Firing on All Cylinders, Villanova Looks Scary Good

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2015

After his team picked up its 30th win of the season in convincing fashion in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, Villanova head coach Jay Wright said something that should scare any future opponent this March. “This team is not one of our better defensive teams. It’s good, but we can be a lot better,” he said. What’s ironic is that he said this after his team had held an overmatched Marquette club to just 49 points on 0.77 points per possession (Villanova scored 84). “Not as good as I’d like it to be, really,” Wright said again. Well then… ho hum.

 

JayVaughn Pinkston and Friends Just Keep Chugging Along (USA Today Images)

JayVaughn Pinkston and Friends Just Keep Chugging Along (USA Today Images)

After routing Marquette by 35 points, it is safe to say that Wright’s club is playing as good of basketball as any team in the country, and that includes Kentucky. Defense is only half the story. Ranked third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, the Wildcats were able to put that on full display this afternoon. More numbers: Villanova assisted on 22 of 30 field goals and tied a Big East Tournament record with 17 three-pointers. The balance on this team is incredible and Wright has every player buying what he is selling: teamwork, toughness, and high basketball IQ. Chemistry is underappreciated by some people in this sport but Villanova has it in spades. When Ryan Arcidiacono, who averages what appears to be a pedestrian 10.7 PPG and 3.6 APG this season, is chosen as the Co-Big East Player of the Year, you’re doing something right. Individual statistics don’t nearly tell the whole story with this team and nobody embodies that more than the Wildcats’ junior point guard.

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Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2015

It’s that time of year again. Selection Sunday is right around the corner and sports sections in newspapers and websites across the country are littered with college basketball discussions. Championship Week is a tasty prelude to next week’s madness, but it offers much of the same intensity, drama and excitement. Every conference has a team (or several) fighting to keep its dream of making the NCAA Tournament alive. While many major conference teams already have at-large bids locked up, some others are forced to play each game as if it were its last, because, well, it might just be. The Big East has six teams that appear to have played well enough during the regular season to earn those coveted NCAA bids. The other four have not been quite so fortunate and therefore will begin their pursuit of the dream in this week’s second season. Below is a brief review of what to watch for at Madison Square Garden.

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Villanova Wants to Add Another Trophy to its Collection This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Key Storylines

  • Will Villanova uphold its projected #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament?
  • How will a surging St. John’s perform at home amid the tournament hype?
  • Will one of the bottom four teams piece together a tournament run similar to Providence last year?
  • Seton Hall’s fall has been a steep one, but is there enough in the tank to regroup and make a run?

The Favorite: Villanova Wildcats (29-2, 16-2). It should come as no surprise that Villanova is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East Tournament. After bowing out in the quarterfinals to Seton Hall last season, the Wildcats brought back most of their core group while adding a steady backup point guard in Phil Booth. Save for an ice cold shooting performance at Georgetown in February, Villanova’s offense has looked nearly unstoppable, running over any Big East opponent that has stood in its way. That balanced offense, led by senior Darrun Hilliard and full of shooters and slashers, poses all sorts of problems. The recipe for beating it is to strategically extend out to the perimeter on every player while keeping a rim-protector nearby should the Wildcats put the ball on the floor. Georgetown successfully figured this out (for one game, at least), while Butler and Creighton came awfully close as well. It can be done.

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2015

Regular season Big East play has finished and it appears that six of the 10 conference members will secure bids for the NCAA Tournament next weekend. The league might not be top-heavy this season, but nobody can argue with its overall strength and nightly competitiveness. Only the Big 12 is in position to match the Big East in terms of 60 percent of its members making the Tournament. That said, there are still some potential shifts ahead with respect to postseason seeding and the Big East Tournament will serve as the deciding factor.

Villanova (29-2, 16-2)

  • Up Next: Thursday vs. Marquette/Seton Hall
    RPI: #3 SOS: #45
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Provided that the Wildcats win out, they will be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAAs, likely sliding in behind Kentucky and either Duke or Virginia on the overall strength curve. This would represent a major feat for a program that continues to raise the bar and maintain a national spotlight on the Big East as a whole. Winning the Big East Tournament this week will be no easy task, however, and the parity between the assembled teams cannot be emphasized enough. Villanova will be the favorite to win the crown, but Georgetown, Butler, Providence and St. John’s will all be strongly in the mix.
This guys has had a lot to smile about this season. (Getty)

This guys has had a lot to smile about this season. (Getty)

Butler (20-8, 12-6)

  • Up Next: Thursday vs. Xavier
    RPI: #25 SOS: #41
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 5 or No. 6 seed. The injury to Andrew Chrabascz undoubtedly set it back, but Butler remained competitive and recently trumped Providence on its home floor. The absolute best case scenario would be a #4 seed if the Bulldogs were to win the conference tournament, but the more likely seeding is a #5. Depending on its NCAA draw, Butler makes for a fantastic sleeper pick as the Bulldogs have largely flown under the radar this season.

