College hoops took the night off for all intents and purposes with only four games scattered thinly across Division I and just one game featuring a ranked opponent (or anyone that anyone’s even remotely heard of…). Iowa State came up HUGE in their road trip to Iowa and won in shockingly dominating fashion. Like any handicapper, you win some, you lose some, and you aim for the high 50’s to low 60’s winning range. No one is perfect. My point is, losses don’t usually surprise me, it’s part of the nature of sports and why spreads exisit and not many casinos go out of business.
But last night floored me. I thought Iowa State would really struggle after the suspension of Dejean-Jones. They did not. They exploited Iowa all over the court, generating east offense and out-athlete-ing them all over the court. It’s a good win for the Cyclones, but perhaps of greater note is the now-alarming slide of the Big Ten. Two then-likely tourney teams lost home games to teams outside of the Top 250 and now another tourney hopeful got humiliated on their home floor. The Big Ten can’t wait to get to conference play, but must remain hopeful someone will bail them out with a marquee win to leave a better impression in the Committee’s minds.
It’s a packed Saturday, so let’s get to it. The Kentucky v. North Carolina game is far too early to cover on the blog, but I will throw in a bonus pick at the end for those of you who see it early enough…
Today’s Free Pick:
Utah Utes at Kansas Jayhawks -2.5
It’s fair to say “something doesn’t feel quite right” in Lawrence, Kansas. After all, highly touted one-and-done’er Kelly Oubre can’t even get on the court (coach’s decision, not injuries) and they lack that dynamic wing player in the Ben McLemore/Andrew Wiggins role for the first time in a while. The lingering stench from the Kentucky game remains and it is easy to see the holes in this year’s Kansas squad.
However, they did just turn in one of the best second halves of the season against Florida, turning a double-digit hole into an easy win, and they’ve played one of the tougher slates in the country for a major power. This team still has a ton of talent and will be FINE by March.
Enter Utah. The upstart that has to believe they have a chance to gain some real respect. They are a Pac-12 contender, but given their relative struggles since joining the league, it’s easy to still think of them as a plucky mid-major who will be daunted entering the Phog today. They shouldn’t be. Delon Wright is the real deal and looks like the Pac 12 Player of the Year so far.
I think Utah is a good basketball team and will be in the tourney for sure. But I don’t think they are the 13th best team in the country, nor are they quite ready to notch a road win of the magnitude of today’s. I like Kansas’s depth and talent PLUS the substantial home court edge. Kansas doesn’t lose many games at home to non-con opponents and I don’t think they drop this one either.
BONUS QUICK PICK –
North Carolina Tar Heels at Kentucky Wildcats -12.5
I think Kentucky is going to sleep through the Buffalo’s and Columbia’s all season long. It seems to be in their DNA. But I don’t think they are going to sleep through the Carolina’s, Louisville’s and Florida’s.
That said, North Carolina is the only team on their schedule (not the best overall team, but the only team) that can run and run and play the frenetic sloppy game it is going to take to beat the Wildcats. North Carolina has athletes and McDonald’s All Americans too – and while they are nowhere near as good overall as Kentucky and has disappointed so far in 2014, this is still a talent-laden squad with an All American point guard in Kendall Marshall.
Twelve and a half points is way too many in for a game that might be the toughest matchup the Wildcats face all season. They are deep enough to adjust to any injury, especially Poythress’s with aplomb, but in the immediacy, it does through their suddenly-comfortable platoon system a little monkey wrench.
It’s enough to keep this game competitive today. Take the dozen-plus and enjoy one of the best treats of the 2014-2015 pre-conference schedule.