College basketball predictions: Take one underdog and one favorite
Nine ranked college basketball teams are in action on Saturday, but most have been installed as prohibitive favorites. Im dipping into that well, targeting one national power to win in a romp.
As for my first play, theres a downtrodden program that just got a major shot in the arm begging to take the court on Saturday.
Ohio State vs. West Virginia (in Cleveland)
If you go purely by the advanced stats, this should be a Buckeyes runaway. Evan Miya ranks the Ohio State offense 20th nationally, and thats impressive given the fact that it doesnt rely on the 3-point shot.
Ohio State has four starters who average double digits, led by Bruce Thornton (17.4 ppg). The Buckeyes point guard makes it all go.
The Buckeyes rank 300th in terms of rim-and-three rate, which means it beats you in the mid-range, a rarity in the modern game. Ohio State also is ruthless on the offensive glass (13th in rebounding percentage).
But despite borderline elite play on offense, Ohio State is just 4-7 against the spread as a favorite, and thats with some tremendous foul-shooting luck. Opponents are shooting just 63.1 percent on free throws, the seventh-worst percentage in the country.
So why the sudden urge to back a 5-7 team down its starting center (Jesse Edwards)? It has to do with a major win the Mountaineers scored recently. Not on the court, but in the courthouse.
A federal judge in West Virginia placed a temporary hold on an NCAA rule (NCAA Division I Bylaw 220.127.116.11) requiring certain student-athletes who transferred schools to wait a year before competing in games. This has granted RaeQuan Battle instant eligibility.
Bruce Thornton, who is the Buckeyes’ leading scorer, goes up for a layup during Ohio State’s 67-60 win over UCLA earlier in the season. APThe talented wing has changed the Mountaineers offense overnight, pouring in 59 points in two games on 49 percent shooting from the field. And critically, he has attacked the basket and forced defenses to play off of his teammates.
Battle has attempted 23 foul shots in those two games and as an 84 percent career foul shooter, he could single handedly keep West Virginia in this game.
With Big Ten play starting in earnest for Ohio State next week, I would play this down to WVU +8.5.
Recommendation: West Virginia +9.5.
Florida Atlantic at Florida Gulf Coast
FAU shocked the world last spring, making a run all the way to the Final Four. What if I told you that this years team might even be better?
The Owls have challenged themselves with three non-conference games against top-20 competition. They scored 96 points against both Texas A&M and Arizona, and gave Illinois a 40-minute fight at the Garden during the Jimmy V Classic.
They have exceptional guard play and can string together runs by bombing away from deep. Johnell Davis (44.7 percent) and Jalen Gaffney (56.5 percent) are lethal from 3-point range and that should continue to be the case against FGCU.
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The Eagles fail to rotate properly in the halfcourt and lose shooters in transition. Thats why opponents are draining 39.4 percent of their attempts from deep (353rd).
But the main reason Im buying FAU is the improved play of center Vlad Goldin. The seven-footer was a contributor last spring, but hes a borderline star this year.
Goldin is averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and 2.5 stocks (steals plus blocks) per game, all while shooting 74.2 percent from the field. He should have a major impact on the glass in this game because FGCU struggles to box out and ranks 311th in defensive rebounding.
Even with a predictable letdown after upsetting Arizona, FAU still will run FGCU and their matador defense off the court. I would play this up to FAU -23.5.
Recommendation: Florida Atlantic -15.5.
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