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Is This Finally the Year for Villanova?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 3rd, 2015

Save for one or two uncharacteristically poor seasons, Villanova has been on the college basketball map nearly every year in the last decade. And being on the map doesn’t mean an above average team that wiggles its way into the NCAA Tournament every year; rather, the Wildcats have finished with 20 or more wins in 10 of their last 11 seasons. Still, for reasons unknown to most everyone around the program, Jay Wright‘s team has fallen short of expectations in every season since its magical 2009 Final Four run. One year the issue was a lack of team chemistry in the backcourt; the next year it was supposedly a lack of size. For one reason or another, Villanova has simply been unable to progress past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright and Villanova? (Getty)

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright’s Villanova Squad? (Getty)

Many initially questioned whether Villanova would be adequately challenged in the new Big East. While the league has had a great season and is likely to place six teams in the NCAA Tournament, the concerns remain. Just how good is Villanova? As of Tuesday morning, Jay Wright’s team is 27-2 and just three wins away from tying the school record for single-season wins. The Wildcats are 10-1 against the RPI top 50, 6-1 against the RPI top 25, and have just two road losses to top 100 teams. According to KenPom, Villanova ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and is one of five teams to rank among the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (17th). With Wisconsin and Gonzaga’s losses over the weekend, the team ranks 4th in the AP poll and is firmly on the cusp of landing a No. 1 seed for the first time since the 2005-06 season. And yet, many have failed to take notice. Is public dismissal of the team based on its general lack of NBA-caliber players? Or the falsely-held notion that the Big East is not as good as it once was? Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2015

The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w15

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 27th, 2015

With just a little over a week remaining in conference play, most Big East teams have started rounding into postseason form. For Villanova, that means pushing toward an NCAA Tournament #1 seed. For others like St. John’s and Xavier, it means staying on the right side of the bubble. As we approach March, we’ll run down the status of each Big East team’s postseason prospects in this weekly look. The league appears to have six solid NCAA candidates as of today, with the remainder still clinging to the discussion for NIT bids.

Villanova (26-2, 13-2)

Jay Wright's crew is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue tournament run. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue tournament run. (Getty)

  • Up Next: Saturday at Xavier
    RPI: 4 SOS: 41
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Villanova continued its march of dominance, clinching the Big East title and running over its opponents in the process. The Wildcats have now won their last nine games and are in decent position for a top seed if any of the other contenders falter. This team is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue NCAA Tournament run.

Butler (20-8, 10-5)

  • Up Next: Saturday at DePaul
    RPI: 25 SOS: 34
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Just when Butler looked like it was entering a slump following its scramble at Creighton and blowout loss at Xavier, the Bulldogs snapped back into form on Wednesday night. The loss of Andrew Chrabascz (4-6 weeks) has left open holes in areas where Butler has been strong: rebounding, interior defense and inside scoring. Expect the Bulldogs to fall a few spots in seeding before Chrabascz returns, hopefully in time for the bulk of the postseason.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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RTC Weekly Primer: UNC-Duke, No. 1 Seeds, and a Tight Bubble

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 17th, 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun, so by the transitive property, they might as well say time flies during college basketball season. But seriously, this season seems to have sped by. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because a busy schedule has eaten up my down time. Maybe it’s something subconscious. But I genuinely feel like conference play just started and yet we’re already approaching March. The logical explanation for that? Maybe it’s because the overarching narratives of the season have been in constant flux. Or — another way of putting it — maybe it’s because Selection Sunday is just 25 days away and we really only know one thing: Kentucky is good. Really good. After that, everything is tight — tight with two heavily enunciated ‘t’s. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, eight teams have a 25 percent or greater chance at a No. 1 seed, but only Kentucky’s odds surpass 60 percent. And moving down the hierarchy, there’s just so much additional uncertainty. There’s been a definitive top eight for over a month now, and nobody below that threshold appears too intent on breaking into it. Teams like Iowa State and North Carolina have invariably followed up big wins with baffling losses, and teams like Utah and Louisville simply haven’t separated themselves in a meaningful way. Even further down the Top 25, the bubble is nothing more than a mess. But that’s the case every year. And even as all-encompassing as it is right now, there are bound to be teams that stage late surges to put themselves in contention. There are also bound to be teams that spin out of control in the other direction. To put it succinctly… there is bound to be madness. That might as well be a slogan for college hoops in general, but especially this year.

