We aren’t in March yet, but the madness has begun. As of right now, we’re starting to see the legitimate number one seeds emerge. As this past week wrapped up, the picture got a little clearer.
Louisville made perhaps the biggest slide of anyone in the Top 25, dropping from #5 to #11, following a pair of losses to unranked teams. Right after Seton Hall’s return to the Top 10, they lost to both Creighton and Providence.
I already went over Myles Powell’s horrendous game against Creighton, but I didn’t go over the performance against Providence. In the game, Myles had 27 points. Delusional fans will tell you he had an amazing game, but the team came up short. The more I’ve watched Powell, the more I realize he’s the 2020 version of former Ole Miss “Star”, Marshall Henderson. Averaging 9.3 three-point attempts per game, Myles is shooting just 31% from deep and 40% from the field.
Against Providence, Powell committed seven turnovers. On the season, he’s got a negative assist to turnover margin (2.3 assists to 2.8 turnovers per game). Enough about Seton Hall; here is the rest of the Top 10, aside from Louisville, that are still hanging in there.
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The Top 10
#1 – Baylor (24-1)
Baylor may be the number one team, but they don’t impress me much. Baylor struggles to score and though their defense has been amazing, their offensive ceiling isn’t very high. This past week, Baylor’s defense smothered West Virginia, beating them at their own game and held the Mountaineers to 34.5% from the field. Jared Butler and his hot shooting night (5-7 from deep) was more than enough for Baylor to get out to a solid lead and cruise to an 11-point victory.
Davion Mitchell (9 assists) spread the ball around well and facilitated an effective, solid offensive strategy. Baylor forced 22 turnovers and though they didn’t win on the boards, their efficient shooting was enough to pace their team against West Virginia. On Tuesday, Baylor shut down Oklahoma by holding them to just 36.5% from the field, winning the rebounding battle (+2) and turnovers (+4). This week, Baylor will again face #3 Kansas on Saturday, looking to sweep the season series.
#2 – Gonzaga (26-1)
Gonzaga, in the big picture, doesn’t have a convincing resume. It’s not that they haven’t played impressive basketball, it’s just an untested resume. Last week, Gonzaga pulled away in the second half from what was a tie game at 43-43 early in the second half. Gonzaga got a little more efficient with their shooting and rebounding as the game wore on and were able to avoid disaster on the road.
Filip Petrusev scored 27 and pulled down 12 rebounds and the Zags shot 47% from three and 49% from the floor. It was a pretty standard outcome, given the numbers overall. Gonzaga was +7 on rebounding but their -2 differential in turnovers (12 turnovers) kept Pepperdine in the game longer than they should’ve been. Gonzaga will face San Francisco late Thursday night, four games away from the conference tournament.
#3 – Kansas (23-3)
The Jayhawks extended their win streak to 11 games following two solid performances over the weekend and earlier this week. The Jayhawks destroyed Oklahoma by 17 as Udoka Azubuke and Marcus Garrett dominated the game for Kansas.
Azibuke pulled down 17 rebounds and Garrett went 6-9 from deep and had seven assists. Kansas was +11 on the boards and shot 50% from three (49% from the field). Earlier this week, Kansas thumped shorthanded Iowa State at home. Devon Dotson was the talisman this time around, going 11-14 from the field, 6-8 from deep, and tallying 29 points. Kansas again owned the boards (+11) as their hot shooting (57% from the field) continued. The game was relatively close until the second half. It was then that Kansas burned through the depleted Cyclones. The Jayhawks will face #1 Baylor in a Saturday showdown, before a quick turnaround for a Monday game against Oklahoma State.
#4 – San Diego State (26-0)
Guess how many straight games San Diego State has won? The answer is every game they’ve played this season. The Aztecs schedule has died down lately. On Sunday, San Diego State traveled to Idaho to face a Boise State team who has been decent across the season, but they certainly aren’t the quality of an NCAA tournament team.
