CBB weekend preview: Kentucky's offense peaking ahead of SEC clash
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This weekend doesn't feature the heavyweight matchup that we saw a week ago, but there are a handful of key conference battles that could shape teams' resumes heading into March.

Here's a betting breakdown of the top matchups this weekend.

No. 15 Auburn at No. 8 Kentucky

The last time these two played, Auburn pulled away late for a crucial conference win over Kentucky. In their seven games since, the Tigers have lost twice and needed overtime in three other contests, while the Wildcats have won seven straight (6-1 against the spread).

Kentucky has found success behind its rejuvenated offense, which has scored at least 1.11 points per possession five times during its seven-game win streak. The spark has been Immanuel Quickley, whose offensive rating during conference play (128.2) is tops in the SEC. His 23 points led the 'Cats in the Auburn loss, and he's averaged 21.6 points on a 64.5% true shooting percentage in the seven subsequent wins.

Auburn's defense may not be up to the challenge of slowing Quickley and his teammates, who are among the best in the country at getting to the line. Kentucky's free throw rate (41%) ranks 17th in the nation, and 24.3% of its points come from the line, the fifth-highest mark of any team. Auburn allowed a season-high 44 free-throw attempts in its first game against the Wildcats and has allowed nearly 30 attempts per contest since then.

Isaac Okoro will be key defensively for the Tigers going up against Kentucky's guards, particularly Quickley, but that's not enough to suggest betting against the red-hot Wildcats. Play the home favorite here.

No. 24 Michigan State at No. 9 Maryland

Boy, does Maryland know how to keep things interesting. The Terrapins erased a 16-point halftime deficit in Wednesday's win at Minnesota - which came just 11 days after scoring the final 14 points to beat Michigan State by seven points as a big road underdog.

Now the Spartans seek revenge in College Park, Maryland, where the hosts are a perfect 15-0 straight up but have lost three straight ATS. All three came as big favorites, which likely won't be the case on Saturday. When the Terrapins are favored by fewer than seven points, they're 5-1-1 ATS this season.

Michigan State has also struggled mightily against ranked teams (1-7 ATS, 4-4 SU), largely because of its inability to force opposing teams out of their rhythm. In three of those four SU losses, including against Maryland, the Spartans forced a turnover on fewer than 16% of defensive possessions - which would rank 331st of 353 teams if stretched across an entire season.

Getting disruptive is key against a Maryland team that, clearly, can go on a run at any time. The Terps' offense is largely built on volume, so if Michigan State can force some turnovers, it could be in store for an upset. However, the Spartans haven't shown an ability to do so, which should give Maryland the edge in this rematch.

No. 16 Penn State at No. 18 Iowa

Just a couple of weeks ago, Penn State had surged to No. 9 in the polls and was flirting with a potential top-two seed if it could survive the rigors of the Big Ten schedule. Now, after two losses and a one-point win over Rutgers, the Nittany Lions have lost three straight ATS and could be in for another disappointment in a rematch with Iowa.

The Hawkeyes have lost five times since falling to Penn State in early January, but all five came away from Iowa City, where they're a stellar 9-3 ATS this year and 5-1-1 ATS in conference play. Iowa's sixth-ranked offense has been particularly potent at home, averaging 82.8 points compared to 72.1 points on the road.

Penn State survived the Hawkeyes' attack in the first meeting between the teams, even with potential Wooden Award winner Luka Garza pouring in 34 points on 68.4% shooting for the visitors. Can the Nittany Lions keep up this time around? They've scored fewer than 0.93 points per possession in each of their last three games, and their second-leading scorer Myreon Jones is questionable after missing six straight.

If he's out again, Penn State may not have enough firepower to withstand another strong night from Garza, who's already torched a defense with no one taller than 6-9. Expect another big night from him in a likely Iowa win.

C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.

CBB weekend preview: Kentucky's offense peaking ahead of SEC clash
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