Best Bets: Kentucky-Auburn, Texas Tech-Kansas and a weekend preview

Saturday’s line have not yet been put out by the fine folks running sportsbooks. Until they are, we will be using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to analyze Saturday’s games.

No. 13 KENTUCKY at No. 17 AUBURN, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Auburn 72, Kentucky 69

  • TORVIK: Auburn 72, Kentucky 69

  • HASLAM: Auburn 74, Kentucky 69

For my money, there are two guys that are talented enough to be able to takeover a game for the Wildcats: Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey. Auburn has guys at both of those spots — Austin Wiley and Isaac Okoro — that will be able to slow them down.

Combine that with the fact that Auburn has been a much better team at home this season, and that makes me believe that the Tigers can win this won by multiple possessions.

BEST BET: I like Auburn up to (-4.5).

TEXAS TECH at No. 3 KANSAS, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 70, Texas Tech 58

  • TORVIK: Kansas 71, Texas Tech 59

  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Texas Tech 55

I don’t think that I’ve gotten one Texas Tech game right this season, but we’re going right back to the well this weekend.

And if I’m going to be forced to bet a side here, I’m going to be on The Red Raiders, especially if that line opens above the (+12) that KenPom and Torvik are projecting. The reason for that has everything to do with the way that I expect the Red Raiders to defend. When Baylor beat Kansas in the Phog earlier this year, what they did was switch everything, slough off of weakside shooters, front the post and essentially double-team Udoka Azubuike before he even got a chance to touch the ball. Much of what Scott Drew did that day was taken from the Texas Tech playbook, and I don’t know if there is a coach in the country that is better at building a game-plan defensively than Chris Beard and his staff.

That said, I also think that Kansas is going to be able to slow the Red Raiders down. I don’t expect them to make 11 of their first 15 threes again, as they did against West Virginia because of what Kansas has been on the defensive side of the ball this season. They’ve been at their best playing small, switching 1-4, icing ball-screens and using Azubuike to zone up around the rim.

BEST BET: So I’m going to be back on the under here assuming the total opens above 127.5.

No. 14 MICHIGAN STATE at WISCONSIN, Sat. 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 66, Wisconsin 65

  • TORVIK: Michigan State 65, Wisconsin 63

  • HASLAM: Michigan State 66, Wisconsin 61

I’m really going to be fascinated to see where this line opens up. The projections that I trust the most — KenPom and Torvik — both have Michigan State as small favorites. Haslam has Michigan State (-5), and given the narrative surrounding the Wisconsin program this week, I think that the public will likely be fading the Badgers here.

Michigan State won their most recent road game. Wisconsin has lost three of their last four, with the only win coming at home against Nebraska. The Badgers will be down two starters. And I think it’s worth noting that the Badgers have lost seven straight games to the Spartans; their last win came on Jan. 17, 2016, when Denzel Valentine was in the middle of his Player of the Year season.

BEST BET: I get why everyone will be on the Spartans. If the line opens at Michigan State (-2), I’ll be on them as well. But I have a feeling this is going to be closer to Michigan State (-6) or so, and I’ll feel much less comfortable betting them at that number.

I can’t see myself betting Wisconsin at any reasonable number here, but I probably will stay away from the Spartans at anything (-5.5) and above.

UTAH STATE at No. 4 SAN DIEGO STATE, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: San Diego State 70, Utah State 59

  • TORVIK: San Diego State 69, Utah State 59

  • HASLAM: San Diego State 68, Utah State 56

The Aggies have been playing much better basketball of late. They’ve won three in a row and four of their last five, and the one loss during that stretch came in a game where they blew an 18 point lead in four minutes on the road.

Sam Merrill looks healthier. Neemias Queta is back at 100 percent. They look much more like the top 25 team that they were in the preseason, and at this point, this is a must-win game if the Aggies want a shot at getting an at-large bid. This is their last chance at an elite win this season.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Aggies here, particularly if the line gets as high as (+12). I like them all the way down to (+10).

No. 21 HOUSTON at CINCINNATI, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Cincinnati 69, Houston 68

  • TORVIK: Cincinnati 69, Houston 67

  • HASLAM: Cincinnati 67, Houston 65

Cincinnati has won three in a row and five of their last six games to move within a game of first place in the American. In those six games, Jarron Cumberland is averaging 18.3 points and 5.7 assists. With losses to Bowling Green, Colgate and Tulane on their resume, the Bearcats have a major hole to dig out of to get an at-large bid.

BEST BET: Here’s to hoping we can get Cincinnati at a pick-em. I like the Bearcats up to (-2.5).

No. 23 WICHITA STATE at TULSA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Tulsa 65, Wichita State 64

  • TORVIK: Wichita State 64, Tulsa 63

  • HASLAM: Wichita State 65, Tulsa 64

Wichita State has righted the ship after losing two straight earlier this month, but the key point to make here for me is that they have had a week off to prep for this game. The reason that Tulsa is so difficult to play against is because Frank Haith is running a 1-2-2 matchup zone that is difficult to run offense against and is unlike what you’re going to see most teams do.

Gregg Marshall and the Shockers have had a full week off to prep for this game. I trust that he’ll be able to figure something out for them.

BEST BET: I like Wichita State here. If they’re getting points I’ll be on the ML. If they’re giving points, I’ll bet them up to (-2.5).

No. 19 ILLINOIS at No. 18 IOWA, Sun. 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Iowa 76, Illinois 71

  • TORVIK: Iowa 76, Illinois 71

  • HASLAM: Iowa 75, Illinois 70

The big question with this game is going to be whether or not you think Kofi Cockburn is going to be able to stay out of foul trouble. Luka Garza has drawn nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes this season — a number that jumps up to 8.0 in Big Ten play — and Cockburn has had some issues with fouling this season. But where he really struggles is when he is asked to defend away from the basket, whether it is against big men that are quicker than him or offenses that like to run ball-screens. That’s not really the case in this matchup.

If Cockburn can stay out of foul trouble, than it means that the one player that is bigger, stronger and more physical than Garza in the Big Ten will stay on the floor. It also means that the third-best offensive rebounder in the Big Ten will be able to attack the glass against a team that has played quite a bit of zone of late.

BEST BET: Assuming the line opens up at Iowa (-5), I think I lean the Hawkeyes. They are coming off of a road loss to Maryland and have not lost at home since Nov. 11th. Illinois has won seven in a row — five of which have been by single digits, and four by four points or less — and while they have won three straight road games, they do get Maryland and Michigan State at home next week.

So yes, I’ll buy low on the Hawkeyes playing in a potential lookahead spot for Illinois in a game where so much of it could hinge on whether or not the Big Ten Player of the Year gets a favorable whistle at home.

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