The final week of the year brings about an interesting mix in men’s college basketball. Some teams are wrapping up non-conference play, whereas others are jumping right into the league schedule. We get that dynamic tonight, as many power conference teams face their final tune up before getting into the thick of conference play in the new year, and we also have ranked teams facing each other in the Big East and SEC. All this as the sport faces a new wrinkle–wondering if the game will even take place due to COVID-19 concerns! Duke vs. Clemson and Temple vs. Villanova have already been postponed.
The LSU Tigers are riding a surprising run that’s seen the Bayou Bengals get off to an unbeaten 12-0 start on the season, but they jump right into the thick of things in conference play by visiting 11-1 Auburn, whose only loss was in double overtime to UConn in the Bahamas in November. The pair of Tigers meet in the SEC opener for both teams.
Both teams are averaging around 80 points per game, but LSU has the better defense, giving up 54 per contest (second-best in Division 1) vs. Auburn’s 64 points allowed per game. Tari Eason is leading LSU with 16.3 points per game, and Darius Days is pulling down 8.5 rebounds per contest. Auburn is led by Jabari Smith (16.2 PPG) and Wendell Green Jr. (11.8 PPG) on offense, and Smith is averaging 7.2 rebounds per game as well.
The one thing that LSU is missing, despite its undefeated record, is a win over a team with a number next to it. They have wins over power-conference teams (Penn State, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech), but none are ranked. They will make up for that in their next three games, as after the Auburn game, they host No. 18 Kentucky and No. 14 Tennessee.
Auburn has won its six home games this year by an average of 22 points. The game against UConn was the only one against a ranked foe, but the Tigers under head coach Bruce Pearl have been one of the better SEC teams over the past few years and getting LSU at home should be a big boost for them. Auburn is 5-1 against the spread at home, and LSU is playing their first true road game of the year. That could lead to a slow start for the Bayou Bengals, as we like Auburn to end LSU’s unbeaten streak by pulling out a win here by six to eight points.
(14) Tennessee Volunteers vs. (19) Alabama Crimson Tide
The Bet: Tennessee +3
Another SEC matchup between ranked teams makes our best bets list, but this time, we like the road underdog. Tennessee (9-2) visits Alabama (9-3) in the first SEC game of the season for both teams. The Vols are coming off a win at home over Arizona, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season. Alabama, on the other hand, has dropped two of their last three, including a loss at home to unranked Davidson last week.
The Vols beat the then-No. 6 Wildcats 77-73 last week, doing a good job with their defense that’s allowing 59 points per game. They now face an Alabama team that’s putting up 83 points per contest. The Tide, however, haven’t covered in their last three games and are allowing 78.8 points per game in December.
A game against a tested Tennessee team (with wins over Arizona and North Carolina so far this year and an overtime loss to Texas Tech on a neutral floor) will be tough for Alabama to break out against.
Alabama is 2-0 against ranked teams, beating Gonzaga on a neutral court and then winning by one at home over Houston, but losses to Memphis and Davidson followed. The Vols are also 7-4 against the spread this year, whereas Alabama is 6-6 ATS. While we like Tennessee to cover here, if you’re an over-under bettor, the under has hit in nine of the last 10 head-to-head meetings between the teams, but the schools have better offenses this year than they have in the past. The total for this game is set at 147.5.
Cornell Big Red vs. Syracuse Orange
The Bet: Cornell +15.5
Two teams that can score and have struggled on defense meet tonight in the Carrier Dome, as Cornell faces Syracuse in the Orange’s second-straight game against an Ivy League school before they play ACC teams the rest of the way. Cornell is coming off a blowout loss at Virginia Tech, which was the first game that they did not cover in all season.
While the Orange have a 10-game winning streak over the Big Red, Cornell has covered in 10 of the last 15 meetings. Syracuse is also just 6-5 on the season, having lost at home to Colgate and also suffering losses to unranked opponents in VCU and Georgetown as well. Of their six wins, they have only won two by more than 15 points.
Buddy Boeheim is averaging 18.5 points per game and was one of several players to contract COVID-19, leading to a two-week break in the program before they returned to action Monday night in a 93-62 win over Brown. Cornell hasn’t played since a Dec. 8 loss by 33 points to the Hokies. But the Big Red move the ball around well (20.8 assists per game) and are shooting nearly 50% from the field as a team, so expect them to find plenty of opportunities to shoot over Syracuse’s zone defense, as the Orange haven’t yet found their usual groove on defense.