It’s a loaded day in college hoops today with some of the earliest non-con tournaments in full swing. In the Puerto Rico Tip Off, Xavier/Clemson and Northern Iowa/Oklahoma highlight the schedule. In the Gildan Classic, Villanova will look to clean up their game after yesterday’s sloppy win and perform better against Wake Forest in a should-win contest, and evening contests feature stand-out games like Pitt/Marquette, USC/Texas A&M, Michigan/SMU, Washington State/Creighton and my personal favorite, Syracuse and Monmouth.
We took a loss last night as Oregon summarily dispatched Valpo in a disappointing effort from the Crusaders. It was a grand opportunity to earn some respect and validate last year’s gaudy record, and it went completely by the wayside as Oregon took a commanding lead early in the second half and then ran away from Valpo.
Let’s do better tonight with another heavy mid-major underdog.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Monmouth Hawks at Syracuse Orange -13
These two teams were the focus of much discussion last March, as Monmouth was among the last teams left out of the Big Dance, despite finishing first in the regular season in the MAAC and dropping a tough tourney final to a solid Iona squad AND knocking off five major programs in the non-con. Syracuse was a middling ACC squad who many (me, loudly) thought deserved to be heading instead to the NIT. Of course, the Cuse went on an improbable run to the Final Four and shut up a lot of critics (though I still don’t think the hindsight bias forgives the committee overlooking Monmouth and Valpo)
Tonight, Monmouth gets a MAJOR chance at revenge. They enter 1-1, but their loss was a neutral court overtime loss to South Carolina, nothing to be ashamed of. Syracuse is 2-0 and has yet to be really tested. Monmouth returns some talent, including reigning MAAC Player of the Year, point guard Justin Robinson. The brasj floor-leader engineered a 27-8 season last year and has his sights firmly set on righting last year’s perceived snub. A win tonight would be a MASSIVE chip in their pile, and don’t think the Hawks aren’t well aware of tonight’s significance.
It will be up to Coach Boeheim to convey the same urgency to his players. Syracuse is the better and far more talented team overall. They are probably not real aware of Monmouth’s slight from a year ago, and frankly, likely view tonight as any other pre-con tune up contest. They better come ready, because Monmouth and coach King Rice certainly will.
I think tonight has some trouble lurking for the ‘Cuse. I am not sold this is a legit Top 20 team and in the same class as Duke, UNC, Virginia and Louisville. We shall see soon I suppose. But for now, I’ll take the 13 points and the solid mid-major with a TON of “must have” on their side tonight.