A messy college basketball season got even messier last night with a huge list of surprising results that will make the Committee’s job of finding 68 teams even more insanely difficult. For example, Ole Miss, the nation’s darlings three weeks ago, now has lost four of five games and is just 7-4 in a mediocre SEC. In that same conference, what do you do with Kentucky if they look shaky without Nerlens Noel? Suppose the Cats finish 18-12 with a .500 record without Noel? DO they get in?
Even usually reliable mid-majors aren’t immune to the craziness of the 2013 season. Last night tourney “locks” Butler, Creighton and UNLV lost to Charlotte, Northern Iowa and Air Force respectively. Butler now has three conference losses while Creighton and UNLV have five a piece. So are these potentially tournament bid solidifying wins for Charlotte and Air Force or simply just another example of the crazy parity that is sweeping the land?
Right now there are at least 80 schools whose coaches can be reasonably convinced they have a shot to make a push and get in the tournament. It makes for a fun four weeks, but will also make for one of the most important conference tournament weeks in recent memory.
There are more great rivalry games scheduled tonight, so let’s dig in with a great rivalry game for tonight’s free pick.
Gonzaga Bulldogs at St. Mary’s Gaels (pick ‘em)
Without the same fanfare as last night’s Duke v. UNC rivalry, tonight’s WCC battle has become on of the consistently most intense and important conference rivalries in college basketball. It has everything you want in a rivalry; consistent excellence, frenzied crowds who each consider this THE game, and unlike some of the bigger conference rivalries, this one often has tremendous importance on seeding and even the possibility of getting TO the Tourney. It has led to some great games; two overtimes and one game settled by two points in their last eight matchups. Not surprisingly, they have split the last eight meetings 4-4.
Both teams enter playing fantastic basketball, winning nine of their last ten games. Gonzaga’s lone loss was the classic at Butler, St. Mary’s was an 83-78 game at Gonzaga. Tonight they try to exact some revenge at home against a team many are calling the best Gonzaga team ever.
I think this will be another great ballgame, and St. Mary’s has the backcourt to handle Gonzaga’s guards. Matthew Delavadova is a savvy veteran who has always given Pangos a difficult time. However, the emergence of both Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris give Gonzaga something St. Mary’s doesn’t have; a true dominant inside and slashing presence. I think it will provide just enough offense for the Zags to steal a road win and virtually lock up an unbeaten WCC season.
Free Pick: Gonzaga Bulldogs (pick)