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Saturday's NCAABK Action
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Two of the teams in the hunt for a Big East regular-season title square off Saturday afternoon when No. 16 Pittsburgh visits No. 18 Marquette.
The Golden Eagles are 8-3 in conference play, tying them with Syracuse and Georgetown for the top spot. The Panthers are just a half-game behind the trio at 8-4, winning seven of their past eight games (5-3 ATS). Marquette is just 1-3 ATS this month, but is a perfect 13-0 SU at home this season, winning these games by 12.0 PPG. When these two schools met last month in Pittsburgh, the Eagles were tabbed as a 10.5-point underdog and pulled off a 74-67 overtime upset. They also beat the Panthers 62-57 at home last season, which ended a four-game win series win streak for Pittsburgh.

The Panthers have played very well away from home this season, going 6-3 (SU and ATS), including 4-2 (SU and ATS) in true road games, and winning these six road contests by an average of 8.2 PPG. And even though the Eagles haven't lost yet at home, they haven't been dominant in Milwaukee, sporting a 4-5 ATS mark. Pittsburgh is simply the better team here, shooting 48.3% FG, while Marquette makes just 46.1% of its shots, including a dreadful 29.5% from three-point range. And the Panthers probably would've beaten Marquette last month if their best player, PG Tray Woodall, hadn't suffered a head injury after just four minutes of action.
Pittsburgh doesn't score a ton at 71.0 PPG, but the school is very unselfish, as its 17.2 APG ranks sixth in the country. That helps lead to a stellar 48.3% FG clip, good for 14th-best in the nation. Ten different Panthers average at least 11.5 MPG this season, with nobody seeing even 28 minutes per game. Senior PG Tray Woodall (10.9 PPG, 5.4 APG) has made a career-best 47% of his shots, including 38% from downtown. He's scored in double-figures in four straight games, averaging 13.0 PPG during this stretch. Woodall played just four minutes in last month's home loss to Marquette after leaving the court following a loose-ball collision. Junior PF Talib Zanna (10.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG) hasn't been shooting well in his past five games (33%, 12-for-36 FG), but has pulled down 9.3 RPG over his past four contests. Zanna had a horrible night against Marquette on Jan. 12, scoring just three points on 1-of-9 shooting. SF Lamar Patterson (10.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.2 APG) was nearly perfect in last month's loss to the Eagles, scoring 22 points on 7-of-9 FG (6-of-7 threes). But he's been slumping over the past four games with a mere 9.5 PPG on 40% FG. Freshman C Steven Adams (7.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG) shoots 59% from the floor, but just 40% from the free-throw line. Adams was a beast in the paint versus Marquette last month though with six rebounds and four blocked shots. Freshman SG James Robinson (6.1 PPG, 3.6 APG) also played well in that game with 12 points and four assists before fouling out.
Marquette's offense is slightly better than average with 69.4 PPG (128th in nation), but it really struggles to make three-point shots at 29.5% threes. This is mostly an issue of the starting backcourt forcing shots, as SG Vander Blue (14.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG) hits just 29% of his threes, while PG Junior Cadougan (8.8 PPG, 4.3 APG) shoots 22% (9-of-41) from downtown. Blue made only 1-of-4 threes against Pittsburgh last month, but still scored a team-high 22 points with 6-of-12 FG and 9-of-10 free throws. PF Davante Gardner is the team's second-leading scorer at 11.6 PPG, making 57% of his high-percentage shots. He also leads the team in rebounding (5.0 RPG) and has made an incredible 86% of his free throws (95-for-111) despite weighing nearly 300 pounds. Gardner was a perfect 6-of-6 FG in the upset win at Pittsburgh last month, finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds. Junior SF Jamil Wilson (8.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG) scored 11 points in that surprising victory before fouling out. Wilson has also scored in double-figures in three straight games, netting 13 points on 3-of-4 FG, 2-of-2 threes and 5-of-5 FT in Monday's loss at Georgetown.
DUKE BLUE DEVILS (22-2) at MARYLAND TERRAPINS (17-7) Line: Duke -5.5
With Maryland announcing its intentions to join the Big Ten earlier this season, Saturday could be its final ACC matchup with No. 2 Duke.
