If I were asked to rank times in the sport of the year, right now it’s early March when the conference tournaments start, and weekday afternoons filled with college basketball games are near the top. Definitely the top five.
What? Aren’t you home watching the Sun Belt Tournament games too? Is it even basketball?
Seriously, while Sun Belt basketball may not be for everyone, it’s the first real sign that the March craze has officially begun, and we’ll soon have the NCAA tournament filling up our weekends. Factor in that I’m not sure there’s a truly elite team in the country this year, and it gets even more exciting to think about.
In other news, if I could rank the stories for you to read today, these are the ones I would choose:
Now let’s get ready for the March madness by betting on three highly rated college basketball teams.
All Eastern times, all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The hot ticket
Arizona State at No. 4 UCLA, 9 p.m. | Television: ESPN
UCLA Bruins – 11.5.0 Update
- main direction: Arizona State has gone 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games.
- The Pick: UCLA -11.5 (-110)
While this is an exciting time of year in college basketball, it can also be a strange time. The minor conferences have started their seasons, but the major leagues will wrap up the regular season this weekend. When you combine top nights across the country with some bands just getting ready to wrap it up, strange things happen.
I don’t see anything strange going on here. I know I just wrote above that there aren’t any truly elite teams in the country this year, and while I stand by them, UCLA is one of the few teams I feel confident in. I’d be surprised if they didn’t make it to Sweet 16 minimum. They’ve been one of the most consistent teams in the country this season and are going into the night on an eight-game winning streak.
It should stretch to nine, and it should get there easily. Arizona State is a bubble team, and a win tonight would go a long way toward cementing their status, but the Bruins are playing for the top seed (the Pac-12 regular season crown is being sealed). More than sowing, this is not a good match for sun devils. UCLA is the best defense in the Pac-12, and Arizona is struggling to score. He relies on scoring on the inside, but UCLA defends well in the paint.
UCLA is also the superior rebounding team, so while it’s not a great shooting team, its rebounding edge and ability to avoid turnovers (and force them onto the defensive end) means we’ll likely see UCLA get extra possessions tonight. It happened in the first meeting (UCLA attempted 73 shots and free throws compared to Arizona’s 61), and the Bruins won 74-62 in Tempe. Things would have gotten out of control had the Sun Devils not fired 41% of the third that night.
Here’s what SportsLine says about the game: The projection model and I agree on the spread, but he thinks there is more value over the total.
💰 More college basketball picks
Wichita State at No. 1 Houston, 7 p.m. | Television: ESPN2.0
Houston Cougars -16.5
Pick: Houston -16.5 (-110) – I’ve said I’m confident in UCLA this year, but I’m not nearly as confident in Houston. To be clear, I think the Cougars are very good and one of the best teams in the country. They can run deep and possibly win it all. The problem is that it’s hard to tell how good they really are because of the league they’re in.
The Coogs are 27-2, but they’ve played a schedule that ranks 102nd nationally, according to KenPom. Yes, they’re 4-1 against Quad 1 and 8-0 against Quad 2, but that’s 15 games total in those two quarters. For context, Kansas has 15 of the first four wins. not games, Wins.
Fortunately, none of that matters tonight. Houston is a much better team than Wichita State, and it’s senior night for the Cogs. I wouldn’t be shocked if this turned into more of a celebration than a basketball game in the second half, so there is some concern of a back cover by the Shockers, but I think the Coogs could potentially win by 20+.
No. 5 Purdue in Wisconsin, 9 p.m. | TV: FS1
Wisconsin Badgers +4
The Pick: Wisconsin +4 (-110) – Purdue started February with an 80-60 win over Penn State improving their record to 22-1. The Boilermakers have lost four of six since then. It appears that the reliance on freshman guards is starting to catch up with them as the Big Ten schedule begins to erode.
Now Purdue is hitting the road against a Wisconsin team that needs a win on Senior Night. The Badgers are in the bubble, and a win would be a huge boost to their chances of an overall bid. It would also help the Badgers to the Big Ten Championship, as they would currently be the No. 11 seed in the conference and would have to play on Day 1. I don’t know the Badgers are going to get a win tonight, but I expect they will make things very difficult for a Purdue team that is struggling to find its bearings.
🔒 Sports day selection: The new Formula 1 season starts this weekend and Mike McClure has everything you need to know if you’re looking to bet on the Bahrain Grand Prix.