NCAA Men’s Basketball: Picks and Predictions for Thursday, March 9th
It’s Championship week in College Hoops, every team still playing has a shot to make the big dance. For some they will need a big run in their conference championships while others may just need a win or two to sway the committee come Sunday. We have tons of ranked teams as well who are playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament all the while still focused on winning a conference title. This is one of the last days with more than 10 games with ranked teams in action before we get to the madness so let’s get to it!
**The higher ranked team is denoted as the home team but these games are played on neutral courts.**
Miami Hurricanes at #6 North Carolina Tar Heels
- Miami (+7.5) at North Carolina (-7.5)
Both teams appear to be locks for the NCAA tournament but a win over the number 6 team in the country would certainly improve the Hurricanes seed going in. They already dumped Syracuse to start the ACC tourney. While UNC is looking to be on the top line come Sunday’s selection and an ACC tournament title to go with the regular season championship should do it.
The Tar Heels have been the definition of consistency all year. Their top-10 offense has given plenty of easy wins despite their struggles on the other side of the ball. They also have their experience from their run to the finals of last year’s NCAA tournament to depend on. They’ve only lost twice to unranked opponents this season but one of those teams was these Miami Hurricanes. Bruce Brown dropped 30 for Miami that day and UNC couldn’t handle their swarming defense that’ll need to change Thursday.
As mentioned the Hurricanes should have a tone of confidence having already beaten the Tar Heels. They did however stumble to the finish line dropping their last two regular season games. Their defense has been spectacular this year giving up just 63.4 points per game and will need to be effective again if they are to repeat their performance from Coral Gables earlier this year. They were however supposed to be rebuilding this season so perhaps the feeling of playing with house money will help them here and in a week’s time.
Bruce Brown v. Justin Jackson. Jackson has been a player of the year candidate in all of NCAA basketball this year. The junior forward is averaging 18.3 points per game and has been a beast on many nights for the Tar Heels. The solid Hurricane defense will need to zone in on him if they want to have a shot. For Miami, guard Bruce Brown had a career night when the Hurricanes beat UNC and as the second option at guard will need to supply secondary scoring again to keep up with the high-flying offense of UNC.
UNC has much bigger things on their mind then winning the ACC tournament but as I said earlier they want a 1 seed and Roy Williams will have them prepared. I expect them to be at their best and win this in a big way.
St John’s Red Storm at #2 Villanova Wildcats
- St. John’s (n/a) at Villanova (n/a)
Villanova has been in the top-4 since pre-season rankings came out this year. The Wildcats have positioned themselves to do what no one has since the 2005-06 and 06-07 Florida Gators did and that’s win back-to-back national titles. First up though the Big East tournament and St. John’s. The Red Storm are in real tough having just one win over a ranked opponent this year.
What can you say about Villanova? They have cruised along this season, with returning talent from a national title run. They have a senior in Josh Hart running a well-oiled offense and a top-20 defense on the other side of the ball. They have beaten St. John’s already twice this year however it was by just 13 points on both occasions.
On the other hand, there is not much to say about St. John’s. They definitely have played better since starting the season 2-5 but haven’t strung together any runs to make their season all that interesting. What’s scariest about this team and in a game like this is their 304th ranked defense and the propensity to give up almost 80 points per game. The Wildcats don’t need any help putting the ball in the basket. Having said all that the Red Storm are around .500 against the spread and don’t get blown out of too many games.
Shamorie Ponds v. Josh Hart. Ponds has been an aberration this season for the Red Storm. The freshman is averaging 17.6 points per game in just under 34 minutes. He’s a smaller guard at 6-1 but has the ability to take over games. However, standing in his way Thursday is Josh Hart. The senior is a solid collegiate player and Ponds will either thrive or get a very good lesson from the Wildcats veteran.
Villanova is winning this game, Villanova is winning this game by double digits. What matters here is the number and I don’t see the Wildcats winning by 15+ as this game just doesn’t look like a blowout considering what is ahead of Nova.
Oklahoma State Cowboys at #23 Iowa State Cyclones
- Oklahoma State (+1) at Iowa State (-1)
Two of the hottest teams in the country hook-up in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. Both teams have likely secured their spot in the NCAA tournament but a win here could lead to bigger things. Oklahoma has lost twice to the Cyclones this season and a win here will likely give either team a tough matchup against the Jayhawks next.
