College Basketball Betting: Kansas vs. Villanova and Kentucky vs. Ohio State Previews
On Saturday afternoon, college basketball bettors will be treated to an intriguing pair of non-conference matchups. At noon, the no. 2 Kansas Jayhawks visit no. 18 Villanova in Philadelphia. Following that game, no. 5 Ohio State faces off against no. 6 Kentucky in Las Vegas. Let’s take a look at these two huge encounters, and what we might expect from a betting perspective.
Kansas Jayhawks at Villanova Wildcats
This Big 12 vs. Big East matchup features two teams who began the year next to each other on the preseason KenPom rankings, 10th and 9th, respectively. Since then, the two teams have gone in opposite directions. Kansas have climbed to fourth while Villanova have dropped down to 19th. Since an opening night 68-66 defeat against Duke on a neutral floor, Kansas has established itself as a legitimate title contender. The Jayhawks have gone from strength to strength, and are playing their best basketball of the season. Over the last five games, Kansas have gone 5-0 SU and ATS, including quality wins against Dayton and Colorado. Meanwhile, Villanova have struggled to put away lesser opposition. While have won four of five, the team is 0-5 ATS in that span. The only game against quality opposition was on a neutral floor against Baylor, where the Wildcats were comfortably defeated 87-78.
Last time out, the Jayhawks put together their most complete performance of the season, dismantling UMKC 98-57. Forward David McCormack had the best game of his career, scoring 28 points on 11-for-14 shooting. As he becomes an increasingly legitimate scoring threat, the Kansas front-court will go from great to downright frightening. The size disparity is something that Villanova usually have to deal with when it goes up against a blue-blood program, and this matchup will be no different. While there’s some height in Villanova’s lineup, the front-court is not nearly as big as Kansas’, and this could well be an issue. Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack are listed at 270 and 265 pounds, respectively. They should be able to force their way inside against Cody Swider and Saddiq Bey, who come in at 220 and 215.
Kansas is one of the most complete teams in college basketball. Its offense ranks in the 98th-percentile, and its smothering defense ranks in the 87th. While Villanova also rank in the 98th-percentile offensively, the Wildcats have serious issues on defense. The team ranks in the 29th-percentile overall on defense. There are aspects of the Villanova defense that remain solid, but its pick and roll defense is downright atrocious. The team is surrendering 0.96 PPP in this action, putting them way down in the 3rd-percentile nationwide. While Kansas is more solid than spectacular in pick and roll offense (64th-percentile), this still represents a massive advantage for the Jayhawks. If Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett can consistently find openings in this action, Kansas should have its way getting pretty much whatever else it wants.
On offense, there’s not much that will come easy for Villanova, however, there could be an advantage in spot up situations. This is Villanova’s best form of offense, and it is scoring 1.17 PPP in possessions ending in this action, placing it in the 99th-percentile. Even more impressive, the Wildcats run this action a ton, with a whopping 28.3% of possessions ending in spot up situations. Even more impressive, Villanova are only shooting 33.8% from the field in unguarded catch and shoot situations, almost ten percent lower than in guarded catch and shoot. There’s serious room for improvement in this action, despite the great results so far. This offensive outlet is a potential saving grace for Villanova, who face a Kansas defense for whom this is the only weakness. Kansas is surrendering 0.88 PPP in spot up situations, placing it in the 39th-percentile.
Both teams have not played in a week, so we should see a high-energy performance from both outfits. Ultimately, it seems like Kansas can just do more than their Big East counterparts. However, Villanova’s offense is centered around the very thing the Jayhawks struggle with. To this end, a look at going over the total certainly merits consideration.
Finally, Villanova have only faced two ranked teams this season, and lost by nine to Baylor and were absolutely run out of the gym in a 25-point blowout defeat at Ohio State. They just simply might not be in the same class this year. Kansas looks to be a short favorite in this matchup, and even if you aren’t too keen to go with the Jayhawks in Philadelphia, it would be hard to bet against them here.
Ohio State vs. Kentucky
Again, this battle between Big Ten and SEC heavyweights features two teams that have trended in opposite directions since the beginning of the year. As usual, much was expected of Kentucky. The Wildcats were ranked second in the preseason KenPom rankings, and have slid to 11th on the heels of a bad loss as an 11-point favorite against Utah in Las Vegas. Ohio State have made one of the most significant climbs in the entire nation, going from 15th in the preseason KenPom all the way up to the second slot. Ohio State have moved from being a trendy pick for a deep run in March, to a contender to win it all. As is often the case, Kentucky takes confidence in the process, and still trusts in its young stars to develop and peak at the right time.
That said, Kentucky have to play whoever is in front of them, and this is a tough spot for the Wildcats. To begin with, this is one opponent that will not be intimated by Kentucky. Ohio State crushed Villanova, and lit up North Carolina 74-49. The team is led by three high-level upperclassmen, who all have the size and strength to mitigate what is usually a big advantage for Calipari-led teams. The Wesson Brothers, along with Kyle Young, provide hef, and experience that Kentucky could struggle to deal with.
Ohio State is no flash in the pan. No team in the nation ranks as highly on both offense and defense in points per possession. The Buckeyes rank in the 97th-percentile on offense, and 99th on defense. Much like the game discussed above, spot up situations promise to be critical. It is here where Ohio State have a decided edge. Defending this action looks to be Ohio State’s only weak spot, surrendering 0.88 PPP, putting it in the 40th-percentile. Kentucky, however, are even worse, giving up 0.922, leaving them in the 25th-percentile. However, it’s the offensive side of this action where things swing dramatically in Ohio State’s favor. Kentucky has 27.4% of its possessions end in spot up action, yet are only scoring a brutal 0.71 PPP, which translates to the 4th-percentile in the nation. This is a testament to Calipari’s often hands-off approach, and might pay dividends as his talented group learn and grow, but it could be a real problem tomorrow. Making matters even worse, Ohio State are simply the best team in the country in spot up situations. The Buckeyes score a fantastic 1.19 PPP in possessions ending in this action, and unsurprisingly rely on it more than any other type of offense. If this becomes a large part of play on both ends of the floor, as it should, Kentucky are in trouble.
There is, however, a scheduling advantage here for the Wildcats. The silver lining of Wednesday’s loss in Vegas to the Utes, is that the team has had days to rest up and adjust to the time zone change. Ohio State, played at home on Tuesday, and have to head across to Las Vegas to face a Kentucky team lying in wait. It’s not a huge factor, but it may have some impact on proceedings. What may be even more important for the Wildcats is that the game against Utah took place in the same T-Mobile Arena that Saturday’s game against Ohio State will be contested. So, in addition to a little more rest, and a little more time in Vegas, having a chance to acclimatize to an unfamiliar and large arena could lead to better shooting results from Kentucky.