Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow earlier this morning meaning we're due for six more weeks of winter. Of course, anyone with a calendar in front of them and a rudimentary understanding of upper air patterns already knew that. The good news is there's plenty of college hoops to watch on TV during the cold weather, starting with tonight's Big East contest with UConn traveling to take on Louisville.
You know things are getting serious in college basketball when the ax starts coming down. Two coaches were shown the door last week; Alabama’s Mark Gottfried (who technically “resigned”) and Georgia’s Dennis Felton. The Tide were going nowhere in the SEC at 12-8 (6-9 ATS) when they convinced Gottfried to pack his bags. The Bulldogs were even worse at 9-11 SU (4-8-2 ATS). Those are superior fade numbers.
Sure enough, the next game for both clubs was against each other on Saturday. Alabama prevailed 75-70 but dropped the cash as an 8-5-point home fave. Maybe they should have played football instead.
Connecticut at Louisville
Monday, Feb 2, 7:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN
The SEC is the waterboy of the six major conferences; the Big East is fighting the ACC and the upstart Pac-10 for alpha male status, and Monday’s matchup features two of the biggest teams in the fight. UConn is on top of the Big East overall standings at 20-1 SU (8-7 ATS, No. 4 Pomeroy), with Louisville in third at 17-3 SU (12-8 ATS, No. 5 Pomeroy). But the Cards are undefeated in conference play at 8-0, while the Huskies started the Big East schedule with a 74-63 loss at home to Georgetown (+7). That black mark looks blacker now that the Hoyas have lost their last five in a row.
Louisville has a couple of advantages against the betting odds here. The Huskies have the higher spot in the AP poll (although their efficiency numbers suggest an even matchup), and Louisville’s strength is its defense – which is ranked first in Division I in efficiency. UConn has excellent balance at both ends of the floor and 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet is coming off a triple-double against Providence: 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. The Huskies were 2½-point puppies on the early line with a total of 136½.
Purdue at Ohio State
Tuesday, Feb 3, 7:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN
The Boilermakers (17-4 SU, 9-8 ATS, No. 11 Pomeroy) are the most efficient team in what’s looking like a very thin Big Ten this year. But they’ve got a major problem going into Tuesday’s matchup with the Buckeyes (15-5 SU, 9-7 ATS, No. 52 Pomeroy). Between injuries and the flu, Purdue is playing at significantly less than 100 percent. But that’s still been good enough to win five in a row at 4-1 ATS, including mild road upsets of Minnesota (-1) and Wisconsin (-1).
Ohio State is still waiting for the great leap forward after winning the NIT last year. However, the Buckeyes (-4) did beat archrival Michigan 72-54 last week, then went on the road and downed rebuilding Indiana 93-81 as 7-point favorites. Coach Thad Matta is playing with a tight rotation that masks the team’s deficiencies to some degree. Despite the presence of 7-foot freshman B.J. Mullens, the Buckeyes are poor at offensive rebounding, which is a very bad thing against a Purdue defense that leads Division I with a 41.1 percent effective field-goal rate against.
Missouri at Texas
Wednesday, Feb 4, 9:30 p.m. (ET) ESPN2
This might look like another matchup that would be better served on the gridiron, but look again. The Tigers (18-4 SU, 8-7 ATS, No. 13 Pomeroy) are having their best season in seven years, even though the AP writers and the coaches have yet to recognize them with a spot in the polls. Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll make a great forward tandem; Mizzou is ninth in the nation in block percentage and solid at just about every aspect of the game – except free throws. The Tigers don’t get to the line often, and when they do, they hit just 66.6 percent of their attempts.
Texas (15-5 SU, 8-9 ATS, No. 26 Pomeroy) is watching its season slip away at 4-3 SU and 2-5 ATS in its last seven games. The Longhorns even lost at home Saturday for the first time in 19 games, falling 85-81 in overtime to Kansas State (+10½). This is a poor-shooting team that relies on interior defense and the somewhat fortunate fact that opponents are only 59.8 percent from the free-throw line. That’s the lowest rate in Division I. Even the Tigers can do better than that.