Scott Shapiro's Saturday college basketball preview
The last Saturday of the regular season offers college basketball bettors a number of big-time matchups, before most conference tournaments kickoff next week.
Here are a few games I like most, from a wagering perspective.
#1 Kansas at Texas Tech, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Jayhawks have been on quite a roll since they lost at home to Baylor on Jan. 11. They have won 15 consecutive games and appear poised to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas has been great on both ends of the floor, and the Jayhawks are the only team in the country that ranks in the top eight in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, but it is their second-ranked defense that stands out most.
Texas Tech is just 18-12 but is better than its record suggests. Chris Beard’s team is nowhere near as efficient on offense as it was during a run to the National Championship Game game a year ago, but it is still extremely well coached and plays great defense.
When these teams met Feb. 1 at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas outlasted the Red Raiders, 78-75. I expect this to be another tight game, but for the defenses to do a better job containing the opposition. Look for this one to be a grinder.
Rutgers at Purdue, 2 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Rutgers got a huge win Tuesday night against Maryland to all but lock up a spot in the Big Dance. The Scarlet Knights have proven they can beat just about anyone in Piscataway this season, but they have yet to show they can outscore quality opponents away from home. They'll get their last chance Saturday against Purdue.
The Boilermakers lost four in a row in the middle of February, but have locked in on the defensive end over the last two games, wins at home against in-state rival Indiana and at Iowa. They are still on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament, because of their 16-14 record, but a win against Rutgers and a run in the Big Ten Tournament could earn them a spot in the field of 68.
Rutgers shot way better than normal in its victory in New Jersey earlier this week and went 7-for-16 from three-point range. Considering the Scarlet Knights rank 316th in the country in three-point shooting percentage (30.1%), it is likely they will regress to the mean in a hostile environment this weekend. They are also not likely to face a squad that goes 6-for-32 from distance, like Maryland did.
Purdue appears to be playing its best basketball of the season. Expect the Boilermakers to handle Rutgers on senior night.
Butler at Xavier, 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
Xavier fell behind early in their road game Wednesday night and trailed the red-hot Providence Friars by 13 at the half, but the Musketeers showed a lot of grit to battle back and make a game of it. Xavier sits squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs were 15-1 at one point in January, then dropped eight of 12 games in a bad stretch, but have come back to life recently. They have won two straight in Big East play, but those came at home against bottom dwellers St. John’s and DePaul. Butler will face a tough task to the end regular season with a win in Cincinnati, against a desperate Xavier squad that they beat in their initial meeting, 66-61.
Xavier passes the eye test and has been playing high-quality basketball, despite the road loss earlier this week. Look for junior forward Naji Marshall and senior Tyrique Jones to carry the Musketeers to a much-needed win on senior night.