The college basketball season collects a few high-profile matchups between ranked teams this Saturday.
Three traditional college basketball powers are involved, and the fourth team is one that made back-to-back appearances in the national championship game in 2010 and 2011, quickly establishing itself as an enduring force in the country. The third game on the docket involves a pair of teams that are 8-2 and looking for a quality win to put on an NCAA Tournament resume.
Butler Bulldogs vs. Indiana Hoosiers in Indianapolis (neutral site)
College Basketball Odds: Indiana -2.5
The Butler Bulldogs and Indiana Hoosiers have both been very impressive so far this season, and yet they both share one weakness: They were both picked off by in-state opponents from the mid-major ranks. Butler was surprised by Indiana State, and Indiana was ambushed by Fort Wayne. These teams are both very talented, and they both put forth a lot of effort. Indiana, though, relies more on the three-point shot while Butler has been able to retain its identity as a blue-collar defensive force that wears down opponents and relies on the ability to create mistakes.
We’ve seen a little bit of movement on the betting line in this one as Butler opened up as a 2.5-point underdog and the line has climbed to +3 a couple of times before falling back down to 2.5. As for the total it opened up at 146.5 and has settled there.
The key to this game is likely to be Thomas Bryant, Indiana’s big man, who has not been the breakout star the Hoosiers need him to be in order for Indiana to be a Final Four contender. This is an environment in which all players should play with energy. A loud and vocal crowd should create a frenzied game in which Bryant might get a wakeup call and display the kind of strength near the rim which will give the Hoosiers an edge. If you do think Bryant will play well, you should take Indiana.
College Basketball Pick: Indiana -2.5
Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ Xavier Musketeers
College Basketball Odds: Xavier -10
This is a game which seems straightforward, but then again, Xavier has shown this season in performances against average or modestly talented teams (Missouri, Clemson, Colorado) that it has not hit the higher gear it acquired for much of last season, when it got a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier is playing below that standard, and so it is reasonable to think Wake Forest can cover the spread. However, even if you’re down on Xavier, Wake Forest has not established itself as a next-level team. The Demon Deacons could not win a road game at Northwestern, a team which will likely be on the NCAA Tournament bubble at best. Wake does not have the imposing athleticism which should bother Xavier.
Taking a look at the betting line, Xavier opened as a 10-point favorite and the line hasn’t moved at all. As far as the total, it opened up at 155.5 and has since slid down to 154.
The Musketeers figure to get better before too long. Playing in Cincinnati, they should have enough to deal with Wake and cover the spread.
College Basketball Pick: Xavier -10
North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Kentucky Wildcats in Las Vegas
College Basketball Odds: Kentucky -1
It’s a toss-up game, for all intents and purposes, between two of the best teams in the country. The argument for North Carolina is that Joel Berry is back in the lineup after missing a few games due to injury. With Berry, the Tar Heels have looked like the most dangerous team in the country.
The argument for Kentucky is that Berry will be rusty and sluggish after coming back, lacking the sharpness and fluidity he needs in order to make North Carolina a fully-functioning team at both ends of the floor. Another companion argument for Kentucky is that the Wildcats were humbled by their home loss to UCLA a few weeks ago. That will serve as a powerful teaching tool for them. Their defense should be able to bother North Carolina on a neutral floor.
Ultimately, the Kentucky points seem more convincing heading into Saturday.
College Basketball Pick: Kentucky -1
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