It’s a limited slate of college basketball action today, but we do have an interesting opportunity for another unbeaten team to be plucked off; or for that very same team to validate a whole season of marginal wins. Toledo takes their perfect record into Lawrence tonight to take on the mighty Jayhawks. Toledo fans have been flooding message boards complaining about not being ranked. Well, Vegas doesn’t think much of the Rockets either – installing them as 14.5 point underdogs tonight against Kansas. The nice thing about this game – simply go in an play well and you get some respect. However, fail to cover… and no more complaining Toledo.
I have slight lean on Kansas tonight, but the official pick focuses on a nice inter-conference matchup between two big name programs that look like they will be likely bubble teams. That makes tonight’s game VERY important for both programs.
Let’s take a look at the matchup.
Virginia Cavaliers at Tennessee Volunteers -2.5
Virginia entered the season with tourney aspirations, led by All-ACC performer Joe Harris and a decent returning cast from last year’s NIT squad. However, a lot of that enthusiasm was tempered with their 48-38 home loss to Wisconsin (the score is not a typo) and subsequent 75-72 loss to Green Bay. That was a pretty ugly stretch, and UVA has basically vanished from the national conscience since. However, they are still a pretty talented ballclub and a stifling defensive team. They are holding teams to a stifling 54.2 points per game this season.
Meanwhile, Tennessee desperately needs a quality win tonight, especially at home, after stumbling out of the blocks to a 7-4 start. The SEC isn’t particularly deep after Kentucky, Florida and Missouri – but all three are in the East with Tennessee so every win they can amass before conference play is essential to their Tournament dreams. However, aside from a home win over Xavier (who also beat them at their place), the schedule has been pretty devoid of encouraging signs. They have lost most of their quality games; Wichita State, Xavier, UTEP and NC State – and none of those games were within 8 points.
Tennessee will have the home gym advantage, but I don’t expect it to be a rocking Thompson-Bolling Arena on December 30th with student on Winter Break. I’ll instead take the better defensive team, Virginia. Defense usually travels well, and the Cavs do it with tenacity. Tennessee’s biggest weakness is their propensity to turn the ball over and their struggles to get good shots in a half court set. I like UVA to slow the tempo and force a Tennessee team that is shooting 39% from the floor in their last five games to execute efficiently. That isn’t their strength.
Give me the Wahoos on the road notching a nice resume win.