A day after we saw three of the top four teams upset in NCAA basketball on Tuesday the trend continued on Wednesday with the Yellow Jackets crushing the Seminoles at home, the Blue Jays falling to the Hoyas on the road and even the Bruins losing to the Trojans in a classic cross town rivalry.
It just goes to show you that this early in the college season, the rankings are still more of a guide to projecting how teams may or may not play. Home court advantage means everything in college basketball, and rivalries run deep.
Remember that when you’re making your picks early in the season, especially against the spread. Road times struggle and home teams rumble and until we get a better grasp on the true identities of all these teams, don’t be afraid to take a few chances. Let’s get to it!
#24 Xavier at #19 Cincinnati
Xavier (+5.5) at Cincinnati (-5.5)
Talk about rivalries. For the past several years whenever these two teams meet the atmosphere is downright electric. With that in mind, the results more recently have favored one team just a bit more over the other.
Xavier has won the past three straight meetings between the two schools and 14 of 20. The Bearcats still lead the overall series 49-34, but people’s memories don’t stretch back as far these days, and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately is the mantra of the evening.
With the schools less than five miles apart, you can expect Fifth Third Arena to be jumping on Thursday night, and the Musketeers are just fine with that. Xavier is struggling a bit this season, and coming off three losses to powerhouses Creighton, Villanova and Butler (all ranked teams) and have another stiff competition ahead of them Thursday.
Look for guards Edmond Summer and Trevon Bluiett to lead the charge for the X-Men. Bluiett is averaging 17.2 points a game and the key to Xavier winning. The Bearcats know how to win themselves, especially a home. Cincinnati is on a 19 game winning streak in their own building and for some of the seniors on this team, it’s the last chance to beat Xavier before graduating.
The Bearcats are led by guard Jacob Evans. He leads the team with just 14.2 points per game but Cinicnnati’s attack is so balanced that not one scorer is ever going to stick out.
Xavier is getting 5.5 points and always shows up for big games against the Bearcats. While they ma be struggling this season and Cincinnati may have the better team, we like the Musketeers to play this one tight. Take Xavier on the spread, but watch the Bearcats finally get a win.
Virginia Tech Hokies at #9 North Carolina Tar Heels
Virginia (+14) at North Carolina (-14)
We haven’t talked a lot about the Tar Heels in this column, simply because they haven’t played in a few days, nine to be exact. Well, UNC isn’t flying under the radar anymore. They’ve won six straight games and now sit in a tie for first in a stacked Atlantic Coast Conference with a 6-1 record in the ACC and an 18-3 record overall.
The Tar Heels will be well-rested, which is bad news for the Hokies. There may not be a better fast-paced team in the whole country than North Carolina, and when they get going the points start piling up. If Virginia Tech tries to keep up with North Carolina it could spell disaster early for the Hokies.
The Tar Heels don’t just score quickly, they score again and again as evidenced by all their second chance points. UNC crashes the boards and no one does it better than Kennedy Meeks. Meeks is averaging 9.6 rebounds a game to go along with 13.0 points and 1.1 blocks.
Virginia Tech like to play with pace, but they don’t nearly have the same speed, size or skill that North Carolina does. With that being said, they may not get completely steamrolled. They’re 7-2 against the spread on the road this season and play a similar style of basketball at the very least.
UNC has every opportunity to win this game, but by more than 14 points? Take Virginia Tech on the spread and hope the Hokies can stay in it long enough.
San Diego Toreros at #3 Gonzaga Bulldogs
San Diego (+26) at Gonzaga (-26)
The Bulldogs enter the West Coast Conference matchup as the only unbeaten team in the Country with a 20-0 record and 8-0 against their conference overall. They’re dealing with injuries to Nigel Williams-Goss and Killian Tillie but with both listed as questionable we expect to see them out on the court tonight.
Their opponent San Diego is dealing with an illness that’s spreading around the locker room, and lost their last game without leading scorer Oilion Carter III and strong rebounder Juwan Grey. With both battling the flu they still may not be 100 percent for this matchup, but are expected to try and lace them up.
San Diegeo is just 10-10 on the season including 3-5 in conference play and will simply be no match for one of the best teams in the country. Gonzaga runs the risk of looking over their weaker opponents, especially with guys injured on the team.
The Bulldogs will have every opportunity to win against the Toreros, especially at home, but have looked beatable at times during the season. If the Toreros can figure out a way to limit Gonzaga’s offense while crashing the boards, they may be able to stay in it longer than people think.
Gonzaga has absolutely destroyed the spread this season. They’re 13-3 against it in their last 16 games against West Coast teams, 21-6 against it in their last 27 games overall and 13-4 against it in total this season.
They haven’t lost all year, either at home or on the road and continue to play team basketball night in, and night out. Still, 26 points is an enormous spread, and with the effort the Toreros put in against San Francisco in their last game we think they can pull it together just enough to stay in this one and win you some money. Take San Diego on the spread.
