UCLA won the Wooden Legacy Tournament last night, edging out Texas A&M in a well-played game in Fullerton. The Bruins earned a 74-67 victory to cover the 3.5 point spread and earn us our fifth straight ATS winner and cap off a near perfect month. It runs the season record to 13-4 ATS and has us flying high as we enter an odd period of college hoops.
There are a few marquee games scattered the next few weeks thanks to the ACC/Big Ten challenge and a few other inter-conference measuring sticks, but there is also some real slim pickens. The big-time pre-con tournaments are over, and while we can look forward to the dazzling schedule of the Kentucky Wildcats, many teams will go into pre-hibernation mode, fattening up for the winter before things get tough.
The highlights of tonight’s schedule are Kentucky hosting Arizona State (not the great UK schedule I was alluding to earlier; that comes with Carolina, UCLA and The ‘Ville all in December) and Minnesota taking their early unbeaten record to Florida State for their first real test. The real treat might be a sneaky good game with Butler visiting Utah in a battle of unranked, but not for long, teams with excellent coaches and great programs.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Northwestern Wildcats -4
This game won’t get nearly as much attention as some of the insane matchups during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but this one could mean more than just about any other game. Northwestern is earnest in its aspiration to cease being the ONLY major conference team to have NEVER appeared in the NCAA Tournament. They look good this season with impressive efforts against Butler on the road and Notre Dame. The problem is, they narrowly LOST both games and at some point, they have to get WINS if they are going to dance. Tonight is an excellent opportunity to do just that.
Wake Forest is off to a 5-1 start and has looked better under second year coach Danny Manning. Their five wins have all come by double digits, though the victims include Bucknell, Coastal Carolina and the College of Charleston. Those are reasonable, low-major programs who have all been in the Big Dance, but none suffice as a true resume building win. Their lone loss was to Villanova – no shame in that – but the 18-point margin won’t do them any favors.
I think Wake is heading in the right direction, but from early impressions, I think Northwestern is the clearly better team. I don’t think Tourney aspirations are unreasonable for this squad. They aren’t ready to contend for a conference championship, but after seeing Michigan State, Maryland, and Purdue – not to mention the teams like Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State – there is no reason they can’t sneak out nine conference wins if they protect their home court.
Meanwhile, Wake will be lucky to find four wins in the loaded ACC. Wake isn’t ‘awful’ – the league is just too good around them. I expect tonight to be competitive, especially early, but for Northwestern to make more plays at home and to cover the relatively slim four point margin.
It may sound over-dramatic, but after a few narrow-misses, this is a game Chris Collins and crew absolutely MUST have. I think they’ll respond accordingly.