With all due respect to the MAC, NEC, and Big Sky who have played a number of conference games thus far, Friday has the feeling of the true beginning of conference play as the Big East has four of their teams meet head-to-head for the first time. That alone should build excitement for a Friday slate that is typically one of the most underwhelming of the week for college basketball action.
Here is a trio of picks for Friday.
All odds via BettingPros consensus
St. John’s at Seton Hall: St. John’s +7
(4:30 PM ET tip)
The only thing more exciting than the Big East starting conference play is the fact that they give us an early 4:30 tip with which to whet our appetites. This will be an interesting clash of styles as Mike Anderson’s St. John’s club ranks ninth in adjusted tempo while Kevin Willard’s Pirates play a much more methodical pace and rank 226th in the same category.
Easy conventional wisdom would say St. John’s was losing to Rider with less than three minutes to play in the second half of their last game, so Seton Hall should present a much more difficult challenge. However, perhaps there was a look-ahead factor to this game as these are two of the fiercest rivals in the conference. Four of their last six meetings have been decided by seven points or less. Seton Hall’s prized transfer Bryce Aiken is still likely to be out with a sprained ankle he suffered against Louisville, and a lack of backcourt depth is something that is troublesome against Anderson’s relentless pressure. Seton Hall is just 151st in the nation in turnover percentage, which should play right into St. John’s hands. Seven points is too much to give a live underdog, especially in a rivalry game of this magnitude.
Nebraska at Creighton: Creighton -14
(7:00 PM ET tip)
Creighton came up short against Kansas on Tuesday but may have won over anyone who was iffy on them coming into the season with their spirited effort. The Bluejays ultimately lost because the Jayhawks have too many elite individual defenders that made life difficult enough for Creighton. Nebraska does not have nearly the defensive talent of Kansas, as evidenced by the fact that they are the 207th-best team at defending the three-point line. That is troublesome as they set to face a Creighton offense that can space the floor and shoot the lights out.
Nebraska allowed 36 combined points to Georgia Tech’s talented backcourt of Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe. Thus, Marcus Zegarowski, Denzel Mahoney, and company are licking their chops at the chance to “get right” offensively against the Cornhuskers. Creighton’s team total makes for an interesting game prop, but Creighton absolutely looks like the right side to cover this spread.
Marquette at UCLA: UCLA -4
(9:30 PM ET tip)
The UCLA Bruins got a huge lift with the return of Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang against San Diego, as he made his season debut while recovering from a foot injury. Juzang scored 10 points in 20 minutes and now gives coach Mick Cronin length that he can use to slow down Marquette’s Koby McEwen. This UCLA team appears much more talented offensively than the one that won 19 games in Cronin’s first year. The Bruins are 15th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, and they have won their last three games by an average of 24.3 PPG after struggling with San Diego State and Pepperdine in their first two.
While Marquette owns a big win over Wisconsin, they struggled to score in their two biggest games against Oklahoma State as well as the Badgers. The Golden Eagles shot a combined 41-for-108 from the field (37.9%) combined in those two games, and that does not bode well for their chances to win their first road game at Pauley Pavilion. Look for UCLA’s length from their trio of players 6’9” or taller to make life difficult for Marquette’s shooters while exposing the team’s lack of inside presence.
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