The NCAA Men’s landscape is starting to take form with March Madness nearing closer every day. With a jam packed schedule this week we take a look at three feature games every college basketball fan should keep an eye on. With the College landscape ripe for upsets, make sure you follow up on the advice we give you, check for injury updates and stay locked in on your games.
Thursday January 19th – California Golden Bears at Oregon Ducks
the Bears have romped through the Pac-12 recently with 14 straight wins including five in a row to open up the schedule in the Pac-12. That’s nice regardless of who you’re playing against but it should be noted that the majority of the Ducks’ wins have come against teams outside of the Top 25.
You have to go back to December 28th to find a truly impressive win for the Ducks, but what a win it was when they held on 87-89 against the Number 3 ranked UCLA Bruins. Oregon held the last shot at the buzzer and promptly buried the Bruins and have just kept winning since.
It gets tougher now against California, but the Bears are ranked just fourth in the Pac-12 and outside the AP Top 25 this season. The Bears are 13-5 this season and just 4-2 against Pac-12 opponents.
Oregon has a little added incentive to come out and beat California. A win sets the all-time record for a Duck’s consecutive winning streak at 15 games, and they haven’t lost in 36 straight games at home this season.
California smashed Oregon 83-63 the last times these two teams met, but that was almost a year ago, and this Ducks team has changed a lot since then. Oregon leads in field goal percentage and three point percentage and shoots the ball better from the line.
California has better overall defense, rebounding and turnovers, but that means little if you can’t score on the other end as well.
Ivan Rabb against Jordan Bell. Rabb has been a beast for California this season with averages of 15.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and a combined 3.6 blocks and steals. He’s a huge reason why the Bears’ defense has been so strong this season and why they continue to out-rebound teams across the nation. On Thursday he’ll be tasked with shutting down Jordan Bell.
Bell is averaging 10.2 points and 8.0 boards and loves to bang inside despite his smaller size for a forward. Look for Rabb to have the advantage, and give California a good chance to win this game.
Oregon has a more balanced attack led by the recently healthy Dillon Brooks, and their offense will be tough to handle for California. Still, California is 13-3 against the spread in the last 16 meetings between these two teams and with it being such an important game we like the Golden Bears to cover. Take California on the spread.
Thursday January 19th – Clemson at Louisville
With the Clemson Tigers’ national football championship still so fresh in their minds, we doubt the school is too concerned with the state of their basketball team, but they should be. Clemson is outside the Top 25 and just 11-6 on the season including 7-8 against the spread.
The Tigers now have to travel to Louisville to take on the 12th ranked Cardinals on their home court. Louisville is 15-3 on the year and an excellent 11-4-1 against the spread at home in their last 16 games.
Clemson actually ranks better than Louisville in a wealth of categories including points per game, field goal percentage and turnovers, but when you take a look at the competition they’ve been facing and their 1-4 record in the ACC you understand why they’re not favored in this matchup.
Still, there’s a ray of light for the Tigers in this Thursday night matchup. Louisville will be without their assists leader and number 2 scorer Quentin Snider as he’s expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks with a hip injury.
The injury won’t require surgery but leaves the Cardinals without their main playmaker and facilitator of the offense. The Cardinals still have Donovan Mitchell who’s 13.6 points per game lead the team, and the explosive Jaylen Johnson, who coach Rick Pitino wants more from as the season progresses.
Clemson beat this Louisville team last year, and has played some recent opponents tough despite the result usually being a loss meaning the Cardinals will have to be careful at home.
Anas Mahmoud against Jaron Blossomgame. Already having one of the best names in college basketball, Blossongame’s game is just as good. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 6.0 rebounds this season but will be in tough against the newly anointed shot blocker Mahmoud.
Since replacing Mangok Mathiang in the starting lineup, Mahmoud has locked in his role with 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and a shocking 2.8 blocks. Those blocks have him ranked second in all of the ACC and he’ll be itching to try and get his hands on Blossomgame’s shot.
Louisville continue to win against the spread at home, but with their main point guard out the ball may tough to move against a hard-nosed Tigers team. This team beat Louisville last year, and after the rough start to their season they’ll be itching for a conference win. Take Clemson on the spread to cover.
Saturday January 21st – Arizona at UCLA
Our last big game of the week drops on Saturday after a quiet Friday and we couldn’t be more excited. Number 3 Ranked UCLA plays host to number 14 ranked Arizona in a battle of Pac-12 powerhouses with both teams trending upwards.
Arizona travels to UCLA after they (likely) beat USC on the road and the matchup won’t be easy for the Wildcats. Despite sitting first in the Pac-12 without a loss this season they still concede ranking points to UCLA based on the quality of their wins.
Concerns about Arizona’s leadership were huge entering the season, but the Wildcats have responded. Kadeem Allen was designated the team’s leader and he’s responded in kind, leading the team in assists (3.1) while chipping in 10 points a game and 4.3 rebounds.
He makes up a large group of freshmen on the Wildcats team and maybe that’s why Arizona is still ranked only 14th on the season. Still, when this group gets clicking they’re one of the toughest teams to stop in all of college ball.
Try telling that to the number 3 ranked UCLA Bruins. The Bruins are on a tear right now led by the high-scoring Bryce Alford and his lethal three-point shot. Alford is averaging 17.8 points per game and has already made 65 threes in just 19 games at an excellent clip of 46.8 percent.
The Bruins’ transition offence is lethal, and if the Wildcats get caught sleeping Alford wont hesitate to pull the trigger and bury a deep three. Worrying about Alford’s shooting is bad enough, but we haven’t even gotten to Lonzo Ball yet.
Considered by many to be a top three if not number one pick in the upcoming draft, Ball is the most exciting player in the country. He has incredible passing, can shoot from anywhere and is a huge reason why the Bruins have lost just one game all season long. He’s flat-out must watch television by himself, and scouts are right in calling him Jason Kidd with a jump shot.
Ball against Arizona’s zone defense. Arizona has been experimenting with a new zone defense, which has proven really effective in their last few games, but they haven’t had to try it out against one of the best players in the country yet. If the Wildcats get tired for even a second, Ball will take advantage.
Despite how strong both teams have looked all season, UCLA simply has more talent on offense, and a deeper bench to help share the load. One minor injury, setback, or cold spell from any of the Wildcats starters and it could spell disaster for Arizona. We like UCLA to cover the spread at home in a tight conference matchup.
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