As top-tier teams slowly begin to complete the relatively easy portion of their schedules, the college basketball landscape will be rife with crazy upsets as well as the emergence of some unforeseen contenders. This week, programs such as Louisville and Miami will look to maintain their highly-competitive reputations against tough non-conference opponents while lesser-known teams such as Seton Hall and Xavier will be determined to stay afloat and relevant in the national limelight. The journey to the NCAA Tournament is still lengthy and arduous, but serious contenders will look to get a head start by bolstering their resumes with highly-impressive victories over the college basketball elite.
Baylor Bears (16) vs. Xavier Musketeers (21)
After sweeping through the first three games of their schedule, the Bears barely overcame two competitive opponents in Creighton and Wisconsin. With those impressive wins, Baylor made it clear that their lockdown defense (59.4 PAPG) led by Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (11.2 RPG, 1.2 BPG) is more than capable of winning games against the reputable competition. However, Xavier boasts a relentless offensive attack orchestrated by sharpshooter Trevon Bluiett (21.3 PPG) and consummate ball facilitator Quentin Goodin (5.7 APG). While the offense of the Musketeers is deadly and prolific, the size and rebounding prowess of the Bears will ultimately take away crucial opportunities from Xavier.
Final Score: Baylor 86 Musketeers 75 Spread: Xavier -5.0
Louisville Cardinals (17) vs. Purdue Boilermakers
With a brutal schedule upcoming for the offensively tenacious albeit one dimensional Cardinals, it becomes fair to wonder if this team is destined to become irrelevant in the ACC. While having a gifted shooter such as Deng Adel (17.5 PPG, 54.3 FG%) is incredibly helpful, the lack of a true point guard that can also shoot consistently will make it difficult for the Cardinals to score against tougher opposition. Despite their two recent losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky, the Boilermakers are still a talented scoring unit (92.1 PPG) and are proficient at moving the ball to their best shooters (19.9 APG). Given the Boilermakers versatility on offense, it’s hard to believe in a Cardinals program that will most likely be done in by their pure, static shooters.
Final Score: Cardinals 87 Boilermakers 90 Spread: Purdue -8.5
Michigan Wolverines vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (13)
Although the Wolverines up and down offense could hold them back from being truly great, their stingy defense (60.1 PPG) led by forward Mortiz Wager (8.6 RPG) has been their saving grace and could keep them competitively relevant throughout the season. For the Tar Heels, it’s all about bouncing back after losing in blowout fashion to a Michigan State program that was able effectively to intimidate them from the opening tip. If forward Luke Maye (19 PPG, 10 RPG) can get back to being the Tar Heels do it all big man and guard Joel Berry can get hot from beyond the arch, North Carolina will have an excellent chance at pulling off a bounce-back win at home.
Final Score: Wolverines 77 Tar Heels 85 Spread: North Carolina -10.5
Miami Hurricanes (10) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (12)
With two programs that play two vastly different styles of basketball, a showdown between Miami and Minnesota holds an immense amount of intrigue. Although the Hurricanes are not particularly opportunistic when it comes to shooting the basketball, their oppressive defense led by the lanky yet fearless Bruce Brown Jr. (8.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG) has been merciless to the point where they held La Salle to 19 total points. However, what the Golden Gophers lack on the defensive side of the ball they more than makeup for with hefty playmakers such as forward Jordan Murphy (22 PPG, 12.3 RPG) and center Reggie Lynch (11.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.4 BPG). Although the Hurricanes have the coaching and gifted defense to keep this contest competitive, the size and scoring capabilities of the Golden Gophers will be too much for Miami to hold off for an entire game.
Final Score: Hurricanes 67 Golden Gophers 72 Spread: Minnesota -5.0
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5) vs. Michigan State Spartans (3)
A top-five matchup between teams that both have incredible defenses will be a beloved treat for old-school basketball aficionados to enjoy. While the Fighting Irish have not been known for their defensive prowess recently, forward Bonzie Colson has clearly made it known from his glowing stat line (20 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 1.8 SPG) that he can play crushing defense just as well as he can shoot the basketball. For the Spartans, guard Miles Bridges is an instinctual blocker (2 BPG) that can quickly snag rebounds (6.8 RPG) and gracefully move down the court for a quick layup. Even though the Spartans proved their defensive grit is the real deal against North Carolina recently, the fact that Notre Dame can now dominate on both defense and offense will be too arduous a task for Michigan State to overcome.
