NCAA Men’s Top 25 Picks- Thursday Night 2/23
After an awesome slate of college basketball on Wednesday night the NCAA is back with another six game slate featuring teams in the Top 25. While many of the conference races and titles are already settled there is still plenty to be determined before the conference tournaments start leading to the big dance in March.
While some teams are just fighting for a higher seed many are just trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. That can be a dangerous thing, especially for favorites. Underdogs are more than capable of turning in some incredible performances especially when they’re backs are against the wall and especially in college basketball. As always, don’t be afraid to follow your gut as the season winds down and you look to gain an age. Let’s get to it!
Memphis Tigers at #15 Cincinnati Bearcats
- Memphis(+13) at Cincinnati (-13)
The number 15 Bearcats’ greatest strength this season may lie in their health. While that can change at any moment they remain one of the strongest physical teams in the NCAA and that can go a long way to a deep playoff run. That health will be a big factor when Memphis and Cincinnati continue their rivalry for the 74th time overall in a matchup that has lasted 39 years and spanned across four different conferences.
The Bearcats lead the series overall 40-33 including a 22-10 mark at home where they get to play on Thursday night. The home team has also won the past five games regardless of where they are and Cincinnati is having another strong season. The Bearcats are 24-3 overall including 13-1 in conference play this year and trying to extend that win steak to 25 straight.
Memphis is still trying to find their footing in their first season under new coach Tubby Smith but have a respectable 18-9 record overall and an 8-6 mark in the conference. They’ve had a week off after their loss against the Huskies and would kill for a win after losing three of four.
They’ll need all they can get from Dedric Lawson who leads the conference with 10.1 rebounds and is second with 19.5 points. His physical presence for the Tigers has been huge all season long and would love to see those strong stats turn into wins. Memphis is a strong team overall and rank third in scoring and assists while ranking second in steals, but those number still haven’t translated to as many wins as they would have liked.
The Bearcats respond to Lawson with Gary Clark who is having another strong season. He’s averaging 11.7 points and 10.8 rebounds this month and played strong down the stretch last year for Cincinnati as well. Joining him is Troy Caupain who needs just two more assists to move into third on the all-time list for the Bearcats. He’s one of the best ball handlers in the country and will try and dictate the Bearcats’ offense around Memphis’ stingy defense.
Gary Clark against Dedric Lawson. Both players have a similar game but Lawson looks to be getting better every single night. He’ll be tough for Clark to handle but he’ll get more help from his Cincinnati teammates than Lawson will.
The Tigers are trying everything they can to make the playoffs and while a win on the road in Cincinnati may be out of their reach we still think they’ll show up and play a solid game. Take Memphis on the spread getting a whopping 13 points.
#5 UCLA Bruins at Arizona State Sun Devils
- UCLA (-10.5) at Arizona State (+10.5)
Any day UCLA gets to play is a good day. The Bruins are one of the most fun trams we’ve ever seen in College Basketball and we can’t wait to see how they finish out the season but first they need to take care of an Arizona State team they’ve had trouble against in the recent pass. UCLA has lost two games to the Sun Devils in the last four years and will need to make easy work of them if they want their final game of the season to be meaningful.
The Bruins enter with a 24-3 record overall including an 11-3 mark in the conference and have won five straight games and will need to keep winning if they want a shot at the regular season title. They’re chasing the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks but right now they need to focus on a Sun Devils team that was won three of their last five and narrowly missed out beating the Ducks.
The Bruins are rolling right now and are coming off a 41 point win against Washington and a huge 32 point win over USC but will need to keep their foot on the gas pedal at Arizona State. That means Lonzo Ball will need to keep up his excellent play as well. Projected to go as high as number one overall Ball had 15 points eight rebounds and eight assists in his last game and leads the entire NCAA Division 1 with 7.6 assists a game. His vision on the court is unlike anyone else and that’s what makes the Bruins’ offense so dangerous.
The Bruins’ talent doesn’t stop there. They also have freshman T.J. Leaf who leads the team in scoring at 16.7 points per game and rebounding at 8.7 while shooting a blistering 62.8 percent from the field this season. Both these players and other combine to form the most lethal attack in college ball. UCLA drops 92.3 points a game and shoot 53.5 percent from the field.
