College basketball is in full swing now, with top tier matchups all over the place over the next five days. There have been a few interesting glimpses at some top teams showing vulnerabilities; Indiana being pushed in back-to-back nights (despite earning two wins), UCLA looking like anything but a Top 15 team right now after getting blasted by Georgetown and pushed to the final seconds by Georgia (they’ll get much better over the course of the season, once Shabazz Mohammad gets acclimated), and North Carolina and Texas both suffering shocking losses in Maui.
Perhaps no loss raised an eyebrow more than the very quiet loss by Villanova last night. The Wildcats were one of the top programs in the country in the 2000’s and were hoping to rebound from a rare miserable last year. Last night’s 75-57 loss to Ivy League also-ran Columbia is a really, really bad sign for the progress of Jay Wright’s ball club.
Tonight we get one of the best matchups of the young season as yet another unranked, but very dangerous Big East team (Pitt) takes on an unbeaten and highly ranked Big Ten foe (Michigan). Georgetown showed very clearly last night against Indiana that the gap between #1 and “almost-ranked” is as narrow as any year in recent memory. Will Pitt be able to do the same thing tonight?? Let’s dig inside the matchup for tonight’s free pick.
Pitt Panthers vs. Michigan Wolverines -2.5 (@ Madison Square Garden)
I know I gave a glimpse into my thoughts regarding this game about a week ago, when I was glowing about the underrated Pitt Panthers. I figured this would be a seven or eight point line based on the relative rankings of each team. Now that the line is just 2.5, I’ve changed my tune a bit.
I think Pitt is a definite NCAA Tournament team this year, and I expect them to finish in the 3rd to 5th range in the once again LOADED Big East. However, this Michigan team is the real deal. Their competition has been admittedly weak, but the Wolverines have been summarily dismissing each opponent, winning by more than 30 points per contest.
Michigan is loaded with NBA-caliber talent. Both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will play for a paycheck next year, and both can both score and create offense for others. I expect Michigan to tax a good defense all night, and to put pressure on the Panthers to score to keep up.
This is where they will struggle at times this season. They are a much better offensive club with the healthy return of Tray Woodall, but the rest of this team will have games where they struggle shooting the ball. I expect them to have some difficulty tonight against the length and athleticism of Michigan. Pitt needed a school-record 16 point comeback to beat Oakland in OT earlier this week. Perhaps they were looking ahead to playing Michigan in MSG, but I think it also exposed a weakness that the Wolverines will exacerbate tonight.
Free Pick: Michigan Wolverines -2.5