College Basketball: Three Ranked Matchups Highlight Leap Day Docket with Maryland, Iowa, and Kentucky Favored

Posted on: February 29, 2020, 03:19h. 

Last updated on: March 1, 2020, 07:38h.

Leap Day this year is giving college basketball fans a nice appetizer for March Madness.

Anthony Cowan and his Maryland teammates have a chance to be No. 1 in the Big Ten with a win Saturday. (Image: Maryland Athletics)

The next to last weekend in the regular season for the power conferences in NCAA basketball tips off Saturday, and the docket includes three games featuring teams in the Associated Press Top 25 facing each other.

Two of those battles take place in the Big Ten. In one, Maryland can claim at least a share of the conference title if the ninth-ranked Terrapins can knock off visiting Michigan State. The No. 24 Spartans are one of four teams at 11-6, two games behind league-leading Maryland in the standings. The other Big Ten clash features two of the league’s top offenses, when No. 16 Penn State visits No. 18 Iowa.

In the SEC, No. 8 Kentucky seeks its 49th conference crown and can clinch it with a win at home over No. 15 Auburn.

Michigan State-Maryland Preview

Maryland has that two-game edge thanks to a wild comeback at Minnesota. They overcame a 17-point deficit on the road to win 74-73 thanks to a Darryl Morsell 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left.

It’s not the first comeback Maryland’s had to make recently.

The two schools played two weeks ago in East Lansing, Mich., where the Terrapins saw a 15-point first half lead disappear. But they scored the final 14 points of the contest to pull out a 67-60 win. Anthony Cowan led Maryland with 24 points and hit three consecutive 3-pointers during the climactic run to secure the victory.

Maryland, which hasn’t won a share of a conference title in a decade and hasn’t won a college basketball league title outright since 2002, is a 2.5-point favorite at FanDuel and a three-point favorite at DraftKings, according to Early bettors on the game like the Terps, as 71 percent of the bets and handle are on Maryland.

The game is scheduled to tip off at 8 pm on ESPN.

Penn State-Iowa Preview

Better known as a football school, Penn State made waves on the hardwood this year. Earlier this week, the Nittany Lions held on to a share of second place in the conference thanks to a late 3-pointer by Myles Dread to knock off Rutgers.

Penn State has not only played in its fair share of close games this season, the Nittany Lions have pulled them out, too. They’ve won eight games by single digits this season and five by five points or less.

They’ve also fared well against ranked competition, beating all three ranked foes they’ve faced while ranked themselves. That includes an 89-86 victory over Iowa on Jan. 4.

In a game that features two of the top offenses in the conference, the host Hawkeyes may get a boost. Coach Fran McCaffrey said he expects CJ Fredrick to return to action after missing three games because of an ankle injury. The freshman guard is the team’s third-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game and leading 3-point shooter at 46.7 percent.

Iowa, which is coming off a loss to Michigan State on Tuesday, is a four-point favorite at FanDuel and DraftKings for Saturday’s game, which tips at Noon ET on the Big Ten Network. At FanDuel, 54 percent of the bets and 60 percent of the handle are on Iowa, which is 13-1 at home this year.

Despite the teams’ high-scoring natures, FanDuel bettors are divided on the total points, set at 151.5. More than two-thirds of all bets are on the under, but 56 percent of the handle is on the over.

Auburn-Kentucky Preview

Auburn gave the Wildcats their last loss, a 75-66 defeat on Feb. 1. Since then, Kentucky’s been one of college basketball’s hottest teams, reeling off seven straight wins.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said winning the conference would be nice. However, he and his team are looking at the bigger picture, the NCAA Tournament.

The reality of it is, our season is about building toward March, being prepared for every kind of team that we can play,” he told reporters on Friday. “Building every player on your team because you don’t know who’s going to step up in a game.”

Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley has enjoyed a nice February for the Wildcats. His seasonal scoring average has increased by nearly two points to 16.2 points per game since Feb 1. He’s come on even stronger of late. He set a career-high with 26 points in the win over Florida last Saturday, and then on Tuesday, he topped that by making 8-of-12 3-pointers en route to a 30-point effort in beating Texas A&M on Tuesday.

Lexington’s Rupp Arena has not been kind to Auburn. The Tigers have just two wins in 50 games at Kentucky’s home court.

The Tigers got freshman Isaac Okoro back from a hamstring injury in Tuesday’s 67-58 win over Ole Miss. He scored 10 points in the win, which makes Auburn 23-2 in games when he plays.

FanDuel has the Wildcats as six-point favorites, and DraftKings gives Auburn a half-point more. FanDuel bettors are high on the home team, as 74 percent of the bets and 80 percent of the handle are on Kentucky.

The game is scheduled to tip off at 3:45 pm ET and air on CBS.