Gamblers have a monster slate of games in college basketball on Saturday. Let’s take a look at a pair of early-evening matchups in the ACC and Big 12 before tackling a slew of topics and teams in Bonus Nuggets.
**Duke at Maryland**
--Duke (22-2 straight up, 13-11 against the spread) is in second place in the ACC standings, trailing loop-leading Miami by two games. The Hurricanes are unbeaten in conference play, while the Blue Devils are 9-2 against ACC adversaries.
--Mike Krzyzewski’s club won a 73-68 decision over arch-rival North Carolina on Thursday as a 10.5-point home favorite. Mason Plumlee led the way with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore guard Quinn Cook also had 18 points.
--Duke owns a dismal 1-4 spread record in five games as a road underdog. Since getting thumped at Miami 90-63, the Blue Devils have won six in a row while going 3-3 versus the number. They are 7-2 against RPI Top 50 opponents and 12-2 against RPI Top 100 foes.
--With only seven regular-season games remaining, Maryland (17-7 SU, 7-9-1 ATS) is starving for a quality win in this spot. The Terrapins have just three games left against RPI Top 100 teams: vs. Duke (#1), vs. North Carolina (36) and at Virginia (71). They are 70th in the RPI Rankings due to an abysmal 2-7 record against the RPI Top 100. Their two best wins came at home vs. North Carolina St. and Stony Brook. Therefore, forget the starving for a victory, it’s mandatory for the Terps to beat Duke if it hopes to entertain any semblance of hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
--Maryland has won 14 of its 16 home games but has failed its backers in the process, limping to a 3-6 spread record. This is the Terps’ first game as home underdogs this year.
--Mark Turgeon’s team fell to 5-6 in ACC play with Sunday’s 80-69 loss to Virginia as a 2 ½-point home favorite. Dezmine Wells scored a team-high 13 points in the losing effort. Maryland failed miserably at defending the 3-point line, allowing UVA to bury 11-of-19 from beyond the arc.
--Duke senior power forward Ryan Kelly remains ‘out’ with a foot injury. Kelly, who is hoping to return in the next 2-3 weeks, averages 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He also shoots at a 52.1 percent clip from 3-point land.
--Plumlee averages 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He is shooting 60.3 percent from the field and has a team-high 40 blocked shots.
--When these teams met on Jan. 26 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke trounced Maryland 84-64 as a 12-point home favorite. The 148 combined points jumped ‘over’ the 139-point total. Rasheed Sulaimon, a freshman guard from Houston, lived up to his McDonald’s All-American billing by scoring a game-high 25 points on 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point land. All five Duke players scored in double figures with Cook finishing with 11 points and nine assists. Wells and Charles Mitchell scored 13 points apiece for the Terps.
--The ‘under’ is 8-7 overall for Maryland, but the ‘over’ has hit in four of its last five games. The ‘under’ is 6-3 in its nine home games with a total.
--The ‘over’ is 12-11 overall for Duke, 3-2 in its five true road assignments. With that said, the ‘under’ has cashed in three of the Blue Devils’ last four games.
--Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
**Baylor at Kansas State**
--Since losing three in a row, Baylor (16-8 SU, 10-9 ATS) has won back-to-back games at home in blowout fashion. The Bears routed Texas Tech 75-48 before blasting West Va. by an 80-60 count. Freshman forward Rico Gathers scored 22 points and pulled down nine rebounds, while Brady Heslip torched the Mountaineers for 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
--Scott Drew’s squad is 49th in the RPI Rankings with a 2-6 record against the RPI Top 50. However, Baylor does have four wins compared to zero losses against teams ranked from 51-100 in the RPI.
--Baylor has one of the best point guards in America in senior Pierre Jackson, who has lighting-fast speed off the dribble that reminds me of former Wake Forest PG Ismael Smith. Jackson is averaging 18.9 points and 6.7 assists per game. The Bears also have one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters in Heslip, who is burying treys at a 40-percent clip. (Don’t get caught up in that not-so-impressive percentage, Heslip can stroke it!)
--Kansas St. (19-5 SU, 9-10-1 ATS) will be in bounce-back mode after getting thumped 83-62 Monday at Kansas as a 7.5-point underdog. Bruce Weber’s team had a four-game winning streak, going 3-1 ATS, before venturing into Lawrence. Rodney McGruder tallied 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and one blocked shot at KU. Angel Rodriguez added 17 points, six assists and three steals.
--Kansas St. has won 11 of its 12 home games while posting a 6-3 spread record. The Wildcats are a perfect 4-0 ATS as single-digit home ‘chalk.’
