The Big Ten is the gift that keeps giving this season. Though we fanned on last night’s pick in the Michigan v. Ohio State game (gotta hate when you have the under and the game is careening towards overtime…), but it was one of the best games of the season. And it was played three nights after Michigan gave us one of the OTHER “best games of the season” in a tight loss at Indiana. There was a little controversy last night as Aaron Craft appeared to be fouled at the buzzer with the Buckeyes down two, but the refs swallowed their whistles, and Michigan escaped with a much-needed Big Ten win.
The Buckeyes might have lost the game, but anyone who watched it and didn’t come away saying; “Aaron Craft is the best on-ball defender in the country” and I KNOW Trey Burke will agree, and “Ohio State is a legit Final Four contender” wasn’t watching the same game I saw.
And speaking of Final Four contenders, just when the praise was finally starting to arrive Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators way, the get absolutely blitzed at Arkansas. They lost by 14 but the game wasn’t really even that close. Arkansas jumped out by 20 early in the first half and the game never got to within single digits again.
This is a balanced and wacky college hoops season with no real juggernaut to sit atop the polls for long. It can make for some tricky wagers at times, but it also makes for a ton of interesting games.
Let’s dig into a few interesting matchups for Wednesday night’s picks…
Marquette Warriors -3 at South Florida Bulls
Some of the shine has faded a bit off Marquette with their recent losses to Louisville and Cincinnati (both on the road), but in truth, this is still a very good basketball team. They are 15-5 and 6-2 in the deep Big East with wins over Georgetown, Connecticut and Pitt.
Meanwhile, USF is 1-8 in the Big East and all but two of those losses are by eight or more points. They played well last time out, taking UConn to overtime on the road, but in general, it hasn’t been a pretty season for Stan Heath and the Bulls.
The main deficiency for USF is their inefficiency. As in, this team takes bad shots and misses a ton of them. They are shooting under 40% for the year, and that includes all those cream-puff games before conference play starts. They are shooting just 36.3% from the floor in their last five Big East games. Marquette is a good defensive team. They are holding opponents under 40% shooting for both the season and in conference play, while shooting close to 46% themselves.
Shots tend to be a little more errant on the road, but defense travels well. I expect Marquette to play good defense tonight in Tampa and for Junior Cadoughan and Vander Blue to lead Marquette to an important road win to remain atop the Big East standings.
Free Pick: Marquette Warriors -3
Southern Miss Golden Eagles -2 vs. Central Florida Golden Knights
Sticking in the Sunshine State, it’ll be a golden one in Orlando tonight. Bad pun excepted, this is a fantastic game very under the radar. Southern Miss is unbeaten in C-USA play and has designs on getting to the NCAA Tournament. Central Florida has lost twice in conference play, but enters the game 15-6 and also thinking post season (if they can win their appeal with the NCAA to lift their post-season ban). UCF’s two conference losses were by three points on the road (@ Marshall and @ECU) and their pre-conference losses including Florida and Miami.
Southern Miss has a good ballclub, but it is hard to know HOW good because their schedule has been simply rancid. Their best wins are probably Denver and an overtime win at Georgia. They do have last week’s bizarre 104-46 win over Marshall – but other than that anomaly they have been pretty average. They have lost to Wichita State and Arizona (no shame), and Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.
I think they run into a good team playing in front of a raucous home crowd and have some legit struggles for the first time in a while. Both Keith Clanton and Isaiah Sykes are legit C-USA player of the year candidates (Clanton should be the frontrunner). Look for them to play big and get the home win tonight.
Free Pick: UCF Knights +2
Stanford Cardinal at Arizona Wildcats -11
Arizona was appropriately under-appreciated despite being undefeated because of the fluky nature of two of their wins. However, now at 19-2, they are a little undervalued by fans at large. But definitely not so with Vegas. They are a huge 11 point favorite tonight over one of the hottest teams in college basketball.
Johnny Dawkins’ Stanford Cardinal are on a three-game win streak that includes an absolute pasting of previously unbeaten in Pac 12 play Oregon. Stanford still has a way to go to play themselves back into tourney consideration, and tonight’s game is a HUGE one for them.
They haven’t been great on the road in conference play (2-3), but they have been competitive; hanging around with a good team like UCLA before losing late. I like them to do the same tonight. Not sure I see them going to Tucson and winning, but 11 points is a ton with a team as hot as Stanford.
Free Pick: Stanford Cardinal +11