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We are less than three weeks away from the start of March Madness. Therefore, every game at this point in the season is of the utmost importance, whether it is for tournament seeding implications or winning the regular season conference title.
Saturday’s slate is an excellent one, featuring a rivalry (Indiana versus Purdue), a top-ten matchup (Texas versus Baylor), and a likely conference-deciding battle (Saint Mary’s versus Gonzaga.) See which teams we believe will win or at least cover in these exciting games.
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The Big 12 has been far and away the toughest conference in all of college basketball this season; Baylor and Texas can both attest to that fact. The Longhorns still have a shot at the regular season conference championship, so this game has significant implications.
Baylor’s offense is second in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency; it only ranks behind the Gonzaga Bulldogs in that metric.
The Bears’ terrific trio of Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, and LJ Cryer leads their offensive attack. Still, another crucial frontcourt piece has also returned to their lineup: Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.
Tchamwa Tchatchoua has missed an entire year of basketball after a season-ending injury during the 2021-22 campaign. He is yet another Baylor player who was on its championship team two years ago, alongside Flagler and Cryer.
His return has been vital for Baylor, a team that desperately needed another frontcourt player for depth and rebounding purposes. Will his presence be enough for the Bears to avenge a loss to Texas earlier in the season?
The first matchup between these two teams went how you would expect: a tight game with the home team coming away with a narrow victory. I imagine the same to be the case in this matchup.
For one, Baylor matches up quite well with Texas, a team that does not have a significant frontcourt presence. The Longhorns sometimes struggle to secure defensive rebounds (171st in defensive rebounding percentage), while Baylor is 18th in offensive rebounding percentage.
The Bears’ rebounding numbers could have been even better if they had Tchamwa Tchatchoua for most of the season. Nevertheless, Baylor’s strength in rebounding the ball should alleviate some of its defensive shortcomings.
It will be a close game; don’t expect a double-digit beatdown. Still, the Baylor Moneyline is a great play here. The Bears have only lost twice at home, and the two games have been by a combined three points. I trust a championship coach in Scott Drew in this spot.
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Indiana enters this rivalry game as 7.5-point road dogs, despite beating Purdue earlier in the year. The Hoosiers have saved their season after a rough start to their Big 10 season, despite missing their starting point guard and second-leading scorer, Xavier Johnson, since the middle of December.
Johnson is set to return in the coming weeks, but it likely won’t be for this game, and the spread more than indicates that fact.
The Hoosiers have been a terrific team at home all season, winning 14 of their 15 games in Assembly Hall. However, they have had struggles on the road and hope to fix that against their biggest rival.
In their first matchup, Indiana had great results against the stout Purdue defense by utilizing the dribble hand-off, an action that forces Zach Edey to be involved defensively; he either has to step up and hedge/switch, or play drop coverage.
Much like Purdue had done all season, it decided to have Edey play drop coverage. Indiana was able to exploit that, and its success led to other teams running similar actions. Every team has a weakness; it is just about finding it while minimizing the opponents’ strengths.
Can the Hoosiers replicate their performance against Purdue on the road? The likely answer to that question is “no.” Indiana got off to a hot start versus the Boilermakers, leading by 15 points at halftime, and nearly blew it.
Further, Indiana has not been a good road team, with several players performing noticeably worse when away from Assembly Hall.
Additionally, Zach Edey won’t have to worry about getting into foul trouble at home, and Trayce Jackson-Davis will have his hands full guarding the 7-foot-4 center who posted 33 points and 18 rebounds the last time they played. I will back the Boilermakers here.
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A potential conference title-deciding game between the two best teams in the WCC takes place on Saturday when the Saint Mary’s Gaels face the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
These two teams had faced off once before this season when the Gaels took home an eight-point home victory. Saint Mary’s held Gonzaga to just 70 points, nearly 17 points lower than its season average.
This should not come as a major shock, as the Gaels boast the fifth-best defense in the nation (per KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.)
Second-chance points also helped Saint Mary’s significantly, as it wound up with ten more shot attempts than Gonzaga by the end of the game. This mainly was a result of the Gaels’ superior rebounding ability.
The Gaels even shot a horrendous 6-24 from behind the arc and still pulled out an overtime win.
So what can we expect from this game?
For one, the Bulldogs have looked exceptional on the offensive end, scoring an average of roughly 98 points in the five games since they last faced Saint Mary’s. Drew Timme’s 22 points per game and near-70% shooting from the field has been a major boost.
Additionally, the Gaels have not played convincing basketball in the past two weeks, losing to LMU and barely beating San Diego and BYU.
Gonzaga is getting hot at the right time, and a lot is on the line for it, as a home loss would give the Gaels an outright regular-season WCC title. Also, take a look at the over on the point total. Even Saint Mary’s elite defense cannot stop Gonzaga’s offensive attack.
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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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