**Creighton at Saint Mary’s**
--As of early Friday night, Saint Mary’s (23-5 straight up, 12-12-1 against the spread) was installed as a 4.5-point favorite at most spots.
--Saint Mary's captured a key win Thursday night over BYU in a nail-biter. The Gaels pulled away with free throws in the final minute of a 64-57 victory as 8.5-point home favorites. Matthew Dellavedova scored a game-high 20 points, while Beau Levesque had 17 points and eight rebounds while burying all seven attempts from the charity stripe.
--With the win over BYU, Randy Bennett’s team improved to 14-1 SU and 5-8 ATS at home. The Gaels are led by Dellavedova, who leads the team in scoring (16.0 points per game), assists (6.4 APG) and steals (1.2 SPG).
--Since losing three in a row, Creighton (22-6 SU, 13-12-1 ATS) has won back-to-back games at Evansville (71-68) and vs. So. Illinois (59-45), failing to take the cash as a 4.5 and 14.5-point favorite in those spots, respectively.
--Creighton is mired in an atrocious 1-9-1 ATS slump in its last 11 games.
--Creighton is led by the head coach’s son, Doug McDermott, who averages 22.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He is a legitimate first-team All-American candidate who plays incredibly efficient. McDermott shoots 55 percent from the field, 47.8 percent from 3-point land and makes 86.1 percent of his free throws.
--Both teams are in dire need of a victory to improve their at-large aspirations, but there’s no doubt that Saint Mary’s needs the win more. The Gaels are 4-3 against the RPI Top 100, but they are winless in a pair of contests against the RPI Top 50 with both defeats coming against Gonzaga.
--Saint Mary’s is 50th in the RPI Rankings, while Creighton is 47th in the RPI. However, the Bluejays have solid non-conference wins over Wisconsin, California, Arizona St. and Akron. The fact that the win over the Zips was the only game of those four at home is also worth noting. They are 8-4 against RPI Top 100 opponents.
--This is a quick turnaround for Saint Mary’s after playing late Thursday night. On the other hand, Creighton has had two extra days to prepare since Tuesday’s win over So. Illinois.
--The ‘under’ is 12-6 overall for the Bluejays, going 8-0 in their road assignments. The ‘under’ has connected in six straight Creighton games and nine of its last 10.
--The ‘under’ is 11-8 overall for the Gaels,
--ESPN will have the telecast at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
**Missouri at Kentucky**
--As of early Friday night, most books had Kentucky (18-8 straight up, 8-15 against the spread) listed as a 1.5-point favorite.
--Kentucky has lost four in a row ATS and owns an abysmal 3-10 spread record in its last 13 games. The Wildcats have only covered the spread in one of their six SEC home outings at Rupp Arena.
--John Calipari’s team is going into its third game without freshman sensation Nerlens Noel, who went down for the season after suffering a torn ACL in a loss at Florida. Noel was leading the ‘Cats in rebounding (9.4 per game), field-goal percentage (59.0%), steals (2.1 SPG) and blocked shots (4.4 BPG).
--In Kentucky’s first game without Noel, it took the worst beating of Cal’s tenure in an 88-58 loss at Tennessee. Calipari had not tasted defeat so decisively since his first season as a head coach in 1989.
--UK staved off Vanderbilt’s upset bid at Rupp on Tuesday, capturing a 74-70 win as an 11-point home favorite. The Commodores sliced what was once a 13-point deficit to 61-59 with 3:57 remaining. But Kentucky avoided more embarrassment thanks to the play of Willie Cauley-Stein, who finished with a career-high 20 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Archie Goodwin added 16 points and six boards.
--Missouri (19-7 SU, 11-11 ATS) is coming off its best effort of the season, rallying from a 13-point second-half deficit to win a 63-60 decision over Florida as a five-point home underdog. The Tigers hooked up money-line supporters with a payout in the plus-185 range (risk $100 to win $185). Laurence Bowers, who missed the first meeting against the Gators, a blowout loss in Gainesville, came up big at crunch time en route to a 17-point, 10-rebound effort. Phil Pressey finished with seven points, 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals, while Jabari Brown had 12 points and drained three long jumpers from deep.
--As of early Friday morning, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Kentucky among his ‘first four teams out’ of the NCAA Tournament field. UK has an RPI of 48 and has zero wins over the RPI Top 50. The Wildcats’ best win is at Ole Miss (RPI: 57).
--UK has won 13 of its 15 home games, posting a mediocre 5-7 spread record.
--Missouri is 1-2 ATS in three true road games as an underdog and we should mention that Bowers was absent in both non-covers at Ole Miss and at Florida.
--Frank Haith’s squad is 3-3 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Florida, Illinois and VCU. The Tigers, who are 33rd in the RPI, are 8-6 against the RPI Top 100.
--Although Missouri has seen the ‘under’ cash in three straight games, the ‘over’ is still 11-7 overall. The ‘under’ is 4-3 in the Tigers’ seven true road assignments.
--The ‘over’ is 12-10 overall for UK, 6-5 in its 11 home games with a total.
--Tip-off is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Two of the nation’s best players will be on display in Saturday’s BracketBuster matchup between Murray St. and South Dakota St. The Jackrabbits have a star in senior guard Nate Wolters, who averages 23.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Wolters is shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and making 41.4 percent of his attempt from deep. The Racers are led by senior guard Isaiah Canaan, who averages 21.2 points and 4.2 assists per contest. This game will be played in Murray, KY., on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Most spots opened Murray St. as a three-point 'chalk.'
--D.J. Cooper will lead Ohio into Nashville to face Belmont in another intriguing BracketBuster showdown. Tip-off is slated for 10:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. The Bruins are 29th in the RPI Rankings with a 6-3 record against RPI Top 100 foes. The Bobcats, who advanced to the Sweet 16 last season before losing to North Carolina in overtime, have an RPI of 75 with only one Top 100 win over Richmond.
--Most books opened Syracuse as a seven-point home favorite vs. Georgetown. I like the Hoyas, who have won eight in a row and 10 of their last 11 both SU and ATS.
--Florida will host Arkansas in a revenge game Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPNU. The Razorbacks thumped the Gators at Bud Walton Arena a few weeks ago. UF will be in bounce-back mode after letting a double-digit second-half lead slip away Tuesday night at Missouri.
--Florida reserve forward Casey Prather has knocked down 17-of-23 shots (73.9%) from the field in the team’s last four games.
--Mark Fox’s Georgia squad can’t buy a break. The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker in overtime at Ole Miss last Saturday when they didn’t get a call at the end of regulation. Then Thursday night in Fayetteville, UGA dropped a 62-60 decision at Arkansas when B.J. Young scored the go-ahead basket with six seconds remaining. The Bulldogs missed a good look at a potential tying bucket at the buzzer. Replays showed that Young’s foot appeared to hit the ground before he launched his winning shot. Alas, a travel was not called and UGA lost a third straight game. However, you won’t find UGA gambling supporters complaining, as it easily took the cash as an 11-point underdog. Georgia is now 7-1 ATS in its last eight games. The Dawgs play South Carolina on Saturday at home in Athens.
--With last night’s loss at Saint Mary’s, it’s clear that BYU will have to win the WCC Tournament to get to the Big Dance.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
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