It was an eventful start to the beginning of conference play yesterday and the Big Ten especially proved to be as wild as advertised. Perhaps no year in recent mempry has the conference been as jumbled from 2 to 10 as it is this season. You tell me who the second-best team in the Big Ten is? Ohio State? Well, they lost their opener to Iowa. Michigan State? Nope, they just lost at home to Maryland in double-overtime. Is newcomer Maryland the second-best? Perhaps, but I still need to see a little more. Is it Michigan, despite two insane losses to Eastern Michigan and NJIT??
Perhaps the winner of Indiana and Nebraska throws their name in the muddled mess after their tilt today, though with four losses it’s hard to re-think of Nebraska as a potentially elite team. It’s going to be a blast this season covering the Big Ten as nearly every game has potential to be a nail-biting thriller.
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The same goes for the Big East, which lays out exactly the same way. Villanova, like Wisconsin, is clearly the class of the conference. From there, it’s a toss up. St. John’s and Georgetown look like potential second chairs. But I’m not certain either is heads and shoulders above Xavier, Providence, Butler or Seton Hall. Even Creighton has a marquee win (over Oklahoma) giving this conference eight teams harboring legitimate NCAA tourney dreams out of their ten members. It’s going to be a wild ride in the resurgent Big East, so let’s kick off today by taking a look at a late-night primetime matchup.
Today’s Free Pick:
Georgetown Hoyas at Xavier Musketeers -5
A ten PM tip-off will feel odd for each eastern time zone team, but alas such is the made for tv world of college hoops in 2015. Two tourney-likely teams will face off in Cincinnati and will likely be battling as the New Year rings in. Xavier has been good this season, posting double-digit wins over quality mid-major opponents like Florida Gulf Coast, Murray State as well as commanding wins over Alabama and Missouri – though neither looks real good this year. They also have troubling losses to UTEP and Long Beach in a tournament in Anaheim and a double-OT loss at Bruce Pearl’s Auburn squad.
Both teams enter with three losses, and while Georgetown has one less win, you could argue they have better wins. The Hoyas are fresh off an overtime win over Indiana at Madison Square Garden and can add that to a wins over Florida. Their losses aren’t bad; Kansas, Wisconsin and Butler (though it doesn’t count as a “conference” loss since it was in the Bahamas). They are certainly battle tested in this young season, but tonight is a TRUE road game which always provides a different challenge in college.
Xavier will need good guard play from their veteran/rookie combo of Dee Davis and Trevon Blueitt to slow down the Georgetown backcourt which is quick and very physical. Speaking of physical, the interior matchup of Josh Smith and Matt Stainbrook won’t be the most agile, but it will be a fun matchup between two very skilled, very BIG men.
In the end, I like the enthusiasm of Xavier’s home crowd and the Muskies ability to push tempo to guide them to the win. Expect Josh Smith to be in foul trouble – he always is, and the Muskies abilty to penetrate and send some wings to the rim (as well as post Stainbrook) to saddle the big fellow with some early foul trouble.
I’ll take the Muskies at home to start Big East play and the New Year in style.