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College basketball predictions: Three picks for Saturday’s marquee matchups

Back Baylor, Purdue and Gonzaga as home favorites in a trio of revenge spots

Purdue guard Fletcher Loyer (left) tries to dribble around Indiana guard Trey Galloway during a game at Indiana on Feb. 4. The Hoosiers outlasted their instate rivals 79-74 but will head to Purdue on Saturday as a sizable underdog in a Big Ten rematch. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Purdue guard Fletcher Loyer (left) tries to dribble around Indiana guard Trey Galloway during a game at Indiana on Feb. 4. The Hoosiers outlasted their instate rivals 79-74 but will head to Purdue on Saturday as a sizable underdog in a Big Ten rematch. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Read moreAndy Lyons / Getty Images

The final Saturday in February is defined by a single word in college basketball circles: payback.

From early in the morning on the West Coast until near midnight on the East Coast, the college hoops schedule is jam-packed with rematches between conference rivals who squared off earlier in the season.

On this particular final Saturday in February, three of those rematches involve teams positioned 17th or better in this week’s Top 25 poll and 25th or better in analytics expert KenPom’s rankings.

Which means each squad will enter March with legitimate national championship aspirations.

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Before we flip the calendar, though, three of those teams have scores to settle, all in front of their home fans.

Here’s how we’re betting Saturday’s trio of nationally televised revenge battles.

Odds updated as of 7 p.m. ET on Feb. 24.

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Texas vs. Baylor Odds (via FanDuel)

  1. Tipoff: 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)

  2. Point spread: Texas +2.5 (-102)/Baylor -2.5 (-120)

  3. Moneyline: Texas +130/Baylor -156

  4. Total: 149.5 points (Over -106/Under -114)

Analysis: Just how competitive was Round 1 of Baylor vs. Texas in Austin nearly four weeks ago? The Longhorns led most of the way — including the entire second half — but neither squad ever had a double-digit advantage.

And Texas’ second-half lead dwindled to a single point with less than a minute to play. The Longhorns ultimately held on for a 76-71 victory, hitting two free throws with 15 seconds remaining to barely cover the 3.5-point spread.

Both teams went on to win four of their next six games, each going 3-0 at home and 1-2 on the road. Those results are a reflection of the entire season, as Texas and Baylor are a combined 29-3 at home but only 8-9 as a visitor.

So it makes sense that the Bears are laying points in this revenge spot. And we’re laying them, too, for a couple of reasons.

First, but for two exceptions, the Longhorns’ defense has not traveled well during Big 12 play.

Texas held Oklahoma State to 46 points in a 10-point road win in early January and limited West Virginia to 61 in an eight-point victory two weeks later. Otherwise, the Longhorns have surrendered 78, 66, 88 and 74 points in trips to Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas and Texas Tech, respectively.

Texas also lost 82-71 at Tennessee in an SEC/Big 12 Challenge game. And the Volunteers barely average 71 points per game.

Meanwhile, Baylor has been an offensive force when hosting Big 12 rivals. The Bears have averaged exactly 83 points in their seven conference home games, tallying at least 74 each time out.

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Baylor dropped the first two of those by a combined three points (88-87 vs. TCU; 97-95 in overtime vs. Kansas State). Since then, the Bears are 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS on their home floor.

The only non-cover occurred in an SEC/Big 12 Challenge clash against Arkansas, with Baylor prevailing 67-64 as a 6.5-point favorite.

The Bears’ victory margins in their five Big 12 home wins: 18 (vs. Oklahoma State), 6 (vs. Kansas), 27 (vs. Texas Tech), 10 (vs. Oklahoma) and 12 (West Virginia).

Obviously, Baylor has proven it can hang with the Longhorns for 40 minutes. On Saturday, the Bears won’t just hang with Texas, they’ll win another home game with plenty of room to spare.

Prediction: Baylor - 2.5, -120 (at FanDuel)

Indiana vs. Purdue (via Caesars Sportsbook)

  1. Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox)

  2. Point spread: Indiana +7.5/Purdue -7.5

  3. Moneyline: N/A

  4. Total: 138.5 points

Analysis: Even as Purdue kept piling up victories en route to a 21-1 start to the season, many in the college basketball betting community kept throwing the F-word at the Boilermakers — that is, “fraud”.

Those naysayers chirped a little louder this month when Purdue dropped three of four games during a 12-day span. It started with a 79-74 loss at Indiana as a 1.5-point underdog on Feb. 4, followed by setbacks at Northwestern (64-58) and at Maryland (68-54).

But the key word there is “at” — the Boilermakers’ slump was confined entirely to the road.

There isn’t a college basketball team in the country that hasn’t had some slip-ups when traveling this season.

