita State. In my opinion, the Utes’ ranking is a little generous because of that Wich State victory. They’re due for a pullback against a very solid Kansas team who is probably ranked a little low. Kansas got mollywhopped by Kentucky a few weeks ago, but since then they’ve rattled off a string of big wins against Tennessee, Michigan State, Florida, and Georgetown. The Jayhawks are rolling and will be a top-5 team again soon.
I was going to site Utah never playing at Allen Fieldhouse as my reason for believing KU is a lock, but then I saw that this game is at the Spring Center in Kansas City. EVEN BETTER. The Jayhawks are blessed with the goofiest, most confident, starving-for-the-limelight freshmen in college hoops, Cliff Alexander. This kid is a stud, he was born to play in arenas, and I have the utmost faith that he’ll have a huge game on Saturday. Rock Chalk. Jayhawks by 7.
Michigan at #3 Arizona, 5:15pm ET on ESPN
By the time this game rolls around you should be making your way to a friendly neighborhood ale house. Maybe even firmly planted on a bar stool, if you were smart and made the move at halftime of the KU game.
Anyway, where do we start with this game? A week ago, I thought Michigan was a good team. They beat Oregon, beat Syracuse, and lost a close one to a tough Villanova squad. Most impressive of all, they crushed my Bucknell Bison. The Bison are a Patriot League staple, folks. So of course, like everyone else, I thought it was pretty hilarious when they lost to the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Just a fluke, right? Wrong. Three days later they go and lose to in-state little brother Eastern Michigan. Both games at home! THEIR PETS HEADS ARE FALLING OFF. Coming into this season, I didn’t think this team would be a contender (they’ve got no size whatsoever), but I did think they would be solid. Now I don’t know north from south in Ann Arbor.
Arizona will probably be favored by too many points (because of those bad Michigan losses) and gamblers will probably still be all over the Cats (because of those bad Michigan losses). UM is the butt of every internet meme right now, no one’s got faith in them to keep this close. I’m guessing this line will come in around 12-15 points in favor of Arizona, and to me that seems like too much. Maybe it’s the B1G fan in me, but I think Michigan keeps this game around 10. UM is most certainly not winning this game, but they kept it close against Nova and beat Cuse (two teams with comparable size to Arizona).
Zona has great scoring balance across the board, veteran guard play (TJ McConnell), and crazy athleticism (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, and Stanley Johnson are freaks). They’ve got way more size than Michigan, so look for Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski to have big games. Every Wildcat starter is basically a bigger, more athletic, more badass version of his Michigan counterpart. TJ McConnell is liable to shake Spike Albrecht down for his lunch money. But Zona also plays a slow pace, grind-it-out, defensive brand of basketball. They don’t light it up from three, which is Michigan’s biggest strength. If UM can hit some big shots, they’ll make this a ball game. The Cats defense and size will be too much. Arizona by 12.
Florida State at #25 Notre Dame, 8pm ET on ESPN2
Drunken dinner time on a basketball Saturday. Does it get any better? On any other weekend I’d be shoveling wings and pitchers down my throat at Manny’s on 2nd Ave, but on this fateful night I will be the disheveled gentleman sneaking peeks of GameCast and gambling on his phone in the bathroom at my girlfriend’s holiday work party. Woof. Not the worst fate this week, though, as the nightcap is less exciting than the afternoon games. But, I’m an ND hoops fan with ties to the program, so I’ll be paying attention to this one.
ND is playing exceptionally balanced basketball so far this season. With wins over Sparty and UMass, they’ve been somewhat challenged but not yet battle-tested. FSU probably falls inbetween those two, as far as talent goes. Unfortunately for the 4-4 Seminoles, they won’t be making it out of The Joyce Center alive. The Irish are killing it in efficiency so far. They’re first in the country in field goal percentage and tenth in scoring. Jerian Grant is back from his season-long suspension, lighting it up for 19ppg and 6apg. He’s a lock for 1st-Team All-ACC this season. Zach Auguste is a freak athlete at PF/C. He hits the glass hard (7rpg) and is putting it together offensively, scoring over 14ppg. Demetrius Jackson and the good Irishman Pat Connaughton round out a solid “core-4” with double-figure scoring, and the rest of the squad will play typical Notre Dame basketball (hard effort, above-average shooting, sometimes good defense). FSU has played an okay schedule thus far but they’re getting killed on the glass and their guards won’t hang with Jerian & Co. Fightin’ Irish by 17.
