Today is probably the last good day of college hoops until New Years Eve (the Louisville vs. Kentucky Dec 26th showdown excepted). It isn’t an amazing slate, but you do get a non-conference Top 25 matchup when Iowa State visits Cincinnati, and you get the #6 team in the country – the invincible-looking Xavier Musketeers travelling to a better-than-expected Wake Forest team in the Skip Prosser Classic, and a really nice matchup with Vanderbilt trying to get back on track at Purdue who took their first loss of the season this weekend to Butler. Also, don’t sleep on Cal and their young talent getting a really stern test tonight at Virginia or San Diego State trying to bring back some of their old magic at Phogg Allen
Aside from that, there is a nice slate of interesting mid-major matchups with North Florida visiting Arkansas, Murray State and Wright State, and Rhode Island at Old Dominion.
But the most curious eyes will be watching Michigan State in their trip to in-state ‘rival’ Oakland. The reason for the intrigue? It will be the Spartans first game without National Player of the Year front-runner Denzel Valentine. It will be interesting to see how the nation’s top team copes. I suspect they will be fine tonight, but their Big Ten opener at Iowa could be real hairy…
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Today’s Free Pick:
Iowa State Cyclones at Cincinnati Bearcats -4.5
I think UC caught a bad break getting the Cyclones fresh off a home upset loss to Northern Iowa. It was the second straight dreadful first half Iowa State turned in at Hilton Coliseum against lesser in-state rivals. This time, it burnt them as their furious comeback came up one possession on the other side.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati is fresh off a nice road win at VCU, though the sting of last weekend’s mauling by crosstown rival Xavier still lingers. I expect both teams to be hungry for a big non-conference resume win to carry into conference play next week. The game means a little more for Cincy, as their AAC schedule won’t provide quite the same opportunities that playing Kansas and Oklahoma home and home offer.
Both teams are athletic. Neither team shoots particularly well. Iowa State has had some defensive issues, allowing a conference-worst 69 ppg. But it STILL puts them well under tonight’s total of 146. Iowa State has struggled a bit since the season-ending injury to Naz Mitrou-Long. Georges Niang has picked up some of the offensive slack, averaging 21 points a contest since, but the loss of balance is showing in their overall team efficiency.
Then add in the smothering chaotic defense the Bearcats like to employ. I think that Iowa State is going to struggle to score. And I think UC is going to have some offensive struggles against similarly physically-gifted teams all season long (see: Xavier). I’d place Iowa State in the same category as X physically and talent-wise. Look for some struggles tonight on both sides.
I lean Cincinnati at home, but 4.5 is too many for me in a game I could easily see Iowa State winning if they shoot decently and take care of the basketball. They are the better team on a neutral floor. My favorite play tonight is UNDER 146. That’s a 73-69 game easily getting us a cover. And that seems about right.