The gang is reuniting in person this weekend, and you can bet your ass that we will be back. To get back into the swing of things, I want to make sure we actually still have the ability to predict a game. Seriously, we have lost just about every bet we've placed in the last week. "College basketball gurus like you read about" has turned into "fuck man why can't we have nice things?"
Nothing like some conference play on a Thursday night to get back on the horse. Here are four previews for the big ones tonight:
Ohio State @ Northwestern, 7pm, ESPN
Line: OSU -7
I hate to see a road team giving that many points in such a crazy, balanced conference, but Ohio State is definitely a better team all around than Northwestern. The Buckeyes score 80.5 points a game and give up 61.2 (both top-60 in the country), but those become more balanced at 70 points scored and 66.8 points against in conference play.
I should note that two of those losses (71-65 and 76-67 were to Iowa, who out-rebounded the Bucks 74 to 60 and out-shot them from the field 47-97 (48.4%) to 47-117 (40.2%). As a means of comparison, Ohio State's season averages are 50.3% shooting (3rd in the nation) and 39.1% allowed (35th).
Northwestern, as you will see, is not as good as Iowa. They shoot 43.2% from the field (171st) and allow opponents to shoot 40.9% (which, to their credit, is 100th-best). They do not get a lot of offensive rebounds, but their defensive rebounding rate is 75.6%, which is 25th in the country. In Big Ten play, their average rebounding margin is +1.2 (33.8 to 32.6). The Buckeyes' offensive and defensive rebound percentages are 33.0 (66th) and 70.9% (176th), so it might end up being tight on the boards.
As much as the stats seem to favor OSU, I don't know if they can cover. Wisconsin aside (because they're in a class of their own in the B1G), nobody has beaten Northwestern by more than 7 points in conference play this season. Though they did lose by 8+ to Central Michigan, Butler, Georgia Tech, and Northern Iowa.
In the end, I think Ohio State will win a close game. I don't know if they can cover 7, but I have a feeling this will be the night that Northwestern's B1G dream comes crashing down. Who knows, maybe I'm just overrating them but I'm leaning Bucks. What I'd like even more would be a player prop for D'Angelo Russell - opposing guards have been shredding the Cats in the past few games. He opened on Bovada at 18.5 points, and I'm in on that.
Alabama @ Arkansas, 7pm. ESPN2
Line: Arkansas -7
Both teams are 2-2 in SEC play. Alabama beat Texas A&M at home 65-44, won 56-38 @ Tennessee, lost 68-66 @ South Carolina, and lost 70-48 at home to Kentucky. By most measures, they are an average non-Kentucky SEC team (which includes all SEC teams not based in Lexington).
Arkansas won 79-75 @ Georgia, won 82-70 at home against Vanderbilt, lost 74-69 @ Tennessee, and lost 96-82 at home to Ole Miss. So, again, we have a team that is a member of the "everybody can beat everybody" portion of the SEC.
In their three non-UK games, Alabama outshot their opponents 44.7% to 30.8% (win), 41.7% to 31.1% (win), and 48.8-41.5 (loss). That loss to South Carolina happened because the Cocks overcame 3-14 from three point range by out-rebounding the Tide 33-23 (13-4 offensive rebounds). In their two conference wins, in addition to the shooting percentage differential, 'Bama has won the battle on the boards as well.
So this game (at least as far as the moneyline) comes down to one question: can Arkansas out-rebound Alabama? The Hogs are 87th in the country in rebounds per game, including 19th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. That's a yes, give me Arkansas to win for sure.
As far as covering, Kentucky blew it open because they shot 8-17 from three and 16-18 from the free throw line, and out-rebounded Alabama 30-21. They also won the assist battle 14-4 and held the Tide to just 7 free throw attempts.
It would be absolutely foolish to think Arkansas can dominate this game like Kentucky did last week. But, that being said, the Razorbacks are 6th in the country in points per game, 4th in assists per game, 33rd in field goal percentage, and 30th in three point percentage. Throw in the home crowd, and I like the Razorbacks to cover tonight.
