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While the battle between the Providence Friars and Connecticut Huskies make up our only ranked matchup on Wednesday night’s slate, we will still see the two best teams in the nation (Houston and Alabama) continue their incredible seasons.
The Cougars and Crimson Tide hope to solidify their place as future No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and winning games like these will help them hold off other squads like Kansas, UCLA, Purdue, and Virginia.
Our best bets for these three games (Providence vs. UConn, Alabama vs. South Carolina, and Houston vs. Tulane) are listed below, including a detailed analysis of each team’s season and future outlook heading into March. Take a look!
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Scarcely is there such a discrepancy between the AP Poll and KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin rankings unless the team being compared is a mid-major team like Saint Mary’s. This situation obviously does not apply to Connecticut, a major program in the Big East. Still, UConn ranks sixth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin but is No. 18 in the AP Poll.
A portion of that discrepancy lies in the Huskies’ mediocre conference play in the Big East; they dropped five of six games between December 31st and January 18th. If UConn could eliminate those three weeks, it would be 19-2, with losses to only No. 16 Xavier and No. 19 Creighton.
We can’t ignore that stretch, but we can at least acknowledge that this team is not the same as that one. The Huskies have won four of their past five games, including a double-digit beatdown against the No. 10 team, Marquette. When Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo are clicking on the offensive end, there is little stopping this squad.
Providence is another Big East team that could make a splash in March. The Friars have again put together a solid season (20-7) behind head coach Ed Cooley; they have had 11 straight seasons with a winning percentage of .500 or better.
The Friars are led by the three-headed monster of Ed Croswell, Devin Carter, and Bryce Hopkins, who all shoot roughly 45% or better from the field! Together, these three average close to 44 points, 22 rebounds, five assists, four steals, and three blocks.
Providence ranks 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 23rd in points per game, and 21st in offensive rebounding percentage. Volume, pace, and second-chance points are huge aspects of the Friars’ offensive attack.
Their defense is slightly concerning leading into March and could be their downfall in this game. UConn’s offense should eviscerate Providence’s defense, and when it doesn’t, it can rely on second-chance points (third in offensive rebounding percentage) to fill in the gaps. I will back the Huskies at home, even with a substantial 7.5-point spread.
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I may back Houston this entire season. The Cougars are 16-11 against the spread this season, and you know what they say: good teams win, and great teams cover!
So, what has contributed to Houston’s success this season? Several elements are involved, but they all revolve around defense, intensity, IQ, chemistry, or rebounding.
The Cougars rank eighth in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, third in opponent eFG% (effective field goal percentage), third in opponent 3P% (three-point percentage), and second in offensive rebounding percentage (only 0.1% behind first-ranked Purdue.)
Houston has a balance of youth and experience, with a probable lottery pick in Jarace Walker, and another future pro in Marcus Sasser, leading the way. J’Wan Roberts, Tramon Mark, Jamal Shead, and Emanuel Sharp are key role players who fit perfectly in the Cougars’ system.
The Cougars have only dropped two games this season, including a loss to now No. 2 Alabama (Houston is No. 1) and one to Temple. In short, they have been close to perfect!
What is even more impressive than their usual “rebounding and defense” play style, that head coach Kelvin Sampson leans heavily on, has been their offensive efficiency; they have the fourth-best offense this season, according to KenPom.
Meanwhile, the Tulane Green Wave were projected to finish fourth in the AAC at the beginning of the season via a coaches poll on the AAC website but currently sit in second. It has been a great season, but they will likely have to win the conference tournament to secure a birth to the NCAA Tournament.
Tulane is led by sophomore guard, and microwave scorer, Jalen Cook, who is averaging 20.1 points and 5.2 assists per game! Cook is lightning-quick and has excellent vision when penetrating the lane; he can cause opposing defenses to break down often.
Outside of Cook, the Green Wave still have three terrific scorers, including Jaylen Forbes, Kevin Cross, and Sion James. Tulane ranks seventh in points per game and 22nd in two-point percentage; it has a dangerous offense.
In their first matchup, Houston “held” Cook to 15 points, five rebounds, and two assists; however, the Green Wave’s other elite scorer, Forbes (18.8 points per game) popped off for 23 points.
Can Tulane keep it closer than it did last time? I don’t believe so. Houston won with a comfortable 20-point margin on the road (now, it is at home) and out-rebounded the Green Wave by eight boards. The inevitable rebounding differential, and Tulane’s mediocre defense (outside KenPom’s top 100), are causes for concern. I will back Houston once again.
When: 9:00 PM EST
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The Alabama Crimson Tide have had an incredible season. As a matter of fact, this might be the best season they have ever had when factoring in the level of competition and their record, wins, and talent. At the very least, it has been one of their best seasons.
Alabama’s head coach, Nate Oats, has put together an immensely talented basketball program in just his fourth season at the helm. His recruiting ability and relative strength in preparation and in-game adjustments make him a program-altering coach.
The Crimson Tide have size, strength, shooting, and poise, a lethal combination for when March rolls around. The star for this squad is undoubtedly Brandon Miller, a 6-foot-9 freshman who averages roughly 19 points and eight rebounds on a 46/43/83 shooting split.
Alabama is loaded with other high-impact freshmen, too, such as forward Noah Clowney, and guards Rylan Griffen and Jaden Bradley. Four of its top five leading scorers are freshmen!
Coach Oats has turned this group of freshmen, plus junior guard Mark Sears, into a defensive juggernaut (third in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency) that plays up-tempo and can shoot the lights out on the other end of the floor (34th in eFG%.)
There’s only one problem: Alabama has been the center of unwanted attention this season. A Crimson Tide player (Darius Miles) killed a young woman after firing shots into a vehicle earlier this year.
Now, matters have become even muddier. New information has recently been revealed that Alabama’s star, Brandon Miller, brought the gun to Miles. While there does not seem to be any punishment, legal or within the program, in place for Miller, this could still be a distraction for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, South Carolina has not fared well since dismissing former head coach Frank Martin, boasting a 10-17 record (3-11 in the SEC) so far in the 2022-23 season. To be fair, things had been trending downward ever since the Gamecocks’ surprising Final Four appearance in 2017.
The Gamecocks are led by freshman G.G. Jackson II, a likely first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Jackson is only 18 years old, and while his age sometimes shows, his talent and skills are undeniable.
The bottom line is South Carolina is not a good basketball team; it is 224th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, 327th (out of 363 teams) in eFG%, 320th in defensive efficiency, and 292nd in opponent eFG%.
Further, Alabama is far and away a better rebounding team, opening the door for many second-chance points for the Crimson Tide.
The Gamecocks also don’t cover all that well, holding a 3-6 record as home dogs, while Alabama is 6-4 ATS on the road. I will back the Crimson Tide, despite the unwanted attention surrounding the program.
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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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