OREGON AT ARIZONA STATE (Thursday)
If Payton Pritchard is not the best point guard in college basketball, he certainly ranks in the top three. Pritchard is clocking 36.5 minutes per game while averaging 19.5 points and 5.8 assists. He’s also shooting 39.5% from 3-point range for the Ducks, who are tied with Colorado atop the Pac-12 standings at 9-4. Arizona and Arizona State sit a half-game back at 8-4, so this is a huge week in the league race. Oregon needs to at least split on its trip to Tempe and Tucson, but that will be tough. Bobby Hurley has the Sun Devils rolling by winning seven of the last eight. Oregon was a 10½-point favorite in a 78-69 victory over Arizona State on Jan. 11. Dance with the Devils as underdogs if they are getting about three points.
KANSAS AT BAYLOR (Saturday)
Not only might the Big 12 title be on the line in Waco, Texas — the Bears and Jayhawks are in the running for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The Kenpom.com projected score for this matchup is 64-63 in favor of Baylor, so that’s an indication where the line will open. The Bears took it to Kansas in the first meeting in January, winning 67-55 as 7½-point underdogs. Baylor’s swarming defense forced 14 turnovers and controlled the game. The Jayhawks rank No. 1 in defensive efficiency and 10th in offensive efficiency. The Bears rank third in third in defensive efficiency and 25th on the offensive end. I lean to Bill Self in the revenge spot mostly because he’ll have the two best players on the floor in 7-footer Udoka Azubuike and point guard Devon Dotson. If you bet this one either way, be prepared to sweat.
MICHIGAN AT PURDUE (Saturday)
The Wolverines are close to securing their spot in the NCAA field. It’s a team that climbed to No. 1 in the AP poll in early December after an 18-point victory over Gonzaga in the Bahamas. A midseason slump hit while leading scorer Isaiah Livers was out with an injury, but he’s back and Michigan (16-9) was 5-1 in its last six going into Wednesday’s game at Rutgers. The Boilermakers are in bubble trouble again after dropping two in a row before Tuesday’s trip to Wisconsin. Purdue will be desperate and should be the play as a short home favorite.
VILLANOVA AT XAVIER (Saturday)
My team ratings are influenced by coaches and point guards, so I remain higher than most on Villanova due to Jay Wright and point guard Collin Gillespie. The Wildcats were six-point favorites in a 68-62 victory over Xavier on Dec. 30. The Musketeers, likely motivated by their bubble status, have come on strong to win four of their last five games. This is probably a pick-’em game, and it’s that difficult to call. Villanova rates as the much better offensive team, but Xavier is considerably stronger on defense.
NORTH CAROLINA AT LOUISVILLE (Saturday)
Talent is not North Carolina’s problem. The Tar Heels have shown the ability to play with almost any opponent, yet they also have shown an inability to close games. The Heels blew a 15-point second-half lead Monday in a 77-76 loss at Notre Dame. Freshman point guard Cole Anthony scored 23 points and Garrison Brooks had 22 for Carolina, which has dropped six in a row to fall to 10-16 overall and 3-12 in ACC play. Five of the Heels’ six losses during the skid were by a combined 12 points. Will Carolina collapse or keep fighting? The Cardinals also have issues, recently dropping back-to-back road games to unranked opponents. Kenpom projects Louisville to win by 13, but the line will not be that high and Carolina has the talent to keep it close.
FLORIDA AT KENTUCKY (Saturday)
Florida has been among the nation’s biggest flops, with its NCAA title odds now at 150/1 after peaking around 20/1 in November. Still, the Gators are beginning to show a pulse by winning four of five going into Tuesday’s home game against Arkansas. Florida is finally getting better guard play around 6-foot-10 forward Kerry Blackshear, who was the reason for the team’s preseason optimism. Kentucky was 8-1 over a nine-game stretch before playing Tuesday at LSU. This looks like a good spot to grab points with the Gators, but I’m not a believer yet.
UNLV AT SAN DIEGO STATE (Saturday)
Doubts will surround the Aztecs until they defeat a quality team from outside the Mountain West in March, and that’s fair because the conference is weak. San Diego State, the last undefeated team at 26-0, joins Duke and Kansas as the only teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per Kenpom. Point guard Malachi Flynn makes it all go, but he’s no one-man show. The Aztecs have handled inflated point spreads by covering five straight games, and their last non-cover was as seven-point favorites in a 71-67 win at UNLV on Jan. 26. Kenpom projects San Diego State by 19 in the rematch.
GONZAGA AT BRIGHAM YOUNG (Saturday)
Year after year, the Zags coast through most of the West Coast Conference schedule, but occasionally they get a scare. Only Pepperdine and San Francisco have been able to make Gonzaga sweat lately. Add BYU to that short list after this game. The first meeting last month was a 92-69 blowout. The Cougars, who have won six straight, rank No. 1 in 3-point shooting percentage (42.3). Yoeli Childs is a man in the low post, and guards TJ Haws and Jake Toolson can stretch the defense and shoot from deep. Kenpom projects an 82-80 win for the Zags. I would need five points to consider taking the Cougars in a fast-paced shootout.
PENN STATE AT INDIANA (Sunday)
The Hoosiers are on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble, but the benefit of being in the Big Ten is the number of big-game opportunities. Senior forward Lamar Stevens and the Nittany Lions, 20-5 heading into Tuesday’s game against Illinois, were second in the conference and recently picked up significant wins at Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. If Penn State is a short favorite, I’ll probably take the points and bet on Indiana in what is essentially a must-win spot.
WICHITA STATE AT CINCINNATI (Sunday)
After losing three in a row, including an 80-79 loss to Cincinnati on Feb. 6, the Shockers seem to be back on track. Wichita still rates as the better team, so this revenge spot is tempting.