College basketball fans continued to get excited on social media this past week about the prospects for a wild March, as experts, bettors and touts also chimed in all week about the fact there appear to be no clear-cut choices to win the national championship.
As many as a dozen of the country’s top-tier programs have emerged as betting favorites approaching the middle of conference season.
Flavor of the week Oklahoma pulled the usual feat of losing on national television the same day as reaching the top spot last Monday, dropping its second Big 12 game of the season at Iowa State. The Sooners quickly made the case to remain the consensus No. 1 following a convincing 82-72 road win as the shortest of underdogs at 13th-ranked Baylor on Saturday.
Oklahoma (7-1 odds) is one of a handful of elite title contenders along with regulars North Carolina (+650), Kansas (7-1), Michigan State (9-1) and Duke (9-1), but the bushel of title contenders apparently runs deep with the likes of Maryland (12-1), Villanova (12-1), Iowa (15-1), Louisville (15-1), Kentucky (16-1), Purdue (16-1) and Xavier (18-1).
The Hawkeyes – with their top-tier combo of Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok – are the newest headliner with their current nine-game winning streak and 7-0 start in the Big 10, including victories at MSU and Purdue. But they’ll get another one of those topsy-turvy road tests on Thursday night (4 PT, ESPN) when they travel to face sophomore star Melo Trimble and the Maryland Terrapins. The Hawkeyes could come in as a slight underdog against the third-place team in the conference behind another 7-0 squad, Indiana.
While Trimble has garnered the Terps’ headlines, junior Robert Carter and promising, but expectantly inconsistent freshman enforcer Diamond Stone has put UM into the national title mix. IOWA, 72-68.
San Diego State (+4, 118) at UNLV (Sat., 5 PT, CBSSN): The Aztecs have rebounded from a slow start that included home losses to Grand Canyon and Arkansas-Little Rock, as well as cross-town punching bag San Diego in an outdoor tilt, to open up Mountain West play with seven-straight wins entering the week.
The Rebels bounced back from the awful conference start that resulted in a coaching change and won three-straight to even their mark at 3-3 before last Saturday’s incompetent loss in Reno to new coach Eric Musselman and the Wolf Pack.
SDSU has won five of the last seven meetings at Thomas & Mack and six-straight overall in the series, but the Rebels have covered the last three meetings. The Rebels could come as favorites in this meeting, however, for the first time in nearly three years, a span of seven games. SDSU, 63-61.
Iowa State (+6, 156) at Texas A&M (Sat. 11 PT, ESPN): Following a disastrous conference start for an ISU team with high expectations, the Cyclones beat a No. 1 team at home for the second time in school history. Turn back the clock a short period for this one, as the former conference foe Aggies – off to a 7-0 start in the SEC – host a Big 12-SEC Challenge game as one of 10 matchups in the one-day series, getting arguably a co-top billing rankings-wise with a Kentucky-Kansas feature later in the evening (4 PT, ESPN).
Iowa State is in the midst of a stretch of four of five games against top-ten caliber opponents, but had rebounded nicely for three-straight wins heading into a Monday matchup this week at home with Kansas. A&M, meanwhile, continues to be one of the country’s most unheralded teams with a 17-2 overall mark, but hasn’t played against any opponent in most consensus top 20s.
Forwards Danuel House and Jalen Jones handle the bulk of the offense for the Aggies, while Iowa State counters with a just as formidable front court tandem with Georges Niang and Jameel McKay. A&M, 84-72.
North Carolina (+6, 150) at Louisville (Mon., 4 PT, ESPN): To prove tempo and style make the game, look ahead to next Monday when the Cards get their only shot of the season at the ACC-leading Heels (7-0), as UL entered the week 5-1. Louisville has a tough home test against Virginia (Sat., 10 PT, CBS) leading up to this, as the total for that matchup is expected to be in the mid-to-upper 120s, while this game should likely produce a result 25 points higher.
UNC is the current consensus No. 2 entering the week, riding an 11-game win streak behind one of the conference’s most dominating big men in senior Brice Johnson. Johnson will matchup with Cards sophomore Chinanu Onuaku as two of the best rebounders in the nation go head-to-head.
Louisville won a memorable game here last year at Yum Center, rallying from a 43-25 deficit to claim a 78-68 overtime win. However, Johnson scored 22 points to help take over the game over the final 10 minutes in the Tar Heels’ 70-60 ACC tournament win over the Cards in Charlotte last March. UL, 71-69.
Ramon Scott is a Southern California-based sportswriter, covering the preps to the pros for over 25 years. Email: [email protected].