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

One for the Money

North Carolina at Duke | Wednesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

No matter which team you root for, no matter where you live, there’s only one game this week that is must-watch television. And even if Dickie V. won’t be on the call, you have to tune in for the first of two battles between North Carolina and Duke. When you think of college sports, almost all of the notions of amateur athletics are embodied by the Tobacco Road rivalry. Games are played with passion and intensity. They are played with unrelenting pressure and in front of hostile crowds. They are played enveloped by the shadows of history, in front of legends and ghosts of years past. They are laden with folklore and religiously maintained traditions. They turn the otherwise forgotten into heroes and the otherwise successful into villains. The Duke-Carolina games are as singularly powerful as nearly any regular season game in any sport, and this year’s annual rite of passage begins Wednesday night.

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 16th, 2015

With just three weeks remaining in conference play, most Big East teams have started rounding into postseason form. For some units like Butler and Providence, this means steady improvement with an eye on seeding and positioning. For others like Seton Hall and St. John’s, it means clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes that seemed much more secure a month ago. As we approach March, we’ll run down the status of each Big East team’s postseason prospects in this weekly look. As of today, the league appears to have six solid NCAA teams, with the remainder in the discussion for NIT bids.

Villanova (23-2, 10-2)
Up Next: Monday vs. Seton Hall, Saturday at Marquette
RPI: 4 SOS: 28

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hillard Kept Villanova in Contention for an NCAA #1 Seed Saturday (USA Today Images)

On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Villanova boasts one of the strongest resumes of any team in the country: 5-1 vs RPI Top 25; 9-1 vs RPI Top 50; and its two losses were on the road to Georgetown (#21) and Seton Hall (#70). Even accounting for another loss the rest of the way, Villanova should still find itself locked in as a No. 2 seed this season, with an outside chance at a No. 1 seed if it can win out. Regardless, this team’s numbers classifies it as an elite team that is poised to run away with the Big East regular season crown. Yet some of the same knocks will be made as last season: Who is Villanova’s go-to guy; can it compete against more athletic opponents; and has it been tested enough? Only time will tell, but Jay Wright’s team looks like its on the right track.

Butler (18-7, 8-4)
Up Next: Monday at Creighton, Saturday at Xavier
RPI: 24 SOS: 20

On Track For: NCAA, No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been the play of Butler under interim-turned-head coach Chris Holtmann. Junior Kellen Dunham has provided consistent scoring while a number of other players — Alex Barlow, Kelan Martin and Andrew Chrabascz — have given the Bulldogs better offensive versatility and defensive tenacity. Butler’s November win over North Carolina is still impressive, and while the Bulldogs are just 7-7 vs. the RPI Top 100 and 2-5 vs. the RPI Top 25, their lone loss outside of the top 30 was at Tennessee (#80). The Bulldogs have played a challenging schedule and have won nearly every game they were supposed to have won.

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RTC Top 25: Week Thirteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 16th, 2015

The story of the last week in college basketball was that #2 Wisconsin, #3 Virginia, #5 Villanova and #8 Kansas continued on their paths towards regular season conference titles. After easy victories over Nebraska and Illinois, the Badgers are now 23-2 overall and their 11-1 Big Ten record gives them a commanding three-game lead over Maryland and Purdue. Bo Ryan’s team just quietly keeps chugging along. In its first week without star swingman Justin Anderson, Virginia had to battle to earn wins over NC State and Wake Forest last week. But those latest victories now put the Cavaliers at 23-1 overall and 11-1 in the ACC. Tony Bennett’s squad has a two-game lead over Notre Dame and does not play another ranked opponent until the final weekend of the regular season. Things are definitely in place for Virginia to take home its second consecutive regular season conference title. Villanova may have turned in the most impressive performance of any team last week. The Wildcats were victorious at both Providence and Butler, which improved its record to 23-2 overall and 10-2 in the Big East. Jay Wright’s team has a fairly easy slate through the rest of Big East play, so it is reasonable to think that the Wildcats could also win their final six regular season contests. After some shaky play in recent weeks, Kansas again looks in prime position to take home its 11th consecutive Big 12 title. After last Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks rebounded in sterling fashion with a dominant victory at Texas Tech and a come-from-behind win over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. The Jayhawks currently hold a two-game lead over Iowa State in the standings and it would be stunning if they relinquished that lead.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis after the jump….

