March Madness is officially underway, and it is already yielding its annual delivery of heartbreak. Florida Gulf Coast, the darlings of the 2013 Big Dance found their glass slipper shattering a little earlier for the second straight year. Two nights ago they fell in heartbreaking fashion to SC Upstate in the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. Down 63-60, senior guard Bernard Thompson was fouled shooting a three-pointer with barely a second on the clock. He calmly knocked down his first two attempts. But the third, with no evidence of tension or tightening up, simply missed. The end result is a 63-62 elimination loss on their home floor and the possible end (CIT maybe?) of Thompson’s brilliant career that included playing a memorable role in 2013’s Dunk City hysteria. Oh, and for the record, Thompson had 25 points and was fantastic.
March is a cruel, heart-breaking, thrilling month. And we’re just getting started.
We notched a narrow, but well-earned victory with Arkansas going on the road and winning in Columbia Thursday night. Let’s see if we can mirror our NBA success and start stringing some wins together with some more winners tonight.
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Today’s Free Picks:
Xavier Musketeers -2 at Creighton Bluejays
Xavier’s road woes have been well documented. However, they have won three of their last four road games, with wins at Cincinnati, Georgetown and Marquette. The lone loss was at a surging St. John’s. So I am somewhat surprised to see them a near pick em’ against a 13-17 Creighton team that is just 4-13 in Big East play.
Xavier has one of those odd tourney resumes where their RPI is really strong thanks to a ton of good wins and a lot of losses that don’t constitute as ‘bad’ because of the Top 100 (barely) status of their foes like Seton Hall, Long Beach and UTEP. And as disconcerting as those losses are, it is hard to leave a team that will likely win 20 games with wins at Cincinnati and Georgetown as well as a beat-down of Butler and Providence.
Creighton is fresh off a surprisingly close loss to Villanova, who might have been snoozing, but I don’t think it is enough to fear the upset today. X has to have this game and I think they’ll get it. They have a bunch of losses, but none to any teams as poor as Creighton. Against lesser foes, they generally handle their business.
Kansas Jayhawks at Oklahoma Sooners -6
It seems like every analyst has been assuming this loss for the Jayhawks for the last two weeks. I’m not so sure I’d automatically chalk this one up for Buddy Heald and the Sooners… were it not for the extreme personnel absences today, namely team-leader Perry Ellis and NBA-bound freak athlete Cliff Alexander. Add in the fact that Wayne Seldon turned his ankle in the second half of their last game (he is expected to play today), and that’s a lot to overcome on the road against a motivated and very talented team.
Oklahoma is well off the national radar, but today could introduce the country to a #3 seed you really won’t be eager to play in the tournament. OU is especially tough at home, posting a 13-1 record straight-up and an 8-4 mark ATS. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are a surprising 5-5 straight up away from The Phogg and an even-worse 4-6 ATS.
Lay the points and roll with Buddy and the Sooners.
Illinois Fighting Illini at Purdue Boilermakers -5
Bet against the ‘Makers at your own peril. Purdue is a blistering 9-1 ATS in their last ten games, all conference games, and continues to be the one team (perhaps because of dopey RPI nerds) that still gets no respect at the betting windows. But only laying five at home with the roll they are on? Seems like a reasonable price.
Illinois needs today desperately, and I suppose Purdue does as well (though my thought on their bid-worthiness are exhaustively documented). So expect both teams to play with desperation and intensity. However, Illinois has lost three of their last four road games and is just a dismal 2-7 straight-up away from Champaign. Meanwhile, Purdue is 13-3 at home with two of the losses coming before conference play. Since the Big Ten started, Purdue has answered the bell nearly every time it’s been tipped in Mackey Arena.
I expect Purdue to keep on spitting out cash tonight.