NCAAM Basketball: Top 25 Picks and Predictions for February 16
There was only one big upset last night, as the South Carolina Gamecocks got rolled by the Arkansas Razorbacks on their own court but so many of the other underdogs managed to cover the spread at the very least and it just goes to show you how desperate some of these fringe teams are to still make the March Madness tournament.
Home court advantage remains huge in college basketball but there’s no substitute for a team that just wants it more. That’s why you need to assess every team’s chances and how important one single game may be to them before you place your wager. With five more opportunities to bet tonight there’ll be plenty of chances to do just that. Let’s get to it!
#11 Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan Wolverines
- Wisconsin (+1) at Michigan (-1)
There may not be a bigger game on Thursday night than the one between the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Wolverines. The Big Ten showdown is set between two teams who are in very unfamiliar situations for the first time this season.
The Badgers enter the matchup with a 21-4 overall record and a sparkling 10-2 mark in the Big Ten but are coming off just their fourth loss all year after watching their eight game winning streak halted by an upset at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats when they fell 66-59 at home.
The loss set the Badgers back in the Big 10 conference standings as well as they now own just a half game lead over the Maryland Terrapins and Purdue Boilermakers. That’s why the emphasis is so high on grabbing a win in Ann Arbor on Thursday night against a Wolverines team they’ve beaten 17 of their last 19 attempts. Their last game was closer than that overall record suggests however as the Badgers only won by four points in their first meeting back in January.
The writing was on the wall for the Badgers before they stepped foot on the court to take on the Wildcats. Wisconsin was shooting just 25.3 percent from beyond the arc and a dismal 37.4 percent overall in their four prior games giving everyone cause for concern that the Badgers were fading down the stretch.
Now Wisconsin hopes the trip to Michigan is the answer to their shooting woes. The Wolverines give up a ton of points and have been a sieve on defense all year long. If the Badgers can capitalize on some timely shooting they’ll find themselves back in the win column in no time.
The Wolverines aren’t just going to let the Badgers walk all over them though, especially the way they’ve been playing lately. Wisconsin is coming off their first big road win of the year when they dealt with the Hoosiers easily 65-63 on Sunday after losing at home to Ohio State by four points the game before.
Now the Wolverines have a much tougher task ahead of them when they play the Badgers but at least they get to do it on their own homecourt.
Ethan Happ against Derrick Walton Jr. Happ has struggled as of late but is still the go-to man in Wisconsin with averages of 14.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.8 steals, and 1.0 blocks. As you can see from his deep stat line he gets it done all over the court and is a nuisance to play against on both sides of the ball. Walton isn’t nearly as physical or big ass Happ but leads the team in points with 14.7 and chips in 4.7 rebounds of his own. He’ll need to respond to Happ’s toughness and figure out how to score at the time.
Wisconsin has looked shaky as of late, but not shaky enough to drop a game to the Wolverines when the spread is essentially a “pick ‘em”. Take the Badgers to cover and hope Happ returns to form.
San Francisco Dons at #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
- San Francisco (+22) at Gonzaga (-22)
From our most evenly matched game of the night to our…less than fair contest.
Number one ranked Gonzaga is still first in the nation with an undefeated record and after tearing through the rest of the West Coast Conference by an average of over 26 points a game they now get to go for the season sweep against the San Francisco Dons.
The Bulldogs enter with a 26-0 record and a 14-0 mark in the West Coast Conference and now host a team they beat by fifteen points on the road the last time the two of them met for their 10th straight win in the series.
Gonzaga looked like they might finally lose a game when theyhad to play then number 20 ranked Saint Mary’s on the road after the Gaels had been going on their own little run of dominance but the Bulldogs locked down on defense and promptly shut the door 64-54 to remain undefeated on the season. Despite the Zags’ success this year, it’s nothing new for the Bulldogs. They’ve been to 18 straight March Madness tournaments thanks to their dominance in the West Coast Conference but have never made it past the Elite Eight round. They’ll be much higher expectations on them this time around with their number one seed but that is sitting just fine with the players.
The Bulldogs have just four games left to remain undefeated like Kentucky in 2015 and they should make easy work of their first opponent during that stretch in the Dons. Nigel Wlliams-Goss appears back and healthy and lit up the Dons in his first game to the tune of 26 points with 11 rebounds and six assists.
The Dons will have to deal with him again but may be a little more prepared this time. San Francisco is actually enjoying a decent season with an 18-9 record overall including n 8-6 mark in the conference but are coming off a tough 68-52 loss against BYU after Butler just beat that same team by ten a week ago.
The Dons shot just under 25 percent from the field in that game after making just two of their first 19 shots and know that type of shooting won’t be acceptable against a team that plays as strong defensively as the Bulldogs.
Nigel Williams-Goss against Nate Renfro. Renfro doesn’t fill up the basket with just 5.9 points per game this season but he averages over a steal and a block per contest and will be tasked with trying to slow down Goss. Goss destroyed the Dons in his first game against them and is back for the sequel. Good luck.
22 points is a monster spread, and as the season winds down the Bulldogs may get complacent in their winning ways. We still fully expect them to win, but perhaps not quite by the 22 suggested. Take San Francisco to cover on the road.