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 1.01.44 PM

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Villanova 68, #18 Butler 65

Posted by Walker Carey on February 14th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Villanova and Butler in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hilliard Blew Up Butler on Saturday (USA Today Images)

  1. Darrun Hilliard picked a great night to turn in a career-best performance. Villanova’s leading scorer took his game to another level against Butler, finishing with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-16 shooting (8-of-13 from three) to go along with eight rebounds. Hilliard really got things going in the second half, as he hit 5-of-7 from three and 5-of-5 from the charity stripe in the game’s second stanza. He also showcased his knack for knocking down the big shot after Butler swingman Roosevelt Jones tied the game with 18 seconds to play. With teammate Ryan Arcidiacano double-teamed at the top of the key, Hilliard called for the ball from the right free throw line extended and drained a wide open three to give the Wildcats a 68-65 lead with just 1.2 seconds to play. At 23-2 on the season, Villanova is currently in the discussion for a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats can get similar performances from Hilliard for the remainder of their Big East slate, they could easily be on that top line when Selection Sunday arrives.
  2. Both teams were great defensively in the first half and great offensively in the second half. Throughout the first half, this game looked like it was going to be a slow-paced and physical slugfest. Villanova held a 27-22 lead at the break and neither team put up strong offensive numbers in the opening 20 minutes. It might have been their way of paying homage to the frigid conditions outside, but Villanova shot just 36.7 percent from the field while Butler made just 30.8 percent of its attempts. The offensive end of the court was much kinder to both teams in the second half with both teams topping 40 total points (Butler outscored Villanova 43-41 in the second half) and 50 percent shooting (Villanova shot 60 percent and Butler shot 56.5 percent). It was almost like the first half and second half were two completely different games. With that being said, it was clear as day that both Villanova and Butler have the ability to get it done on both ends of the court.
  3. Villanova pretty much locked up its second straight regular season Big East title with the victory. With Saturday evening’s victory, Villanova moved its Big East record to 10-2. That conference mark gives the Wildcats a two-game lead in the conference standings and the schedule the rest of the way is very favorable for Jay Wright’s squad. Villanova will go on the road three more times, but games at Marquette, Xavier and Creighton are certainly winnable. It is definitely reasonable to believe that the Wildcats will finish the regular season with a 29-2 overall record and a 16-2 mark in Big East play.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Road Warrior Week as Pressure Mounts at the Top

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 10th, 2015

As we approach Selection Sunday — and, yes, it is now a mere 33 days away — two ends of the spectrum dominate the college basketball conversation. One of those is the bubble. The other, of course, is the top line. And while it’s a bit too early to paint a decipherable picture of those teams vying for positions in the play-in games, the competition for the four No. 1 seeds is beginning to take shape. There appear to be three solid bets. Kentucky is near-lock. Virginia, with only one loss — a good loss, mind you — and a handful of impressive wins, is another. And Gonzaga, despite a relatively weak conference slate, is a third. Even if the Zags were to suffer one more defeat along the way, they might still be safe in a position on the top line. The fourth spot, however, is truly up for grabs. On the back of a splendid array of wins away from home, Duke would appear to be the front-runner. But Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Villanova aren’t too far behind the Blue Devils. If the Badgers run the table the rest of the way — a real possibility — they’d make the committee’s job on this decision excruciating. Villanova could also cause a few headaches if they enter the discussion as a two-loss team. And Kansas, with its top-ranked schedule and plethora of top-50 wins, could close the season at No. 1 in the RPI. The pressure is on at the top. We’ll see which teams can handle it.

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Road Warrior Week

This week isn’t overflowing with marquee matchups, so we’ll forgo Three for the Money in favor of a more general theme. It’s road warrior week. Duke got things started on Monday night when it went to Florida State and escaped with a narrow victory in Tallahassee. Some other top-10 teams this week might not be so fortunate, as eight of those — including the Blue Devils — will play on the road at an unranked team between Monday and Friday. It starts on Tuesday night when Kentucky travels to LSU; Notre Dame makes the long trek to Clemson; Kansas plays at Texas Tech; and Wisconsin heads to Nebraska. Kentucky perhaps faces the stiffest test of all. LSU, an up-tempo squad with a big and physical front line, will try to get out in transition and score before Kentucky can set up its suffocating half-court defense. Notre Dame, however, is the most likely of the four to lose. The Fighting Irish are only three-point favorites against the Tigers, a hard-luck team that has lost a bunch of close games this year. Wisconsin revisits the site of last year’s memorable Cornhuskers upset on ‘no-sit Sunday.’

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