The Sun Devils counter with a four guard team that have trouble with size and length but make up for it with hood shooting. Torian Graham is second in the conference with 18.5 points per game and Tra Holder drops 17.2 along with him. The Sun Devils pull the trigger from deep and average 9.8 threes a game. That type of shooting can keep you in some games but it can also knock you right out if it goes cold like it did in their last match against Washington.
Lonzo Ball against the four horsemen. Ball will take on all four guards and it still might be tipped in Ball’s favor. He’s a once in a generation talent and will dictate the offense like a wizard on Thursday night.
The Sun Devils play the Bruins tough but with the way UCLA is scoring it feels like no spread is large enough. Take the Bruins to cover.
#16 Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio State Buckeyes
- Wisconsin (-5) at Ohio State (+5)
The Badgers enter Ohio State with a 22-5 overall record and a 11-3 mark in Conference play in what should be an evenly matched affair. Wisconsin has beat up on Ohio State in three straight games by an average victory of 19.3 points and will try and replicate that action again on Thursday night. In their first meeting the Badgers dropped 12 of 122 from beyond the arc and averaged a season best 1.37 points per possession as their offense hummed along.
They also outscored Ohio State 42-22 in the paint and 28-9 in second half points and looked as dominant as they have all season long. D’Mitrik Trice has started the last two games for the Badgers and continues to impress as a freshman on a team that traditionally doesn’t start them.
He’ll need to keep up his strong play against the Buckeyes. Ohio State is 15-13 this season but just 5-10 overall in the conference and slowly watching their tournament chances disintegrate. They’ve lost 121 games at home since the start of last season and are just 3-4 in the conference playing at home during that span as well. They are set to finish with a losing record in the conference for the first time since 2004.
Marc Loving is doing all he can to end the streak. The Senior is averaging 12.6 points per game and is 10 of 22 from beyond the arc in his teams’ last three losses but obviously that hasn’t been good enough. With March Madness seemingly out of reach the Buckeyes will be playing mainly for pride on Thursday.
Trevor Thompson against Ethan Happ. Happ was held to just six points against Ohio State in his worst outing of the season earlier this year but still grabbed 11 rebounds. As the leader of this Badgers team we expect a much bigger game from him against Thompson who finished with 11 points, four blocks and nine rebounds in his last meeting with Wisconsin and is averaging 1.6 blocks per game.
A five point spread is nothing for a team that has repeatedly dominated Ohio State recently regardless of the venue. Take Wisconsin on the spread and watch Happ go to work in a revenge game.
#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs at San Diego Toreros
- Gonzaga (-22.5) at San Diego (+22.5)
The Bulldogs are unstoppable! Gonzaga enters with the only unbeaten record in the land at 28-0 and 16-0 in the conference and will clinch the regular season title with a win against the Toreros. No team has ever won a national title after finishing the season unbeaten but Gonzaga is planning on changing that this year. They’re on pace to become one of just three teams to enter the tournament unbeaten and will have to just stay focused on the task at hand despite the mismatch in front of them.
Gonzaga has had it easy for quite some time now. They destroyed Pacific 82-61 on Saturday which was their 21st straight win by at least double digits. That feat hasn’t been accomplished in over 25 years and the Zags aren’t just winning, they’re dominating everyone in their path. They’re average margin of victory in the conference is 26.3 thanks to the whole team, but mainly Nigel Williams-Goss. He had 18 points and seven dimes in his last outing and was named player of the week for the fourth time in his career after averaging 24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.5 steals.
San Diego will do their best to control him. They enter with a 12-16 record overall and are just 5-11 in the conference as they aim for what would easily be their biggest win ever. They ended a five game losing streak recently with a win over Santa Clara, but Gonzaga is nothing like Santa Clara. Cameron Neubauer was impressive with 24 points and 10 boards in the victory and scored a layup in the dying seconds to send the game to overtime where they ultimately won.
This will be just the second tame the Toreros have every played the number one overall seed and the last outcome wasn’t pretty as they lost by 30 points. The seats will be sold out for just the 15th time every but they may all be there to watch San Diego lose.
Nigel Williams-Goss against Brett Bailey. Bailey can fill it up, averaging 15.9 points per game this season but Goss is a different type of player. His ability to play on both sides of the ball will give Bailey nightmares all game long.
The spread is massive, but so is the discrepancy in talent. Take Gonzaga on the spread and hope they continue their run of dominance this season.
