College basketball predictions: Oklahoma a live underdog vs. Kansas
With top-10 teams dropping games to unranked opponents left and right, it might be time to target a ranked matchup.
On Saturday, theres only one to choose from, so lets start with the Sooners and Jayhawks at Phog Allen.
Oklahoma at Kansas
Prter Moser is a great coach but not a miracle worker. He didnt find success at Loyola Chicago until Year 4, and in his first two seasons at Oklahoma, he had cobbled together a mediocre record of 34-33 overall and a dismal 12-24 mark in Big 12 play.
But this season its finally all clicking in Norman.
The Sooners are hanging their hat on their defense this season. Oklahoma has earned a top-20 defensive ranking, according to both KenPom and Bart Torvik.
Oklahoma has done it by rarely giving up uncontested looks in the halfcourt and pressuring the basketball. The Sooners rank eighth in opponent effective field-goal percentage and turn teams over on 16.7 percent of their possessions.
Given that the Jayhawks rely so heavily on two players (Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr.), I believe Moser will have another defensive game plan that keeps OU in the game for 40 minutes.
Dickinson and McCullar account for 49 percent of the Jayhawks scoring and 46 percent of their shot attempts from the field. A sharp defensive mind like Moser will find a way to take one of them out of their groove, just as UCF did when it held Dickinson to 12 points on nine attempts in an upset earlier this week.
Kansas center Hunter Dickinson APAs for the Sooners offensive approach, it has been a group effort, with Moser calling on eight players to log 18-plus minutes per game.
Moser has effectively mixed and matched his lineups without sacrificing efficiency on the offensive end. This is really where his coaching acumen has shined. The Sooners rank second in the conference in true shooting percentage, while relying heavily on their backcourt to make it all go.
Javian McCollum, a Siena transfer, has been a revelation at the point, averaging 15 points and four assists while knocking down nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. He has joined in the backcourt by Otega Oweh, an up-and-down sophomore mired in a bit of a shooting slump. After averaging 15 points on 60 percent shooting from the field in December, hes gone cold in January (20 percent FG).
If Oweh can regain his shooting form, the Sooners will flirt with an outright upset in this top-10 battle.
Recommendation: Oklahoma +6. Play to +3.
Western Carolina at Mercer
Western Carolina is a dangerous team this season, posting a 14-2 record straight up and a profitable 8-5 mark against the spread.
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It all starts with Vonterius Woolbright, who recently headlined the Lou Henson Award midseason watch list. The Henson Award is given to the top mid-major basketball player, and Woolbright averages 21.0 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists, which explains why hes the leader at the halfway point.
Mercer is going to struggle with Western in this spot because of its issues on the glass. Thanks to Woolbright rebounding so well from his guard position, the Catamounts are the 37th-best defensive rebounding team by percentage.
Mercer struggles to consistently knock down shots (247th in shooting efficiency), so denying them second-chance buckets will be the story in this one.
The same goes for turnovers. Western rarely turns the ball over (55th) and thats been Mercers calling card this season. Without those easy transition buckets, Mercer will experience long scoring lulls.
Recommendation: Western Carolina -3. Play to -6.5.
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