We got another college winner last night as Xavier held off a late rally from Northern Iowa to cover the spread and win their preseason tournament in Orlando. The Tourney, which was originally slated to take place in Puerto Rico before being moved over Zika fears, marks the second straight season Xavier won a tournament in Orlando in November. Northern Iowa looked good though. They had a rough shooting night, but look like a team that could very well be in the Field of 68 come March.
Elsewhere, Duke handled a very good Rhode Island team despite still missing all three prized freshman from the lineup, and Villanova got a reasonable test from an interesting UCF team but won pretty easily. Only Michigan State raised some eyebrows yesterday, needing some dubious home-court clock management to escape the Breslin Center with a one-point win over Florida Gulf Coast. Before you say, “but wait, isn’t FGCU pretty good though??” Yes. They are pretty good. But Florida and Baylor beat them by a combined 30 points. Something isn’t quite clicking in Michigan State right now, and I’ll have my eye on some of their upcoming lines.
The best pre-con tourney gets underway this afternoon in Maui, featuring three Top Ten teams in Wisconsin, Oregon and North Carolina, and four other major brand-name programs with Tennessee, Georgetown, Oklahoma State and Connecticut. G’Town and UConn took a little shine off with their three combined low-major losses so far this season, but this tourney is still about as good as it gets this time of year.
My Maui picks: Oregon over Wisky, UNC over UConn with Oregon beating UNC in a fun game. I’ll take Oklahoma State to steal 5th place.
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Today’s Free Picks:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish -1 vs. Colorado Buffaloes — Legends Classic, Brooklyn, NY
This will be the first test of the season for a pair of 3-0 teams who have shown some early promise. Notre Dame had to reload on the fly after losing Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste to the NBA. But they were in the same daunting spot a year ago; losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton to the NBA (and graduation), and all they did was get back to the Elite Eight for the second straight year. That is a LOT of losses to absorb in two years for any non-Duke/Kentucky/Kansas program, but the cupboard is far from bare in South Bend.
Notre Dame will rely more heavily on VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia this season and get their inside energy from undersized but dynamic Bonzie Colson – no stranger to big games and pressure moments. They are going to need sophomore talented guard Rex Pflueger to emerge as a perimeter/slashing threat to round out a good shooting team and to keep the floor spacing honest.
Meanwhile, no one really talks about Colorado in the Pac-12, but the Buffs have been quietly building a pretty good program. They have been to the NCAA Tournament four of the last five seasons after going just twice in the previous 36 years. Like ND, they will need to replace some talent after losing two-time All Pac-12 performer Josh Scott. But, also like ND, they have a lot of experienced and talented players ready to assume larger roles.
Tonight should be a really interested and competitive game. Colorado should be a little quicker and a bit more athletic. Notre Dame should be a bit more careful with the basketball and create easier perimeter chances.
But in the end, I’ll take the experience, shooting and offensive efficiency of Notre Dame in a nice neutral court test for both teams.