I think it is abundantly clear who the best team in the country is right now. The Indiana Hoosiers. Yes, it was a close game, but last night’s win at the Breslin Center runs their record to a perfect 6-0 against Top 25 teams, easily the best mark in the country. Meanwhile, the closest competitors all struggled the last few days. Miami, the new media darling, looked pedestrian for a second straight outing, needing late heroics to beat Virginia at home. In back to back games against unranked teams they have failed to score a combined 100 points.
Ditto for the Florida Gators, who let one get away last night in Missouri with uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch. Gonzaga played a close game with lowly San Francisco (my wife exclaimed during the game, San Francisco has a basketball team? My response, was “kind of”). Michigan has been average of late, Louisville has a ton of losses, Duke just lost to Maryland (who followed it up with a WTF loss to Boston College).
In a year of parity, one team is finally settling comfortably to the top of the heap. Will they stay there through the end of March? It’ll be fun watching to find out….
Let’s get to today’s free picks:
Xavier Musketeers -2 at Rhode Island Rams
It’s been a rough off-year for the Muskies who enter tonight at just 14-10. However, they have played a pretty difficult schedule, and despite all their struggles are still in the A-10 mix at 7-4 in league play. Rhode Island has been awful; 8-16 and just 3-8 in conference play. Even on the road where they have struggled, I like Xavier to get the win. Their road conference losses are to Dayton, St. Joes, Richmond and Charlotte. They have beaten the also-rans like Duquesne and St. Bonnie on the road.
I think Rhode Island is more also-ran. Give me the Muskies laying the two points.
Free Pick: Xavier Musketeers -2
Vanderbilt Commodores at Kentucky Wildcats -11
At this point, I wouldn’t lay eleven for bet Kentucky against Kentucky State, let alone an SEC school. Their first game without Nerlens Noel was a 30-point blowout loss to Tennessee. And let’s be honest – they weren’t setting the world ablaze with him either. I think they’ll figure it out enough to win tonight, but eleven points feels pretty steep to me, even against a really lousy Vanderbilt team that owns a 17-point loss to Marist this season…
Keep in mind Vandy will be a little extra motivated after getting completely screwed in a 60-58 loss to the Wildcats earlier this season as well.
Free Pick: Vanderbilt Commodores +11
Kansas Jayhawks at Oklahoma State -1
Easily the game of the night, with the 9th ranked Jayhawks heading to Stillwater to take on 14th ranked OK State. The Cowboys ended the Jayhawks seemingly infinite home winning streak with their 85-80 win this season that was the first harbinger of KU struggles to come. They went on to lose two more in a row, including the game Coach Self called the “worst KU team since James Naismith” in their loss to TCU.
However, the Jayhawks ARE the more talented team, and seem to have gotten back on track after their dominating win in Manhattan, once again dashing the dreams in little brother K-State. They’ve beaten State and Texas by a combined 45 points in their last two outings.
Oklahoma State is a good team, and has every reason to be favored tonight. So let’s call this one a gut-feel pick. People don’t get rich betting against Bill Self for too long, and it’s been a LONG time since anyone swept KU in conference play. I like them raising up with a big effort tonight and stealing one in Stillwater.
Free Pick: Kansas Jayhawks +1