Free NCAA Top 25 Basketball Picks for February 26th
After a crazy Saturday, where we saw 8 ranked teams fall including number 1 and undefeated Gonzaga we have five more ranked teams in action Sunday. All of them know if they can take care of business they can make a move up the top-25 rankings. Lots to play for with seeding in the conference championships and the big dance all in play. Let’s get to it!
Syracuse Orange at #7 Louisville Cardinals
- Louisville -10
With a win, Louisville can keep pace with Florida State for 2nd in the ACC. The Cardinal are coming off a tough loss at #8 North Carolina. The Orangemen are in the exact opposite spot. They had a high profile win against #10 Duke and are making a case for inclusion in the big dance. A win here would go a long way to securing that birth.
Winners of 6 of their last 9, Louisville has hadn’t been as dominant as they were to open the season. At 23-6 they’ve had a good year but all of those losses have come against ranked opponents. There are two ways to look at that. One is they are tough games and are decent defeats. The other of course is they can’t seem to win the big game. Syracuse certainly isn’t of the quality of the teams that have beat the Cardinal this season but Jim Boeheim’s team is always a tough out. Louisville will rely on its 31st ranked defense to keep Cuse in check.
After three straight losses starting last week – including to these Cardinals- the NCAA tournament seemed to be a pipe dream for Syracuse. However, their win over Duke has changed all of that and now with a victory their case for inclusion is becoming far stronger. They’ve relied heavily on Andrew White III’s 17.5 points per game considering he’s done that in 39.9 minutes per game in league play. That number is second all time in school history to Allen Griffin’s 40.4 in 2000-01.
Louisville Donovan Mitchell vs. Syracuse Andrew White III
This guard v. guard matchup should be a great one. Their stories are very different, Syracuse is White III’s 3rd school. After getting no time in Kansas he moved to Nebraska excelled there and parlayed that into a starting role at Syracuse. While the sophomore Mitchell has developed tremendously from his freshman season averaging 15.8 points per game while running the Cardinal offense.
Louisville hasn’t lost to an unranked team yet this season and that likely won’t happen here. However, this is a massive game for Syracuse and they should be able to keep it close as Louisville hasn’t been able to run away and hide in any of their last three wins.
#15 Cincinnati Bearcats at UCF Knights
- Cincinnati -6
The Bearcats know where they stand in the American. At 14-1 they are a game and a half behind SMU who won Saturday. UCF came out of the blocks strong losing only to Villanova in their first 8 games. They have stumbled a bit in conference play but are still a respectable 18-10 on the year.
Cincinnati has won 18 of their last 19 games a truly remarkable stretch. Their one loss was to SMU but was the second time they had played and the Bearcats won the first meeting. This success can be attributed to their stellar defense throughout the season. Giving up just 61.4 points per game their 8th ranked defense has held opponents to 60 or less points in 6 of their last 8 contests. Head coach Mick Cronin has his team prepared with a solid defensive scheme night in and night out.
The Knights had a 20-day run starting January 22 when they dropped 6 of 7 that really derailed their year. Outside of that, they have been a real solid team overall. Like the Bearcats they have a strong defensive presence ranked the country but the deficiency on offense has been their Achilles heel. Now they have to figure out a way to score on the highly-organized Bearcats side which should prove very difficult.
Cincinnati Gary Clark vs. UCF B.J. Taylor
Taylor will be tasked to figure a method to penetrate the Bearcats defense and find open looks for his fellow Knights. He averages just 3.7 assists and needs to distribute the ball far better in order to find scoring lanes and looks for UCF. In his way, will be Gary Clark. The junior has been a big disruptor for Cincinnati with 1.3 blocks per game. He’s also been strong on the glass pulling down 8 boards a game.
The Bearcats need this game if they want to stay in the American title race. They have beaten opponents by 14, 10, 14, 20 and 13 in their last 5 wins and should be able to swarm the Knights offense. They’re also a decent .500 against the spread but aren’t often at this small of a spread.
#22 Butler Bulldogs at Xavier Musketeers
- Butler -2
Villanova has been a runaway leader in the Big East so the teams have been paying for 2nd for most of league play. Butler currently hold that spot and are coming off a huge upset of Nova last time out. It was also their first top-5 road win. Xavier has had a rough run in conference play at 8-7 and are on the outside looking in for a NCAA tournament berth.
