Observer Roundtable: It’s basketball season
Welcome back to the Observer Roundtable! After David Kramer retired on top after his victorious football season, we return with five writers offering picks for the college and professional basketball season. Enjoy our three games of the week from both the NCAA and the NBA, as well as a guarantee and upset pick at the end!
No. 22 LSU @ No. 17 Auburn
No. 10 Seton Hall @ No. 8 Villanova
No. 14 Michigan State @ Michigan
LSU is one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball at the moment. After losing embarrassingly to East Tennessee State, the Tigers have gone on an epic 10-game winning streak and are currently first in the SEC with eight conference wins. LSU’s Skylar Mays is a serious threat on both offense and defense, as he averages around 15 points and two steals per contest. I believe Mays gives LSU the edge as Auburn loses their first home game of the season.
In this highly anticipated contest between Big East elites, Villanova’s home field advantage is critical. The Wildcats and Pirates share similar statistics across most categories, but Villanova holds the advantage in both three-point and free-throw percentage, which will be very important as the fourth quarter draws to a close. The game might be decided in the final minutes, so I think that Villanova’s composure under pressure will allow them to earn a major resume-building win.
After a 7-0 start, Michigan is cooling off significantly as the season progresses. The Wolverines have only managed to win four conference games, and, in a previous meeting with Michigan State, they lost by 18 points. The Spartans may not play well on the road, but I expect that they will handle an inferior Michigan squad as Cassius Winston will scorch the Wolverine’s defense, which ranks second to last in points allowed among Big 10 programs.
Both LSU and Auburn have played in a lot of close games and lost to some bad opponents this season, so expect this game to be tight throughout. LSU has looked very good since December, and Auburn has faltered a bit, losing back to back games to Florida and Alabama. However, these teams are very evenly matched, and I think the home field advantage will decide this one. I’ll take Auburn in a close one.
The Big East is one of the deepest conferences in college basketball. Both Seton Hall and Villanova are coming off bad losses and will be looking to bounce back. While Villanova may have the deeper team, Seton Hall has played well on the road, and Villanova hasn’t been as dominant as usual in Philadelphia. The Pirates had won 10 in a row before playing 15 bad minutes against Xavier in a game they otherwise controlled. I’ll take Seton Hall on the road here.
Both Michigan and Michigan State have been victims of playing in a tough conference but seem to be trending in opposite directions. Michigan has played very poorly recently after an inspiring non-conference run, and Michigan State has turned their season around in the past two weeks. This game will be much closer than the game earlier this season in East Lansing, but the Spartans have shown an ability to close out games that Michigan has sorely lacked, so I’ll go with Michigan State.
Auburn didn’t really impress me this season until a strong win over Kentucky and their gutsy comeback overtime win at Arkansas. While I doubt this team has Final Four talent, I do admire their toughness. LSU is on a roll, but I like Auburn at home in this one.
Had Seton Hall been idle on Saturday, I would be picking them for this game, after Villanova got trounced at home by Creighton. But Seton Hall suffered an arguably worse loss to Xavier — also at home — and so in picking between two great teams coming off of ugly losses, I’ll take the team I believe to be more talented, and that’s Villanova. Roll Cats.
I haven’t always been very high on Michigan State due to their dependence on Cassius Winston, but it didn’t stop the Spartans last time, as Winston torched the Wolverines in a statement victory. Michigan has been floundering in the Big 10, and they’ll continue to do so in losing to Michigan State at home.
LSU has been on quite the roll, winning 13 of their last 15 games. While Auburn has won the last seven games they have played against LSU, I don’t think that this team is consistent enough to halt the LSU train. I’ll take LSU.
This Big East matchup should not disappoint, with two top-tier teams in Villanova and Seton Hall going at it. Villanova will be looking to continue their momentum after taking care of business against Butler. Seton Hall recently broke their three-game losing streak, but I don’t think they will be able to recover enough for this contest. Give me Villanova.
Michigan seems to have peaked too early in the season, as they have begun to trend in the opposite direction as of late. Michigan state has started to gain a little more traction, but traveling on the road to a rival school is no easy task. The Wolverines will be dealing with injuries as well, losing Caris LeVert. I’ll take Michigan State over Michigan.