#10 Orgeon Ducks at Utah Runnin’ Utes
Oregon (+2.5) at Utah Runnin’ Utes (-2.5)
We’re always weary of higher ranked teams getting points on the road. As we watched higher seeds like Kansas lose (and lose badly) on the road earlier this week we know how easily good teams can become unraveled when they enter enemy territory.
The Ducks have won 16 straight games, launching themselves back into the top 10 rankings in the country and may be getting more help on the way. Their best player Dillon Brooks has been out with a foot injury but is questionable to play on Thursday night. If he’s able to go the Ducks get an enormous boost to their starting five, and it’s a boost they’ll need against a tough Utah team.
The Utes may not be in the top 25, yet, but at 14-5 and 5-2 in their conference they’re not a walk in the park for anyone either. After Jakob Poelt joined the NBA and Jordan Loveridge went overseas many people thought Utah’s run towards a tournament would be over.
Utah has responded with force and turned into one of the hardest teams to play against in the country, but they’ll be tested against Oregon on Thursday. The Ducks have won seven straight against the Utes and with Brooks possible return to the lineup it only gets harder for Utah.
Oregon has four other players averaging double digit scoring outside of Brooks including Chris Boucher, Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis and Jordan Bell. Add in the defense of Boucher and Cook who have joined forced for a ridiculous 97 blocks this season and you can see why Utah may be in a bit of trouble.
The Utes are better than their record and (lack of) ranking suggest, but Oregon is on a roll like few teams in the country. We think Oregon wins a close game regardless, but also getting two points? Take the Ducks on the spread.
San Francisco Dons at #21 Saint Mary’s Gaels
San Francisco (+14) at Saint Mary’s (-14)
It’s been less than a month since these two played with the Gaels emerging victorious with a 73-62 win and now the two are back at it again on Saint Mary’s home court.
Wins have been the story for the Gaels in this matchup over the years. Saint Mary’s has won 22 of the past 23 games as San Francisco struggles to get its basketball program to a successful point, but the Dons have enjoyed some success recently.
San Francisco have won three straight including wins against Portland, Pacific and San Diego and while none of those teams are excellent by any means, it still shows the Dons ability to come out with a victory.
Ronnie Boyce will be key to San Francisco having any chance at winning this game. He scored 19 points in his last outing and is averaging exactly 14.0 on the season, but he has the ability to lose a game as well. If his shot is failing, there’s few players that can score like him, but if the shot is off, well, its more or less time to pack your bags and go home. If Boyce can get going early the Dons may hang around.
In Saint Mary’s it’s not about one guy. The Gaels have had four different players lead their team in scoring this season, and the offense is built on creating open shots for everyone. That’s what makes Saint Mary’s so hard to play against, and will be difficult for the Dons to figure out.
Neither team is particularly good against the spread this season and with both head coaches being assistants together at San Diego in the 1990’s and good friends for over 25 years they know exactly what the other person is thinking. That has a recipe for a close game, or at least one closer than the 14 point spread suggests.
Take the Dons on the spread and hope Boyce can drop a few buckets early and stay hot.
Washington State Cougars at #7 Arizona Wildcats
Washington (+22) at Arizona (-22)
Things just keep getting better for Arizona. Guard Allonzo Trier returned from injury and made his season debut in a win against the rival Bruins last week and now makes his home court debut in front of Arizona’s fans when the Wildcats host the Cougars on Thursday night.
Trier was excellent in his first action back with 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and just one turnover in a full 27 minutes of action. He looked well rested and ready to go and played with an energy that the Wildcats needed to get over the hump and beat the Bruins.
Now Trier and the rest of his teammates get to feast on a far inferior team when Washington State comes knocking. The Cougars are coming off a win in overtime against a weak Colorado team but lost their three previous games beforehand and managed to score just above 50 points in each contest.
That simply won’t be good enough against a Wildcats squad that has won 12 straight games and is now tied with the even hotter Oregon Ducks (16 in a row) for top spot in the Pac-12. As nice as Trier’s return was, the Wildcats were doing fine without him thanks to blossoming Finnish star Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen, a seven-footer is leading the team with 17.1 points per game and doing it from deep. He’s averaging exactly 50 percent from three this year on 96 shots and he’ll look to keep it going against the Cougars’ weak perimeter defense.
If Washington State is going to stay competitive they’ll need to rely on Josh Hawkinson. The senior is averaging 15.6 points and 10.3 rebounds as he continues to collect double-double after double-double each game. It won’t be as easy to grab those rebounds this time around with the length of Arizona’s forwards but he’ll need to do his best in order to keep his Cougar team competitive.
Arizona is undefeated at home this season with a 10-0 record and 11-7-2 against the spread this season. Washington State is just 7-9-0 against the spread on the year and now have to bring their 1-2 road record into Arizona against a tough Wildcats team. We don’t love taking teams to cover huge spread, but with the way Arizona is playing right now it seems inevitable. Take the Wildcats to cover the spread in a blowout.
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