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Rhode Island vs. Dayton Pick NCAA Basketball – January 6th

The Big Ten is officially just as crazy as the ACC.

Nebraska outlasted Iowa in double overtime to move to 3-0 in Big Ten play, their best start to conference play since 1976 – and yes, that WELL pre-dates their move to the Big Ten.  The oddest thing about their stunning start is that it is well, STUNNING.  They were a lowly 6-6 entering conference play, toting a resume that included a loss to Gardner-Webb.  They have now knocked off Indiana and Maryland on the road as well as reluctantly holding serve at home against Iowa.  It’s hard to vote them in the Top 25 right now.  And it’s also impossible NOT to…

Strange season man, strange season.  I defy anyone to come up with an authoritative Top 25 ballot on Monday as 45-50 teams could make a case for inclusion.

Meanwhile, the Northwestern home loss to Minnesota (another team with a case to be ranked) dealt me my first three-game losing streak of the season.  I’m not proud to be taking the L’s, but it is a pretty good sign that it’s January and it’s the first time I’ve had to type that.

Let’s not have to type “four-game” tomorrow.

It’s a light slate, but we are fortunate to have two of the best non-major conference matchups of the season to hold us over until a packed Saturday of action.

Today’s Free Pick:

Rhode Island Rams at Dayton Flyers -3.5

Big things were expected from Danny Hurley’s Rams who entered the season ranked in the Top 25 and carrying the banner for the slightly-down A-10.  But the Rams have faltered in most of their marquee tests, losing games to Providence and Valpo by a single possession.  They hung with, but never really challenged Duke, in a 75-65 loss and got beat by five at Houston.  They own a nice win over Cincinnati, but after that their best win is probably Belmont.

However, since the page has turned to conference play, the Rams look legit again.  They opened with a pair of wins over St. Louis and St. Joe’s by a combined 64 points.  Granted, neither of those teams are particularly good, but the St. Louis game was on the road, but St. Joe’s has wins over Princeton, Drexel, and George Washington to balance out their six losses, many against Tourney-caliber teams.

Dayton enters at 11-3, and much like Rhode Island, it isn’t that they’ve done anything “wrong” – they just haven’t put forth the kind of non-con that A-10 teams need to get liegitimately noticed.  I think Rhode Island, Dayton and VCU will all make the tourney, thanks in large part to an unbalanced conference where they should all lose no more than four times.  But their seeds will all be low.  I wouldn’t be surprised if all three are “seed-underdogs” in their opening game in March and if one is playing in Dayton.

Dayton has quality losses and is a few scant possessions away from being perfect on the season and being ranked in the Top 15.  They made a furious comeback at home to close the final margin to 4 against an excellent St. Mary’s team, and their single-possession losses to Northwestern and Nebraska are looking pretty reasonable.  But when your best wins are Alabama and Vandy, you have to have at least two of those three losses in the other column.

This is a pretty even matchup, but Dayton is at home, which is an edge, considering Rhode Island is 1-3 on the road this season.  But also remember, Rhode Island’s road loss include at Cameron Indoor. Rhode Island has the best win of the two (Cincinnati) but Dayton has been the more consistent team.  This line is right where it should be; it’s an even matchup with the three-ish going to the home squad.

But Rhode Island has been able to win in Dayton in years past, including last year’s 75-66 win at the Nutter Center.  They are 8-2 ATS in their last ten matchups against Dayton as well.  Dayton’s injuries and suspensions have hurt them this season.  They are still a good team, but this game is an absolute coin-flip, so I’ll take the team with the higher preseason expectations and the four-point cushion.

Free Pick:   Rhode Island Rams +4