It’s the last Saturday before the NCAA Tournament starts and that means many of the conferences are wrapping up their individual tournaments with some huge games. Some of the highest ranked teams in the country take the court for the last time to tune up before the big dance while others are just trying to stay survive and improve their tournament resume.
We’ve already seen some massive upsets and some dominating performances and the entertainment will just keep rolling along as the national tournament gets closer and closer. There’s still some great bets to be made and we’re here to break down each big Saturday game for you.
Let’s get to it!
**Note these rankings reflect the rankings of each team in their conference
#5 Alabama Crimson Tide at #1 Kentucky Wildcats
Alabama (+10.5) at Kentucky (-10.5)
It’s the expected first the unexpected in the semifinals of the SEC when the Wildcats and Crimson Tide square off on Saturday. Kentucky was always supposed to be here after winning the regular season title with a 27-5 overall record and a 16-2 mark in the conference whereas Alabama enters with a 19-13 mark overall and a 10-8 record in the SEC.
The Tide shouldn’t have made it past the quarterfinals but a great performance against South Carolina launched them into the spot they are now and they’re more than ready to take on a Kentucky team that has rolled over opponents this season. The Wildcats beat the Tide by nine back on February 11th and the game was never in doubt after Kentucky grabbed a 20 point lead early and never looked back.
It was a team performance for the Wildcats against Georgia in their quarterfinal game as Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox dropped 20 points each. Derek Willis was huge on defense with 11 boards and four blocks and Bam Adebayo messed around and got a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Tide were led by Braxton Key’s 18 points against the Gamecocks and Riley Norris chipped in with 12 of his own. The team also made 10 of 12 free throws late as South Carolina tried to come back through fouls but Alabama held their own and got the job done.
Malik Monk against Braxton Key. Key was huge in Alabama’s last win but leads his team with just 12.2 points per game this season. He’s not the star Monk has been this season and while the Wildcat was quieter than usual in his last game he’s still averaging 20.6 points a game this season. He’ll try and bounce back in a big game against the Tide on Saturday.
The Tide showed a resilience we didn’t know they had against the Gamecocks in their last outing and their defense is strong enough to slow down the Wildcats. The spread is large but in a game this big the Tide have what it takes to cover. Take Alabama on the spread.
#4 UCF Knights at #1 SMU Mustangs
UCF (+8.5) at SMU (-8.5)
Well that was close. SMU barely escaped against East Carolina in their last game 81-77 despite holding a ridiculous 24 point lead at one point. The Mustangs have rolled over teams in their conference all season long and the close contest down the stretch was welcome for a club that hasn’t had many. They’ll try and build on that when they battle the Knights on Saturday.
SMU enters as the top seed at 28-4 on the year and have won 24 of the last 25 games they’ve played in. Their only loss came against Cincinnati way back on January 12th and while they let East Carolina creep back in they still got the job done. They’ll need to keep up their intensity for the full duration of the game this time around.
Central Florida enters after a rout of Memphis in the other quarterfinal. The Knights banged in 14 three pointers on their way to an 84-54 win. Matt Williams made five threes by himself on the way to 19 points while B.J. Taylor chipped in with five assists and 14 points of his won. UCF enters with a 21-10 record overall and have been playing some strong basketball down the stretch.
These two schools have met just once this year but it was closer than many of the Mustangs’ other wins. SMU edged UCF by just five points at the end of January and it took a full effort from their starters to get there.
Semi Ojeleye against Tacko Fall. Ojeleye has been a force for the Mustangs all season long with averages of 19.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists and now gets to try and feast on a smaller UCF frontcourt. Standing in his way is Fall though who knows a thing or two about protecting the rim. He’s averaging 9.6 rebounds and a shocking 2.5 blocks to go along with 11.3 points and would like nothing better than to shut down the Mustangs’ best player.
SMU looked lazy down the stretch against East Carolina but they might have needed that game to kick them back into high gear. The 8.5 points is a lot against a team they beat by just five in their last outing but we think they have what it takes to make this one a bigger blowout. Take SMU on the spread.
#6 Northwestern Wildcats at #2 Wisconsin Badgers
Northwestern (+5) at Wisconsin (-5)
Things looked dire for Wisconsin at the end of their season. They had lost five of six games and were sliding down the Top 25 rankings in the country despite seemingly having all the tools needed to be one of the best teams. They’ve turned it around since though and are now coming off a big 70-60 win against Indiana on Friday night to advance to the semifinals against Northwestern.
The Badgers are 24-8 overall this season and will take on a Wildcats team that was excellent in a somewhat surprising win over Maryland. Northwestern easily handled the Terrapins 72-64 and will try and keep their Cinderella story going as the conference tournament inches towards a close.
