College Basketball Weekend Primer: Best Games, Best Bets For Dec. 9-11

Duke and UNLV haven’t met since the Blue Devils upset the Runnin’ Rebels in the 1991 Final Four. That will change when they square off in Las Vegas on Saturday.

I’m a college basketball nostalgic. When teams go up against each other, I always remember important games between the two from years past that I’ll never get out of my head. Coaches change and players change, but the uniforms are what turn the clock back.

Every time Michigan and Illinois play, I think back to the 1989 Final Four when I sat on the couch in my Chicago home and watched my dad scream, “NOOOO!!!” when the Fighting Illini’s Nick Anderson failed to box out Sean Higgins, who scored on a put-back with two seconds left to give the Wolverines an 83-81 victory, on their way to winning the national championship. It might be strange, but I can’t help it.

When Duke and UNLV meet Saturday in Las Vegas, a lot of memories will come back. I’ll see Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt destroying Duke, 103-73, in the 1990 national championship game. And who can forget one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history the following year in the Final Four, as the late Jerry Tarkanian chewed on his trademark white towel while the Blue Devils defeated 34-0 UNLV, 79-77, to stop the Runnin’ Rebels’ unbeaten run.

Mike Krzyzewski won his first of five national championships two nights later, and yet we haven’t seen a Duke-UNLV rematch since that meeting at the Hoosier Dome. Saturday’s meeting will be at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, which is just a couple miles from the UNLV campus.

Instead of Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner guiding the Blue Devils, it’ll be Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson and a few talented freshmen taking the floor for No. 5 Duke. But Hurley did his part to send UNLV into Saturday’s matchup on a down note, as his Arizona State Sun Devils knocked off the Runnin’ Rebels, 97-73, last Saturday.

This contest likely won’t be an instant classic, but I’ll sure be thinking about the last one.

Attack of the Underdogs

There are a few teams that need to bounce back in a big way following unexpected defeats this past week.

Butler was 8-0 before the No. 16 Bulldogs played a rare true road game against a Missouri Valley team on Wednesday. Indiana State’s Brenton Scott drained a free throw with 1.5 seconds remaining to give the Sycamores a stunning 72-71 victory. It doesn’t get any easier for Butler on Saturday as it hosts No. 22 Cincinnati.

Thursday provided a pair of stunners, as No. 25 Iowa State lost 78-64 at rival Iowa, which entered with a 4-5 record that includes a home loss to Omaha. The Cyclones, who beat Omaha by 44 points, had only lost to Gonzaga and Cincinnati by a combined three points. They’re off until facing Drake on Dec. 17.

St. Mary’s gets back in action Sunday, though, and the No. 12 Gaels are going to want to quickly move past Thursday’s defeat. UT Arlington, which also owns a win over Texas, dominated from start to finish, leading by 13 and halftime and cruising to a 65-51 road win. St. Mary’s shot just 31.4 percent from the field, a mark it’ll look to improve when facing UC Irvine this weekend.

Best Bets

In this section each week I pick five games against the spread that I’d put smart money on. I then keep a running record throughout the season. These picks will consist of games taking place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

I’ve gone 2-3 each of the three weeks I’ve done this, with a couple of bad beats thrown in for good measure. For instance, last week Temple beat Penn by eight points. Just look at the line below. Frustrating.

Here’s what happened last weekend and what I’ve got going this week:

Season record: 6-9
Last week: 2-3

  • Temple (-9) over Penn (L)
  • Baylor (-4) over Xavier (W)
  • Rhode Island (PK) over Providence (L)
  • Oklahoma State (+1.5) over Maryland (W)
  • Michigan State (-22) over Oral Roberts (L)

This week:

  • Wisconsin (1.5) over Marquette
  • Gonzaga (-16.5) over Akron
  • UCLA (-9) over Michigan
  • Colorado (+3) over BYU
  • UNLV (+20.5) over Duke

Looking Ahead

There aren’t any ranked-vs.-ranked matchups until next weekend, but a few games still have some intrigue.

No. 19 South Carolina vs. Seton Hall (Monday, Madison Square Garden)

The undefeated Gamecocks routed both Michigan and Syracuse in their two most impressive wins, and now they’re going to get a quality test against unranked Seton Hall at the Garden. The Pirates are 7-2 and feature junior guard Khadeen Carrington, who is averaging 20 points while shooting 54.7 percent from the field.

No. 1 Villanova vs. Temple (Tuesday)

Never underestimate a rival, despite the fact Villanova has won the last three meetings by at least 16 points. The Owls beat Florida State and West Virginia as part of a four-game winning streak before Wednesday’s 66-63 loss to George Washington.

No. 20 Arizona vs. Grand Canyon (Wednesday)

No, I’m not expecting this to be all that close. The 4-4 Antelopes simply don’t have enough talent to keep up with the Wildcats. However, this game could be worthy of watching because of Grand Canyon’s 5-foot-11 guard Dewayne Russell, who is averaging 26.7 points per game. Russell dropped 42 in last Saturday’s home loss to Louisville, and had 21 and nine assists in Wednesday’s win over San Diego State.

MORE: Jamie Dixon On Coaching Lifestyle – ‘It Engulfs Everything You Do’