It was another good night for thesportsgeek.com with college hoops picks. Thanks to a thrilling (albeit ugly game) buzzer beater by Cal in their 48-46 win and BYU’s narrow hold to cover, we ran out winning streak to six game against the spread and counting. Last night was a nice microcosm of how this season has gone; one team played their way off the bubble (BYU) while another continues to play their way back ON (Cal, once left for dead at 14-11 is now a legitimate sixth Pac 12 selection).
It’s been that kind of year where terms we can usually use safely by the end of February; “lock” “bubble” and even “out” has become a lot flimsier and fluid. However, tonight’s free pick focuses on two teams that are safely in the “lock” category, even though one team has inexplicably escaped notice.
Let’s dig into another rare Friday night treat and break down tonight’s huge clash in Indianapolis.
St. Louis Billikens at Butler Bulldogs -3.5
This game will go a long way to settling one of the best conference races in the country. While everyone fawns over the Big Ten and Big East, the Atlantic-10 has five teams within a game and a half of the conference lead with Temple and Charlotte (both, yep, “bubble” contenders) lurking just one more game back. But the leader in this tight mess, with a chance to open up some distance tonight, isn’t VCU or Butler – it’s St. Louis.
The Billikens have not just been winning games, they’ve been beating the hell out of a very good conference. They’ve beaten Butler this season 75-58, they’ve beaten Dayton 81-52 and Charlotte 76-58. In their last game played they beat VCU 76-62. Yet at 21-5 and 9-2 in the A-10 they remain unranked. You figure it out?
Even tonight, the line tilts towards Butler. The Bulldogs are a very good team, and deserve some respect. I think they are a #5-#7 seed in the Tourney at worst. But it is hard to argue against the momentum of the Billikens, even with the game being in Hinkle Fieldhouse tonight. Defense travels well, and the Billikens have played it better than any A-10 team this season, holding opponents to just 57.6 ppg. in conference play.
It’s never easy to pull the trigger on betting AGAINST Butler and Brad Stevens, but I think St. Louis is emerging as the best basketball team in the conference, and maybe the best non big-six team outside of Gonzaga. They have a lot to prove tonight, and I think they’ll play like it. No team of note has come within single digits of beating them in more than a month. I like them to cover and steal a huge win on the road.
Free Pick: St. Louis Billikens +3.5 (most books have this at -3, found two that have dipped to 3.5)