It is an absolutely HUGE night of college hoops and it comes at an interesting time of chaos. Seven of the Top Ten teams lost last week, two of them twice, throwing the polls into chaos and upheaval, and this week doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Sure, Kentucky and North Carolina both won last night, but it was in rather uninspired fashion. Kentucky needed overtime to beat Georgia and UNC needed a late bucket to hold on 80-78 against Pitt, who entered on a six-game conference losing streak. Both UK and UNC were at HOME as well…
I had been relatively comfortable with the notion there were seven or eight Final Four caliber teams, a nice bubble of 15 or so that were fringe secondary candidates and then 70-90 teams that COULD win two games in March and be banging around the second weekend of the Tournament. But now, teams like Baylor, West Virginia, Louisville and Wisconsin are ranked above Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA (deservedly so). I will still opine that YOU can have the first four and I’ll take the last three if we are wagering, but it has at least become a pause-worthy decision.
This year is parity on steroids, and it makes every night fun and interesting. It can also make it tricky to handicap. Fortunately, we’ve had a pretty good handle on the season, posting a 25-13-1 record here on The Saturday Edge and 81-44-2 ATS across all published picks.
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Here’s some of my favorite plays from a jam-packed slate of action.
Today’s Favorite Plays:
All metrics and measures went out the windows with Edmond Sumner’s devastating ACL injury on Saturday. The projected first rounder is out for the year, a HUGE blow to an already-teetering Xavier season. They were ranked in the Top Ten early in the year but have failed in almost every big test they have had this season, losing games to Baylor, Cincinnati, Butler, Creighton and Villanova. Now, they are going to have five weeks left to grab a signature win without their signature star.
Trevon Blueitt has been exquisite lately, highlighted by his masterpiece 40 points performance in the Crosstown Shootout against Cincinnati last Thursday, but expect defenses to be able to pay even MORE attention to him without Sumner to create plays and be another credible threat.
Meanwhile, Seton Hall hasn’t been great this season, but they certainly aren’t a bad ballclub. Other than a loss to Stanford and the margin of the trip to Villanova, there isn’t anything to be ashamed of on their resume and wins over South Carolina (w/o Thronwell), Marquette and Cal show they can compete at a Top 40 level.
I think the loss of Sumner is HUGE and am frankly surprised this line is as wide as it is. Perhaps Xavier has enough to still win this game at home, but even a victory seems far from given. I’ll take the 6.5 points gladly.
MY PICK: Seton Hall Pirates +6.5
Virginia is really good, as they displayed last weekend at Villanova, but more than a dozen points in a rivalry game is a LOT. Especially with Virginia’s conservative tempo preference, which constricts the line even more. It’s like a normal game laying 14 or 14.5.
This is solely a points play. I think Virginia Tech is a little underrated and getting no respect at the window. Virginia is very good and should win, but this line assumes a blowout. VA Tech enters tonight at 16-5 overall. I understand the line. They lost by 26 at NC State, 15 at FSU and 19 at Carolina. So it makes sense. But I just don’t see them getting pummeled tonight in a slower-tempo rivalry game. They have also won at Clemson at Michigan and beaten Georgia Tech, Duke, Nebraska, Mississippi and Syracuse.
MY PICK: Virginia Tech Hokies +13
This isn’t an anti-Baylor pick. I have actually bet them several times in this column and won. This is more a pro-Kansas at home pick. If they line were 7.5 or more, I’d stay away. But at just 5.5, this feels like a reasonable range. Obviously, this is THE GAME of the night, so even if you choose not to pick a side, it is certainly worth watching as it will tell us a TON about Baylor. IF they can go in an win tonight, they move to 21-1 with their only loss coming at West Virginia and would own wins over Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville, Xavier, Iowa State, Kansas State and AT Kansas. They would get my vote for #1 in the country.
Kansas is fresh off an impressive win at Kentucky, so as long as they are still in prime focus and don’t have an effort let-up, they should handle their business at home.
But I don’t think they are going to win tonight. I expect a good effort but for Kansas to stretch it out late. They are just too good at home.
Free Pick: Kansas Jayhawks -5.5
There are lots of other good games to watch tonight; Northwestern at Purdue is a huge Big Ten game (and a big game to all but clinch a Tournament berth for the Wildcats), Florida State will try to halt their freefall in Miami tonight, TCU at Kansas State is a huge bubble-battle in the Big Twelve, Richmond at VCU has A-10 implications.
It should be a good night – hopefully we can hang up a few more winners to make it even more enjoyable. Good luck everyone!