At home? Purdue has been a beast, particularly recently.

In its last four games in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers have pummeled Michigan State (77-61), Penn State (80-60), Iowa (87-73) and Ohio State (82-55). The latter two victories surrounded the three road losses at Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland.

Overall, Purdue is 13-1 SU at home, including 7-1 when hosting Big Ten foes. The only black mark was a one-point home loss to Rutgers, a result marred by an officiating error.

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Since that controversial upset defeat, the Boilermakers are 5-1 ATS in their gym.

What about Indiana’s road performance? Well, if not for a furious last-minute comeback in a 62-61 win at Michigan two Saturdays ago, the Hoosiers would be mired in a four-game road losing skid.

Their two most recent trips: a 64-62 loss at Northwestern 10 days ago and Tuesday’s ugly 80-65 defeat at Michigan State.

Going back to their Big Ten opener — a 63-48 loss at Rutgers — Indiana is 3-8 SU and 2-9 ATS away from Assembly Hall. That includes blowout losses to Arizona (89-75 neutral site), plus beatdowns at Kansas (84-62), Penn State (85-66), Maryland (66-55) and Michigan State.

Bottom line: We’ll find out if Purdue is indeed a fraud in a few weeks. For now, though, we trust the Boilermakers and 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey to atone for their narrow loss at Indiana with a convincing victory Saturday evening.

By the way, about that first meeting in Bloomington: Purdue trailed 50-35 at halftime, committed 16 turnovers for the game and yet still was within one point of the Hoosiers with less than two minutes to play.

Prediction: Purdue -7.5 (at Caesars Sportsbook)

St. Mary’s vs. Gonzaga (via Caesars Sportsbook)

  1. Tipoff: 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)

  2. Point spread: St. Mary’s +5/Gonzaga -5

  3. Moneyline: N/A

  4. Total: 142.5 points

Analysis: As a college basketball powerhouse stuck in a mid-major conference it long ago outgrew, Gonzaga has rarely been in a position to deliver payback.

Well, the Bulldogs will be in that position Saturday night — and they’re going to be out for blood against a suddenly formidable rival that’s looking to end Gonzaga’s six-year reign as West Coast Conference champions.

It’s a formidable rival that flat-out stole a victory from the Bulldogs three weeks ago.

Back on Feb. 4, Gonzaga went to St. Mary’s as a 2.5-point underdog, fell behind 4-3 two minutes into the game and never trailed again — in regulation, that is.

The Gaels battled back from an 11-point first-half deficit, forced overtime after making a game-tying bucket with seven seconds to play, then ran away from the Zags in the extra session for a 78-70 victory.

It was the second straight year that St. Mary’s toppled Gonzaga at home.

Now, however, comes the real challenge for the 15th-ranked Gaels: winning at The Kennell for just the fourth time in 21 all-time visits (and the first time in five years).

Without question, St. Mary’s (25-5) has the talent to do it. After all, the Gaels are ranked eighth by KenPom — right behind defending champion Kansas — for a reason.

Yes, St. Mary’s immediately followed the Gonzaga win with a 78-74 overtime loss at Loyola Marymount as a 6-point road favorite. But the Gaels have since won four in a row and still lead the West Coast Conference with a 14-1 record, one game ahead of the Bulldogs.

Then again, three of St. Mary’s six road wins have been shaky — as in, the Gaels upended Santa Clara, BYU and San Diego by a total of seven points. They also barely squeaked by BYU at home a week ago (71-65 win).

Needless to say, playing the Zags in their house will present a much stiffer challenge for St. Mary’s.

Admittedly, this Gonzaga squad isn’t as dominant or deep as recent versions. But the Zags (24-5) have only one fewer victory than the Gaels. And since falling at St. Mary’s, they’ve won five in a row while averaging 97.8 points.

Gonzaga won’t hit 90 points against the defensively stout Gaels, who give up the fifth-fewest points in the nation. But if the Bulldogs can at least get to the mid-70s, that should be enough to cover a short point spread.

Why? Because St. Mary’s has gone eight straight games without reaching 70 points against Gonzaga in regulation.

Finally, the last two times the Bulldogs have gotten a shot at retribution, they haven’t missed. Last year, they beat the Gaels 82-69 as a 12.5-point home favorite two weeks after losing at St. Mary’s.

And nine days ago, they avenged a stunning 68-67 home loss to Loyola Marymount with a 108-65 rout of the Lions as an 8.5-point road favorite.

Make it 3-for-3 with home favorites in Saturday’s marquee matchups and lay the points with Gonzaga.

Prediction: Gonzaga -5 (at Caesars Sportsbook)

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