The Wildcats are 23-10 overall this season and despite trailing by ten in the quarterfinals they found a way to dig deep and mount a huge comeback against a very seasoned Maryland squad. Part of their success has come from their shooting. They’re making 57.7 percent of their shots from the field in their first two games and that sort of production can help you beat anyone.
They’re now in the semifinals for the first time in the school’s history and their win against Maryland all but locked up a berth in the March Madness tournament. Their entry into the big dance will also be a first for the school and their fans are in a frenzy as March continues to roll along.
Ethan Happ against Dererk Pardon. Happ does it all for the Badgers and until recently was leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. While he gave up the point crown he still does everything else and he’ll be tough for Pardon to contain. Still, the Wildcat almost double doubles with 8.6 points and 8.0 rebounds a night and also averages 2.0 blocks. We can’t wait to see these two clash under the rim.
The spread favors a Northwestern team that has been dynamite late in this college basketball season while the Badgers have looked out of sorts for weeks. Wisconsin might still win this game but we think the Wildcats make it close enough. Take Northwestern on the spread.
#6 Connecticut Huskies at #2 Cincinnati Bearcats
Connecticut (+10.5) at Cincinnati (-10.5)
The Bearcats have had a tremendous season thanks to how staunch their defense has been all year but as the season winds down and the action picks up in the conference tournaments Cincinnati knows they need to keep their foot on the gas when it comes to scoring the basketball as well.
Cincinnati can score from almost anywhere on the court this season and finished the year averaging 74.8 points per game and doing better than that in their 8-61 win over Tulsa in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinal. They’ve hovered around 80 points a game during the stretch run of the season and will try to keep pumping out the points when they take on the Huskies Saturday.
The Bearcats are now 28-4 overall this season and have one of the most balanced attacks in the country with four separate players averaging double digit points. Jacob Evans leads the way with 13.6 but Kyle Washington, Gary Clark and Troy Caupain have all reached the double digit plateau as well.
The Huskies meanwhile are just trying to save face after an awful regular season. They’re just 16-16 overall this year and need to try and win the entire tournament for a shot at March Madness. They get to play on their home court essentially and their fans cheered them on to a 74-65 win over Houston in the quarterfinal.
Jalen Adams did it all for the Huskies with 18 points in the second half on his way to a team high 23 and will need to be sharp again with the Bearcats’ relentless defense locking down on him and his teammates.
Jalen Adams against Kyle Washington. Adams is the Huskies’ only real threat to have a huge game and that means Washington will be all over him. He’s second in scoring on Cincinnati but his 1.3 blocks lead the team and he’ll be asked to protect the rim against Adams and the rest of the Huskies.
Cincinnati is a far superior team than Connecticut this season but with the way the Huskies are playing in the tournament so far coupled with the fact that it’s at home has us leaning towards a closer game than many expect. Take the Huskies on the spread in a game they should still lose, but at least by just a few.
#6 Creighton Blue Jays at #1 Villanova Wildcats
Creighton (+8) at Villanova (-8)
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about the Blue Jays thanks to some late season struggles but here they are in the Big East tournament championship game with a shot at the title against the Villanova Wildcats. Creighton bounced Xavier in the semifinals in a thrilling game. With just over 20 seconds left Trevon Bluiett hit a deep three to tie the game but with Xavier fans still cheering on Creighton responded when Marcus Foster nailed a triple of his own to take back the lead.
Xavier could never recover and Creighton finds themselves in a huge game against Villanova on Saturday for all the marbles. Villanova meanwhile turned in one of their worst performances of the season despite still grabbing the victory in a win over Seton Hall. They shot just 23 percent in the first half on their way to 20 points and yet still squeaked out a victory.
Creighton meanwhile was shooting the lights out in Madison Square Garden on Friday night. They drilled 13 of their 20 three for a 65 percent success rate and will be trigger happy again on Saturday against the Wildcats. The Blue Jays shoot just under 40 percent from deep as a team this season and can hit their shots from anywhere on the court.
Villanova still has the depth and athleticism (not to mention being defending National Champions) to lock down Creighton’s strong shooting but if they come out cold the Bliue Jays could take advantage in a hurry.
Justin Patton against Josh Hart. Patton has been hot and cold this season for Creighton but did drop 18 points in one of his games against Villanova this season. At six-foot-eleven with a seven-foot wingspan and the ball handling of a guard Patton can take over a game in a hurry, but so can Josh Hart. Hart is averaging 18.6 points and 6.5 rebounds and was the star again for the Wildcats in their win over Seton Hall.
Creighton is rolling while Villanova is looking the least dominant we’ve seen them all season. Both teams know what it takes to win at this stage and while the Wildcats are the favorite we love the eight points the Blue Jays are getting. Take Creighton on the spread in a game Villanova still wins.