The Aztecs were +7 on turnover differential but even on rebounding differential. It didn’t seem to really matter a whole lot. Malachi Flynn shot 4-9 from three and led the team with 22 points. Flynn is the creator and facilitator in this offense and his 22/6/6 split was critical for the Aztecs Sunday, as they shot 56% from the field and really won this game via offensive efficiency. Their 17-point victory was impressive but the lack of size in the frontcourt and depth in the frontcourt is worrisome moving forward. This week, they’ll play UNLV at home on Saturday.
#5 – Dayton (24-2)
Dayton keeps on winning. Their streak is up to 15 straight games but the questions about their defense remains. It’s interesting to think about what could happen when this ball screen-heavy offense faces tougher defenses outside their conference. For now, they can only control what’s within their schedule now, and Dayton has done a terrific job streaking through the Atlantic 10.
Dayton knocked off UMass on Saturday. It was not a clean effort from Dayton overall. They shot the ball well (53% from the field and 54% from three) but their foul shooting was bad (59%). Despite their rebounding advantage (+4) and the poor shooting of UMass (38% from the field and 20% from three), Dayton committed 17 turnovers (+8). The turnovers were especially impactful when you consider how much better Dayton was on the stat sheet. Obi Toppin kept his name in the conversation for player of the year after dropping 19 points and seven rebounds. In Dayton’s Tuesday game against VCU, Dayton was -10 in rebounds and -3 in turnovers and they still won.
It’s not as if Dayton shot the lights out (45% from the field and 35% from three). Where Dayton won this game was from the foul line. Dayton converted 22-31 free throws in the game and VCU shot very poorly (37% from the field and 29% from three). It wasn’t an atrocious effort from VCU offensively, but they simply couldn’t convert the big opportunities. For Dayton, they really dodged a bullet considering they were dominated on the glass, lost the turnover battle, and didn’t exactly shoot that well. Jalen Crutcher was the guy on Tuesday, going for 18 points a perfect 8-8 from the line.
#6 – Duke (22-4)
Duke shot the lights out on Saturday. Midway through the first half, Duke took control of this game and rolled to a lopsided home victory. Duke shot 57% from the field, 46% from three, and went 6-7 from the line. Duke was +5 on turnovers and +10 on the boards in a resounding 34-point win. Wednesday night couldn’t have been more opposite.
Duke traveled to NC State to face the Wolfpack. NC State got out to a 10-1 start and controlled the entire game in a dominant offensive and defensive effort. Duke was -8 on the boards and -3 on turnovers, but the big story was NC State’s shooting. The Wolfpack went 45% from the field and 61% from deep. Markell Johnson put up 28 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, going 5-6 from three. Duke was dominated in this game and it was clear they were doomed from the start. The environment was electric, and Duke lacked intensity throughout. Duke will look to bounce back on Saturday at home versus Virginia Tech.
#7 – Maryland (22-4)
Maryland is trying to pull away with the Big 10 title. They’re winners of nine straight and managed a nice comeback late on Saturday to stretch their lead to two games in the conference. With just over three minutes left, Maryland trailed by seven. From there, Maryland went hot from deep and buried four straight threes and a free throw to close out the game.
Overall, Maryland wasn’t much better than Michigan State in the box score. Until the last three minutes, both teams combined to go just 9-40 from three. On Tuesday, Maryland didn’t shoot well, but still pulled out the win in what was a relatively close game throughout. Jaylen Smith was a monster on the boards and led Maryland to a gritty home victory. Smith’s 19 rebounds and 22 points carried the Terrapins in a game in which they were outshot. Maryland’s +8 rebounding advantage was the difference in this game. Next week, the Terps will have a big road test Sunday at #25 Ohio State.
#8 – Florida State (22-4)
Florida State took care of business following their loss to Duke. On Saturday, they hosted Syracuse and narrowly escaped with the win. Florida State outworked Syracuse on the boards (+18) and killed the Orange from three (44%). With just under two minutes to go, Syracuse clung to a 73-72 lead. From there, the Noles’ Patrick Williams scored four of the final eight points to close out Syracuse at the Donald L Tucker Center.