The Cowboys started conference play at 0-6 and look destined for a disappointing season. However, they won 10 of their next 11 losing to then 6th ranked Baylor and these Cyclones. Oklahoma State is a run-and-gun offense leading the conference in scoring during the regular season with 85.6 points per game. On the flip side, they also gave up the most points at clip of 77.6 per game. If we throw away their first loss to ISU because it was during their stumble out pf the conference play gate the last loss was much closer. It was in Ames and if it wasn’t for a lull in the second half they may have pulled out the win.
Iowa State tied for second at 12-6 in a tough Big 12 conference this year. They did it mostly on the back of an effective offense ranked 31st in the nation and averaging over 80 points a night. They have some high-profile wins against Baylor and at Kansas and have the offense to run with the best in the country. They will need to against OSU and also exploit the weak Cowboys D.
Jawun Evans v. Monte Morris. This guard battle should be a good one as both players have run their offenses very efficiently throughout the year and lead their teams in points per game. Evans has been great as of late scoring 20+ in 4 of his last 5 while Morris has done it just once in the same time frame. I give the edge to Morris though as the senior has been there and done that in March while Evans being just a sophomore is getting an education as he goes a long.
This is a tough one as can be seen by the spread and both teams will look to score. ISU has done it against the best this year and I give them an edge here. It should set up a great semi-final with KU a team as mentioned they topped earlier this season.
#14 Duke Blue Devils at #10 Louisville Cardinals
- Duke (+1.5) at Louisville (-1.5)
One of the premier matchups Thursday has to be Duke and Louisville. Obviously, they are both ranked and both come from the solid ACC but even better their last game was during a tumultuous time in the Blue Devils’ season. Coach K was out Duke dropped 3 of 4 and Grayson Allen was in hot water so, this one could go anyway.
The Blue Devils were tabbed as the pre-season favorites to win the national championship and it hasn’t gone according to plan to say the least. Nonetheless they are still well positioned heading into the tournament and a nice run here could serve them well. They already took care of Clemson in this ACC tourney and there top-30 offense and top-100 defense is a nice combination to have in an elimination style tournament. They did stumble to the finish line however, dropping 3 of 4 at the end of the regular season.
The Cardinals have been pretty consistent this season but have been prone to losing against top end talent. They are 3-5 in their last 8 against ranked opponents and that’s not a great recipe for success in March. They don’t have a genuine scorer and just three players average more than 10 points per game but they score by committee and have a great defense. At the 37th in the country they give up just over 65 points per game and came second in the nation’s best conference.
Luke Kennard v. Donovan Mitchell. Kennard has been one of the best players in the country and is averaging a solid 20.1 points per game. Even better he’s stepped up with the question marks around Grayson Allen and appears to be a possible top-3 pick in the NBA draft. Add that to the fact that he scored more points in Ohio State high school basketball than one Lebron James and well he’s pretty good. It will be on Mitchell to keep him in check if Louisville is to survive this one.
Duke has been such a question mark all season but their talent is just so deep. They can score almost anywhere on the floor and have two spectacular guards to operate their offense. Louisville on the other hand has faltered against high end teams and I see that happening here, I think Duke wins it outright.
TCU Horned Frogs at #1 Kansas Jayhawks
- TCU (n/a) at Kansas (n/a)
TCU looked great for most of the year but losing their last 7 regular season games have left them on the outside looking in. Nothing short of a major run in the Big 12 tourney will help their cause and after a nice win over Oklahoma they now face the best team in the country the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks have had quite a season. They ended the regular season with 8 straight victories and the outright Big 12 title. They’ve had a piece of that championship for 13 straight seasons. Their offense is dynamic and deep and led by player of the year candidate Frank Mason III. They haven’t been one’s to blow out their opponent night in and night out but they are the model of consistency. They will be looking for the top seed in the big dance and run to at least the Big 12 tournament final may be needed for that.
TCU’s offense and defense are ranked outside the top-100 in the country and that reality has caught up to them late in the year. They avenged their season ending loss to Oklahoma Wednesday playing effective defense but the Jayhawks are not the Sooners and with a leading scorer dropping just over 13 points per game they will be hard pressed to keep up.
Alex Robinson v. Frank Mason III. If you want to upset the Jayhawks, the first step is slowing down the senior guard. He’s averaging over 20 points per game and as he goes so does KU. He’s scored 20+ in 4 of his last 5 games and stopping him has proven quite difficult. Tasked with that will be Robinson and considering his 11.2 points per game doesn’t bode well for going shot-for-shot with Mason III he’ll need to do it on the defensive end.