The Blue Devils initially struggled to find their groove after the loss of senior forward Ryan Kelly, dropping two of three games, but that turned around with an 84-64 romp of the Terrapins at Cameron Indoor Stadium, jump-starting their current six game win streak (3-3 ATS). Since that defeat, the Terrapins have struggled to find their mojo, going 2-2 with losses to Florida State and most recently by 11 points at home to underdog Virginia. They do have a major edge in one category though, grabbing 42.2 RPG (2nd-most in D-I), which is 6.8 RPG more than Duke has. The Blue Devils have owned this rivalry, going 9-1 SU and 7-3 ATS in the last 10 games between these two teams, and winning each of the past six meetings by margins of 7, 18, 16, 13, 18 and 20 points. Duke's recent dominance in this series includes going 3-1 (SU and ATS) at College Park, a notoriously difficult place to play. And even though Duke is just 1-4 ATS on the road this season, it is 7-4 ATS (64%) in non-home games, while the Terrapins are 1-4 ATS in their past five home games.
Duke brings a potent offense to the table averaging 78.0 PPG, good for 10th in Division-I. Freshman G Rasheed Sulaimon (11.5 PPG) had his best game of the year in the win against Maryland on Jan. 26, tallying 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. Hitting at a 39.8% clip from deep, he is just one of Duke’s dangerous outside shooters. SG Seth Curry (16.5 PPG) is making 41.8% from long range while PG Quinn Cook (12.0 PPG, 5.8 APG) is hitting 40.9% of his attempts. Cook has emerged as an elite floor general (2.50 Ast/TO ratio), but has struggled with turnovers in his past two games, tallying just five assists and nine turnovers. That followed a span of 13 games in which he gave it up more than twice just two times. Ultimately though, this offense is led by PF Mason Plumlee (18.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG), a National Player of the Year candidate who scored 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting when these two teams first met. That reflects his efficiency all season—he is making 60.3% FG.
In the prior meeting, more impressive than Plumlee’s scoring were his defensive exploits, limiting Maryland star C Alex Len (12.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG) to just eight points in 34 minutes of action. Len and his 7-foot-1 are destined for the NBA Draft lottery, but he is also raw and that has shown through lately with his meager 8.8 PPG in his past four games since the Duke loss. Len and SF Dez Wells (12.0 PPG) are the team’s only double-digit scorers. Wells began the game hot against Duke, scoring a number of early points, but ultimately fell victim to Sulaimon’s exploits and finished 5-of-13 FG and 1-for-4 threes. Wells is an efficient scorer though, making 54% FG, including 58% FG in four games since the meeting with the Blue Devils. The other Maryland player to watch out for is 6-foot-6 G Nick Faust, who like the 6-foot-5 Wells, owns a size advantage over the Duke backcourt that tops out at 6-foot-4. Faust (8.3 PPG, 2.8 APG) has struggled to score this season, making 36.7% FG and 28.6% threes, but has the tools to be a dangerous player. There’s also freshman F Charles Mitchell (5.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG) who is second on the team and rebounding and actually led the Terrapins with 13 points and seven boards in just 13 minutes in the first meeting with Duke.
TEXAS LONGHORNS (11-13) at KANSAS JAYHAWKS (20-4) Line: Kansas -13.5
After stopping its surprising three-game losing skid on Monday, No. 14 Kansas will look to keep it going against a sub-.500 Texas team on Saturday night.
Texas has had a dreadful season, but its star PG Myck Kabongo finally made his season debut on Wednesday, and helped lead his team to an 89-86 win versus Iowa State in double overtime. Kabongo scored 13 points with seven assists in that victory, but now he's tasked with helping the Longhorns win their first true road game of the season, as they are 0-7 SU on the road, losing these games by 12.1 PPG. Kansas is 12-1 SU (6-6 ATS) at home this season, and is coming off an 83-62 pounding of No. 10 Kansas State in its most recent game. Although the Jayhawks are 10-2 SU in the past dozen meetings of this series, the 'Horns are 4-1 ATS in the past five contests, which includes a stunning 74-63 win at Allen Fieldhouse two years ago when they were a 7-point underdog.

