College Basketball Top 25 Picks: Early Games for Friday 3/10
It’s time for a huge Friday in College Basketball as the conference tournaments wrap up and teams get ready for March Madness. There’s tons on the line as we dissect 14 different games in what is arguably the biggest day of the season so far.
There’s some unlikely teams still left in action and that means upsets are just around the corner. Be sure to take some risks this time of year as long as you’ve made an educated and well-researched wager because the odds are just too good to ignore. With so many games ready to go we’ve got no time for small talk. Let’s get to it!
***Teams are seeded by their number in the tournament, and not their overall rank.***
#9 East Carolina Pirates at #1 SMU Mustangs
- East Carolina (+17.5) at SMU (-17.5)
The Pirates are on cloud nine after a huge 80-69 win over Temple in their first game of the AAC Conference but that feeling will change in a hurry as they gear up for a tough game against the Mustangs. SMU were the regular season champions of the conference and have been waiting in the wings for their quarter final opponent.
East Carolina enters with a 15-17 record overall and were embarrassed in their last outing against SMU 86-46 back in early February. SMU used that victory as part of an unbelievable stretch of 23 wins in 24 games and are now 27-4 overall entering the quarter final. During their stretch, they beat teams by 17.3 points a game and have now won 13 straight.
As dominant as the Mustangs were all season long they know their real goal is an NCAA championship. That journey can start by taking care of the Pirates and moving one step closer to the AAC tournament crown. SMU has all the tools to get it done. They have the AAC coach of the year in Tim Jankovich, the Player of the Year in Semi Ojeleye and four starters who all made one of the all-conference first two teams.
Ojeleye has been particularly impressive this season with 18.5 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds and a 48.4 percent success rate from the field. He’s also cashing in from deep on 43.1 percent of his shots and was well deserving of the player of the year award.
The Pirates counter with Kentrell Barkley who was awesome against Temple with a 26 point, 16 rebound double-double after it looked as though he may not even play thanks to a knee injury. He’ll need to be on another level if the Pirates want to beat the Mustangs but anything can happen in March.
Semi Ojeleye against Kentrell Barkley. While the Mustangs have a much deeper team than the Pirates their offense still revolves around Ojeleye much like the Pirates rely on Barkley. These two players both know how to score the basketball but also bang on the boards and if Ojeleye isn’t careful he may watch Barkley get his Pirates team some early points.
The Mustangs are great but covering a 17.5 point spread on a neutral court in the quarterfinal game of the tournament isn’t exactly easy. Take East Carolina to cover, barely, and hope Barkley has a huge game.
#8 Michigan Wolverines at #1 Purdue Boilermakers
- Michigan (+3.5) at Purdue (-3.5)
The drama is ripe for a huge matchup between the Wolverines and Boilermakers on Friday. Michigan is coming off an incredible 75-55 win over Illinois after a terrifying airplane incident. The Wolverines slid off the runway in Michigan prior to takeoff thanks to some extreme winds but still managed to pull out the victory as they wore their practice jerseys. Their real uniforms were being held on the plane as part of the investigation into the damaged aircraft but that didn’t slow the Wolverines down from grabbing a big win and moving on in the tournament.
It only gets tougher for Michigan as they get set to take on the Big Ten regular season champion Boilermakers. Purdue is 25-6 overall this season but lost to Michigan just a few weeks ago 82-70 on the road. This is only the fourth time the teams have met in the history of the tourney but the Boilermakers do have bragging rights thanks to their 76-59 win in the semis last season.
The Boilermakers revolved around the play of Caleb Swanigan who is riding high after receiving Big Ten Player of the Year honors. The sophomore is averaging 18.7 points and 12.6 rebounds but is also supported by Vince Edwards, Dakote Mathias, P.J. Thompson and Isaac Haas. The Boilermakers have had an excellent season but haven’t made much noise in this tourney for years and know how important a win over Michigan would be for their confidence heading into March Madness.
Dakota Mathias against Derrick Walton Jr. We already know how tough it is to stop Swanigan but the Boilermakers are also excellent at distributing the ball with three different players averaging over three assists a game. Mathias leads the team with 3.6 and will be up against Derrick Walton Jr. who is the Wolverines’ best player. He’s dropping 4.5 dimes a night to go along with 14.7 points and we’re excited to see these two go head to head.
The Wolverines feel like they have a little extra motivation after that scary plane incident and their huge win against Illinois coupled with a big victory over Purdue just a few weeks ago, has us loving their odds. Take Michigan on the spread and hope their late season surge continues.
#8 Georgia Bulldogs at #1 Kentucky Wildcats
- Georgia (+10) at Kentucky (-10)
The Wildcats are used to this situation. Kentucky is set to start aiming at their 30th SEC tournament championship when they tip off against Georgia in the quarterfinals on Friday and it’s beginning to feel like a routine for the perennial powerhouse. The Bulldogs will try and get in their way after a tight 59-57 win over Tennessee and are playing with an added desperation against a team as strong as Kentucky.
The Wildcats enter with a 26-5 record overall and a 16-2 mark in the conference while the Bulldogs counter with a 19-13 mark of their own and a 9-9 mark in the SEC. It will be the third time they’ve met this year with Kentucky winning both games by nine and five points respectively. Those margins are closer than many would have expected with one game even going to overtime and the Wildcats would be wise not to underestimate the Bulldogs.
If it wasn’t for Malik Monk the Wildcats may have split their first two meetings with the Bulldogs. Kentucky’s freshman was a hero in that meeting after scoring last minute three to force overtime on hiss way to 37 points. He’s been one of the best players all season and is expected to go in the lottery portion of the NBA draft.
The Bulldogs counter with J.J. Frazier who has been dynamite in both games against the Wildcats despite the loss. He scored 23 points on the road and dropped a career-high 36 in their loss back home and will be eager to try and up his game again on Friday night. At just five-foot-ten he’s not the biggest player on the court but was huge against Tennessee with 17 points and 10 boards.
Malik Monk against Yante Maten. Maten is back in the lineup for Georgia and that’s amazing news for the Bulldogs. After suffering a sprained MCL he played his first action in the win against Tennessee and while he looked rusty his production will be necessary against the Wildcats. He’s averaging 18.4 points with 6.8 rebounds this season and 1.5 blocks. He’ll need to protect the rim against Monk who is dropping 21.2 points a game.
Georgia has kept it to within ten the last two times these teams have played and are feeling confident after a win and getting Maten back. We don’t think they have what it takes to pull off the upset but we like taking the Bulldogs on the spread.