Saturday, noon ET (ESPN)
Free NCAAB Pick: Jayhawks -7.5
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
College football’s bowl season kicks off Saturday, but as a warm-up before the pigskin action, how good is the hardwood matchup between No. 17 Villanova at No. 1 Kansas? ESPN has the national telecast at noon ET.
Of course, the Wildcats are defending national champions. They were a top seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament and so were the Jayhawks. The schools met in the Final Four in San Antonio and Villanova rolled to a 95-79 rout. Nova hit a Final Four-record 18 three-points (in 40 attempts), tying the most three-pointers ever made against Kansas. That game was never in doubt after the Wildcats jumped out to a 22-4 lead.
Eric Paschall led the Cats with 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting (4-for-5 from deep). Jalen Brunson had 18 points and six assists and Omari Spellman 15 points and 13 rebounds. Paschall is still with Villanova and probably the team’s best player now. Brunson and Spellman are both in the NBA. Devonte Graham, also now in the NBA, led KU with 23 points.
It was the third national title for Villanova, which ties how many Kansas has won. The Cats also dispatched of KU in the Elite Eight on the way to the 2016 title and lead the all-time series 4-3. The schools will meet again next December in Philadelphia.
Kansas is currently the +1000 third-favorite at Bovada to cut down the nets on April 8 in Minneapolis, while Villanova is +2900 to repeat.
Could KU Run Table Non-Conference?
This will be the third ranked team KU has faced this season, opening the year with a 92-87 win over No. 10 Michigan State in Indianapolis and beating No. 5 Tennessee 87-81 in OT in New York. It’s only the third time Kansas will host the defending national champion at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks are 1-1 in the previous two (last vs. UCLA in 1995). Kansas has won 38 straight games at home as the No. 1 team in the country.
However, Coach Bill Self is without one of the Big 12’s best big men in Udoka Azubuike. The 7-foot-1 junior injured his ankle on Dec. 4 vs. Wofford and won’t be back before the start of Big 12 play. He was averaging 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Kansas has the early Big 12 Player of the Year favorite in Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson (19.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg).
Villanova is 1-1 vs. ranked teams this season, getting slaughtered 73-46 by Michigan at home and beating Florida State in a Thanksgiving holiday tournament. The Cats also lost to current Top 25 team Furman, 76-68, at home in OT.
There’s little doubt in this writer’s mind that Nova was looking ahead to this game when it was stunned as a 7-point NCAA basketball betting favorite 78-75 at Penn on Tuesday as the school’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak ended. Penn hadn’t won in the series in 16 years, but it is a very good Ivy League program and could be that conference’s NCAA Tournament team. The problem with Villanova this year is a lack of depth behind its top three of Paschall (14.5 ppg, 5.8 apg), Phil Booth (15.8 ppg) and Collin Gillespie (11.6 ppg).
This pick seems cut and dried. Villanova, rated No. 20 nationally by KenPom, has only beaten one quality opponent and is 0-2 ATS in its two road games. Kansas, No. 2 per KenPom, already has beaten two of the nation’s top programs in the Wolverines and Vols and has one of the best home-court advantages in the sport. We project around a 15-point KU win.