Conference play is getting close, but a number of top-tier programs are looking for a resume builder to end 2018.
Here are my thoughts on a few of Saturday’s biggest games in college hoops. (Picks will be added when spreads come out on Friday evening)
UCLA Bruins vs. #14 Ohio State Buckeyes
(Saturday, Dec 22nd – 3 pm ET)
The first half of the 2018 CBS Sports Classic in Chicago pits two teams coming off lackluster efforts against inferior opponents last Saturday. One of them rebounded with a strong performance this week while the other one did not.
The Buckeyes may have been rusty off a ten-day break when they squeaked by Bucknell 73-71 in Columbus last weekend, but they got a nice tune-up for this one with a 75-56 win against lowly Youngstown State on Tuesday evening. Unlike UCLA, the Buckeyes have proven they can beat quality competition away from home with victories at Cincinnati and Creighton.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann has to be happy with his team’s 10-1 start despite losing Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. Their only loss came at home against Syracuse who held the Buckeyes to just 15 for 46 from the field and outscored them 43-31 in the second half.
I do not expect them to contend for the Big Ten title, but they should at least be good enough to make the NCAA tournament behind a solid defense and the play of 6-9 sophomore Kaleb Wesson, who is averaging 16.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Things have not gone quite so well for UCLA over their first eleven games. They have been blown out in their two biggest games of the season against Michigan State and North Carolina on neutral courts, and then went on to lose in Westwood to Belmont last Saturday 74-72. I expected them to play well on Wednesday night in Cincinnati, but they were routed again, 93-64, by the Bearcats.
The Bruins struggle to create turnovers, have been terrible from the free throw line, and have lacked toughness in 2018. They are extremely hard to back until further notice. Look for Ohio State to win their eleventh game of the year in the “Windy City.”
Pick- Ohio State (-5)
#18 Kentucky Wildcats vs. #10 UNC Tar Heels
(Saturday, Dec 22nd – 5:15 pm ET)
In the second half of the doubleheader in the United Center, two blue-bloods meet in a game that should entertain those who love scoring.
North Carolina comes off a huge win last weekend against Gonzaga. One of the nation’s best offensive teams was on full display in Chapel Hill that night as the Tarheels shot 13 for 25 from the 3-point line and crushed the Bulldogs on the boards (42 to 21) en route to a 103-90 win against Mark Few’s squad.
UNC should have success from downtown again in this one against a Kentucky team that has really struggled to guard the deep ball over their first ten contests. However, UK is all but certain to hold their own on the glass making things more difficult for North Carolina than they had it against the Zags a week ago.
Kentucky has won 8 of 10 games to start the year, but they have yet to beat a team ranked in Ken Pom’s top 100. They are solid in most facets of the game, but lack a true superstar and have not played defense at anywhere near the level we have come to expect of them.
The Wildcats should be ready to play a good one on Saturday though as they get to play a top-tier opponent for the first time since getting demolished by Duke on November 6th, 118-84. I expect them to be at their best against the Tarheels on Saturday in what should be a high-scoring, up and down affair.
Pick- OVER (166)
#1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. #19 Arizona State Sun Devils
(Saturday, Dec 22nd – 3 pm ET)
Kansas heads to Tempe a perfect 10-0 and ranked number 1 in the country, but I have not been wowed by what I have seen from the Jayhawks thus far in 2018. They certainly have a dynamic duo in Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick but are clearly missing 7-foot junior big man Udoka Azubuike who is still out with a sprained ankle. I am leery to lay points with them in a hostile environment in their first true road game of the year.
Kansas has played on neutral courts three times, including a game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City against New Mexico State. The Jayhawks were only able to win one of those games by more than five points. Without Azubuike I wonder if they have what it takes to be dominant away from home. A lot will depend on the play of freshman point guard Devon Dotson who has impressed thus far but has to do it away from home on Saturday night.
Arizona State got off to a 7 and 0 start for head coach Bobby Hurley but has lost two of their last three. I can forgive them though since they had a grueling three-game stretch against undefeated Nevada, at Georgia, and at Vanderbilt. I was particularly impressed with their effort against Nevada in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic where they led most of the way before the extremely talented Wolf Pack got the best of them late.
Arizona State returns to the Wells Fargo Arena for the first time since December 7th and they should be primed to play a big one in front of a raucous crowd against the nation’s top-ranked team. I like their chances to not only cover the spread but potentially spring the upset.
Pick- Arizona State (+4)