On Tuesday, Florida State turned their home game against Pitt into a boat race. Florida State played 16 guys in their victory over Pitt, dominating them on the boards (+13). Florida State went 50% from the field and 41% from three and won this game easily. Florida State is now just a half-game back from Louisville in the ACC standings. They have a tough schedule down the stretch, beginning Saturday at NC State. Next Monday, Florida State will host Louisville and could control their destiny for the conference title with a victory.
#9 – Penn State (20-6)
Penn State won an easy home game Saturday against Northwestern and completely killed their momentum Tuesday with a home loss to Illinois. The game was back and forth throughout the first half, until Illinois took control just before halftime. After the half, Illinois continued to control and only trailed for about 20 seconds the entire second half.
Lamar Stevens and Myles Dread highlighted the poor shooting night for Penn State, combining to go 4-19 from the field and 1-10 from deep. The Nittany Lions went just 36% from the field and 21% from three. They were beaten thoroughly on the boards (-7) and the only thing that kept them in the game was their ability to not turn the ball over (7 turnovers and +6 in turnover differential in the game).
#10 – Kentucky (21-5)
Kentucky made its long-awaited return to the Top 10 following a gritty home win over Ole Miss and a huge road win over LSU. In the Ole Miss game, Kentucky survived the Rebels in a game they only shot 2-22 from deep. Kentucky won the battle on the boards (+8) and went 19-24 from the line to bail out the Wildcats in a game Ole Miss led for most of the second half.
On Tuesday, Kentucky traveled to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge to take on LSU. Kentucky grabbed control of the game in the second half and their hot shooting (48% from the field and 50% from three) propelled them to overcome their massive rebounding disparity (-12). This weekend, they’ll host a hot Florida Gators team with five games remaining to close out their quest for the conference title.
Best Futures bets among the Top 10 to win the Championship
In our look at NCAA futures, we again look at betting lines from PlaySugarHouse PA.
Before I go over the three teams in the Top 10 with the best chance to win the title, I want to go over why I don’t believe in a few others.
Gonzaga is number one on my list of teams not to trust because we simply haven’t seen them against many great teams. They squeaked by Oregon and were thrashed by Michigan. The rest of their “quality” wins were against teams widely considered to be pretty good, but at this point, they’re still a huge question mark.
Baylor is another team I don’t quite trust. They have three top-level defenders, but they’re also not great on offense. I think they’re especially susceptible to an upset in the tournament if they run into a team shooting hot because they simply can’t keep pace. San Diego State is my third and final team to avoid. The Aztecs are undersized in the frontcourt and I expect if they manage to make a deep run in the tourney, they’re going to have to do it through hot shooting and stellar defense because if they run into a team like Florida State, they may lose the rebounding battle by at least double digits.
#3 Kansas (22-3) +1,100
Kansas has the pedigree, the size, and the talent to win it all. If Kansas takes down Baylor this weekend, we could see them as a lock for a number one seed. At the worst, they’ll be a two seed and honestly, their rebounding and size will present challenges for any team. I expect Azibuke will be a huge problem for opposing defenses in the tournament and Dotson will be a formidable challenge for opposing guards. K
Kansas has the third-best odds on PlaySugarHouse at +1100 but I’ve seen them as low as +700 on other sites and the outright favorite. The odds you can get through PlaySugarHouse are currently the best out there.
#7 Maryland (22-4) +1,500
Maryland looks to be playing some of the best basketball in the country right now and their timing couldn’t be better. I like Maryland for multiple reasons but the biggest is their resume. Maryland has a solid star in Jalen Smith and a solid coach who’s hungry to exorcise his March demons.
Maryland has the defensive ability and rebounding advantage to carry them through the tournament. Similar to Baylor, they have a tendency to disappear on the offensive end at times. I like them because of their potential bracket position and the odds. I’ve seen Maryland at +1300 and +1400 on other sites, so again, you’re getting good value on PlaySugarHouse.
#10 Kentucky +2,000
If Kentucky can finish the season with one loss or fewer, they’ll be positioned nicely as the SEC champ for a favorable seed. They also have a talented roster and as we’ve seen in the past, Calipari-coached teams tend to finish the season strong and do pretty well in the tournament. Kentucky currently has pretty strong odds, given the poor strength of the rest of the field and their March tendencies.