#5 Arizona Wildcats at Washington State Cougars
- Arizona (-12.5) at Washington State (+12.5)
From one mismatch to another as the Wildcats enter Washington State for a date with the Cougars as the heavily favorite club. Arizona enters with a 23-3 overall record including a 12-1 mark in the Pac 12 Conference and have a one game lead now over Oregon. Their offense has slowed down recently as teams continue to employ the zone defense against them but Arizona has responded well and will likely get another opportunity to improve against it when they take on the Cougars.
The Wildcats beat Stanford by seven points and California by five and while both of those wins should have come by larger margins on their home court they’ll still take the result. Now they have to make sure they learn from those zone defenses when they travel to Washington State.
Arizona was forced to start shooting against zone defenses and while teams may think that’s a good thing they could be wrong. The Wildcats average a very nice 38.5 percent mark from deep which ranks as the second highest percentage in the Pac 12 conference. Regardless of what defense the Cougars employ it shouldn’t prove to be too difficult for the Wildcats to break it.
Washington state has lost four in a row and are now just 11-14 overall on the season. They’ve also lost 11 straight to Arizona in this matchup and are simply running out of options down the stretch. With no expectations of making the tournament, pride and confidence may be the only fumes this team is running on.
Lauri Markkanen against Josh Hawkinson. Hawkinson leads his Cougars in scoring with 15.7 points and rebounds with 10.1 as he just narrowly hit double double averages on the season but he’s struggled against the Wildcats this year when he finished with just nine points in their last meeting. The good news for him is that Markkanen is struggling as well. He hasn’t reached double digit scoring in four straight games now but is still shooting 47.2 percent from deep. It would be unwise for the Cougars to underestimate him.
Washington State is really struggling right now and now have to play against a top 5 team in the country. Arizona will get a bounce back game from Markkanen and easily cover the spread. Take the Wildcats.
Utah Runnin’ Utes at #7 Oregon Ducks
- Utah (+9.5) at Oregon (-9.5)
The Ducks have history on their minds. Oregon is 22-4 on the season and 11-2 in the Pac 12 Conference and have yet to lose at home this season with a 15-0 record. They’re trying to remain unbeaten in their own building for a second straight season for the first time ever and will have a good chance to get even closer with a game against the Utes followed by Colorado on the weekend.
They now have the longest winning streak at home out of anyone in the country as it sits at 40 games heading into this meeting with Utah who can’t be taken lightly. The Utes are 17-8 overall with an 8-5 record in the conference and will be itching to snap the home wining streak Oregon is currently enjoying.
The Ducks are also trying to et back into first place in the Pac 12 after they lost by three points in a thrilling game to the UCLA Bruins last week. They responded by beating USC by 11 in their next outing but still remain a game back of the Arizona Wildcats. Still, they should probably be tied after Oregon blew a 13 point lead over the Bruins with just 12 minutes left to play in their last loss.
Part of the Ducks’ success is their depth. After their best player left the game against USC, Oregon held on tight. Dillon Brooks averages 14.9 points a game to lead Oregon and already had 21 against USC before fouling out but the Ducks responded and went on a 13-5 run without him to seal the win.
Utah needs a win to try and earn a higher seed before the Pac-12 tournament starts but it won’t be easy with Oregon in their way. The Utes still need some huge wins if they have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament, but a bid isn’t out of the question and an upset over the Ducks would go a long way in getting there.
Dillon Brooks against Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma leads the Utes with 15.7 points and 10.2 rebounds to average a double-double a game but will find it much harder to score against the rim protection the Ducks employ. He’ll also have to worry about Brooks who will be trying to respond after being forced out of his last game due to foul trouble.
The Ducks know how important first place in the Pac-12 is and how much pride there is in having the longest home winning streak in college basketball. They’ll do everything they can to run Utah out of the gym and we like the Ducks to cover. Take Oregon on the spread.
Loyola Marymount Lions at #22 Saint Mary’s Gaels
- Loyola (+16) at Saint Mary’s (-16)
With the exception of our first game this slate is just full of mismatches and big spreads and its up to us (and you) to figure out if the underdog can cover. Saint Mary’s chances of winning the West Coast Conference died when they lost to Gonzaga in that huge showdown over the weekend but they still have a very good shot making the NCAA Tournament. That will be the only thought running through their minds when they take on the Lions who are just 12-13 this season and 5-9 in the conference.
Despite the Gaels’ #22 ranking, anything is possible when the selection committee makes their picks for the tournament and the fact that the Gaels play in such a weak conference will do them no favors. With that being said, they can still essentially control their own destiny with a few more big wins to close out the season.
The Gaels were 27-4 last season and still missed the tournament after losing in the West Coast Conference final against Gonzaga and their team knows from experience how important it is to win out during the regular season, and win big. They’ll be trying to pile up the points against the Lions which is bad news for Loyola.
They’ve lost 10 straight games to Saint Mary’s but are coming off a 66-60 win over Portland and are beginning to play better defense of late. The Lions still shot just 37.9 percent in that win and that number will need to drastically improve if they have a shot at upsetting the Gaels.
Jock Londale against Brandon Brown. Brown is one of just two real threats on the Lions but is having a decent season with averages of 13.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals. Those steals will be key when he tries to defend Londale who is having an incredible season. His averages of 17.0 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 blocks a game offer production on both sides of the ball and he’ll give the Lions fits all night if they can’t contain him early.
Saint Mary’s needs to win, and needs to win big. They’re back at home trying to rebound after a loss to Gonzaga and that means the Lions will face the punishment. Take the Gaels on the spread in what should be a blowout.