Just when I thought I couldn’t get hotter, the flame got turned up last week. Your favorite prognosticator went 7-1 against the spread and earned 90 tokens, putting me 31-20 ATS and plus-210 on the season. It’s for good reason I am brimming with confidence — so much so that I believe myself to be unjinxable. So I thumb my nose at the basketball gods and guarantee that my hot streak will continue — or your tokens back!
As always, I have 100 tokens at my disposal, with a minimum of 10 for each game. All lines are courtesy of BetMGM.
• Last week: 7-1, plus-90
• This season: 31-20, plus-210
Rutgers at Wisconsin (-1 1/2), Noon ET, Big Ten Network. We knew Mawot Mag was important to Rutgers, but I had no idea he was this important. The 6-foot-7 junior forward from Australia suffered a season-ending ACL injury during the first half of the Scarlet Knights’ 61-55 win over Michigan State on Feb. 4. Mag was a glue-guy starter who ranked sixth on the team in scoring but was instrumental to Rutgers’ defense, which is No. 3 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. The Scarlet Knights have now lost three in a row without Mag, and it won’t get any easier on the road against a Badgers squad that is fighting for its NCAA Tournament life and quite comfortable playing Rutgers’ slow, physical style. The pick: 10 tokens on Wisconsin
Illinois at Indiana (-4 1/2), Noon ET, ESPN. No player has been more effective over the past month than Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, but the weight of having to carry his team is starting to show. In the past nine games, Jackson-Davis has played all but 16 minutes for the Hoosiers, and though he had 23 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists Wednesday at Northwestern, he played 39 minutes, looked gassed down the stretch and was unable to keep the Hoosiers from avoiding a 64-62 loss. I like Indiana to bounce back at home against a young Illinois squad that has lost two of its past three games, both of which were on the road, but at some point Jackson-Davis is going to need a little more help from his friends. The pick: 20 tokens on Indiana
Down goes No. 1!
Stifling defense and clutch scoring down the stretch lifted No. 10 @Vol_Hoops to a 68-59 win over No. 1 Alabama on Wednesday night.https://t.co/xnLMj5VMH4
— Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Sports) February 16, 2023
Tennessee (-1 1/2) at Kentucky, 1 p.m. ET, CBS. How do you solve a problem like Tennessee? The Vols knocked off No. 1 Alabama at home Wednesday night without two of their top six players, and they have also beaten Kansas, Maryland, Texas and Auburn. They’ve also lost to Colorado, Florida, Vanderbilt and Missouri, and on Jan. 14 they lost to a Kentucky squad that had just lost at home to South Carolina. The Wildcats notched a gritty 71-68 win at Mississippi State on Wednesday night, but they are also down key players in 5-9 senior guard Sahvir Wheeler and 6-3 senior guard C.J. Fredrick, who will both likely miss this one as well, and there is a better chance that Tennessee’s missing guys will play. All five UK starters played 32-plus minutes Wednesday, but that’s not going to fly against the best defensive team in the country, which will be especially motivated given the way things went down between these teams in Knoxville. The pick: 20 tokens on Tennessee
Iowa State at Kansas State (-3 1/2), 2 p.m. ET, ESPN. Both teams have hit some turbulence of late. The Cyclones started off 4-0 in the Big 12, but they have dropped six of 10 since then, largely because of their offensive limitations. For Kansas State, the issue has been the road. The Wildcats are 3-6 on the road this season, including their past five Big 12 road games. They are coming into this one having lost back-to-back road games against the bottom two teams in the league: Texas Tech and Oklahoma. That’s especially problematic for a team that ranks 327th in the county in bench minutes, per KenPom, and relies heavily on two offensive dynamos in 5-8 senior point guard Markquis Nowell (32.1 percent field goal shooting his past five games) and 6-6 senior forward Keyontae Johnson. On the other hand, there’s a lot of concern in Ames over the condition of Caleb Grill’s back. The 6-3 senior guard has shot 28.6 percent from 3 over his past three games and played just 13 minutes off the bench in Wednesday’s home win over TCU. As a desperate home team playing against a squad that is likewise running on fumes, I’ll take the Wildcats, but if Jerome Tang doesn’t develop his bench, this team could have a short stay in March Madness. The pick: 10 tokens on Kansas State
Baylor at Kansas (-5 1/2), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN. These might be the two hottest teams in the country. Baylor has lost just one game since Jan. 7, by five points at Texas, and is now ranked No. 1 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. Priority No. 1 for Kansas is hosing down L.J. Cryer, who put up a combined 49 points on 12-of-17 3-point shooting in his past two games. The Jayhawks have likewise won five of their past six, largely because the members of Jalen Wilson’s supporting cast have been stepping up. That includes 6-8 freshman guard Gradey Dick, who had 21 points in a home win over Texas on Feb. 6 and a season-high 26 points in Tuesday’s win at Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks had a season-high 26 assists in that game. Baylor took the first meeting in Waco 75-69, so I’ll go with the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse, but this one will be highly entertaining. First one to 90 wins. The pick: 10 tokens on Kansas
Texas A&M at Missouri (-1), 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2. Raise your hand if you’re aware that Texas A&M is alone in second place in the SEC, two games clear of Tennessee. Didn’t think so. That is even more remarkable given the Aggies started the season 6-5. They dominated Missouri 82-64 on Jan. 11 in College Station by doing the two things they do best: pounding the glass (41-21 margin) and attacking the rim (24-of-32 from the foul line). The question, then, is which Missouri will show up? The one that won at Tennessee on a buzzer-beater last Saturday, or the one that got blasted by 33 points at Auburn on Tuesday? Given the game is in Columbia and Missouri needs to bounce back, I’ll go with the latter, but I can’t say I have a ton of confidence. The pick: 10 tokens on Missouri
Duke (-1 1/2) at Syracuse, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN. Duke might still be stinging from that controversial loss at Virginia last Saturday, but the Blue Devils need to flush that and make sure they are sharp for the home stretch. They looked listless during Tuesday’s 68-64 home win over Notre Dame, and though this is far from a vintage Syracuse team, the Orange still play that unconventional zone defense and are always tough to beat at home. The good news for the Blue Devils is they are as healthy as they have been all season. Freshman guard Dariq Whitehead played the past two games after missing the previous four with a foot injury; junior point guard Jeremy Roach appears to be fully recovered from the toe strain that cost him three games in January; and freshman forward Kyle Filipowski, who had scored a combined nine points in his previous two games, had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists in the win over the Fighting Irish even though he was listed as questionable because of an ankle injury. The Orange have won three straight, but the zone’s primary weakness, the defensive glass, aligns perfectly with Duke’s biggest strength. Syracuse is ranked 346th nationally in defensive rebound percentage, per KenPom, while Duke is seventh in offensive rebound percentage. Advantage, Devils. The pick: 10 tokens on Duke
Michigan State at Michigan (-2), 8 p.m., Fox. Take some time to contemplate and sympathize with what this basketball team and the entire Michigan State community have been dealing with this week. There’s no way of knowing whether the emotional trauma will weigh down the Spartans or lift them up. On paper, they’re the better team. The pick: 10 tokens on Michigan State.
(Photo of K.J. Adams Jr.: Jay Biggerstaff / Getty Images)
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