#9 Gonzaga at UCLA, 10pm ET on ESPN2
I wrote about Gonzaga vs Georgia two weeks ago, and I still feel the same way about the Zags:
“Kevin Pangos, albeit a midget, is a consistent stud. Gary Bell is a seasoned vet at shooting guard. The Zags always have some big oaf who went under the radar on the high school recruiting scene. This year that guy is a freshmen from Lithuania, Domantas Sabonis. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Lithuanians can ball, and I have to imagine that’s even more true with the spawn of Arvydas. What a beast. Anyway, Domantas is averaging 14ppg and 7rpg as a young frosh. His frontcourt mate this year is former Kentucky PF Kyle Wiltjer. Wilt is a true stretch-4 and he can flourish at Gonzaga. Anyway, I just wanted to talk about Gonzaga. They’re dope.”
The Zags have all the tools to make another Elite 8 run, but I don’t see them going farther than that. I’ve watched them play twice so far and there just seems to be something missing to take them from top-15 to championship contender. As good as Kevin Pangos is, it’s probably the lack of an elite point guard. That being said, Gonzaga is really tough, can shoot the ball from the outside, and has tons of size with Wiltjer, Sabonis, and Przemek Karnowski. Karnowksi is basically The Mountain from Game of Thrones. He looks like he’s going to squash the guys trying to defend him, and, while not the most talented big man, he seems to score with relative ease. Sabonis is my favorite player in college hoops, partially because of his father but mostly because you can tell that he is gonna be really really really good. He’s the next Pau Gasol.
Anyway, I’m down on UCLA. The Bruins are 7-2, but they’ve gotten killed by their only ranked opponents (Oklahoma and UNC). They score a lot of points but don’t seem to care much about defense, serving more as free-entry turnstiles than the ones that hit you in the dick when your MetroCard is expired. And while I do like Steve Alford, any team giving significant minutes to the coach’s kid can not be trusted. Nobody in that locker room likes you, Bryce. HOLY SHIT HIS BIG BROTHER KORY IS ON THE TEAM TOO?? Yeah, this team is doomed. Gonzaga by a billion (9).
– Other Notable Matchups:
Oregon at Illinois, 7pm ET on BTN at The United Center
Toss-up. John Groce has the Illini playing tough basketball, but it’s yet to be determined how good they can be. U of I has been lighting it up against the unranked, non-conference foes (19th in the country in scoring) but were held to 59 and 61 against #15 Miami and #12 Villanova, respectively. Oregon, or the Pac12 in general, really, isn’t known for their defense so I think Illinois will be able to put up some points and get the win. They’ve got the homecourt advantage working too, with several Chicago natives on the roster. Oh shit, Oregon lost to Michigan? Illini is the pick!
Xavier at Missouri, 4pm ET on ESPN2
Xavier all day and twice on Sunday. Missouri’s coach left to coach at Tulsa. There’s nothing else to know. Unless ridding themselves of the shackles of Haith is a good thing for the Tigers? Probably, but the pick is still Xavier. A cool name like Xavier breeds cool players. That’s a little thing called Midwest Jesuit Swag.
Oklahoma St at Memphis, 6pm ET on ESPN2
OKST is the pick. Memphis hasn’t figured it out this season. Every guard on Memphis is a black hole and refuses to give Austin Nichols the touches he deserves. Feed the big man for me one time! The Tigers play tough D, though, so it will probably be close.
Cincinnati at Nebraska, 9pm ET on BTN
TAKE THE UNDER!
– Upset Pick of the Week:
St. Bonaventure’s OVER Pittsburgh, 2pm ET on ESPNU
Good luck, and stay woke.