Saturday's Early Action
March 7, 2014
By David Schwab
The final Saturday of college basketball’s regular season waists little time dialing-up some huge showdowns; starting with the top team in the nation, the Florida Gators playing host to No. 25 Kentucky in a high Noon tip. Another 12 p.m. start takes us to the Big 12 where the No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks will look to make one last statement before next week’s conference tournament when they go on the road to face West Virginia. Later in the afternoon, No. 3 Arizona will close-out its season on the road against Oregon.
No. 25 Kentucky Wildcats at No. 1 Florida Gators (CBS, 12:00 p.m. ET)
Kentucky started the season at the top of both major polls, but it is clinging to a spot in the top 25 after going 3-3 straight-up in its last six games. The Wildcats have also tumbled in standing with bettors after failing to cover in six of their last eight outings. They are 12-5 SU in the SEC with a 10-6 record ATS. The total has stayed UNDER in seven of their last nine games.
As a double-digit favorite in its last four games, Kentucky is just 2-2 SU (0-4 ATS) with an average of 66.5 points per game as opposed to a season average of 76.7 PPG. Freshman forward Julius Randle has been held to a total of 44 points during this stretch which is also below his team-high average of 15.4 PPG. The Wildcats shot 34.2 percent from the field in a four-point loss to Arkansas as 10-point home favorite on Feb. 27 and this fell to a dismal 26.9 percent in a five-point loss to South Carolina a 10-point road favorites this past Saturday.
The Gators are showing no signs of wear from a long season with a pair of blowouts by a combined 44 points in their last two games. A win on Saturday would wrap-up a perfect 18-0 SU run through the SEC and you have to go all the way back to Dec. 2 to find Florida’s last loss. As far as betting on the Gators the record is not nearly as impressive. They are 8-9 ATS in conference play and just 4-5 ATS in their last nine games.
Going back to its play on the court, Florida is averaging 71.1 PPG and it is shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from 3-point range. Casey Prather leads a foursome of players scoring in double figures with an average of 14.5 points and Michael Frazier II has been the Gators’ top outside shooter with 13.1 PPG while hitting 44.1 percent from 3-point range. If Florida is going to make a deep run in this year’s NCAA Tournament it will still be behind a defense that is ranked fifth in the nation in points allowed (58.2).
Florida has been opened as a nine-point home favorite this time around after beating the Wildcats 69-59 on the road as a 2 ½-point underdog on Feb. 15. The total stayed UNDER the 130 ½-point closing line and it has now stayed UNDER in six of the last seven games.
No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks at West Virginia Mountaineers (ESPN, 12:00 p.m. ET)
Many hoops experts have penciled Kansas in as one of four No. 1 seeds for the Big Dance, but the Jayhawks realize there is a thin margin of error to actually locking one up after last Saturday’s 72-65 loss to Oklahoma State as one-point road underdogs. They crushed Texas Tech 82-57 this past Wednesday as 14-point home favorites to improve to 14-3 SU and 11-6 ATS in Big 12 play.
Kansas’s freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins appears to be picking up steam at just the right time of the year. He only scored nine points in 23 minutes of play against the Red Raiders, but prior to that he posted at least 14 points in 10 of his previous 11 outings. Wiggins is averaging 16 points as part of a team total of 79.4 PPG.
West Virginia lost the first meeting against the Jayhawks this season 83-69 as a 13-point road underdog as part of its 8-9 SU record in the Big 12. The Mountaineers have stumbled down the stretch with a 1-5 record both SU and ATS in their last six games. They head into this season finale fresh off Wednesday’s 72-62 loss to Oklahoma as eight-point underdogs on the road. The total has now stayed UNDER in their last three outings.
Despite scoring an average of just 71 points in its last five games, West Virginia is still ranked 32nd in the nation in PPG with 78. It is shooting 44.1 percent from the field and a respectable 38.2 percent from 3-point range. A big piece of this production will be missing against Kansas with Terry Henderson sidelined with mono. Another issue in this matchup is a Mountaineers’ defense that is giving-up an average of 73.1 PPG.
Kansas comes into Saturday’s game as a four-point road favorite to complete the season sweep. It has won all three games against the Mountaineers SU since West Virginia joined the Big 12. The Wildcats have a 2-1 edge ATS and the total has gone OVER in the last two games.
No. 3 Arizona Wildcats at Oregon Ducks (CBS, 4:00 p.m. ET)
Despite tripping-up against Utah as 14-point home favorites in late January and Arizona State on Feb. 14 as 5 ½-point favorites on the road, the Wildcats remain in excellent shape for a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament with a SU record of 28-2 including a 15-2 run through the Pac-12. They rebounded from a 0-5 record ATS in late January and early February with a 5-2 record ATS in their last seven games. The total has gone OVER in their last four outings.
The loss of Brandon Ashley for the season took a bite out of Arizona’s offensive attack, but it still has Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon playing at a high level. Johnson is averaging 16.3 PPG and he has put-up 20 or more points in three of his last four games. Gordon leads the team in rebounds with 7.8 a game and he is chipping-in another 12 PPG. The Wildcats’ biggest strength remains a defense that is ranked sixth in the nation in points allowed (58.5).
Oregon comes into its season finale riding a SU six-game winning streak that has taken its conference record above .500 to 9-8. The Ducks have gone a profitable 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight outings and the total has stayed UNDER in five of the eight games. They are 8-7-1 ATS at home this season and the total has gone OVER in 11 of 15 home games.
One of the big reasons for this late-season surge has been a return to form for an offense that is ranked eighth in the country in points (82.9) and shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from 3-point range. Joseph Young is averaging a team-high 18.6 PPG and he has reached or exceeded this total in seven of his last 10 games. Mike Moser has also been a force with 13.8 points and 8.1 rebounds a game.
The Wildcats have been opened as three-point road favorites over Oregon after squeezing-out a tight 67-65 victory in the first meeting this season on Feb. 6 as 12-point favorites at home. Arizona has the 7-2 edge SU in the last nine games of this series, but the Ducks are 4-0 ATS in the last four. The total has stayed UNDER in six of the last seven meetings.
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