USC Trojans at #4 Arizona Wildcats
- USC (+9) at Arizona (-9)
The Trojans are making a name for themselves in a hurry and will wrap up a brutal stretch against the Pack-12 when they travel to Arizona for a date with the Wildcats. Arizona is currently 14-1 in the conference and sit in first place while USC is just 8-6 and way back in 5th.
USC just started a stretch of hosting the Ducks, then traveling to take on the Bruins, and against hitting the road for a date with the Wildcats. They lost by 11 at home to the Ducks and then got sent out of the gym by the Bruins in a 31 point blowout. Before this terrible stretch USC was playing well and had won five straight but that’s what happens when you run into some good teams.
They still have lost of weapons on offense though. Led by Chimezie Metu who leads the team in scoring and rebounds at 14.2 points per game and 7.3 boards the Trojans are still capable of hanging with the big boys. He’s helped out by Bennie Boatwright who drops 14.1 points a game and chips in with five rebounds of his won.
Arizona has won five straight and looked downright dominant during their entire season. They have also won 19 of their last 20 games and have held their opponents to under 70 points in their last seven wins. They can play on both sides of the ball but their defense will go a long way in trying to stop USC who averages almost 80 points a game.
The Wildcats are excellent all over the court and come in as one of the most balanced teams in all of college ball. They’re led by freshman star Lauri Markkanen who averages 15.7 points and 7.5 rebounds. The Finnish star leads the team in both those categories and has been a thrill to watch all season long.
They also have a foursome of guards that have been the difference makers for them all season long. Allonzo Trier ranks second on the team in points per game at 13.9 , rebounds per game at 5.1 and assists at 2.8 The duo of Rawle Atkins and Kobi Simmons have lit it up as well while Kadeem Allen provides a veteran presence on both sides of the ball.
Lauri Markkanen aganst Chimezie Metu. Both these players are household names by now in the college basketball world and know how important a win is to their standings heading into the tournament. Will Metu play with enough desperation to lead his USC team to a win or will Markkanen shut the door like him and his Wildcats have all season long?
The Wildcats should win this easily and the nine point spread is scaring no one. Take Arizona at home to cover in a big win for the club.
#20 Saint Mary’s Gaels at Pepperdine Waves
- Saint Mary’s (-18.5) at Pepperdine (+18.5)
The Gaels will try to keep the win train rolling when they travel to take on Pepperdine for a date with the Waves in the West Coast Conference on Thursday. Saint Mary’s is 24-3 this season with a 14-2 mark in the conference and have won two straight and nine of their last ten with their lone loss coming to the hottest team on the planet in Gonzaga.
Saint Mary’s has virtually no shot of catching Gonzaga but will do their best to finish the season strong when they conclude their campaign Saturday in Santa Clara. First they’ll have to deal with the Waves who have struggled all season long and own just a 9-19 record overall including a 5-11 mark in the WCC. They’re sitting in a tie for seventh and have lost their last two games after an impressive streak that saw them win three straight.
The Gaels are coming off a big win over BYU when they handed the Cougars a 70-57 loss and shot over 47 percent from the field including ten of 26 from beyond the arc. Their defense also locked in and held the Cougars to under 40 percent shooting from the field. Calvin Hermason stood out with 17 points and six boards while Evan Fitzner chipped in with 15 points of his own. They needed to step up with their star Jock Londale having one of the worst games of his career with just seven points thanks to getting into foul trouble early.
The Waves haven’t been as fortunate and are coming off a big 82-61 loss to Loyola Marymound. Lamond Murray Jr. did his best to carry the team with 18 points and even moved into 17th place on the all-time scoring list for his school but neither his nor Nolan Taylor’s 17 points were enough to carry Pepperdine to a victory.
Jock Londale against Lamond Murray Jr. Expect Londale to have a huge bounce back game against a much weaker opponent than BYU. He only really struggled due to foul trouble in his last game and as long as he can keep his defense under control he should be able to post some massive numbers. Murray will have to fill up the bucket again to give Pepperdine a chance to hang in this one.
Saint Mary’s crushed Pepperdine 85-65 in their last meeting just a month ago and with the exception of Gonzaga have no real equal in the conference. We expect them to cover the spread and finish their regular season strong in hopes for a good seed when March Madness rolls around.