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Week 17, College Basketball Picks 2018: Spread & Predictions

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Although the regular season will be concluding this week, there are still a plethora of essential contests that could be vital in deciding the landscape of the NCAA Tournament. In particular, the highly anticipated matchup between Duke and North Carolina will be decisive in determining which programs unique competitive style will be the most effective and prolific going forward. However, the SEC Conference is still up for grabs as well as the Auburn Tigers are holding onto a slim one-game lead over the highly determined and defensively scrappy Tennessee Volunteers. Simply put, this week has a lot to offer in terms of competitive affairs that could have drastic implications for both the conference and ultimately NCAA Tournament. For those fans and critics that are already eager for postseason play, it would be wise not to take this week for granted as there is still a lot to be decided before March Madness commences.

Duke Blue Devils (5) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies

Incredibly, the Blue Devils have gone from a relatively average defensive unit to a dynamic ball stealing squad that rarely gives up easy shots. Given the size and elite athletes of the Blue Devils, it is somewhat surprising that this impressive transformation took as long as it did. Nevertheless, Duke’s revitalized defense has been invaluable in allowing this program to overcome the likes of Virginia Tech and Louisville comfortably. Although the Hokies lack the sizeable athletes to rebound the basketball consistently, they are fortunate that their shooters are extremely accurate from the field, particularly from three-point range (50.3 FG%). Unfortunately, the Hokies lackadaisical defense has prevented them from stringing together more than three wins in a row in conference play. While this is a revenge game on the Hokies’ home court, the Blue Devils have become an even stronger and more consistent team since their first meeting, which once again will result in Virginia Tech succumbing to a superior opponent.

Final Score: Blue Devils 77 Hokies 63 Spread: Duke -5.5

Texas Tech Red Raiders (12) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (20)

Once one of the best defensive programs in college basketball, the struggling Red Raiders have since been unable to shut down the tenacious offensive programs of their conference. Relinquishing 71 points or more in their last two games, the Red Raiders simply do not have enough capable shooters to match the prolific offenses that are abundant in the Big 12 Conference. While the Mountaineers have had serious issues themselves on the defensive end of the court, they have at least been able to overcome this deficiency at times with a physical offense that is relentless when pursuing the basket in transition (80.3 PPG). On top of that, the Mountaineers are an effective rebounding team as well (38.6 RPG), an area where the Red Raiders have struggled all season long (36 RPG). Given the Red Raiders recent struggles combined with their issues attacking the offensive glass, the Mountaineers have both the strategic and athletic advantage in this particular contest.

Final Score: Red Raiders 73 Mountaineers 80 Spread: West Virginia -6.0

Tennessee Volunteers (16) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Throughout this season, the Volunteers have rarely impressed with an electric offense and have not been particularly intimidating as a rebounding unit. However, considering their lack of competitive luster, the Volunteers have been one of the view programs with an established identity: an efficient defense that is somewhat balanced out by an unselfish offense. Although the Volunteers have struggled with maintaining their defensive prowess from time to time, when it’s functioning cohesively and confidently it is one of the best and most productive defenses in the country. While the Mississippi State Bulldogs have not garnered much praise for being competitive in a deep SEC Conference, they are actually one of the better teams in the conference due to an opportunistic defense (seven SPG) and a cerebral offense that only takes high percentage shots from the field (47 FG%). Even if the Bulldogs are patient when it comes to finding their open shooters, the Volunteers have the quick-minded playmakers on the defensive end to prevent their opponent from establishing a favorable rhythm offensively.

Final Score: Volunteers 68 Bulldogs 63 Spread: 

Miami Hurricanes vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (9)

Despite their lack of production offensively (74.1 PPG), the Hurricanes have been surprisingly competitive in arguably the most brutal conference in college basketball in the ACC. Although their defense has come and gone throughout the season, it has been their saving grace against gifted shooting teams such as Florida State and NC State. However, against the relentless shooting barrage of the Tar Heels, the Hurricanes could find themselves looking at a double-digit deficit early on if they’re not careful and especially vigilant. Scoring 83.4 points per game, the Tar Heels have gone from a great to an exceptional shooting program since the start of the season as their younger playmakers have begun to catch fire, particularly from three-point range. While the Hurricanes have a scrappy mentality and the defense to make this contest interesting, their wavering effort level combined with their lack of playmakers one offense will prevent them from pulling off the upset in this contest.

Final Score: Hurricanes 74 Tar Heels 84 Spread: 

Auburn Tigers (14) vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

From a distance, it would appear that the offensively supercharged Tigers (84.3 PPG) have had a stranglehold on the newly deep and highly competitive SEC Conference. However, Auburn is currently hanging on by a thread at the top of standings in the SEC as the Tennessee Volunteers are just one game back of first place. With that in mind, the Tigers have to feel a certain sense of desperation against a Razorbacks program that has been highly effective on offense, especially from three-point range (40 3P%). What will make this contest particularly compelling is to discover which high powered offense can sustain their accurate ways from the field, which will be vital to both of these programs possibly making a splash in the NCAA Tournament. In the end, though, the Tigers have the better shooters overall and have been much more consistent when it comes to relying on their prolific offense to win the crucial games.

