Our three game winning streak in college hoops remained alive amidst an interesting finish to the Dayton at Rhode Island game. We could have lost it if URI hits a layup in the final seconds. We could have won it if Dayton hit two free throws in the final second. We instead walk away with a nerve wracking push. Depending upon which half-point swing you may have gotten on the line, your experience was either a far happier or far less pleasant one…
Today is one of the best days of college basketball this season. There are fantastic games all across the dial all throughout the day, from Xavier at Butler, Purdue at Michigan, Virginia at Duke, Louisville at Notre Dame, and the day’s highlight, the long-anticipated rematch between the Kansas Jayhawks and Oklahoma Sooners – this time in Norman, OK.
Today is a day packed with huge seeding and bubble implications, but perhaps no game means more to any team than the very under-the-radar game tonight for Gonzaga when they travel to Dallas to meet SMU. And that is where we will head for today’s free pick…
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Today’s Free Pick:
Gonzaga Bulldogs at SMU Mustangs -6
To call this a must-win game for Gonzaga is a bit unfair. They could still very well run the table and get a double-digit seeded at-large berth even if they lose today. They could lose today, stumble several more times and win the WCC’s automatic berth in the conference tournament. But one thing IS for sure – IF the Zags lose today, their nearly two decade long streak of NCAA Tournament participation is severely in jeopardy.
It won’t be easy to say the least. Three weeks ago, SMU was thinking about running the table. That dream quickly vanished (more on that in a minute) but they are still 20-3 and have only lost once on their home floor. They are, of course, ineligible for post-season play, so tonight’s nationally televised game against Gonzaga could have a little extra significance for the players – one last chance for some national shine. Nic Moore is the most criminally underrated point guard and player in the country. He was left off the initial Wooden Watchlist, despite being every bit the deserving candidate. He will be a tough matchup for Gonzaga’s pedestrian backcourt.
But Gonzaga’s frontcourt will be a tough matchup for SMU. Markus Kennedy is a beast, but dealing with both Sabonis and Wiltjer is a lot to ask. Both fell off the national radar when Gonzaga dropped out of the rankings, but this is still a 20-5 team with a couple of pro-caliber big men; one who can stretch the floor and score from any range (like a Jarod Utoff type) and one who is as physically tough and competitive as anyone you will see play all year long.
I think Gonzaga is a little underrated at this point and still a dangerous team for March. Yes, their backcourt has disappointed, but even with the injury to Karnowski, Sabonis and Wiltjer alone give the Zags a chance in any game. Their losses are competitive; by one to Texas A&M, by five to Arizona, and by five to UCLA back before they fell apart. They also have losses to BYU and St. Mary’s by a combined four points. Their five losses are by a TOTAL of 17 points. And that was all it took for the nation to forget about the Zags. I know I spoke earlier about “bubble” – and that is driven from a larger consensus, not my personal opinion. They have NO bad losses and every one has been a one or two possession game. This is still a very dangerous team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they win outright tonight.
SMU has dropped three of their last five games, including their last home game to Tulsa. The first loss seemed to rob them of some of what they were playing for; the perfect season is gone, so now what is left? I’m not sure they really feel that way, but there is no denying they have been flat for about three weeks. I expect the name of Gonzaga and the TV cameras to get their attention, but I’ll still take the Zags all day with the points.
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