#7 Arizona @ Stanford, 9pm, ESPN2
Line: Arizona -3.5
Stanford has yet to lose a home game this season. They lost to Duke on a neutral court and they lost at Depaul, BYU, and UCLA.
In road games this year, Arizona beat UTEP 60-55, lost 71-67 to UNLV, beat Oregon 80-62, and lost 58-56 to Oregon State. In terms of RPI, Stanford is rated 59 spots higher than UTEP, 94 spots higher than UNLV, 69 spots higher than Oregon, and 55 spots higher than Oregon St. In fact, the only Pac12 teams with a better RPI than Stanford are Arizona and Utah (who, by the way, just lost by 18 to Arizona).
I'm going to go ahead and call Arizona's loss to Oregon State a fluke. The Cats shots just 37.8% from the floor (season average is 48.9%) and allowed the Beavs to shoot 51.3% (they average 43.8% on the season and Arizona averages 39.6% against).
The closest Stanford has come to losing a home game was against Washington (#21 at the time, now unranked), who took them to overtime before the Christmas Trees pulled away and won by 8.
Arizona is clearly the best team to play at Stanford, and definitely at least the second-best team they have played (depends on how you feel about Duke). On a neutral floor, I'd love to take the Cats to cover the 4 point spread because they have been playing great - that home win over Utah is really incredible. My hesitation tonight is a combination of Stanford's success at home, Arizona's inconsistent play on the road, and the hangover effect from that huge win against the Utes.
Gun to my head, I like the Wildcats. Thankfully, there is not a gun to my head so I'll stay away.
Saint Mary's @ Gonzaga
Line: Gonzaga -15
These are the top two teams in the West Coast Conference (which is a great name for a conference but actually kind of sucks - I'd love a WCC with USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, San Diego State, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, and Gonzaga).
Both sit at 7-0, and they've reached that mark in pretty dominant fashion. SMC has won their games by an average of 70.4 to 58.9. Their closest win was by 5 points over BYU, and only three of their games have been within 10 points. The Zags, similarly, have been dominant: they've scored 78.7 points per game and allowed just 64. However, Pepperdine came within 2 points of upsetting Gonzaga (though that was a road game for GU).
I respect Mark Titus' opinion on college basketball, and he seems to think that Gonzaga is a legit contender. In his post from today, he has them ranked 4th in the nation. When you watch them, it's easy to see why. They don't appear to have a weakness at any point on the floor.
But fifteen points? In one of the two biggest games Saint Mary's will play all year? (The other game, of course, if Gonzaga @ St. Mary's.) I am not so sure the Zags can do it.
Against top-level competition (based on RPI), we don't have a ton of info for the Gaels. They beat #50 BYU 82-77 and #83 Northeastern 72-68 (both at home), and lost @ #40 St. John's 53-47 and at home to #66 BYU 82-71. As it stands, SMC is ranked 63rd in the RPI.
Gonzaga is going to be far and away the best team to play against St, Mary's this season. Their RPI rank is 6, and their only loss was to the team that is currently 7 (Arizona). Here's how the Zags did against the highest-ranked teams they have played (courtesy of CBS Sports:
- #15 SMU (home): won 72-56
- #27 Georgia (neutral): won 88-76
- #40 St, Johns (neutral): won 73-66
- #50 BYU (away): won 87-80
- #64 UCLA (away): won 87-74
I mean, based on that, I think they could very well cover 15 points. In their home games this season, they average 86 points for and 55.9 points against. Let that sink in for a minute. They have been DESTROYING teams by literally more than 30 points, on average.
Fuck it, I'm in on Gonzaga. St. Mary's has kept it close against bum teams, and they are in for a looooong night tonight.
So the ticket for tonight is D'Angelo Russell over 18.5 points, Arkansas -7, and Gonzaga -15. If you feel the need, you can tease Arkansas and Gonzaga down to -3/-2,5 and -11/-10.5.