Northwestern Wildcats at Ohio State Buckeyes (-17)
After facing a pair of top-three teams back-to-back, No. 14 Ohio State gets a small step down in competition when it hosts Northwestern on Thursday. The Wildcats have dropped three of their last four but have the talent to give the Buckeyes fits and are motivated to earn the type of signature road win that might get them a second look from the NCAA tournament selection committee. Ohio State is hoping for better defense than it's showed lately.
The Buckeyes have surrendered season-high point totals in each of the last two games, culminating in an 81-68 home loss to No. 1 Indiana on Sunday. Ohio State has struggled to contain guards like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. of Michigan and Victor Oladipo of Indiana in the last two losses. Northwestern’s Reggie Hearn will be the one looking for those same holes on Thursday. Hearn leads the Wildcats in scoring at 14.2 points but has struggled from the field lately.
Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers (-5)
Wisconsin and Minnesota combined for 89 total points when the teams played in late January and another low-scoring game figures to be on tap when the Golden Gophers host the No. 19 Badgers on Thursday. Wisconsin prevailed 45-44 in the Jan. 26 contest. The Badgers enter on a three-game winning streak and are one of five teams in the Big Ten title mix. Minnesota has lost six of its past eight games.
The Golden Gophers could use a late-season turnaround to assure they will be part of the NCAA tournament field. Minnesota is 12-2 at home but fell to Illinois last Saturday. The Badgers aren’t viewed in the same vein as Indiana or Michigan State – and even Michigan, which has lost four Big Ten games – in terms of contenders for the regular-season crown. Senior center Jared Berggren has a different view. “I think we’re up toward the top of the standings right now,” Berggren said. “There is a lot of basketball left to play, but I think we’ve proven that we can beat anyone at any time.”
St. John's Red Storm at Louisville Cardinals (-17)
Louisville figures that Thursday’s contest against visiting St. John’s will be shorter than Saturday’s five-overtime loss to Notre Dame. The No. 12 Cardinals have had time to recuperate from the agonizing defeat and are seeking a strong finish to the regular season after losing four of the past seven games. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin will miss his second straight contest following the death of his 82-year-old father. The Red Storm have lost two of three games.
Assistant coach Rico Hines will again coach St. John’s. The Red Storm lost to Syracuse on Saturday. Louisville let a late eight-point lead in regulation get away in the loss to Notre Dame, and also squandered other opportunities to win in the overtimes. “We’re just disappointed,” junior forward Luke Hancock said afterward. “We had so many chances to win that game and didn’t execute the way we would have liked.”
Arizona Wildcats at Colorado Buffaloes (+2.5)
Arizona’s loss to California in its last game not only damaged its hopes of earning a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, but it knocked the ninth-ranked Wildcats into a three-way tie for first place in the tightly-contested Pac-12 Conference.
Arizona looks to cap a season sweep when it visits Colorado on Thursday. The Buffaloes nearly beat the Wildcats in the first meeting when Sabatino Chen banked in a 3-pointer at the end of regulation, but officials waved it off after reviewing the video and Arizona went on to the controversial win, 92-83, in overtime. Colorado enters on a two-game winning streak and has won five of its last six.
Gonzaga Bulldogs at St. Mary's Gaels (+1)
The top two programs in the West Coast Conference battle again Thursday when No. 3 Gonzaga visits streaking Saint Mary’s. The Bulldogs notched an 83-76 home victory against the Gaels on Jan. 10 and now the scene shifts to Moraga, where Saint Mary’s is undefeated in 13 home games this season. The Gaels have won nine consecutive games and are a half-game behind the Zags in the WCC race. Gonzaga has won six straight outings.
Bulldogs star Kelly Olynyk scored 31 points in last month’s meeting as Gonzaga built an 18-point halftime lead and held off a Saint Mary’s charge. Gaels standout Matthew Dellavedova struggled to 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Gonzaga is 7-1 on the road, the lone loss being a last-second defeat at Butler. Six of the last seven Saint Mary’s wins have been by double digits. “We’re getting there,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said after Saturday’s victory over San Diego. “I think we’re becoming more consistent and that’s becoming our identity, which is what needs to happen.”