After just one night (a winning night for thesportsgeek.com thanks to a comfy cover by Maryland), I have a few observations about the national landscape as a whole.
First, some of the best players in the country this year are not playing for schools the average fan is familiar with. Rather, more than a handful of All-American candidates are worth getting familiar with now before they bust your brackets playing Cinderella in March. Lehigh’s CJ McCollom already has one NCAA tourney win under his belt – the stunner over #2 seed Duke in the Opening Round last year. He’s back for more fun, and looks just as unstoppable. He hung 36 on Baylor yesterday. However Baylor still won with ease. They are a legit threat to win the Big 12 and finally unseat Kansas.
Nate Wolters is worth a watch as well. He hung 30 last night on Alabama for the Road Runners of South Dakota State, only to be bested by an Alabama three pointer at the buzzer. Wolters ran the more athletic Tide backcourt ragged. He has a little Jimmer Fredette in him, with better shot selection.
And lastly, perhaps games on aircraft carriers in the SOUTH are not such a good idea. Condensation on the court turned two of the evening’s glamour games into a grand total of 20 minutes of basketball – with neither game going to be rescheduled or made up. Mother Nature:2 – College Hoops Fans: 0.
On to tonight’s free pick:
Central Florida Knights at South Florida Bulls -6.5
The I-4 Rivalry takes the court again tonight as one lower tier Big East program hosts the state rival who will become a permanent conference foe in the 2013-2014 season. The Bulls finished with a flurry last season and rode that hot start to a pair of NCAA Tournament wins and a berth in the Round of 32. They will look for build on last season’s success but will have to rebuild quickly in order to do so. Their vaunted interior defense is all graduated, so it will be a smaller, quicker USF team this season.
UCF was hoping that this season would be the breakthrough one, the season where they earn the school’s first at-large tournament bid as a catapult to entering the Big East next year. However, with the NCAA upholding their decision to ban UCF from the postseason, this year will amount to little more than a year-long tune up. It will be curious to see if this veteran team plays like it.
The Knights best returning player, Keith Clanton, could have transferred and been immediately eligible. He would have had plenty of high-major suitors. However, the Orlando native chose to stay home for his session season and hopefully lead to Knights to a solid performance. The USF Bulls were outrebounded by DII Eckerd College earlier in the week, so expect Clanton to have a big game against the smallish Bulls.
UCF would have been hard pressed to earn an at-large bid this season even if there were no ban in place, but even more unlikely is USF earning a repeat trip to the Dance. I think tonight will be a close game. UCF has played USF well and with a chip on their shoulder the last three seasons, winning twice. I am not sure they win outright, but like them getting six and a half tonight.
Free Pick: UCF Knights +6.5