The curse of the top ranking continues. Indiana HAD last night’s game firmly in hand and the only thing in doubt was the cover… then Illinois went nuts and finished on a 13-2 run which culminated with the worst inbound defense you will see all season and a game-winning uncontested layup at the buzzer.
We lost that one, but still scraped together a 1-1 night in college hoops. Add Indiana to the list of elite teams with losses that would equate to opening weekend tourney losses. I’m looking forward to the tournament, but not so anxious to unveil my bracket for thousands of you to look at with about a dozen good teams showing so many fatal flaws at such unpredictable times. (Seriously, if you though Kansas was going to score 13 points in a half against TCU, come on!)
It is going to be a great ride to the finish line, so let’s keep the fun going with a full slate of Saturday picks.
Michigan Wolverines -3 at Wisconsin Badgers
The “Wisconsin flat out doesn’t lose at home” mantra has been put to the test lately. They are 2-1 in their last three home games with a one point win over Minnesota and a four point win over Iowa paired with a two point loss to Michigan State. Perhaps it should be amended for wacky 2013 to “Wisconsin isn’t getting embarrassed at home.”
Michigan certainly has the talent to do so, but I think the cumulative effect of their recent gauntlet of a schedule will take its toll today in another hostile arena. Wisconsin plays the kind of disciplined tempo that can frustrate Michigan who prefers to play more free-flowing an up-tempo. Expect this game to grind down a bit in the half court and for Michigan to rely a bit too much on the isolation and high ball screen for Trey Burke.
Give me Wisconsin in a mild “upset”
Wisconsin Badgers +3
Ole Miss Rebels at Missouri Tigers -6.5
This is a battle of two teams who can ill-afford another loss right now. Missouri is fresh off blowing a late game possession at Texas A&M to lose 70-68, while Ole Miss is still reeling from the Florida and Kentucky pastings that sent their surprisingly high expectations plummeting back to earth.
The focus for both these teams right now is getting back on track and getting into the NCAA Tournament. The good news for Ole Miss is that losses to Florida and Kentucky aren’t bad losses. They are still 7-2 in conference and as long as Marshall Henderson can settle down a bit and control himself on the road, they should be fine. Missouri on the other hand is 5-4 in medicore SEC play with losses to Texas A&M and LSU. They can’t afford a home loss today.
I think they pull out the win, but I don’t think they do it running away. I like Ole Miss to keep things close for a great ball game in Columbia.
Free Pick: Ole Miss Rebels +6.5
Kansas Jayhawks -4 at Oklahoma Sooners
The Jayhawks are fresh off a terrible effort, one that Coach Self described as the “worst Kansas team to take the floor since Doctor Naismith was here.” That might be a bit of coach speak hyperbole, but it isn’t too far off. Their 13-point first half against TCU was inexplicable and hard to watch.
BUT… Kansas is still one the four or five best teams in the country and I have a feeling the poor Sooners pay the price for a crime they didn’t commit. Look for KU to come out on fire and intense and turn what COULD have been a good game into a route. Give me the Jayhawks covering on the road against an improved, but still undermanned, Oklahoma team.
Free Pick: Kansas Jayhawks -4
East Carolina Pirates at UCF Knights -6
UCF has quietly built up a fringe bubble resume. We won with them earlier in the week in their huge home win over previously undefeated (in C-USA) Southern Miss. Now the Knights get a chance to avenge one of their two conference losses, an 88-85 2OT loss at ECU, tonight at home.
UCF has won six of seven games and has gone 4-1-1 ATS in their last six. They play well at home and are a much more efficient team than the Pirates, shooting 47% to ECU’s 41% mark on the road. Look for UCF to pull away late and cover at home.
Free Pick: UCF Knights -6
Louisville Cardinals -5 at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Call this one a counter-intuitive pick. Notre Dame hasn’t been super impressive at home, losing to both Georgetown and Connecticut, and Louisville seems to be back on a ‘potential national champ’ level as opposed to the three game losing streak they previously endured two weeks ago. They enter winning three straight including impressive wins over Marquette and Pitt.
But this is the way conference play tends to go this season; one team enters with a little momentum against a team that has been a little unsure of itself lately – the team with momentum goes on the road and WHAM! The tables turn nearly instantly.
I am not sure it will be so profound an effect tonight, but giving a good team five points at home seems like a pretty wise bet. I’ll take ND and the points tonight hosting a dangerous, but offensively flawed, Louisville team.
Free Pick: Notre Dame Fighting Irish +5