Observer Roundtable: Baylor-Kansas highlights games of the week
After a very fun week, we are back with the same format for the basketball roundtable. Last week, as promised, there were a lot of points scored, highlighted by Iñigo Yturralde jumping into fourth place despite not participating in the first week. Aidan Thomas went 5-0 in game picks and won the “draft” game to hold in first place. But with so many points up for grabs each week, few leads are safe, making each set of picks important. Here are the standings and our picks for the week!
Aidan Thomas — 39 pts
Nate Moller — 31 pts
Patrick Gallagher — 22 points
Iñigo Yturralde — 18 points
Liam Coolican — 14 points
Dominic Gibson — 9 points
No. 3 Kansas @ No. 1 Baylor
No. 21 Butler @ No. 15 Creighton
No. 14 Oregon @ No. 24 Arizona
I have a lot of respect for Baylor and what they’ve done this season. They thoroughly impressed when they beat Kansas earlier this year, but I’ve watched several games for both teams in the past weeks, and my gut feeling is Kansas is the best team in the country. Jayhawks return the favor and grab a road victory.
Creighton shot up eight spots in the rankings, a jump which was surprising to me — and is now the higher ranked team against a slumping Butler squad who just weeks ago was challenging for a No. 1 seed. The Bulldogs are mediocre on the road and spiraling, while Creighton is 14-1 at home, so I’ll take the Blue Jays here.
Arizona travelled to Oregon earlier this season and lost by one point to the standard in the Pac-12 on a court where the Ducks are 14-0 this season. Combine that impressive effort with Arizona’s 11-2 record on their court, and how difficult it is to beat a team twice in the season, and I’m going to pick the Wildcats to pull out a key conference victory.
I think this game will be very well-contested, but I just cannot see a reason to pick against the Bears here. The Jayhawks are playing really good basketball, and they will definitely have a chance to win it late, but I can not justify picking against the No. 1 team on their home floor. I think Baylor finds a way to win and proves they are the best team in the country.
The Big East has been interesting this year in that it seems to be a cycle of different teams getting hot and then getting upset. Creighton has put together a string of good weeks, so if the pattern holds true, they will be due for a loss. I think the pattern will hold, and I really like Butler. Despite some slip-ups as of late, I would not be at all surprised if this Bulldogs team makes a March Madness run of old this year. Butler wins on the road.
If this game is anything like the previous matchup this season, where Oregon won a one-point overtime thriller, we will be in for a treat. I think that this game will be just as exciting, and that Arizona will come out ready to play on their home court and jump out to an early lead. Arizona has had some serious problems beating quality opponents this year, though, so I expect Oregon to come back and secure the road win.
After being outclassed in a 12-point loss to Baylor in January, Kansas caught fire and has won 10 straight. The Jayhawks’ high-powered offense ranks first among Big 12 teams in points per game and boasts Devon Dotson, one of the NCAA’s most talented scorers. Baylor is due for a loss, and I believe Kansas has the ability to thwart this much vaunted Bear’s defense.
The Bluejays are emerging as a real contender in the Big East with recent key victories against Seton Hall and Villanova. Creighton also leads the conference in scoring and field goal percentage, while Butler ranks last in many defensive statistics. The Bulldogs have dropped three of their last five games to weaker programs like Georgetown, so I expect that Creighton will win by a wide margin.
The Pac-12 has been difficult to predict this year due to a lack of consistency from all teams. Both Arizona and Oregon have very adept offenses, but the Ducks are more efficient, with higher field goal and three-point percentages. Oregon’s Payton Pritchard has looked very dominant in conference play, and I believe that all of these factors will give the Duck’s the edge.
Baylor is the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. To me, it all boils down to culture and grit. Talent aside, Baylor is consistently showing that they are willing to face any team in college basketball. The chemistry of the team is contagious, and I think that Kansas has no shot of winning with a roaring crowd of fans behind the Bears.
