I loved Dayton with a big pile of points, but must admit I’m a little surprised they won straight up in Vanderbilt and their funky gym which often proves a graveyard for non-conference road foes. The win goes a long way to erasing the sting of the Xavier blowout loss and once again puts Dayton in very solid at-large position come March.
Meanwhile, yet another bizarre loss last night for the Wisconsin Badgers, who got stunned at home by Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Add that to the opening night home loss to Western Illinois, and the Badgers are one of the more intriguing 6-4 teams in the country. They have talent in Nigel Hays and Bronson Koenig, they have a Hall of Fame coach in Bo Ryan. And they have wins over VCU, Syracuse and Temple. But MAN, those two home losses are going to be a lot to overcome if they find themselves on the bubble, which it clearly looks like they might. Could they finish fourth in the Big Ten? Sure. (I’m assuming Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue as obviously ahead of them) They have the talent if they get it together. Could they also finish behind Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern and a few others? It seems possible.
Let’s stick with another Big Ten team for tonight’s free pick.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Iowa Hawkeyes at Iowa State Cyclones -7
There aren’t many games on the schedule tonight, but at least there is one elite game. This is a can’t miss, even if you aren’t a Midwesterner or an Iowan, whom this game obviously has special meaning for. Iowa had a 31-game home non-conference winning streak last year before Iowa State and Georges Niang came in and hammered them 90-75. The game was punctuated with Niang blowing a kiss to the Hawkeye fans in a gesture that has added even more fuel to an intense rivalry. The game will be in Ames, so Niang won’t have to suffer the rude treatment headed his way, but he will need to back up last year’s arrogance against a fired-up and better-than-advertised Hawkeye squad.
Iowa enters at at 7-2 with a Top 40 RPI. They have losses to Dayton and Notre Dame and wins over Florida State, Wichita State and an impressive blowout over an improving Marquette squad. However, Wichita State was without Van Vleet in that contest, so I’m not sure how much you can take from that win. Take that win away, and you are looking at a pretty average squad who failed two of their four big tests. And NONE of those tests are even close to what they are in store for this evening.
Meanwhile, across the state in Ames, things are clicking perfectly under first year coach Steve Prohm. He inherited a talented veteran roster, but there was some uncertainty after this team’s architect, Fred Hoiberg left to coach the Bulls. Niang is an All American candidate but he has plenty of help. Monte Morris and Abdul Nadir have been fantastic, and two other players, Jameel McKay and Nazareth Mitrou-Long are averaging over 12.9 ppg per game. This team has balance, size, depth and tons of talent and experience. There are going to get a spirited effort and rivalry games are always tough, but they won by 15 on the road last year and this year’s team is BETTER AND playing at home. That’s a nice combo.
Iowa State has won every game by more than 20 points except for an 11-point win at Illinois. They are 5-1 ATS, and I expect they’ll make it six tonight with a double-digit win – yet another gut-punch to their instate rival. I don’t know if this one will end with a sarcastic kiss to the crowd, but Georges Niang will likely be receiving plenty of love from the crowd tonight.