NCAAB Picks 2.15.19

Clemson Tigers at Louisville Cardinals -4.5, Under 131.5

Louisville enter this game on the wrong side of one of the biggest and most televised come backs of the season. The Cardinals came out on fire against the highly rated Blue Devils but were unable to handle the late pressure and dynamic offensive weapons.  They face a different challenge on Saturday with the Clemson Tigers in need of a marquee victory to put themselves back in contention for the NCAA tournament.

Like Louisville, Clemson is coming off a weekday loss to the Miami Hurricanes.  The loss brought an end to the Tigers four game win streak which saw them reemerge as a potential contender in the top heavy ACC. 

Chris Mack has proven his toughness as a coach and his team will back him up on Saturday. Clemson, despite being 21st in scoring defense, has their struggles with perimeter teams as they rank a dismal 279th in three-point field goal percentage defense (35.9 percent) this season. This will be a slow-paced game that will be controlled by the superior strength of Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton and Jordan Nwora.  I like the Cardinals to cover and the under

Maryland Terrapins at Michigan Wolverines -6

First instinct says that the Michigan Wolverines are getting to many points against a Maryland team that has taken two straight from Nebraska and the red-hot Purdue Boilermakers.  The difference for Maryland will be the defensive juggernaut Michigan.  John Teske and company will look to force the ball out of the hands of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, packing the defense on the interior and force the guards to make plays.

Michigan is 15-0 at home, Maryland has while Maryland is 0-18 on the road against top 25 teams.  Michigan is 9-1 ATS after a straight up loss. I see Maryland struggling on the road against causing a double-digit loss.

Tennessee Volunteers +3 at Kentucky Wildcats

Despite Tennessee’s record their still seems to be some debate about whether they are at the top of the SEC pecking order.  Entering this game as a 3-point dog seems like a bit of a surprise. The Volunteers will bring their veterans into a hostile environment that they have seen before.

On the season, the Volunteers are fifth in the nation with 85.4 point per game, while also just allowing 68.5 points per contest. They are also efficient with their shots, making them even more dangerous.  Tennessee is seventh nationally with a high 57.0 effective field goal percentage.

The Wildcats have made big improvements since their beatdown on opening night. They will be a force to reckon with in March but for now this Tennessee team is on a mission to dominate the SEC.  Grant Williams will be the player to watch, Kentucky will have no answer for him on Saturday.  Bet the Volunteers, consider the moneyline.

Other games:

Auburn -9.5

Drake -5         

Virginia Tech/ Pittsburgh over 133

UCF/ Memphis under 150     

Final Four Picks

Loyola- Chicago Ramblers vs. Michigan Wolverines (-5.5)

The Final Four begins on Saturday with a matchup of two teams that play a similar style.  Strong defense and efficient shooting will be the name of the game.  While this game is not considered the main course of the evening it will be the most expensive appetizer the menu can offer.

When breaking down the South Region of the NCAA tournament bracket I listed Loyola-Chicago as a potential bracket buster.  When I said that I really only saw them winning the first two rounds.  They have shocked myself and the world be making it all the way through the region.  Last second shoots and supreme offensive and defensive basketball lead them to the Final Four, no one can argue they earned it.  Miami had better athletes, Tennessee was better defensively, Nevada had multiple better scorers, and Kansas State was just bigger, but none of that mattered to the Ramblers besting each playing their brand of basketball.  Talk all you want about Sister Jean, this team is good and they have a great chance on Saturday. But I have to follow my instinct on this game.

While the Ramblers are a great story, every story has two possible endings.  Happy or Sad.  Saturday the Michigan Wolverines will play the role of antagonist.  Talk all you want about Michigan having an “easy” journey to the Final Four.  They took care of business in each game the way their fellow higher seeds could not.  They imposed their will on other teams by smothering them defensively and hitting the big shots.  Moritz Wagner will force the lone big man for the Ramblers Caleb Krutwig out of the paint which will open up lanes for Charles Mathews to drive with little to no resistance.  Clayton Custer will still make plays but to see another day of above 50% shooting against a John Beilen coached team is just not believable.

The Ramblers will keep it close but eventually Michigan will impose their will on the smaller team. I see Michigan winning by double digits, I will take the 5.5 and run with it.

Michigan to win and taking the points -5.5

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Villanova Wildcats (-5)

While chaos was the theme of the South and West sides of the bracket, two #1 seeds made their way out to the East and Midwest.  A battle of two top programs as well as top coaches of our generation takes place on Saturday as the Jayhawks take on the Wildcats. This is the main event of the evening and the world seems split on who will come out on top.

Senior guards will be the main focus with AP Player of the Year Villanova’s Jalen Brunson takes on All-Big 12 point guard Devonte Graham.  Villanova has made already taken down two top level Big12 teams defeating both West Virginia and Texas Tech on their way to the Final Four and all the advantages seem to lean towards Nova in this matchup.  Multiple scoring options for Villanova make them very dangerous. I believe they will look to attack Udoka Azubuike early to force Bill Self to put in freshman Silvio De Sousa.  De Sousa showed immaturity in the Elite Eight matchup with Duke nearly costing Kansas the game. If De Sousa is forced into actions and makes similar mistakes Villanova has the experience to bury the Jayhawks.

I am a huge fan of the job Bill Self has done this year. He has taken his least talented team in years to the Final Four.  That has to be respected.  Ultimately Villanova is the better team and will advance.  While I believe Villanova will advance I am looking at Kansas to cover the 5 points.

Villanova Wins, Kansas covers +5

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Key to success: Gary Trent Jr.

The Duke Blue Devils pulled off a miraculous comeback Monday night against the Miami Hurricanes.  While multiple factors lead to the Miami meltdown, it was freshman Shooting Guard Gary Trent Jr.  that provided the consistency and leadership normally seen by upperclassman.

The Apple Valley, Minnesota native carried the Blue Devils scoring 30 points while shooting 6 of 9 from three point range.  Trent Jr.’s sharpshooting was the lone highlight offensively for the first 30 minutes of the Monday’s ACC showdown. While fellow freshman phenom’s like Marvin Bagley and Wendall Carter tend to steal the headlines it has been Trent Jr.’s consistent play that has been the backbone of the Duke frontline.  Grayson Allen and Trevon Duvall continue to be inconsistent on both ends of the court, while Trent Jr. continues to be the most reliable guard option for Coach K. Trent  Jr. brings the skill and poise of a veteran, with 1:23 left in the game Miami down 73-70 Trent Jr. was the one that stepped into a top of the key three and sealed the deal for the Blue Devils.  His ability to sink a shot of that magnitude without a second thought was a defining moment in the still young season.  It is time for Duke to utilize their dynamic shooting guard in new roles.

As ACC play continues to intensify Duke will have to have better guard play, with Grayson Allen’s jumper a complete mess and Trevon Duvall’s poor decision making, Trent Jr. will have to be the player Duke relies on in clutch situations.  When Duvall gets in his own head Coach K has to move Trent Jr. to the point if he wants this young team to make a real impact in March.  While Trent Jr. may be more effective play the contrary role in the offense, his level headed decision making can be an asset when things begin to unravel.  The movement to the point can allow fellow shooters freshman Alex O’Connell and Grayson Allen play their more familiar roles.

Gary Trent Jr. won’t be the highest draft pick on this Duke team, he may not have the best career, but he brings so much intelligence to the game of basketball.  In today’s basketball sharpshooters with length have become the new blue print of success, he may not stay at Duke for as long as he should but if he does give the fans a chance to watch him develop we could see a guy that becomes one of the best Duke players of all time.