#4 Iowa State Cyclones at #2 West Virginia Mountaineers
Iowa State (+3) at West Virginia (-3)
The Big 12 is also in their championship match and despite the Cyclones and Mountaineers both safely in the NCAA Tournament both of these teams desperately want to come out as champions on Saturday night. For West Virginia a title would be their first in their five years in the Conference while Iowa State is trying to move into second place all time in Big 12 championships behind only Kansas who was bounced by TCU earlier in the tournament.
West Virginia would like to play a little better on offense against Iowa State after narrowly escaping with a 51-50 win over Kansas State in their semi final game. Iowa State on the other hand will be riding high into this battle after bouncing a very hot Oklahoma State team 92-83 n their second round before devouring TCU 84-63 in their semi final on Friday night.
Still, the Cyclones may not want to get too confident. They did, after all, lose both games to the Mountaineers this season by double digits and West Virginia held Iowa State to just 28.6 percent shoot from the field in their second half back in January. West Virginia has been one of the best defensive teams in the country this season as evidenced by limiting Kansas State to 50 points but if they don’t figure out a way to score the ball with consistency they could be in trouble against the red-hot Cyclones.
Jevon Carter against Monte Morris. Morris continues to make a case as one of the best point guards in the country as he racks up near triple doubles all night but he’s struggled against Carter this season thanks to his tenacious defense. Carter is 7th in the country in steals per game in Division 1 rankings but will need to try and create some offense as well as his team struggles to find points.
Iowa State has looked dominant lately but they’ve struggled against West Virginia in both their matchups. The Cyclones have had a much easier trip to the finals and we don’t think they’re going to be ready for the Mountaineers’ defense and tenacity. Take West Virginia on the spread in a low scoring game.
#5 Duke Blue Devils at #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Duke (-4) at Notre Dame (+4)
If the ACC tournament has taught us anything it’s to never doubt Duke. The Blue Devils need just one more big win to become the first team ever to win four games in four days to capture the ACC title. They’ve used a few comebacks and some timely buckets to get where they are and now they’re trying to become the first 5th seed ever to win the tournament.
Their win over rivals UNC was arguably their biggest victory of the season and proved many doubters wrong who thought Duke was somewhat lucky in their tournament draw. The Blue Devils dropped the Tar Hells by ten points after being down by as many as 13 in the game and showed a tenacity that is going to serve them well late into the National Tournament and against Notre Dame in the ACC finals.
Duke won the only meeting against Notre Dame by ten back on January 30th but the Fighting Irish have looked like a different team since then. The Fighting Irish are coming off a big 77-73 win over their own against Florida State and are itching for a chance at their second title in three years. They beat duke in the semi finals two years ago on their way to winning it all and are now 6-0 in the Barclays Center.
Luke Kennard against Bonzie Colson. While they don’t play the same position these two stars are the reason why their teams are where they are this late in the season. Both play a different brand of basketball and while Colson may guard Kennard at the rim this matchup will come down to who can score more.
Duke hasn’t won the title since 2011 and it feels fitting that the first number five seed to ever win it all would be the Blue Devils. Take Duke on the spread as they finish off what they started.
# 2 Arizona Wildcats at #1 Oregon Ducks
Arizona (+2.5) at Oregon (-2.5)
It’s our final, final of the night. Yes that sentence makes sense and it makes even more sense that the Wildcats are taking on the Ducks for the Pac-12 crown. It wasn’t pretty the last time these two met back in February as the Ducks barely missed on their way to an 85-58 rout of the Wildcats but now the stakes are much higher.
Both teams enter the final with identical 29-4 record and share the regular season title. In their last game Oregon shot the lights out and made 65.2 percent of their shots from the field including a ridiculous 16 of 21 from three point land. Tyler Dorsey made all six of this threes for the Ducks while Dillon Brooks dropped four of his seven attempts.
The Wildcats aren’t too concerned however and know what it takes to win after a huge 86-75 win over the Bruins in their semifinal. Allonzo Trier was big for Arizona with 19 points and the Wildcats have what it takes shut down the Ducks from deep. They rank 27th in the country in defending the three and they will need all hands on deck with the red-hot Ducks taking the court. They just held the Bruins to 4 of 25 from deep and will need that defense again on Saturday night.
Whoever wins this game is going to get the higher seed from the Pac-12 when the National Tournament starts next week so there’s a lot more on the line than just a championship and bragging rights and both teams are going to bring it to a sold out stadium.
Dillon Brooks against Allonzo Trier. Trier has been arguably the Wildcats’ best player since returning from suspension and leads the team in points per game with 16.9. He’s also an excellent defender and will need to jump out to the perimeter often against Brooks. He’s shooting 41.3 percent from three this season and averaging 16.0 points per game.
Oregon got the better of Arizona in a huge way in their last meeting and we think they have what it takes to do it again. Take the Ducks on the spread in a close game for the Pac-12 final.
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