At long last, we finally have a legitimate BALL NIGHT in college hoops. The action is packed throughout the day, including a handful of must-see games we will highlight in our picks below.
Just a note, the first two games covered start at 2pm and 4pm EST respectively, so be sure to plan accordingly if there are any games you like today. There are a ton to choose from, but three in particular jump out at me. So let’s dive in.
Today’s Free Picks:
Villanova Wildcats at Syracuse Orange -4
It doesn’t get much better than two of the last nine unbeaten teams, and two of the four most legitimate, facing off to keep alive a former Big East rivalry in the Carrier Dome. Villanova is a bit of a surprise at 11-0. They were unranked entering the season, but people who have followed this program for the last ten years would have been wise to assume Jay Wright wouldn’t be down for long.
Villanova got a lot of respect mileage out of their upset win over Kansas down in the Bahamas. However, they’ve consolidated the win nicely with an overtime win over a tough Iowa squad and a 30-point dominating road win at St. Joe’s. They have good point guard play with Arcidiacano, and are solid on the scoring front with JayVaughn Pinkston (16.5 ppg), James Bell (15.4) and Darrun Hilliard (14.4).
All these nice things said about Villanova, let’s not underestimate how tough it is going to be to go TO Syracuse and get a win. Looking objectively at rosters, talent-level, styles and home court edge, I’d handicap this game at about -5.5 in the Cuse’s favor. That’s not a huge departure from the -4 it is currently listed at, but it does suggest some value for the Cuse.
I love freshman point guard Tyler Innis, and CJ Fair and Jerami Grant are an NBA-caliber tandem. I like them to use their individual talent edge to score effectively against Villanova. From there, their vaunted defense won’t look new to ‘Nova like some of their early non-con foes, but it will be enough to get them the win.
Louisville Cardinals -2.5 at Kentucky Wildcats
It doesn’t get any better than this for non-conference college basketball rivalries. The intensity and sincere animosity is at an Alabama/Auburn football level, and the high quality of play for both programs the last three years has just amped the fervor.
This game opened as a pick ‘em, but has since widened to Kentucky getting 2.5 at home. For that, I say thank you betting general public. Yes, Louisville has looked very good since getting their players healthy and returned from suspension, but giving a hyper-talented team like Kentucky 2.5 at Rupp Arena is a dicey proposition. This young team will struggle on the road with hostile crowds, but at home, they should find a nice comfort zone and rhythm to their offense.
Louisville snapped a three-game losing streak in the series last year, but it took a tense 80-77 struggle to do so, and keep in mind, last year’s Louisville team won the National Title as prohibitive favorites. Last year’s Kentucky team lost in the opening round of the NIT to Robert Morris (yes, I know, the L’ville game was before the Nerlens Noel injury…. But still….)
It is easy to dismiss Kentucky after their losses this year to marquee oponents. However, keep in mind all those games were on neutral floors; Michigan State (very close), Baylor (by 5) and @ North Carolina (by 5). This is not a BAD team. They just haven’t been dominant like the 2011-2012 squad.
I like today to be the first big step in forging their own identity. Look for Coach Cal to implore his team to run the offense through Julius Randle and to let the chips fall from there.
I’m taking Big Blue at home today.
Missouri Tigers @ North Carolina State Wolfpack -3.5
Missouri has already beaten UCLA and West Virginia comfortably, and their lone loss is a one-point neutral floor loss in the rivalry game against Illinois. This is a good basketball team, and a very undervalued one nationally. Today they go one the road against a 9-2, but largely average, North Carolina State team. The Wolfpack’s best win is a win at Tennessee; aside from that, it’s been a below average slate.
I’ll take the better team and the 3.5 points, even on the road. Give me Missouri.