Throughout this season, there have been a plethora of top-ranked teams that at times have looked completely dominant only to succumb to their glaring weaknesses shortly after they have peaked competitively. While the likes of Purdue, Villanova, and Virginia have had their moments of looking like serious National Title contenders, none of them have exhibited the elite aspects of a championship team on a consistent basis. Unless you are a fan of any of these or other perennial title contenders, this type of chaos and unpredictability is what makes college basketball one of the most thrilling sports to watch, especially in the postseason. As of now, the search is on for the underrated program that is poised to come out of the woodwork to make a miraculous run towards a spot in the Final Four. Unless you pride yourself as being supernaturally clairvoyant, the tedious quest of trying to discover the ultimate sleeper team will be a futile effort, which is what makes college basketball immensely exciting and anxiety-inducing at the same time.
Oklahoma Sooners (17) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7)
Sadly, the highly prolific offense of the Sooners is now starting to fade into the realm of irrelevance as their horrific defense continues to be to their detriment in every contest they participate in. Having lost four out of their last five games, the Sooners are quickly sliding down the Big 12 standings and are in danger of becoming lost in their well-balanced and competitive conference. Going up against the Red Red Raiders, who are supremely stout defensively, the Sooners will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to reinvigorate their offense while playing enough defense to stave off another shooting barrage by an eager opponent. Although the Red Raiders are not known for being a deadly shooting program, they do receive enough production from starters Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver to be slightly above average offensively. Even if the Sooners find a way to get their offense going, the Red Raiders are too disciplined and intelligent defensively to allow Oklahoma and Trae Young to establish any type of effective rhythm from a scoring perspective.
Final Score: Sooners 68 Red Raiders 73 Spread: Texas Tech -7.0
Virginia Cavaliers (2) vs. Miami Hurricanes (25)
If fans and critics have learned anything from watching college basketball this year it is that if you are blatantly one-dimensional, whether offensively or defensively, you will inevitably be exposed. To be fair, the Cavaliers had looked incredibly dominant on defense and utilized their exceptional discipline to win several low scoring games against great programs. However, their lack of an efficient offense ultimately cost them a close game against a Virginia Tech team that is relentless when it comes to firing off shots from anywhere on the court. Conversely, the Hurricanes have lacked any type of continuity on offense or defense this year, which has allowed them to play more freely but has cost them games against some of the better programs in the ACC. While the scrappy and unpredictable nature of the Hurricanes has helped them defeat some of their opponents, it seems unlikely that this unconventional style will work consistently against a much more disciplined and consistent Cavaliers team.
Final Score: Cavaliers 66 Hurricanes 56 Spread: Virginia -6.5
Villanova Wildcats (3) vs. Xavier Musketeers (4)
Although the Big East Conference as a whole has been fairly unimpressive from a competitive standpoint, Villanova and Xavier both have the potential to at least make the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. With a highly prolific offense that is orchestrated by the mastermind that is coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats are extremely efficient and accurate from anywhere on the court when it comes to shooting the basketball (50.6 FG%, 40.8 3P%). Although the Musketeers may pale in comparison from an accuracy standpoint, they make up for it with a tenacious rebounding squad that is led by Trevon Bluiett (5.6 RPG) and J.P. Macura (4.3 RPG). While the Wildcats may have the better shooters, the Musketeers are much more proficient at garnering extra opportunities off of the offensive glass, an advantage that will give them the edge in what should be an incredibly entertaining shootout.
Final Score: Wildcats 84 Musketeers 87 Spread: Villanova -1.5
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Duke Blue Devils (12)
Despite being a poor team defensively, the Hokies were able to overcome a much more physical and disciplined opponent in Virginia on the road (73.2 PAPG). Doing what all but what other team was unable to accomplish, the Hokies were able to hold the Cavaliers to under 35% shooting from the field while making 43.1% of their overall shots themselves. However, against a Blue Devils team that is far better at shooting, rebounding and moving the ball, the Hokies could be in serious trouble at Cameron Indoor Stadium. From an eye test perspective, the Hokies are almost incapable of garnering offensive rebounds and can often be seen sprinting down to the other end of the court once they know they have missed a shot. Without those extra opportunities, the Hokies will eventually be overwhelmed by a Blue Devils team that has much more length and talent than Virginia Tech possesses.
