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For this Saturday slate, there are 20 ranked teams playing, giving us plenty to look forward to! Below, we analyze three games: No. 23 Wisconsin versus No. 1 Arizona, No. 20 Illinois versus No. 17 Tennessee, and Auburn versus Indiana. Check out our best college basketball picks today!
Date: Saturday, December 9
Time: 3:15 pm EST
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This is about as low of a point total (145) as you will ever see in a game that features Arizona this season, and 145 points is still a fairly standard line for most teams and most games. However, the Wildcats are not most teams; they rank eighth in adjusted tempo and 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom. Additionally, they are second in points per game and 22nd in eFG% in the nation.
Of course, this should come as no surprise, as the Wildcats have an elite core of players featuring North Carolina transfer Caleb Love, Keshad Johnson, Kylan Boswell, Oumar Bello, Pelle Larsson, Motiejus Krivas, K.J. Lewis, and Jaden Bradley.
The beauty of this Arizona offense is that no one cares who scores; it has six players who average double-digit points, and all of them, except for Love (39%), who is known as a volume scorer, shoot better than 50% from the field.
The Wildcats are not a one-trick pony, though. They also possess an intense and, oftentimes, overwhelming defense that utilizes their length, versatility, and quickness to jump passing lanes, deflect passes, and strip ball-handlers. Currently, Arizona ranks fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, allowing opponents to shoot just 38.5% from the field and 31.5% from behind the arc. And the Wildcats are menaces on the defensive glass, rebounding opponents’ misses 85.1% of the time, which is second-best in the country behind only BYU. Further, they also force over 16 turnovers per game, making them a terrific team to back against weaker backcourts.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not one of those teams, though. Since dropping its second and third games of the season by double-digits to Tennessee and Providence, Wisconsin has won sixth consecutive games, including against Marquette, Michigan State, and Virginia, who are either ranked or have been ranked at some point this season.
The Badgers brought back last season’s leading scorer, and starting point guard, Chucky Hepburn, as well as forwards Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl. Max Klesmit also returned for the Badgers, giving them four of their top five scorers back for one more go-around. The addition of freshman John Blackwell (9.1 points per game) and A.J. Storr (14.2 ppg), a sophomore transfer from St. John’s, have also significantly boosted what was a fairly mediocre offense last season. That is not the case anymore, as Wisconsin ranks 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
This game will be a major clash of styles; Arizona plays up-tempo (eighth in adjusted tempo), while Wisconsin is one of the slowest teams in the country, ranking 343rd (out of 363 teams) in adjusted tempo. The Badgers are a dangerous team for Arizona because their slow pace can disturb the rhythm of the Wildcats’ offense, which is one of their biggest advantage alongside their firepower and rebounding.
Further, Wisconsin can mitigate the Wildcats’ prowess on the offensive glass due to their excellent defensive rebounding (20th in defensive rebounding percentage.) Since the Badgers also protect the ball well (10.6 turnovers per game) and have great guard play, with Hepburn and Storr in the backcourt, they will minimize mistakes.
Arizona will probably win since it is the nation’s No. 1 team and is playing in front of its own fans, but laying 9.5 points is way too salty to fade a Badgers team that just beat No. 8 Marquette and the preseason No. 4 team Michigan State, by double-digits.
Date: Saturday, December 9
Time: 12:00 pm EST
Two of the best defenses in the nation go toe-to-toe when the No. 20 Illinois Fighting Illini travel to enemy territory for a battle with the No. 17 Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee has not had its most ideal start to the 2023-24 regular season, boasting merely a 5-3 record through its first eight games. The Volunteers have dropped bouts to No. 9 North Carolina, No. 2 Kansas, and No. 4 Purdue, which are all reasonable losses; however, they surely wish they could have gotten away with one or two wins in those three games for their NCAA Tournament resume come March.
While the Volunteers failed to return a few players from last season’s exceptional team, including Olivier Nkamhoua and Julian Phillips, they were able to replenish those losses in the transfer portal with Dalton Knecht and Jordan Gainey, two superb perimeter scorers. Knecht and Gainey join returners Zakai Zeigler, Josiah-Jordan James, Jonas Aidoo and Santiago Vescovi on Tennessee’s uber-talented roster.
Meanwhile, Illinois is fresh off a huge win against the No. 11 Florida Atlantic Owls, who put up a hard fight but, ultimately, fell short. The Fighting Illini got career performances from Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask, who posted 33 points each.
Still, expect a letdown game from the Illinois Fighting Illini after their emotional 98-89 win over No. 11 Florida Atlantic; they shot way too well (63/40/90 team shooting split) to replicate that, and their defense faltered against a strong offensive attack. Further, it took 33 points from both Domask and Shannon Jr. just to squeak by the Owls.
That won’t happen against a stout, second-ranked (KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency) defense in the nation, especially since the Volunteers are playing at home, where they have not lost yet (3-0.) Additionally, Tennessee has won by an average of roughly 27 points at home; the Volunteers’ best performances on both sides of the floor this year have been in front of their own fans.
Date: Saturday, December 9
Time: 2:00 pm EST
Indiana fans surely loved hearing Auburn’s Bruce Pearl talk fondly about former Hoosiers head coach Bob Knight, one of the greatest college basketball coaches in history. The Hoosiers fans also had to feel validated that Pearl views their program as a “Blue Blood,” despite their struggles to find consistent footing on a national level since Knight’s departure in the early 2000s.
However, none of that means that Bruce Pearl and Auburn will roll over. As a matter of fact, it just means that they are going to play that much harder. A win against Indiana would give Pearl’s Tigers a huge boost to their NCAA Tournament resume early in the season.
Auburn currently ranks 17th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, largely due to its defense, which stands at 14th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Tigers hold opponents to the seventh-lowest eFG% and the 19th-lowest 3P% in the nation while forcing nearly 14 turnovers per game. Further, Auburn will be looking for a revenge game: the Tigers are fresh off a loss to Appalachian State, a talented and experienced team, but not one they should be losing to.
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have won four straight games since getting rolled by No. 5 UConn, the reigning national champions. Most recently, they won a tough road game against the Michigan Wolverines, a 4-5 team that is much better than their record indicates.
Indiana lost its star player Trayce Jackson-Davis, but returned super senior point guard Xavier Johnson, who secured a medical hardship waiver after suffering a season-ending foot injury last December. Johnson is joined by five-star sophomore Malik Reneau and senior “Swiss Army Knife” guard Trey Galloway as key returners.
The Hoosiers hit the transfer portal after TJD declared for the 2023 NBA Draft and brought in former five-star center and projected first-rounder Kel’el Ware, who has done a fantastic job filling in the gaps that Jackson-Davis’ absence created. Ware (7-foot-1) and Reneau (6-foot-9) have terrific size in the frontcourt for the Hoosiers and also have five-star freshman Mackenzie Mgbako (6-foot-8) to help stretch the floor with impressive shooting.
Regardless, the outcome of this game lies in the availability of Indiana’s senior point guard and leader, Xavier Johnson. If Johnson cannot play, Auburn laying the points is a viable play, as its defensive pressure (half-court and full-court) and intensity will cause the Hoosiers issues, especially with 6-foot-2 freshman guard Gabe Cupps at the helm.
However, if “X” can play, we must re-evaluate the line. For now, the Tigers -6.5 is the way to go.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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