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Best Bets: Previewing this weekend’s college basketball action

Evansville Kentucky Basketball

Kentucky coach John Calipari urges his team on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Evansville in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Evansville won 67-64. (AP Photo/James Crisp)


Vegas lines will not be released until after this posts. We will be using KenPom’s projections until then.

No. 5 OHIO STATE at No. 6 KENTUCKY, Sat. 5:15 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Ohio State 68, Kentucky 63

This is a weird spot.

On the one hand, Kentucky has not looked good this season. They are currently 15th in KenPom, but there is still some of the preseason ranking baked into KenPom’s algorithm. On the NET - which is a similar metric that strictly analyzes performance this season - Kentucky is sitting at 77th. They have struggled, maybe more than you may realize.

At the same time, Ohio State has looked dominant at times. They steamrolled North Carolina, Villanova and Penn State, they rank in the top five in basically every metric or poll worth paying attention to and they look the part. It sounds like Duane Washington is going to give it a go tomorrow as well, which means the Buckeyes will have their best shooter and second-best scorer available.

Throw in the fact that Kentucky is coming off of a loss to Utah, and all signs point towards the Buckeyes.

But we’ve also seen this script before. I’ve seen this play out. Kentucky struggles and struggles and struggles and then, BAM, out of nowhere it suddenly clicks and they are a top ten team once again. Last year, they lost to Seton Hall in overtime and then turned around and whipped both North Carolina and Louisville, the latter of which came on the road.

BEST BET: I lean Ohio State here, especially if the line opens around (-3), but I also know that the reason Kentucky struggled against Utah is that it was the most obvious lookahead spot in the history of college basketball. If Washington doesn’t play, I think under 131 is probably the best bet here, but I don’t feel great about any of it.

No. 1 KANSAS at No. 18 VILLANOVA, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM: Kansas 75, Villanova 74

First things first: If I am getting a point with Villanova playing at home, I am probably going to be betting on Villanova in this spot. Jay Wright teams always seem to play well against Kansas because the Jayhawks like to play bigs and the Wildcats like to space the floor with shooters.

But beyond that, I am very intrigued by this matchup because this is the game that is going to tell us if Udoka Azubuike can handle playing the five in the modern game.

When the Jayhawks played Dayton in the Maui Invitational title game, Azubuike is the guy that won the game for them down the stretch. He took over offensively because he is just so dominant as a low-post scorer, but where he really took strides was on the defensive end of the floor. He was able to move his feet and defend Obi Toppin and Ryan Mikesell just enough on the perimeter that he ended up being a net-positive.

He is going to have to do much of the same against a Villanova team that plays a similar style to Dayton.

BEST BET: I really want to see the line here first, but assuming that it is Villanova (+1), I’ll probably take their money line.

PURDUE at No. 17 BUTLER, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (BTN)

  • KENPOM: Purdue 59, Butler 58

Purdue’s profile is over-inflated right now. They are a top ten team on KenPom, and I just can’t buy into that. Butler might be a bit overrated by the metrics as well, but they’ve done more to prove themselves this season than anyone of the other teams playing at the Crossroads Classic on Saturday.

BEST BET: If you see a line where Butler is getting points, jump on it. I like the Bulldogs up to about (-3.5)

VCU at WICHITA STATE, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM: Wichita State 70, VCU 66

This game is a tough one to peg. I think a lot of it depends on who you believe is going to control the tempo.

VCU pressures the ball, they force a lot of turnovers and they do a lot of their damage in transition off of those turnovers. Wichita State, on the other hand, is top 15 nationally in offensive turnover rate and should be able to get to the offensive glass against the Rams. On the other side of the ball, I think the Rams are gong to have some trouble playing against Gregg Marshall’s defense, especially if this game gets turned into a halfcourt battle.

BEST BET: At 136, I think that I lean towards the under, but for my money, the best bet here would be Wichita State (-4).

UTAH STATE vs. FLORIDA, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Florida 68, Utah State 65

The question we need to ask here is whether or not we believe that the win against Providence was a result of Florida figuring some things out or because Providence is just a dumpster fire right now.

Because if we think that Florida is figuring some things out - if they are more willing to run, and they are making threes, and they are scoring like a team with that much talent should score - than I think the easy play here is the over.

BEST BET: The Aggies have some guys that can fill it up. They’ve been more willing to run this season than Florida has. They’re not great defensively. To me, the over makes the most sense.

No. 13 DAYTON vs. COLORADO, Sat. 6:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • KENPOM: Dayton 73, Colorado 69

This is Dayton’s last chance to land a big, non-conference win, and it will come against a Colorado team that has been a bit of a disappointment this season. The Flyers can play five out, have shooting all over floor and a guy by the name of Obi Toppin. Colorado has a couple of land warriors in the paint and do not have Obi Toppin.

BEST BET: Dayton (-4)