Final Score: Fighting Irish 84 Spartans 70 Spread: Michigan State -6.5
Creighton Blue Jays (25) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (15)
Aside from a close loss to Baylor, the high-octane offense of the Blue Jays (92.5 PPG) has been mostly unstoppable. Guard Marcus Foster is a high-volume, mid-range shooter that can put a game out of reach quickly (18 PPG, 48.8 FG%). It also helps that forward Martin Krampelj (12.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG) provides a physical presence and can rebound effectively, allowing the Blue Jays to garner even more shooting opportunities. While the Bulldogs are not nearly as flashy when it comes to shooting the basketball, they do have an incredible ball facilitator in guard Josh Perkins (4.8 APG) that can also shoot the ball accurately from the perimeter (53.2 3P%). In addition, the Bulldogs also have an efficient rebounder in Jonathan Williams (7.2 RPG), a player that should give them a very slight edge at home.
Final Score: Blue Jays 82 Bulldogs 85 Spread: Gonzaga -7.5
Cincinnati Bearcats (11) vs. Xavier Musketeers (21)
A top-25 program on both offense and defense, the Bearcats are a team that is seeking a serious challenge to prove their dominance. On the offensive end, forward Gary Clark is a confident mid-range shooter (53.8 FG%) that also attack the glass with an impressive vigor (8.3 RPG). Defensively, guard Cane Broome has the quick hands to snatch the ball from the opposition (1.5 SPG) and can also shoot the ball when the situation calls for it (10.2 PPG, 53.7 FG%). If Xavier has any hope of pulling off the upset, they will need the natural shooting capabilities of guard Trevon Bluiett (21.3 PPG, 51.3 3P%) and the passing abilities of guard Quentin Goodin (5.7 APG). Even if this comes to pass, the Bearcats have a dominant offense of their own, which will overwhelm the below average defense of the Musketeers.
Final Score: Bearcats 89 Musketeers 78 Spread: Xavier -2.5
Wichita State Shockers (8) vs. Baylor Bears (16)
While the Shockers were more than capable of beating the Fighting Irish, they fell just short of the accomplishment and ultimately succumbed to the now potent defense of Notre Dame. Although the Shockers may not have the impressive athletes of some programs, they do have cerebral players such as Landry Shamet (15.8 PPG, 60 FG%) and Rashard Kelly (8.8 RPG) that are effective in their own right. Conversely, Baylor does have the pure athletes such as Manu Lecomte (19 PPG, 43.2 3P%) and Terry Maston (8.6 RPG, 11 PPG) that can attack an opposing defense in a multitude of ways. Considering how strong the Bears defense has been this season (59.4 PPG), it’s difficult to imagine the Shockers countering with a fundamentally sound albeit somewhat streaky offense.
Final Score: Shockers 70 Bears 77 Spread: Wichita State -2.5
Kansas Jayhawks (2) vs. Syracuse Orange
With an offense that does not appear to be slowing down (94.2 PPG) combined with a defense that is formidable (62.2 PAPG), the Jayhawks have looked every bit like the BIG 12 juggernauts they are expected to be. While the defense of the Orange has held its own thus far (57.6 PAPG) their offense is limited as only guards Tyus Battle (20 PPG, 48.6 FG%) and Frank Howard (15.8 PPG, 5.2 APG) have the requisite skill sets needed to move and score the basketball consistently. While the Orange may appear to be completely outmatched, this will actually be a great test for a defense that could very well be efficient enough to keep this contest relatively close.
Final Score: Jayhawks 83 Orange 72 Spread: Kansas -9.5
Seton Hall Pirates vs. Louisville Cardinals (17)
A program that will only go as far as their defense can take them, the Pirates do not attempt to hide their inconsistent offense (79.5 PPG). Yet, Desi Rodriguez provides just enough offensively (17.8 PPG) to allow center Angel Delgado (9.3 RPG) to work his magic on the defensive glass. As mentioned above, the Cardinals are heavily reliant on their prolific offense to win them games, something that will be exposed against opponents that are well-balanced. However, the Cardinals should be able to do just enough in this contest to overcome a scrappy Pirates defense that will keep this game close from start to finish.
Final Score: Pirates 68 Cardinals 71 Spread: Louisville -1.5