Kansas isn’t untouchable they certainly aren’t the prohibitive favorite to win it all like we have seen with some teams in the past but they are deep and experienced. They also have lots to play for with the number 1 seed at the NCAA tournament on the line so I think they are ready for this one.
Arizona State Sun Devils at #5 Oregon Ducks
- Arizona State (n/a) at Oregon (n/a)
The Pac 12 look like a conference who may send 2 teams to the Final Four this year. Oregon has been in a dogfight all year on the west coast with Arizona and UCLA trying to affirm themselves as the best in the west. Other than a nice win against USC a week ago, there isn’t much to say the Sun Devils have a shot here.
Oregon is a very well rounded team. They have a top-50 offense and 32nd ranked defense giving up a poultry 64.7 points per game. Add that with the experience of players like Dillon Brooks and the Ducks can make a nice run in March. They’ve lost just twice since November and one of those was at UCLA where they had the game in hand before a Bruins rally. They show up night in and night out with a solid game plan.
ASU won its first two games to open the season then accomplished that feat only once more in February. They’ll need to do it for a third time after beating Stanford in OT Wednesday to open the tournament. They do have a pretty nice offense at 59th in the country but a 336th ranked defense against one of the country’s best is a bad formula.
Torian Graham v. Dillon Brooks. Graham has been a nice surprise for ASU this season. He’s averaged over 18 points per game in his only season with the Sun Devils despite being a senior. He’ll have to be at his best if he plans to keep up with the Oregon offense. Dillon Brooks has been clutch all season and the junior wants to end what is likely his last in college with a bang. He won’t need a classic three at the end to win it but he should have a field day with the porous ASU defense.
I don’t see a slip up here despite this being an easy trap game. Oregon has bigger foes to topple in the Pac 12 tournament and beyond but they need to be present in this one to get there. They have been prepared most every night this year and I expect the same.
Texas Longhorns at #11 West Virginia Mountaineers
- Texas (n/a) at West Virginia (n/a)
It’s been and up and down season for West Virginia in a pretty good Big 12 conference. While for Texas it’s been a season to forget. At 11-21 they have nothing left to play for but pride but showed that Wednesday over Texas Tech.
West Virginia finished tied for 2nd in the conference at 12-6 but never had a big run. In fact, a 3 game winning streak was their best in conference play and you need to do better than that in March. They shocked the Bears back when Baylor was number in the country but have just one other win over ranked opponents. Their offense has been great if not shocking considering they average 83.3 points per game while having a leading scorer at just 12.9 per game. That can be attributed some to their great guard play. They also boast a solid defense at 54th in the nation.
Texas has been bad all season and it didn’t end well for the Longhorns either. They dropped their last seven games ending the year at 4-14 in the Big 12 and that had them dead last. They have had severe trouble scoring at just 67.8 points per game so they depend on defense to stop the Mountaineers but that will be tough with just a 106th rank in that department.
Jarrett Allen v. Nathan Adrian. The two forwards should go toe-toe in this one and there is a slight advantage at least in production and height for Allen. He’ll need to exploit that if he plans to score enough points to have his Longhorns keep up. Having said that Adrian doesn’t need to stop Allen for West Virginia to win but if he does its all but over.
Texas is playing for nothing but that can also be a dangerous thing. This is a program with a long history of success and just running out of the gym would never be an option. However, the Mountaineers are just too deep on offense to lose this barring a massive collapse.
Xavier Musketeers at #18 Butler Bulldogs
- Xavier (n/a) at Butler (n/a)
Two teams that many fans love to ride into the Sweet 16 in March meet up in the Big East. They don’t come from classic mid-major conferences anymore and both should be in the big dance. Xavier could use the win as they are a bit of a bubble team and certainly one that may be in the First Four if they don’t get a W here.
Butler has had quite a year. They have beaten Villanova twice including when they were number 1 in the country and yet have a few bad losses on their resume as well. Once again, their defensive scheme has been elite but they also have depth when it comes to offense. Nine players average plus 25 minutes a game and Kelan Martin as emerged as genuine scorer this season. If they are at their best they are a tough out but they have scored over 80 just once and lost just once so when they do lose it’s because they can’t get the offense going.
