If I were asked to power rank times of the year in sports, right around now in early March when conference tournaments begin and weekday afternoons are filled with college basketball games would be near the top. Definitely top five.
What? Are you not at home watching Sun Belt Tournament action, too? Do you even basketball?
Seriously, while Sun Belt basketball might not be for everybody, it's the first real sign that the madness known as March is officially underway, and we'll soon have the NCAA Tournament filling our weekends. Factor in that I'm not sure there's a genuinely elite team in the country this year, and it only gets more exciting to think about.
In other news, if I could power rank stories for you to read today, these are the ones I'd choose:
- Jerry Palm's latest bracket projections.
- Ravens WR Rashod Bateman isn't too happy with the man who drafted him.
- Jalen Carter has returned to the combine.
- Forget the QBs at the combine, let's power rank college QBs.
Now let's prepare for March Madness by betting on three highly-ranked college basketball teams.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
Arizona State at No. 4 UCLA, 9 p.m. | TV: ESPN
- Key Trend: Arizona State is 3-9 ATS in its last 12 games.
- The Pick: UCLA -11.5 (-110)
While this is an exciting time of year in college basketball, it can also be a weird time. Smaller conferences have begun their postseasons, but the major leagues will wrap up the regular season this weekend. When you combine Senior Nights around the country with some teams just being ready to get it over with, weird things happen.
I don't see anything weird happening here. I know I just wrote above that there aren't any truly elite teams in the country this year, and while I stand by it, UCLA is one of the few teams I feel confident in. I'd be surprised if they didn't reach the Sweet 16 at a minimum. They've been one of the more consistent teams in the country this season and enter the night on an eight-game win streak.
It should extend to nine, and it should get there with ease. Arizona State is a bubble team, and a win tonight would go a long way toward solidifying their status, but the Bruins are playing for a No. 1 seed (the Pac-12 regular season crown is wrapped up). More than seeding, this isn't a good matchup for the Sun Devils. UCLA is the best defense in the Pac-12, and Arizona State struggles to score. It's dependent on scoring from the interior, but UCLA defends the paint well.
UCLA is also the superior rebounding team, so while it isn't a great shooting team, the rebounding edge and its ability to avoid turnovers (and force them on the defensive end) means we're likely to see UCLA get extra possessions tonight. That happened in the first meeting (UCLA attempted 73 shots and free throws compared to Arizona State's 61), and the Bruins won 74-62 in Tempe. Things would've gotten way out of hand if the Sun Devils had not shot 41% from three that night.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model and I are in agreement on the spread, but it thinks there's more value on the total.
💰 More College Basketball Picks
Wichita State at No. 1 Houston, 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN2
The Pick: Houston -16.5 (-110) -- I've said I'm confident in UCLA this year, but I'm not nearly as confident in Houston. To be clear, I think the Cougars are very good and one of the country's best teams. They could make a deep run and potentially win the entire thing. The problem is it's hard to know just how good they truly are because of the league they play in.
The Coogs are 27-2, but they've played a schedule that ranks 102nd nationally, according to KenPom. Yes, they're 4-1 against Quad 1 teams and 8-0 against Quad 2, but that's 15 games total in those two quadrants. For context, Kansas has 15 Quad 1 wins. Not games, wins.
Fortunately, none of that matters tonight. Houston is the far superior team to Wichita State, and it's Senior Night for the Coogs. I wouldn't be shocked if this turns into more of a celebration than a basketball game in the second half, so there's some concern of a backdoor cover by the Shockers, but I think it's just as likely the Coogs win by 20+.
No. 5 Purdue at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. | TV: FS1
The Pick: Wisconsin +4 (-110) -- Purdue began February with an 80-60 win over Penn State that improved its record to 22-1. The Boilermakers have lost four of six since. It seems relying on freshman guards is starting to catch up to them as the wear and tear of a Big Ten schedule takes effect.
Now Purdue hits the road against a Wisconsin team needing a win on Senior Night. The Badgers are on the bubble, and a win would be a big boost to their chances of an at-large bid. It would also help the Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament, as they'd currently be the No. 11 seed in the conference and would have to play on the first day. I don't know that the Badgers will get a win tonight, but I expect they'll make things extremely difficult on a Purdue team that's struggling to find its bearings.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The new Formula 1 season begins this weekend, and our Mike McClure has everything you need to know if you're looking to bet the Bahrain Grand Prix.