Last night was a good night for some of the nation’s elite teams to flex their muscle. Wichita State continued to give voters no room to ignore them with yet another dominant double-digit victory. Say what you want about their schedule, but it’s tough to dominate every opponent, especially on the road, no matter how inferior they are. Look at Florida last night at Vandy. The Commodores are lousy this season but managed to hang around to the very end.
It was a likewise easy night for powers like Duke, Wisconsin, and San Diego State, who all handled their business with aplomb, and it was a huge night for bubbling teams like Minnesota and Xavier who notched massively important wins over Iowa and St. John’s.
Every game matters at this point and single results can have seismic shifts in bracket projections. So let’s dive in with a look at a few of tonight’s key games and who will come out on top.
Today’s Free Picks:
Michigan Wolverines -5 at Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue has had a few moments of surprising competence this season, but at 15-12 it is another disappointing season and even more heat on Coach Matt Painter. Purdue is just 5-9 in conference play and will be without guard Sterling Carter for the rest of the season after he tore his ACL in last weeks blowout loss at Nebraska. They aren’t a terribly efficient team to begin with (see the 30.2% shooting against the Huskers) and now they are missing another key component. I wouldn’t be surprised if Purdue doesn’t win again this season.
Meanwhile Michigan is flying high after completing the season sweep over bitter rival Michigan State and edging into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings. The potential always exists for a trap-game let down when a team goes on the road following a huge emotional win, but I think the four day layoff will help alleviate some of that threat. I expect Michigan and Nik Stauskas (my vote for Big Ten POY) will play well tonight and handle their business.
Five points is a pretty reasonable price to get a motivated and far-superior team.
North Carolina Tarheels -4 at NC State Wolfpack
Earlier in the year after a schizophrenic stretch in which the Tarheels beat Kentucky and Michigan State sandwiched around losses to UAB and Belmont, I swore off wagering on Carolina games; it was just too volatile a stock for my personal preference. That was before things finally stabilized and progressed. Right now Carolina has a nine-game winning streak, all in conference, and including all the better teams aside from Virginia and Syracuse. They are on fire, and finally playing up to their considerable talent level.
Meanwhile, NC State has quietly snuck back in to bubble discussion at 17-10 and 7-7 in ACC play. It could very well come down to they or Clemson stealing a last bid and a win tonight would be enormous. But even at home, I don’t think they’ll get it. They have yet to show an ability to beat high-caliber competition this season and right now, very few teams in the country are playing much better than Carolina.