It’s a huge day of college hoops, starting at noon with Arizona and Michigan and rolling all the way until the evening matchup of Oregon and Illinois and one of the better and most underrated rivalries in the country with the Crosstown Shootout between Xavier and Cincinnati.
The marquee game of the day is Kentucky traveling to Chapel Hill to take on the Tarheels. I’m staying away from an official pick, given the mercurial nature of both teams – especially North Carolina, but I will be glued to the set as a fan. It should be a fantastic game.
So without further ado, let’s dig into a trio of great matchups today.
Arizona Wildcats at Michigan Wolverines -3
Arizona is the number one team in the country, but playing at a raucous sold-out Chrysler Arena is a tough task for any team. Michigan has won 20 straight non-conference games at home dating all the way back to a 2011 overtime loss to Kansas. Arizona has passed every tough test so far this season, including a neutral court win over Duke and a road win at San Diego State They looked sluggish last weekend against UNLV, but I expect the bright lights and national television audience to bring out the best in Sean Miller’s balanced and savvy team.
Michigan is a disappointing 6-3, but their losses have been against good opponents. They lost at Iowa State and at Duke, and dropped a 63-61 neutral court game to a better-than-advertised Charlotte squad. However, their only real quality win is over Florida State 82-80.
I expected Arizona to open as a slight favorite and was surprised when the game was a pick ‘em. It has now ballooned all the way to -2.5 or -3 in the Wolverines’ favor. I’ll gladly take advantage of it. Winning on the road is tough, but Arizona is a significantly better and more tested team in 2013. I think they can go on the road and win outright, but I’ll gladly take Nick Johnson and three points.
Notre Dame at Indiana Hoosiers -4.5
Notre Dame has been one of the more under-achieving teams in the country so far this season, with no quality wins and losses to non-top 50 teams at home comprising their 6-3 record. Indiana has taken some losses as well, but they have been to Syracuse on the road and UConn at the buzzer in NYC. This is a young, but talented Hoosier team that is getting better every week.
Indiana is significantly more athletic than the Irish. I like Indiana to exploit Notre Dame’s inability to defend in the half court and to get a lot of good offensive looks for their big and varied offensive attack. Look for Ferrell to control the game and outplay Atkins, and look for Indiana’s interior to force Notre Dame to abandon their small lineup. There is no way Connaughton can guard Noah Vonleh, which will force them to go big (therefore, SLOW).
It’s a bad matchup for Notre Dame. The great equalizer is their good outside shooting ability, but I don’t think they can make enough threes to stay in this game. Give me the Hoosiers defending their home state.
Illinois Fighting Illini at Oregon Ducks -7
Illinois is 9-1, but they haven’t left home much this season. When they did leave home to play a reasonable opponent, they lost at Georgia Tech (who isn’t exactly a tourney team). They have home wins over Valpo, Auburn… and that’s about it. A cross-country trip to Oregon is going to be a tough task.
Oregon is a solid 8-0 with wins over Ole Miss and Georgetown. But like, Illinois, they haven’t played too many quality opponents outside their two marquee wins. However, this team is really talented and has an opportunity to be a real legit national contender, especially once Dominic Artis returns. UNLV transfer Mike Moser has integrated into the offense and is averaging a second-high 15.0 ppg. Another transfer, former Houston star Joseph Young is averaging 20.1 ppg and shooting nearly 54% from the floor and almost 50% from behind the arc. I like them both to play big tonight and for their high-octane offense to overwhelm Illinois.