Let’s be honest, Creighton has had a nice run this season. They’ve won some games and are putting on a good show for the fans. That being said, the Bulldogs are not here to mess around. Coming off of a projected win against Seton Hall, Butler will be looking to keep the ball rolling against Creighton. In basketball, as in the real world, a bulldog will always beat a bluejay.
Pac 12-game of the week, Oregon @ Arizona. Nico Mannion will be rallying behind a home crowd to bring down the visiting Ducks. It is tough to say exactly who will win what I predict to be the most entertaining game of the weekend. I am going to take the Ducks’ road. The flashy crowds and talent-oriented playing style of the Wildcats will not be enough to defeat their guests.
Baylor has been the top team for much of the season, but I like the way Kansas has been playing lately. Baylor has looked vulnerable lately, and Kansas has been dominant for the last three weeks, and I like them to return the favor after Baylor beat them at home.
Butler has really struggled since being ranked fifth in the country, and Creighton has looked like a Big East contender, especially at home. I’ll take Creighton to keep their momentum after some big wins recently.
Oregon has been a polarizing team, and they haven’t been able to take care of business against inferior Pac-12 opponents at times. Ironically, they have actually played much better against ranked opponents than unranked ones. However, I think that run of luck stops here, as Arizona’s guard play will overpower the Ducks. Arizona in a very close matchup.
Baylor has been the top team in the Big 12, and they no doubt have the talent to show. However, it’s hard to stop a team that’s hot at the right time, and that’s just what the Jayhawks have been. I think Kansas will find the win on the road in Waco.
After taking a tough home loss, Butler will be looking to bounce back in a big way. While Creighton has had a solid stretch, it’s hard to beat a motivated team with a high ceiling. I’ll take the Bulldogs on the road.
The last game between Oregon and Arizona was a thriller that came down to the wire. I think this one should turn out to be another great game, with the edge going to Oregon again. Oregon will be looking to improve their chances of winning the Pac-12 outright, and it starts with this game.
Denver Nuggets @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Boston Celtics @ Los Angeles Lakers
Houston Rockets @ Utah Jazz
In the Western Conference, I think the Nuggets are a major challenger to the Lakers, while the Thunder, despite being a surprise contender, are a tier below that. The Thunder have lost two straight at home, and the Nuggets are simply a very good team in all facets. Give me Denver on the road.
To be honest, taking the Celtics here is probably not a great idea, given the Lakers have the best record in the league and are playing at home. But Boston also beat the Lakers by 32 points at home, and I just have a hard time forgetting that. My logic says Lakers, but my gut says Celtics … and my gut is either really right or really wrong. Let’s hope it’s right. Roll Celtics.
If I took the road squad in the first two games, I’ll keep it up here. Bad weekend for the hometown favorites in the NBA, as Houston completes the visitor sweep here by taking down Utah. The two teams are evenly matched, as evidenced by a Utah buzzer beater in their first game, but the Jazz are too sporadic for me to pick with confidence. I’ll take The Beard and Co.
Fresh off of the break, this one figures to be a good one. In their match-up in December, the Nuggets pulled off an eight-point victory behind a triple-double from Nikola Jokic. While I think Jokic will have a good game this weekend, I don’t anticipate those kinds of numbers from him again. I like the Thunder to win this one at home.
Nothing is better than a good, old-fashioned rivalry game, and this one figures to be a classic with both teams finally being good at the same time. The Lakers will be playing for a lot more than themselves throughout the rest of the year, and I think that will show beginning this weekend against the Celtics. Lakers win by double-digits at home.
The last time these teams played, the Jazz won a crazy game on a three-point buzzer beater, so I expect the Rockets to be out for blood. In that game, however, Russell Westbrook scored nearly 40 points. I don’t anticipate him being able to do that again against a really good Jazz team at home, so I’ll take the Jazz.
In their first game back from the All-Star Break, the Nuggets will look to build some momentum in their quest for the first overall playoff seed. The Lakers hold a four-game advantage over the Nuggets currently, and Denver is eager to close this gap. The Nuggets own the second-most road victories in the Western Conference and should be able to defeat an overachieving OKC squad.