Xavier struggled to close out the season and saw their top-25 ranking and spot in the big dance dwindle away. They lost 6 in a row before a season ending victory over the lowly DePaul Blue Demons a team they beat again Wednesday. There only other win in a month? Over DePaul so you can see why their tournament berth is on the line Thursday. They haven’t boded well against ranked opponents either with just one win this year.
Trevon Bluiett v. Kelan Martin. Bluiett has been solid for Xavier all season averaging 18 points per game. He did have a nice game when they lost against Butler 88-79 with 21 points but his fellow team leading scorer on the other side in Martin had 29 that night. Bluiett will have to outperform Martin if the Musketeers are to get a win.
Butler has been prone to a letdown game and their spot in the NCAA tournament is a lock. However, they must feel they have a legit shot at a Big East title having beat Nova the prohibitive favorite here twice this season. Nonetheless I like Xavier to get one when they need one despite their recent history saying otherwise.
Virginia Tech Hokies at #16 Florida State Seminoles
- Virginia Tech (n/a) at Florida State (n/a)
The ACC is stacked and even at 22-9 the Hokies aren’t secured a spot as they may need 9+ teams to be in the tournament from the ACC to make it. They do have some very solid wins and are primed for their first bid to the big dance since 2007. The Seminoles are the 2 seed in the ACC tournament and have fared well in the nation’s best conference.
Florida State hasn’t sprinted to the post season as the might have hoped. They lost 3 of their last 6 but they were at Notre Dame, at Pittsburgh and at Duke. What’s most impressive is their wins against top talent. They have 6 victories over the current top-25 RPI teams – a key stat in the NCAA – and that’s tops in the country. Their offense is stellar led by Dwayne Bacon at 17th nationwide going off for 100+ points 5 times this season.
The Hokies are having a renaissance this year even being ranked in the top-25 at times. They lead the ACC in field-goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage which means when they are hot they can be tough out. What doesn’t help that is being 324th in rebounds per game with limited extra possessions that percentage has to be that high to win. They also struggle on defense giving up 73.9 points per game.
Zach LeDay v. Dwayne Bacon. LeDay had a career night Wednesday against Wake Forrest dropping 31 in their 99-90 win. He may need a backup performance if they are to get past the Seminoles. He got to the line 18 times Wednesday and the forward is active on the glass averaging over 7 boards a game. Dwayne Bacon has led his offense like one of the best guards in ACC should. He’s able to break down schemes and find open players and should be able to do that against the Hokies.
Virginia Tech is riding high and may need this one to get through although I think they should be in the NCAA tournament anyways. Not sure they have enough to win this but it should be close.
Colorado Buffaloes at #7 Arizona Wildcats
- Colorado (n/a) at Arizona (n/a)
Arizona may begin to look ahead at who they have in the semis and finals in the Pac 12 tournament but that might be a mistake against a red-hot Colorado team. The Buffaloes at 19-13 are on the bubble but the Pac 12’s depth may help them and a win here certainly will.
The Wildcats have lost 4 times this year to Butler, Gonzaga, Oregon and UCLA all ranked teams at the moment. The fact is this Arizona team is deep as they come and although the don’t fill up the bucket like UCLA they have plenty of fire power and a defense to back it up when the offense dries up. With five players averaging 10+ points per game and their best player Allonzo Trier back in the lineup the Wildcats are ready for a big March.
The Buffaloes have won 9 of their last 12 including nice wins over Oregon and Cal. They did however give up 101 to the Ducks a week later and are prone to falling apart on defense. If they do Thursday Arizona will tear them to shreds. The good news, bad news from Wednesday? The good news they rallied from a 14-point deficit against Washington State to win by 10. The bad news they needed to rally from 4 points down against Washington State, they can’t spot Arizona that lead.
Derrick White v. Allonzo Trier. Derrick White has been the dependable senior guard you want in March. His 17 points per game have been a nice addition in his only season in Colorado. Trier doesn’t need to be great let alone good for the Wildcats to win they were just fine without him to start the first 19 games without him. However, he’s been mostly lights out since coming back and is needed for Arizona to beat stiffer competition.
Colorado has been good as of late but Arizona is a different beast. They are too deep and too experienced to not be prepared to get past Colorado and head to bigger things later this week and beyond.
#21 Virginia Cavaliers at #22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Virginia (n/a) at Notre Dame (n/a)
Another pair of ranked opponents from the ACC hook up here. Both teams ended conference play on a strong note although the Cavaliers haven’t looked great. Up for grabs is a solid seed in the NCAA tournament as a crowded ACC will not all be seeded in the top-5 in the big dance.