LSU is still undefeated in SEC play this year, and they will receive a big test when they face off against a solid Auburn team. I am not completely sold on LSU yet, as they lack a truly signature win this season. Because of this, I expect Auburn to pull off the victory at home despite the couple of slip-ups that they have had as of late.
The Big East had a crazy time this past weekend, with Seton Hall and Villanova falling in stunning fashion. I expect this game to be high-scoring, but Seton Hall point guard Quincy McKnight is dealing with a bit of a knee injury, so I’ll give the advantage to the Wildcats. It’s not often that Jay Wright’s team loses at home either. The Wildcats will control Myles Powell enough and assert themselves atop the Big East.
Like pretty much every Big 10 team, Michigan State has struggled away from home as of late, with recent losses to Indiana and Wisconsin on the road. I think Michigan State is definitely the better team, but the home court advantage will make this one competitive. Michigan has struggled to win close games as of late, though, and I think Cassius Winston will be the difference down the stretch to give the Spartans a victory.
Toronto Raptors @ Indiana Pacers
Boston Celtics @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Utah Jazz @ Houston Rockets
The Raptors are exceeding all expectations, as they are winners of 11 straight and rank third in three-point percentage among all NBA teams. Victor Oladipo has returned from injury for the Pacers, but he does not seem to be fully recovered, so I fully expect Toronto to win.
After the Westbrook trade, most basketball fans thought that the Thunder would be tanking and that Chris Paul would be an unfortunate victim of the Rockets’ quest for relevance. Instead, Oklahoma City is in control of their own destiny and could actually make the playoffs. The Celtics looked formidable in the month of January; however, I believe that the Thunder will win this game. Oklahoma needs to play well at home to make the postseason, so they will be hungrier.
In what could be a preview of a playoff matchup, Houston will defeat the Jazz, who have not played well in the past few weeks. James Harden is averaging MVP numbers with almost 36 points and seven assists per game. The Westbrook experiment is also seeming to find more success as the postseason approaches. The Jazz are a defensive-minded team, but Harden will still take over the game as the Rockets continue to climb in the Western Conference standings.
The Pacers are still slowly working Victor Oladipo back into their offense, and they have struggled the last couple games. The Raptors have been dominant recently, but the Pacers match up better offensively than most teams. I predict the Pacers will win at home, and Oladipo will show the NBA he is indeed back with a big game against a premier opponent.
By all accounts, the Thunder have exceeded expectations, and may even be considered the early winners of the Paul George trade this offseason. The Celtics have been a good team this year, but inconsistent, but they undoubtedly have more talent than the Thunder, especially on the wing, and that will shine through in this game. The Thunder don’t have the bodies to guard Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown for the entire game, so the Celtics will take this one.
The Jazz just cannot beat the Rockets. That may be the reason the Jazz improved their team so much this off-season, but Rockets defeated them again last week, in Utah, despite not having James Harden or Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is still nursing an injury, but the Rockets having Harden back, who has been playing outstanding, and playing at home will be a recipe for disaster for the Jazz. Rockets win in a blowout.
The Raptors are exceeding all expectations post-Kawhi, and this will be their second straight game against the Pacers, who are significantly better at home than on the road. However, the Raptors are equally strong, boasting 18-7 home and away records, so give me Toronto on the road in Indiana.
I like the road team in this one again, as, although the Celtics have been worse on the road, they’re also quite frankly the better team in this matchup. The Thunder are exceeding expectations, but I still think the visitors come into OKC and take down the Thunder.
I will not be taking the road team in this one as, with a healthy James Harden returning, the Rockets should have enough firepower to down a skidding Jazz team at home in a potential playoff preview.
The Pacers will be entering into this contest on a two game skid while the Raptors have won their last 11 with a recent rout of the Chicago Bulls. I don’t expect the Raptors to take their foot off the gas and pick up another win.
Both the Celtics and the Thunder have showed themselves to be solid teams, especially OKC as of late. While the Celtics have the weapons and the talent to be a top team, they have had their issues with consistency. I expect the Thunder to win this one on their home court.
The Rockets will be returning a healthy James Harden which will be a huge addition for their matchup against the Jazz. Utah has hit an icy patch lately, struggling in the last four games they have played. I think that the Rockets will enter this game as the better team and will take care of business at home.
