Hard as it is to believe, the final Saturday of NCAA basketball’s regular season is upon us. There are several huge games on the NCAA college basketball sports betting menu, including:
No. 9 North Carolina at No. 5 Duke: The winner gets the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament; the Blue Devils will get a Top 4 seed and double-bye regardless, but the Heels could slip out of the Top 4 with a loss.
No. 18 Clemson at Syracuse: It’s simply a must-have game for the Orange, who are on the NCAA Tournament bubble and likely on the wrong side of it.
South Carolina at No. 14 Auburn: It looked like the Tigers’ first SEC regular-season title since 1999 was a lock less than two weeks ago, but Coach Bruce Pearl’s team is fading fast with three losses in the past four and now in a tie with Tennessee atop the SEC. Auburn would win a tiebreaker with the Vols, who host Georgia on Saturday and should win.
No. 3 Xavier at DePaul: No. 4 Villanova’s four-year reign as Big East regular-season champion will come to an end if the Musketeers take care of business in Chicago. Xavier already has clinched at least a share of the regular-season title and would win it outright with a victory — but would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker should XU be upset and Nova win at home vs. Georgetown (Cats will roll in that one).
Welcome to March!
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 1, 2018
Battle For Los Angeles: UCLA-USC Is The Biggest Bubble Game of the Weekend With NCAA Tournament Implications
But for my money, the most important game is the battle for bragging rights in Los Angeles: UCLA at USC with a 10:15 p.m. ET tip on ESPN. I expect the Trojans to be about 4-point favorites.
Both schools are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Trojans are 21-9 overall, second in the Pac-12 at 12-5 and have a solid RPI of 30. However, they have just one win over an RPI Top 50 club: Middle Tennessee. USC also has a horrible loss to RPI 225 Princeton.
USC looked done in mid-February when junior forward Bennie Boatwright was ruled out for the season with a knee injury. Boatwright was averaging 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, both second on the team. Yet USC enters Saturday on a four-game winning streak, three of those by double digits. There were some eligibility questions about freshman Chimezie Metu as he was one of the names released in that FBI into college basketball corruption, but Metu has been cleared (for now). ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Trojans currently among the Last Four In for the Big Dance – I think they are in with a victory here no matter what happens in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
UCLA, meanwhile, is listed among ESPN’s First Four Out. The Bruins are 19-10 overall and 10-7 in the Pac-12 – they are playing for a Top 4 spot in the conference tourney and a first-round bye. UCLA has an RPI of 51 but has four wins over RPI Top 50 schools: Kentucky, Washington (another Pac-12 bubble team), USC and Arizona. The Bruins’ lone bad loss was at Oregon State.
There should be no way that the selection committee leaves UCLA out in favor of the Trojans if the Bruins complete the season sweep Saturday. On Feb. 3, UCLA was a 1-point home favorite and beat USC 82-79. Bruins 7-foot center Thomas Welsh hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 51 seconds left. Aaron Holiday’s 23 points led the Bruins. He’s second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.6 ppg. No UCLA guard has averaged 19 or more points per game in one season since Reggie Miller’s 22.3 points per game as a senior in 1986-87. Boatwright played in that first matchup for USC but was a detriment if anything, going 0-for-5 in nine minutes.
KenPom predicts a final score of USC 83, UCLA 78. I do like the Trojans as long as the spread is under 6. The Bruins are just 3-6 ATS in true road games this season and have lost and failed to cover their past three. The Trojans have defeated UCLA in the Galen Center the previous two seasons.