The Cavaliers were limping to the finish line losing four straight a few weeks ago, but they backed that up with a 4-game win streak to close out the regular season. Their offense is bad, I mean really bad at 311th in the country and you’d think in the ACC that wouldn’t fly but their defense has kept them in games. It’s ranked first in the country and have given up an amazing 54.9 points per game it doesn’t lead to exciting games but it gets the job done. In this one they will have the high octane Fighting Irish offense and will be in tough to slow it down.
Notre Dame likes to run-and-gun as is seen in their 78.5 points per game but they don’t rebound well at all. As a result, they have to be efficient on offense and that can be tough when you move at the pace they do. They are just 2-6 against ranked teams and struggle against stiffer talent which they will see against Virginia. They will try and ride Bonzie Colson to get the job done.
London Perrantes v. Bonzie Colson. Perrantes is the only player to average double digits in points for Virginia but he isn’t looked to for his offense. He needs to organize his defense to stop the Irish from getting quick easy looks early and often. Those looks will likely fall in the hands of Colson and if he’s on the Irish can get a huge win.
These teams have met just 3 times in the last 3 years something unheard between conference opponents. Having said that each of the last 3 ACC tournament finals have had one of these squads in it so they know how to make a run. Notre Dame’s lack of success against elite talent scares me and I think the Cavaliers defense holds them in check.
Kansas State Wildcats at #9 Baylor Bears
- Kansas State (+5.5) at Baylor (-5.5)
It’s been an odd season for Baylor spending time at number 1 but also suffering bad losses. They have one of their best teams in recent memory and look to make some March magic. At 19-12 Kansas State, may be on the outside looking in barring a miracle run in the Big 12 tournament.
At times Baylor looked unstoppable in 2016-17 and then they went 5-5 to close out regular season action. A pair of those losses were to Kansas but also included defeats to Texas tech and these Wildcats. When the Bears are rolling it’s because of their defense at 16th in the nation but when it isn’t they struggle to score enough points. They have however failed to score more than 70 points just once in that 10-game run and one of those games was a victory.
Kansas State probably feels good coming in to this one. They did beat these Bears 56-54 earlier this year and have the defense to go toe to toe with Baylor. They only have one other win over a ranked opponent that was West Virginia and much like the Bears of their defense is on so are they but if not it’s lights out.
Wesley Iwundu v. Jonathan Motley. In what should be a low scoring affair we’ll go with the leading scorers in this one. The edge goes firmly to Motley who has averaged over 17 points per game to Iwundu’s 12.6 PPG. If Motley has his way Baylor wins easily if not I don’t know where the scoring comes from for the Bears.
Baylor needs to regain its footing heading into the NCAA tournament and a loss here could derail what was a promising season. I think they show up and are effective enough on offense to win this one and cover the spread.
USC Trojans at #3 UCLA Bruins
- USC (n/a) at North Carolina (n/a)
It’s a flashy Pac 12 matchup to cap the night off. Two well-known programs with decorated histories although obviously, none quite like the Bruins. Like Oregon and Arizona UCLA has bigger things ahead but USC is by far the toughest quarterfinal matchup for the Pac 12’s Big Three.
The Bruins score a lot it’s what they do. They have the nation’s best offense dropping on average over 90 on opponents night in and night out. It’s been a bit of a surprise for UCLA this year and a lot of that has to do with freshman standout Lonzo Ball. They have just 3 losses this year to Arizona and Oregon but also to these Trojans.
USC got demolished by UCLA 102-70 earlier this year but they were at a low point. It was part of a 4-game losing streak one that may have cost them a spot in the NCAA tournament. Since then they rattled off 3 straight and look to repeat the unthinkable against the Bruins. They may not have quite the offense UCLA has but it’s pretty good at 55th in the nation and the Bruins somewhat overlook their defensive assignments so the Trojans should be able to score.
USC Jordan McLaughlin v. UCLA Lonzo Ball. The Trojans junior guard will be tasked with the Ball assignment and it’s not an easy one. He can score, rebound and distribute the ball and is as flashy and effective as they come. McLaughlin will need to be at his best to keep Ball in check.
Even if they stop Ball UCLA has TJ Leaf who may very well be their best player and much more scoring depth up and down the lineup. I like the Trojans to make a run in the NCAA tournament maybe win a game or two but this may be too tall a hill to climb.