First things first. Yes, I am aware that UCLA lost to USC about 60 seconds after I hit “post” on my rankings. But thank you Twitter for the reminder.
Second thing – to answer a multiple-time asked question “Do I now know they aren’t the best team in the country?”
No. No, I do not know. I wouldn’t vote them #1 right now. I’d probably put my money on North Carolina with the caveat that if you are putting substantial money on ANY team to win the NCAA Tournament right now without watching the next six weeks and seeing the bracket, you are probably playing the lotto more than you are playing poker. Meaning, it’s luck not skill without seeing a bracket and some more sample size.
The truth is, there are about eight teams that could realistically win a National Championship and UCLA is definitely one of them. And there are about 25 others that could make a Final Four with the right draw and a few breaks. UCLA is still in the top tier of contenders with Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Villanova, Arizona, Oregon, Gonzaga, and maybe, maybe, maybe Baylor. The next tier is still Final Four potential, led by West Virginia, Louisville, Purdue, Wisconsin, Virginia and yes, still Duke. And then there are a TON of teams that could, maybe, why not, crash the party. No one would have had Syracuse in the top two groups last February and they went to the Final Four. Ditto for Butler, VCU and George Mason in the last decade. That group is so large this year it still includes some teams that will eventually not even MAKE the Field of 68.
There’s a long way to go and a ton of great action remaining. Enjoy the ride.
In the meantime, let’s make a few dollars, eh?
TODAY’S FAVORITE PLAYS:
Florida State is fresh off the pummeling at Georgia Tech and should be feisty for some revenge. They showed some road vulnerability, but I am willing to chalk it up to a bad effort (and a sneaky dangerous Tech team that did nearly the same thing to North Carolina four weeks ago) and a mere aberration. Florida State is still a legit Top Ten team and Syracuse, well, isn’t.
The Cuse enter today 12-9 overall and just 4-4 in ACC play. You might say, that’s not so bad. And you’d be right, but the 4-4 is a little deceptive. The wins are over Miami, Pitt, Wake and BC – all at home. Their losses are to Notre Dame, North Carolina, VA Tech and BC – all on the road but by an average of 16.3 ppg.
They ARE at home today, but Florida State is easily the second-best team they’ve played in conference. They haven’t even come CLOSE to a team this good this season. UNC beat them by 17. Notre Dame by 18, South Carolina by 14, Wisconsin by 19.
Florida State, even on the road and even after a BAD road loss is still more in the category with the four teams that pasted Syracuse. I like them to win and cover with a little room to spare.
MY PICK: Florida State Seminoles -2.5
Another good team playing on the road against a bad team with a good name. And another nice value. I’ll take the Gators on the road in Norman. Oklahoma is just 8-11, though they are 4-2 at home with a nice win over Texas Tech and the bizarre road win in Morgantown (looking ahead to Kansas much WVU??). And while those two results have rightly impressed Vegas, they are still 8-11 with losses to Texas, Auburn, Memphis, Wichita State and Northern Iowa.
Meanwhile, Florida enters at 15-5 with close losses to Duke, Gonzaga, @Florida State, @South Carolina and the one bad loss to Vandy. They have good wins over Georgia, Tennessee, Seton Hall and Miami and look to be a solid #6-#8 seed in the tournament.
I don’t think they’ll stumble today in a game they frankly should be favored by three or four points more.
MY PICK: Florida Gators -1.5
When oh when is anyone going to give some love to Maryland? They are 18-2, 6-1 in the Big Ten and here they are as five point underdogs on the road at 3-5 Minnesota.
I’d love to tell you there is a good reason like Melo Trimble isn’t playing, but there isn’t. It’s just a bad line. Maryland is the better team on a neutral floor and I think they can win this game straight up today at Minnesota. Getting five is just a little extra cushion.
Maryland hasn’t had the toughest Big Ten schedule, but they have won all their road games which includes trips to Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. I think they knock off a fourth big state school in a row today.
MY PICK: Maryland Terrapins +5
Good luck today everyone – hope you all stack some winners and enjoy a nice day of hoops. No official pick for the marquee game, but it’s hard to turn down seven points and Kansas…