The college basketball season is flying by quickly, with conference tournaments around the corner, and March Madness three weeks away.
We'll also focus on pace in this week's breakdown, partially using that to determine our favorite picks. With a strong 11-2 record, hopefully our victories will not be slowing in tempo.
Winthrop's dominant 16-0 start to the season ended on Jan. 29 with a heartbreaking loss to UNC Asheville. Opponents learned the key to beating the Eagles through that loss, which is to slow the game down to a snail's pace. In the UNC Asheville defeat and the squad's four games since, Winthrop has been held to 71 possessions or fewer, which only occurred four times during the school's 16-game winning streak.
The steam has been taken out of Winthrop's run-and-gun offense. But with Hampton rolling into town, the unit should be able to get back on track.
The Pirates have played poor defense all season while willing to run with opponents, sitting third in the Big South in pace. Their defense is aggressive and often gambling for steals, which will lead to opportunities for Winthrop floor general Chandler Vaudrin and Co. to push the ball into the open.
The Eagles also hold a massive edge on the glass. Winthrop is one of the nation's best offensive-rebounding teams, while Hampton is last defensively in its conference, allowing over 13 offensive rebounds per game. The Eagles should take lots of shots because of their likely advantage in possessions and second-chance opportunities, allowing their clear talent edge to show on the scoreboard.
A 20-point spread is no easy cover, but give me Winthrop in this juicy spot.
Pick: Winthrop -20
Ole Miss and Missouri played just last Wednesday, with the Rebels upsetting the Tigers 80-59. The win was Ole Miss' first SEC game with 80-plus regulation points this season, and it took a scorching 57% shooting night against Missouri's usually sound defense. Meanwhile, the Tigers finished well above their season average from deep, despite only putting up 59 points.
It's unlikely those shooting numbers hold in this week's rematch. However, Ole Miss' slow pace will probably resurface, which led to Missouri's slowest game all season last time around. During a game when Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin should be preaching defense to his players, speeding things up shouldn't be a priority.
While Missouri's defense has experienced its fair share of struggles lately, a battle against Ole Miss' usually incompetent offense may be just what the doctor ordered. The Rebels shoot only 28.5% from beyond the arc, dead last among Power 5 schools. This matchup barely went over the total when Ole Miss shot 40% from three, which means the rematch should be low scoring.
Pick: Under 134
Marquette and North Carolina face off in a clash of two big, physical squads during a rare nonconference game in late February. The Tar Heels are coming off a dominant 45-point win over Louisville, bumping their NET ranking up 20 spots. The Golden Eagles meanwhile, have lost six of their last eight contests while falling to a disappointing 10-12 on the year.
The spread is quite high, despite the seemingly opposite trajectories of these teams. While Marquette's offense has stalled this season, the program's stout defense is keeping the Golden Eagles in games. They're 13th in the nation in 2-point percentage defense, which is the area of the floor where the Tar Heels score over 60% of their points. Being able to lock down the key against North Carolina's massive front line would be huge for Marquette.
North Carolina has proven to be the better team this season. However, poor perimeter and free-throw shooting should limit the Tar Heels' ability to separate. This contest will likely stay close, with Marquette looking to slow the game down and contain North Carolina's inside scoring.
Pick: Marquette +9