--McGruder is the catalyst for K-St., averaging 15.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. He averaged 19.6 PPG in three head-to-head meetings against Baylor last year, including a 30-point effort in a narrow loss in Manhattan.
--Baylor has been a road underdog five times, compiling a 3-2 spread record.
--The ‘over’ is 8-7 overall for K-St., 3-1 in its four home games with a total.
--Totals have been an overall wash (9-9) for Baylor, but the ‘over’ is 4-2 in its last six games.
--ESPNU will have television coverage at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--When Florida power forward and defensive stalwart Will Yeguete went down with a knee injury that will sideline him until at least early March, and perhaps beyond, I noted that the Gators needed Casey Prather to step up in his absence. Right on cue, Prather has produced his two best games of the year since Yeguete’s unfortunate injury. Prather played 23 minutes in Tuesday’s run-away-and-hide win over Kentucky, filling the stat sheet with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. He also had 12 points last Saturday against Mississippi St. In those two games, Prather made 11-of-17 shots from the floor (61%).
--Colorado St. could be in a letdown situation Saturday at Air Force. The Rams pulled away late to beat San Diego St. on Wednesday by a 66-60 count as six-point home favorites. On the same night, the Falcons sent UNLV back to Las Vegas with a 71-56 loss.
--If Miami’s Jim Larannaga is the national Coach of the Year, then Colorado St.’s Larry Eustachy is a strong candidate to be runner-up. The Rams’ senior-laden squad is 20-4 overall and second in the Mountain West standings with a 7-2 record, one-half game behind first-place New Mexico. They are No. 13 in the RPI Rankings.
--Whatever Shaka Smart said to his VCU troops at halftime of Thursday’s game against UMass, it worked! Trailing 42-37 at intermission, the Rams erupted with a 21-1 run to start the second half en route to an 86-68 win as 12-point home favorites. VCU improved to 20-5 overall and 8-2 in the Atlantic-10. The Rams have now posted seven straight 20-win campaigns. As I’ve been saying all year, watch out for this squad in March.
--Gonzaga stayed unbeaten in WCC play and improved to 9-2 against RPI Top 50 teams by rolling to a 77-60 win at Saint Mary’s on Thursday night as a one-point road underdog. Gary Bell Jr. drained 4-of-5 treys en route to scoring a team-high 20 points. In the losing effort, Gaels’ stud Matthew Dellavedova knocked down 6-of-12 from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 22 points.
--Going into the weekend, Miami has the country’s best against-the-spread record at 15-4-1. The second-best ATS ledger belongs to Western Illinois (15-5 ATS), a team that’s been given no credit this year despite leading the Summit League standings. This space and others have noted the play of Nate Wolters and Travis Bader at South Dakota St. and Oakland, respectively. But the Leathernecks (yes, that’s really their mascot) are looking down at those teams from atop the Summit standings. They won 49-36 at North Dakota St. as 9.5-point underdogs Thursday and will be ‘dogs again Saturday at South Dakota St. Western Illinois is 4-1 ATS in five games as a ‘dog this year.
--Is Akron worthy of an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the MAC Tournament? Well, let me start by saying that I wish the Zips would’ve scheduled a little tougher non-conference slate. Nevertheless, I say they are certainly deserving of a bid if they win out from here but lose in the MAC Tournament finals (or at any point in the league tourney). Keith Dambrot’s team owns a 16-game winning streak, a 20-4 overall record and an unbeaten mark in MAC play. Two of Akron’s four losses came in overtime (at Coastal Carolina and vs. Oklahoma St. on a neutral court), while the two other defeats came at Creighton (RPI: 50) and at Detroit (RPI: 75). The Zips’ two best wins came over Middle Tennessee (RPI: 29) and Ohio (RPI: 80), but they can add two more quality wins (vs. North Dakota St. (RPI: 77) and at Ohio) in the next two weeks.
--Creighton is ok with eight wins over RPI Top 100 foes, but the Bluejays need to tighten up soon. They have lost three in a row and five of their last eight. They play at Saint Mary’s next weekend in their BracketBuster game.
--Colorado avenged its controversial loss at Arizona on Jan. 3 by hammering the Wildcats 71-58 Thursday night as a 2.5-point home underdog. Spencer Dinwiddie was the catalyst with 21 points and seven assists.
--The ‘under’ has hit in nine consecutive games for Alabama, which will host South Carolina on Saturday. Looking at the Crimson Tide’s resume, I just don’t think they are going to be able to recover from home losses to Tulane, Dayton and Mercer unless they win at Florida on March 2.