Final Score: Tigers 88 Razorbacks 84 Spread: 

Villanova Wildcats (4) vs. Seton Hall Pirates

Defensively, the Wildcats have fallen apart on more than one occasion, which is a shame when you consider how dynamically dominant their offense is on a regular basis (87.5 PPG, 71.2 PAPG). Most recently, the Wildcats were unable to hold off the fearless shooters of the Blue Jays, which resulted in another loss to an unranked opponent. Although the Pirates have been largely irrelevant in the Big East for some time now, they actually possess a cerebral offense that is at its best when being patient when it comes to finding and taking high percentage shots from the field (47.1 FG%). However, what has prevented the Pirates from being a nationally renowned program is a wildly inconsistent defense that has the potential to be great but rarely maintains any type of competency on a game to game basis. While both of these programs have struggled defensively, the Wildcats at least have the versatile shooters that can take advantage of a Seton Hall program that has been up and down from a competitive standpoint throughout this season.

Final Score: Wildcats 86 Pirates 80 Spread: 

Florida State Seminoles vs. Clemson Tigers (18)

If not for their dreadful defense, the Seminoles could actually be one of the better programs in the ACC. Allowing 74.1 points per game, the Seminoles have been unable to take down the elite teams of their conference despite scoring 82.6 points per game while shooting 47.6% from the field. Conversely, the Tigers have been held back by their ineptitude on offense (73.9 PPG), yet have managed to remain the 4th best team in their conference thanks to a suffocating defense that rarely leaves a shooter open while tenaciously blocking shots when the opportunity presents itself (five BPG). Given the recent struggles of the Tigers to score the basketball, the Seminoles should be able to take advantage of a program that is struggling to establish its competitive identity down the stretch of the regular season.

Final Score: Seminoles 70 Tigers 62 Spread: 

Virginia Cavaliers (1) vs. Louisville Cardinals

Although it’s fair to wonder if the Cavaliers can go far in the NCAA Tournament because of their inability to score more than 70 points in a game, their one-dimensional style of crushing their opponents defensively has been incredibly effective during the regular season. Garnering seven steals per game while holding their opponents to 69 points per game, the Cavaliers benefit from being both intelligent, vigilant and tenacious when it comes to disrupting their opponent from establishing a confident flow offensively. To that end, the Cardinals will have a difficult time pursuing the rim as they lack the physicality and ball movement skills needed to keep the Cavaliers defense off balance. While they do have solid rebounders, the Cardinals lack the dynamic scorers needed to test a Cavaliers defense that is adept at making adjustments throughout the course of a game. Although the Cardinals play hard and have some impressive athletes on their roster, their lack of versatility and physicality will doom them to losing another close affair to a superior opponent.

Final Score: Cavaliers 67 Cardinals 59 Spread: 

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (24)

While it’s easy to stay predominately focused on what the programs in the power five conference are doing from a competitive standpoint, there are actually several teams from mid-major conferences that have the potential to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. In their last five games, the Hilltoppers have scored 83 points or more, an incredible feat that very few teams from notable conferences can claim as an accomplishment. Hitting 50.2% of their shots from the field, the Hilltoppers possess some of the better sharpshooters in college basketball with Justin Johnson being the best of the bunch (52.5 FG%, 41.7 3P%). However, what the Blue Raiders lack in notable shooters they than makeup for with a stingy defense (65.3 PAPG) and a great rebounding team that can consistently snatch away opportunities from the opposition. As the Hilltoppers offense has been practically unstoppable over the last couple of weeks, the Blue Raiders defense will be unable to hold off their conference rival and will at the very least have to share the Conference USA Title with Western Kentucky.

Final Score: Hilltoppers 80 Blue Raiders 78 Spread: 

North Carolina Tar Heels (9) vs. Duke Blue Devils (5)

Duke. North Carolina. These two programs have never failed to dazzle fans with one competitive series after another. With both programs being geographically separated by just a few miles, this rivalry has been one of the fiercest and most contentious displays in any sport. This year, these two programs have clearly established their competitive identities with the Tar Heels being particularly deadly as a shooting program while the Blue Devils have recently evolved into a ruthless defensive unit that has become particularly proficient at guarding the perimeter. As is the case with nearly every game in this rivalry, both teams will go on a series of scoring runs, with Roy Williams and Coach K trading haymakers in a fast-paced chess match for the ages. However, Duke’s resilient defense combined with their scoring presence inside will allow them to wear down a North Carolina team that has been incredibly difficult to intimidate this season.

Final Score: Tar Heels 72 Blue Devils 74 Spread: 

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