While Texas is 7-4 ATS in conference action this season, the Jayhawks are just 4-7 ATS in Big 12 play. And they really struggled to score when they visited Austin last month, scoring 64 points on 39.2% FG. The Longhorns actually lead the nation in both FG Pct. defense (36.1%) and three-point defense (26.1%), which will make it very hard for KU to run away and cover this huge spread. Kansas is just 5-8 ATS (39%) this season with 3+ days of rest, while the 'Horns are on a 6-2 ATS run in their past eight contests.
Texas is a horrible offensive basketball team with just 64.5 PPG (247th in nation) and a woeful 41.4% FG clip (265th in D-I). But the Longhorns lead the nation in both FG Pct. defense (36.1%) and three-point defense (26.1%), which is why they are 6-2 ATS in their past eight contests. Sophomore swingman Sheldon McClellan (14.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG) is coming off a big performance in Wednesday's victory over Iowa State, scoring 18 points (5-of-10 FG, 8-for-8 FT) with eight rebounds. But he continues to misfire from long range, going 0-for-3 from behind the arc, to make him 11-for-53 (21%) on threes since Dec. 8. McClellan had a game-high 18 points against Kansas on Jan. 19, but was just 8-of-18 from the floor with one rebound and one assist in 28 minutes of action. Sophomore SG Julien Lewis (10.5 PPG, 3.2 APG) scored 11 points with seven rebounds in that game, but has struggled to find his shooting rhythm lately with a paltry 8.5 PPG on 12-of-40 FG (30%) over his past four contests. Kabongo, who was suspended by the NCAA for the first 23 games of the season after lying about taking impermissible benefits, wasted no time getting back to action on Wednesday. He logged 35 minutes before fouling out, compiling 13 points, seven assists and four rebounds, but also had four turnovers and made just 1-of-5 threes. He was horrible in the two games versus Kansas last season, scoring a total of three points on 1-of-11 shooting. He failed to score, going 0-for-7 FG (0-for-3 threes) in the loss at Lawrence, but did dish out six assists.

But for Texas to keep this game close, its big men will have to step up. Sophomore F Jonathan Holmes (7.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG) is finally back healthy after breaking a bone in his hand on Jan. 21. The injury forced him to miss five games, but he returned to the court on Wednesday, scoring a paltry four points in 18 minutes before fouling out. He also fouled out of last month's loss to Kansas in just 14 minutes, but was still able to score 10 points on 4-of-5 FG. Freshman PF Ioannis Papapetrou (8.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG) has played solid basketball in the past four games (13.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG) but posted a subpar six points and five rebounds in 30 minutes of action against the Jayhawks last month.
Although Kansas scores 73.5 PPG (49th in nation) on an efficient 46.9% FG (32nd in D-I), the team had reached 70 points just once in nine games before exploding for 83 points against Kansas State on Monday. Freshman SG Ben McLemore (16.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) scored 30 points on 9-of-13 FG (6-of-10 threes) with seven rebounds and three steals versus the Wildcats, marking his 12th straight game with at least 10 points. McLemore also had a team-high 16 points while grabbing six rebounds in the win in Austin last month. C Jeff Withey (13.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG) also had a well-rounded stat line of 14 points (4-of-6 FG), nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks in that victory over the Longhorns. He dominated KSU too, with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, upping his season average to 4.1 BPG, good for third in the nation. In each of his past eight games, Withey has at least 11 points and six rebounds. PG Elijah Johnson (9.1 PPG, 4.6 APG) continues to shoot horribly in his senior season with a career-worst 36.5% FG. In his past four games, he's made just 10-of-43 shots (23%), and was a dreadful 1-of-11 FG in the victory over Texas on Jan. 19. But fellow senior G Travis Releford has been red-hot all season, making 59.4% FG and 43.3% threes. Another senior that is key to the success of this team is Kevin Young (7.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG) who had a big game on Monday with 13 points (6-of-9 FG) and nine rebounds.

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