Butler has a lot to be happy about coming into this Big East tilt. Obviously, the aforementioned win over Villanova but also it appears they will return to the tourney with lots of good play to lean on. Their offense has been clicking of late including putting up 110 on St Johns three games ago. They now are inside the top-100 in team offense but also, their defense has been dependable keeping teams under 70 points on a regular basis winning 4 of 5.
Xavier has spent time in the top-25 this year but four straight losses has the Musketeers in panic mode. Granted those were three road defeats and one against the powerhouse and defending champions Villanova but they still came at the worst possible time. Their offensive efficiency has evaporated over those four games never once topping 70 points. They will need junior standout Trevon Bluiett to be at his best to turn the season around.
Butler Kelan Martin vs. Xavier Trevon Bluiett.
In what should be a low scoring affair which one of these to team leaders in points can find a way to have a solid night might be the difference. Martin has 15.8 points per game but his FG% of just over 40 has been an issue. He’s susceptible to off nights against solid defenses and Xavier has one. Bluiett has been a difference maker when the Musketeers are rolling and his understanding of the offense has been great. If he figures out a way around Butler’s solid defensive scheme Xavier may have a shot.
Nothing in Xavier’s last four games leads you to believe that they should win this game. They just haven’t done a whole lot right as of late. The Big East are usually hard fought tight games bur I don’t think the 2 points are enough to support the Musketeers.
#16 Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan State Spartans
- Wisconsin -3
Expectations were high for the Spartans but a rough start to the season against very good teams seems to have roughed them up enough that they haven’t been able to get back on track. Wisconsin looked primed for a Big 10 title but they’ve had a bad run and now are looking up at Purdue.
The thought of Michigan State not being in the NCAA tourney this year seemed laughable when we tipped off months ago but now, it’s a real problem. The Spartans opened the year against Arizona and Kentucky and even Tom Izzo that may not have been wise. They have been better of late but have just one ranked win this year and that was against then #24 Minnesota who are now not in the top-25. Their offense hasn’t been good all year will need to be here.
The Badgers always seem to be right there when March rolls around but this season has been a bit different. They unusually have struggled down the stretch losing 3 of 4 and although 2 were road losses none of them were particularly pretty. Despite this their defense has been solid as always and is ranked 6th in the country it really comes down to whether the can right the ship on offense.
Wisconsin Ethan Happ vs. Michigan State Miles Bridges
Happ has done everything for the Badgers this year. He’s been a key scorer, has moved the ball well and been a solid rebounder. The sophomore has developed well and is a key for Wisconsin’s success. Bridge has had a great freshman campaign averaging 16.3 points per game, but he hasn’t seen a defense like this for quite some time.
Both teams need this one for different reasons. One for a chance at a conference title the other to not make a disappointing year a complete catastrophe. I think Izzo will have his team ready and may just win this one outright.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at #21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Notre Dame -12
The Fighting Irish have shot at 2nd in the ACC but need a win to keep pace with Florida State. Their offense has been great of late dropping more than 80 in their last four. Georgia Tech had thoughts of a tournament berth but have lost 2 of 3 and those dreams have dwindled considerably.
Notre Dame is an offensive team they always seem to be. They started the season with a great run winning nine in a row, dropping 2 games to ranked teams and then reeling off seven more wins. They were scoring in bunches and things looked great. However, a four-game stretch against the conference’s best exposed that their offense was vulnerable. They are still well placed for a run in this year’s tourney but need to shore up their 110th ranked defense or ensure their offense doesn’t flutter when the “one loss and you’re done” part of their schedule starts.
The Yellow Jackets are below .500 in conference play and has been their offense has been the reason for it. They average an abysmal 68 points per game 292nd in the nation. Their defense has kept them above water on most nights and will need it here.
Notre Dame Bonzie Colson vs. Georgia Tech Josh Okogie
Colson is averaging a double-double this season and has great as of late including a spectacular 33 points against Florida State two weeks ago. Okogie has hit double digits in his last nine games and will need to score in bunches to keep up with the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame is much the best here and can run away and hide. Having said that they haven’t had a 12 plus point win in their last 8 games which they need here. I think they do though they are a solid 14-7-1 against the spread.