The Lakers will be hungry for revenge against the Celtics, who clobbered Los Angeles by 32 points in their last meeting. This defeat has probably not sat well with LeBron because of his own personal rivalry with Boston over the years. The Lakers will also be riding some momentum following a thrilling overtime victory over Denver, so I think that Los Angeles will win another close one at Staples Center.
The Jazz are surging in the standings and were on a four-game winning streak before the break. In addition, Utah’s offense is one of the most efficient in the NBA and place fourth in field goal percentage. The Rockets rank second in points per game but are horribly inefficient, so I expect that the Jazz will take this one at home.
Nikola Jokic is sick. Jamal Murray is sick. Michael Porter Jr. is sick (and it is a shame that he did not get invited to the rising star game). The Nuggets have both the talent and system to go far in the league. With the back end of the season coming up, I feel like they are only now beginning to find their rhythm. The Thunder are not expected to do anything special this year. They are playing to develop young players — Shai and Hamidou — and for the future. The Nuggets will take a win on the road.
The Celtics are special, but not that special. There is one thing that they don’t have. They are missing the piece of all pieces. The player of all players. The man that scientists want to clone. Women love him. Men hate him. Men love him too. LeBron James wins games. Statistically speaking, any team coached by LeBron wins. Right now, the Lakers have LeBron at the helm. Lakers will win by double digits. You heard it here first.
Change is how the game becomes better, but in a league with so many dynamic big men, the Rockets moved in the wrong direction. The Jazz will beat the Rockets because of their system. They are not the best team in the league, but they know how to play consistent, high-level basketball that wins games. This one will be a slap in the face for the Rockets on the road.
The Thunder continue to surprise people. Most wrote them off at the beginning of the season, but they have proven to be a playoff contender. While I think the moves the Nuggets made at the trade deadline were strong, it will take more time for those new pieces to mesh. I’ll take the Thunder at home.
The Lakers at home this season are nearly unbeatable, and after a fantastic performance at the All-Star game, LeBron James and Anthony Davis will continue that strong play, and avenge their only big loss of the season.
The Rockets’ new small-ball lineup is working remarkably well, but Rudy Gobert is a versatile defender who may give them problems. However, I still think James Harden and Russell Westbrook will have big games and defeat the Jazz, continuing to show coach Mike D’Antoni’s basketball genius.
The nuggets will be looking to knock off the rust from the All-Star break and get back into gear against the Thunder. Denver on the road has proven to be a very solid team and I think they will handle business against the OKC on the road.
After getting trounced in Boston, the Lakers will welcome the Celtics into the Staples Center this time around. I think that LeBron and crew will be hungry to pay the favor back. The prospect of keeping Denver at bay for top in the West will also be incentive for LA.
The Jazz were able to top Houston on the road when Westbrook just about took the game over. I don’t think that he will have the same type of outing this time around, and the Jazz are too solid of a team overall to drop this one at home. I’ll take Utah.
Top 25 Draft
When the roundtable writers came together to draft their squads for this week, it became clear that it would be a tough draft with No. 1 Baylor and No. 3 Kansas squaring off, as well as several other ranked matchups. But after a long and well thought-out draft process, each of us is pretty happy with our teams, which are as follows.
Dominic: No. 5 Dayton, No. 14 Oregon, No. 22 Houston, No. 25 Ohio State
Liam: No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 16 Seton Hall, No. 12 Villanova, Providence (Unranked)
Inigo: No. 4 SDSU, No. 17 West Virginia, No. 18 Colorado, No. 21 Butler
Patrick: No. 6 Duke, No. 9 Penn State, No. 15 Creighton, Florida (Unranked)
Nate: No. 11 Louisville, No. 7 Maryland, No. 10 Kentucky, No. 1 Baylor
Aidan: No. 13 Auburn, No. 8 Florida State, No. 19 Marquette, No. 3 Kansas
Undrafted: No. 23 BYU, No. 24 Arizona
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.