Today is a really big day of college hoops.
Sure, I say that every Saturday, but THIS Saturday, I REALLY mean it (though, I really meant it last time, and the time before, and…) We are down to three weeks of regular season action (or less) before Conference Tournaments commence and we are knocking on the door of the NCAA Tournament. And, just quick eye balling the Power Conference standings (and I include six for my personal assessment; you can argue A-10 and AAC if you’d really like to) nearly 75% of the teams can still make a best-case scenario for getting into the Dance. That would mean that in those six leagues ALONE, roughly 51 teams are jockeying for about 36-38 bids depending upon how conference tournaments shake out.
When you consider that a few other leagues have LOCKS, Gonzaga/St. Mary’s, Cincinnati/SMU, and Dayton. Also that Wichita State and Illinois State are building compelling resumes and teams like Valpo, Akron, Nevada and Belmont are making outside cases, the available bid pool shrinks to about 31-33.
Then you remove LOCKS from the Power Six conferences: Florida State, Carolina, Virginia, Louisville and Duke in the ACC. Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia from Big Twelve. Villanova, Xavier, Creighton and Butler and Wisconsin, Purdue and Maryland from the Big East and Big Ten, and then Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and Florida, USC and Kentucky from the Pac-12 and SEC and all of a sudden we are down to 10-12 likely bids. I haven’t even touched VERY LIKELY teams like Northwestern, USC and Cal, Notre Dame and Iowa State. Or the A-10 duo of VCU and Rhode Island. Or…and…ugh…
It makes days like today REALLY important. The season isn’t over for teams like Tennessee, Providence, Michigan, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State (and the Big12 glut) and Ohio State, but the window is closing rapidly and nothing but wins will get the job done.
Before I launch into today’s free picks, here’s an interesting take on the college basketball power rankings on February 11th. Forget “rankings.” Pretend for a moment that you had to close your eyes and reach into a bucket with all the teams in the country in it. Whatever you pull out is who you get for March – you get points for each tournament win as if in a standard pool scoring method. What teams would you be most happy to draw? Here’s mine.
Favorite Four: North Carolina, Villanova, Kansas, UCLA
Next Four: Gonzaga, Oregon, Duke, Kentucky
Also Happy: Wisconsin, Purdue, Arizona, Baylor, Florida, West Virginia, Louisville, Virginia
As always, tweet your love, hate, or indifference @TheMarchManiacs
Today’s Free Picks:
Kentucky looked like they were going to rip through the SEC without pause after thrashing South Carolina a few weeks ago. Then, freshman-itis set in and wreaked some havoc on the Wildcats. They are depending WAY too much on Malik Monk to score all their points, and it hasn’t worked out so well against good teams or when they’ve headed on the road. Today, they get another tricky road game, one they SHOULD win, but certainly not a given – especially as Alabama claws to join the glut of 15-20 teams scrapping for scant few bids.
Alabama enters 14-9, but a solid 7-4 in SEC play. They have non-con losses to Valpo, Dayton, Oregon and Clemson, so aside from the home and home losses to Auburn, their resume is pretty respectable. Of course, a win over Kentucky would be MASSIVE.
They are fresh off a HUGE 4 OT win at South Carolina that vaulted them back in the conversation, and aside from a home loss to Florida, have been close in most of their games at home. Kentucky meanwhile has dropped three of five and looked really pedestrian in the two home wins over Georgia and terrible LSU.
I think Kentucky finds enough to win today, but the fact that I’m not SURE tells me getting eight points and the home team is a nice value position.
MY PICK: Alabama Crimson Tide +8
Villanova Wildcats -4 at Xavier Musketeers
I got burnt fading X last weekend, but don’t let that scare us away from one of the better values on the board this Saturday. Xavier has reeled off three straight since losing future NBA Draft Pick, point guard Edmond Sumner. That is COINCIDENCE, not CAUSAL. They are still a good ball club and a worthy opening round favorite in the NCAA Tournament. But they are not even close to Villanova’s level without Sumner, and I think today is the reality check for the Muskies.
Villanova has lost twice all season, and both were on the road and in conference. But they also have road wins at Creighton and Purdue and neutral court wins over Notre Dame and Virginia. This is one of the three or four best teams in the country, a veteran-laden team that won a national championship last year, so “big games” are not an issue.
It is rare that Xavier is a home underdog – first time all season – but their recent history against Villanova suggests it is warranted. Again, X is still a fine basketball team, but knocking off Nova without your point guard/best (or 2nd best) player, is a tough ask.
MY PICK: Villanova Wildcats -4
Kansas State has some losses this year, but hardly anyone has gotten the jump on them like Vegas seems to think is heading their way tonight. Of their eight losses, only one of them would cover tonight’s margin (the weird one at Tennessee last week). In fact, they have two loss to Kansas, @Iowa State, Maryland, and @Texas Tech by a TOTAL of 12 points.
WVU meanwhile, has sputtered of late, dropping three of seven and aside from the GREAT win over Kansas, playing pretty up and down basketball.
I’ll take the huge pile of points today and assume the WVU wins, but K-State makes them earn it.
MY PICK: Kansas State +10.5
LATE NIGHT PICK:
** Note – please don’t use this as a “get back” pick if you have a rough day (I know how it goes on these late-night West Coast games, lol)
Back when USC was unbeaten before conference, I wrote they were overvalued and not that good. The Pac-12 season has brought that premonition to fruition. This is still a tough place to play and a tough game Oregon will have to get back up for after the tough UCLA loss, but I think they bounce back.
This one is simple for me. Better team at a fair price motivated after a tough loss. If they can hang tough in Pauley, they can certainly win down the road at USC.
MY PICK: Oregon Ducks -2.5