Toronto is riding high on an 11-game win streak, and it’s tough to see them slowing down anytime soon. The defending champions have once again asserted themselves as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and I don’t expect the Pacers to be able to stop the momentum this team has. Raptors win comfortably.
This is an interesting matchup between a streaky Boston team and an Oklahoma City team that has won seven of their past eight games. The Celtics have four guys that can really score the basketball, so that will keep the game interesting. The Celtics have not played too well away from home this season, however, so I will take the Thunder to win this one at home.
After a long winning streak that saw the Jazz climb near the top of the Western Conference, the Jazz have now dropped four straight games that included a stunning 17-point blowout loss to Portland last Saturday. If the Jazz are going to win in Houston, they will have to right the ship and play better basketball. I think they will make this one competitive, but in the end, Harden will be able to carry the Rockets to victory.
Guarantee a winner, predict an upset
The rules: Pick one ranked team and guarantee them to win their weekend conference game. Then, predict one ranked team to lose in their weekend matchup. Three points for the guarantee, five points for the upset.
This may be a very safe pick, but Baylor will win their conference game against Oklahoma State this weekend. The Bears have yet to lose against a conference opponent and are on a ridiculous 19-game winning streak. On the other hand, the Cowboys are 0-8 in the Big 12 and have the worst field goal percentage of any school in conference. All signs indicate that Baylor will crush Oklahoma State pending a miracle.
UNC is having a disaster of a season as they are the worst team by record in an unusually weak ACC. Duke is clearly a better team; however, the Tar Heels are playing at home in one of the most exciting rivalries in sports. I am betting on Roy Williams to galvanize his players as UNC will pull off one of the most exciting upsets of the year. By beating Oregon, the Heels have proven that they have the ability to defeat vastly superior opponents, and I think Duke will foolishly overlook this game as a clash with Florida State looms largely overhead.
Oregon lost last weekend to Stanford, but I still believe they have a very talented team. They have a balanced offensive attack and a solid defense, and they should bounce back on the road against an Oregon State team who is just 3-7 in the conference.
Virginia, after having a disastrous couple weeks earlier this season, is obviously not playing at the national championship level they were last year, but they look much better as of late. They still need a couple statement wins to make it to the tournament, and I think they’ll get one on the road against fifth ranked Louisville. The Cardinals have played a lot of close games against poor ACC opponents, and it will finally catch up to them.
I like the Florida State Seminoles to take care of business this weekend. Ranked eighth in the nation, FSU welcomes in Miami, a team that has struggled mightily in ACC competition and been blown out of the water more than a few times. Florida State also just beat UNC, who thrashed the Hurricanes by 23 points, so give me the Seminoles as my weekly guarantee.
I find Oklahoma to be an intriguing Big 12 team. They showed lots of potential in nearly knocking off Baylor — the only team to seriously challenge the Bears in recent weeks, and I think at home, they’ll have more than a good chance versus West Virginia. I’ll take the Sooners as my upset pick of the week.
I picked them last time, and I will pick them until they lose. The San Diego State Aztecs have been on an absolute tear this season, and I don’t anticipate them losing a Mountain West Conference game this season. They face Air Force on Sunday who has a losing record on the year, so that shouldn’t be a problem. The Aztecs are, in my opinion, definitely a serious contender to win it all this year.
Butler faces Marquette this weekend in a game where the Golden Eagles might actually be favored. Although Butler beat Marquette by four at home, the Golden Eagles have proven they are a force to be reckoned with when playing in Milwaukee. In fact, they own a double digit victory over Villanova at home this season. I like the Golden Eagles to win this one comfortably.
The Kansas Jayhawks have played second fiddle to the dominant Baylor Bears this season. I think that they will be looking to pick up as much traction and as much confidence as they can before they meet the Bears again on the 22nd. A good way to start is with a win against TCU on the road. I think that Kansas will dispatch the Horned Frogs.
While this is bold, I think that Gonzaga will have a slip-up against Saint Mary’s. Gonzaga struggled badly against San Francisco and have shown some signs of weakness as of late. With this game being on the road, I think that Saint Mary’s stands a pretty good chance of pulling off the upset.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.