Final Score: Hokies 72 Blue Devils 83 Spread: Duke -10.5
Arizona Wildcats (17) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (25)
Although the Pac-12 has been severely lacking in nationally renowned matchups this season, the renewed basketball rivalry between Arizona and Arizona State was a thrilling shootout affair the first time around. What makes this rivalry so compelling, at least for this year, is how similar these programs are both offensively and defensively. However, the deciding factor in how this particular contest will play out is what style of offense will win out: quality or quantity. While the Wildcats do not score as many points as the Sun Devils do on a per game basis, they are much more accurate when it comes to taking shots from the field (Wildcats FG%: 51.2, Sun Devils FG% 46.8). Conversely, the Sun Devils take many more shots and are especially deadly from three-point range when all of their shooters establish a favorable rhythm. Although the Wildcats may be the better team overall, the Sun Devils are capable of scoring at a higher rate, which is a significant difference between two teams that are horrible on defense.
Final Score: Wildcats 89 Sun Devils 92 Spread: Arizona -1.0
West Virginia Mountaineers (20) vs. Kansas Jayhawks (13)
Outside of Texas Tech, none of the programs within the Big 12 Conference have looked consistent from a competitive standpoint. While both West Virginia and Kansas have had their moments of looking dominant, their lack of continuity on the defensive side of the court has hurt them tremendously in contests that come down to high-scoring shootouts. As both programs average over 80 points per game, it would be fairly safe to assume that these two conference rivals will attempt to score early and often while neglecting to play any type of defense to stifle the other from scoring. In that regard, Kansas has a clear edge over the Mountaineers as they are much more accurate from the field and are more efficient at moving the ball to the open shooter for an easy shot.
Final Score: Mountaineers 84 Jayhawks 88 Spread: Kansas -3.5
North Carolina Tar Heels (14) vs. Louisville Cardinals
On the brink of falling out the rankings last week, the determined Tar Heels regrouped and committed themselves to the aspects that have allowed them to be great this season: scoring and rebounding. In particular, the Tar Heels gutsy and impressive offensive showing against the Blue Devils was indicative of a program that could go far in the NCAA Tournament if the majority of their players can hit open shots when those opportunities present themselves. Although the Cardinals overall record of 18-8 would appear to be unimpressive from a macro perspective, they have actually been competitive in most of the games they have played in this season. With all but one of their eight losses being by 10 points or less, the Cardinals are a program that clearly has the pieces to score consistently but lacks the physicality to play decent defense down the stretch to close out tight games. While this contest will certainly be close throughout, the Cardinals scrappy offense is not quite proficient enough to overcome a Tar Heels team that is currently hitting its stride.
Final Score: Tar Heels 79 Cardinals 70 Spread: Louisville -1.0
Duke Blue Devils (12) vs. Clemson Tigers (11)
Time and again this season, the Blue Devils have shot themselves in the foot by turning the ball over carelessly and lack the continuity of a veteran team that is needed to play above average defense consistently. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that the Blue Devils boast one of the most efficient and well-rounded offenses in the country, which has surprisingly not been enough on five separate occasions this season. Although the Tigers are nowhere near the Blue Devils as an offensive program, their imposing presence on defense combined with the fact that they are able to take advantage of free three opportunities (75.4 FT%) has helped them overcome injuries and persevere in arguably the most brutal conference in college basketball. While the Blue Devils are more than capable of outshooting and outrebounding the Tigers, Clemson is both more disciplined and experienced, two areas that have cost the Blue Devils winnable games this season.
Final Score: Blue Devils 76 Tigers 80 Spread:
Ohio State Buckeyes (8) vs. Michigan Wolverines (22)
Despite playing in a top-heavy Big 10 Conference, the Buckeyes have never looked discouraged or intimidated by their respective opposition. In their last nine wins, the Buckeyes have held their opponents to 67 total points or less, something that has been vital in them remaining successful despite their average and relatively inconsistent offense (77.1 PPG). While the Wolverines may not be much different from the Buckeyes in terms of their preferred competitive style, they have lacked the defensive consistency needed for them to overcome their erratic offensive struggles. Although both programs are highly competitive and capable of making a lot of noise come March Madness, the Buckeyes have shown more consistency on both sides of the ball recently and will most likely continue that success on the road against another worthy conference opponent.
Final Score: Buckeyes 73 Wolverines 67 Spread:
Wichita State Shockers (19) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (5)
This could very well be the most interesting contest of the week for one compelling reason: these two teams could not be more different in nearly every way. For the Shockers, it’s all about moving the ball effectively and quickly to their open shooters as four of their five starters are averaging a field goal percentage of 49.6% or better this season. On top of that, the Shockers are incredibly deep and can utilize different lineups to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. What the Bearcats lack in notable depth, they make up for with a tenacious defense (eight SPG) that can attack the boards relentlessly to prevent their overzealous opponents from garnering extra opportunities. While the Shockers have the potential to get off to an early lead given their cerebral offense, the Bearcats are built to last as they are more physical and potent when it comes to shutting down their opponents on the defensive end of the court, which has been the Achilles heel for Wichita State then they have struggled this season.
Final Score: Shockers 66 Bearcats 71 Spread: