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Villanova vs. Xavier Pick NCAA Basketball – Feb 24th

Kansas all but clinched a twelfth straight Big Twelve title last night with the win, pulling away in the final minutes, over Baylor. The Jayhawks are two games clear with just three games remaining and two at home – granted they are tough games; hosting a red-hot Texas Tech, @ Texas, and hosting Iowa State, but even if one of the two manage to upset them at home, it is hard to envision the ‘Hawks closing on a three-game losing streak.

So, an early “Congrats” and “WOW” to Kansas.

Meanwhile, the wacky SEC got even more insane last night. Vanderbilt went on the road and handled Florida, Ole Miss won at home against Missouri and LSU lost a devastating game at Arkansas. At this point, it is fair to say the two winners leapfrogged the two losers in the insane chase for the last few NCAA Tournament bids. The league might not be as compelling at the Big Ten or Twelve, but the first day of their conference tournament is going to be bananas for high-stakes drama.

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Today’s Free Pick:                                                                                                    

Villanova Wildcats at Xavier Musketeers -1

Ok. SO Villanova is #1 in the country, has beaten Xavier every single time they have played as Big East foes, beat them by 31 already this season and is a perfect 6-0 ATS against them over the last three years.

And Xavier is a one point FAVORITE.

And oddly enough, I couldn’t agree more.

The first game was ugly. No, better stated, the first game was UGLY. It got out of hand early and Nova probably could have won by 50 if they really pressed the matter. Perhaps Jay Wright was thinking ahead to tonight; knowing he caught a really good Xavier team in a tough spot after watching their star freshman leave the court on a stretcher – not knowing he would be fine a few weeks later, only knowing he was going to the hospital, NOW – and he didn’t want to add any more fuel to the rematch.

However, with Xavier enjoying the best season in school history, ranked #5 in the polls and a legitimate look at a first-ever #1 seed with a win tonight, there is little that could damped the enthusiasm for tonight’s game.   But emotion and importance aside, let’s take a look at this game from a statistical standpoint.

Xavier is 16-10-1 ATS this season, making them one of the better wagers in the country. Villanova is a nose better at 17-10 ATS. Xavier is 16-7 ATS in their last 23 games and 8-4 ATS at home. Villanova is 11-5 ATS in their last 16 road games. Both teams are very good and very good against the number. But I’m giving the slight edge to X tonight – one, the game means more, two, they are the better rebounding team and one of the best teams in the country, and three, they are at home where they have been nearly bullet-proof this season. They had the early bobble to Georgetown, other than that, they have won every game by at least eight points.

There’s a ton to like about Villanova. They’ve lost ONCE since mid-December and it was on the road at Providence a day after the original game was snowed out because of blizzard conditions. But the early losses to Oklahoma and Virginia, as well as the lingering perception of past tourney fails looms large. I am not sure Xavier is a big enough brand name to dispel any of these sentiments even with a win, but it wouldn’t hurt. This game is going to be intense. Nova wins and they lock up the Big East. Xavier wins and it gets interesting, and probably puts a potential Big East Tournament Final game as a battle for a #1 seed.

I expect a good game, but I think Xavier finally gets over the hump tonight. They have seven guys who can score and a whole team that can defend and rebound. Look for them to use their balance and tough ness, and an insane home crowd, to get a big program-defining win.

Free Pick: Xavier Musketeers -1