We had a nice night last night, going 2-0 ATS and hopefully it is the start of a nice run as we lead up to the Big Dance. Louisville fought like crazy – and this team has far more in their emotional tank than I gave them credit for. It would be perfectly normal to have a slight let down after receiving the devastating news that your team is no longer eligible for the ACC Tournament or the NCAAA Tournament; that your once-promising season now how no real relevance. But the Cardinals did anything but fold, battling back to tie Duke twice in the second half before finally getting put away in the final two minutes. Duke covered with some room to spare, but it wasn’t the easy win it looked like it was going to be in the first half.
Meanwhile, Texas covered easily for us, but more importantly, led Oklahoma on the road for 39 minutes before having their hearts broken on a Buddy Hield three pointer with one second remaining. It was a nationally-televised “vote for me” moment for the now easy front runner for the Wooden Award. Hield, who is throwing up a Curry-like efficiency line this season 50/50/90, scored the final 12 points for the Sooners as they stormed back for the huge win to stay right in the crowded mix near the top of the Big Twelve.
Let’s see if we can stack a few more winners on a great night of college hoops, highlighted by an awesome Big Ten showdown between Michigan State and Purdue.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Xavier Musketeers -1 at Creighton Blue Jays
The Xavier Musketeers are probably plenty pleased with their #5 ranking in the recently released polls, but in truth, they might have a compelling argument that they are actually a bit underrated. They are the only team in the Top Ten with just two losses and find themselves ranked behind a team (Iowa) with four losses. Granted, the Big East doesn’t afford the same bounty of massive big wins opportunities as the Big Ten or Big Twelve or ACC, but from top to bottom, the Big East doesn’t give you many freebies either. Add in their non-con wins over Dayton, USC, and Cincinnati, and they have a pretty powerful resume. The only real blemish is the massive blowout loss to Villanova in a game where their point guard left the court on a stretcher in the opening minutes. And Villanova is currently ranked #1 in the nation…
Rankings aside, Xavier has been excellent this season. They’ve handled their business pretty well on the road, Villanova loss excepted, with wins over Providence, Michigan, Marquette and Wake Forest. Tonight’s game becomes very big for the Muskies, as the rest of February is BRUTAL. They follow this game with a trip to Butler, hosting Providence, a trip to Georgetown, the return visit from Villanova and a trip to Seton Hall. It’d be reasonable to project a 3-3 month, which would knock them well off the #2 seed line they currently enjoy. In short, they cannot afford a slip up at Creighton tonight.
Meanwhile, the Jays have exceeded expectations this season and are competing for an NCAA Tourney bid. They enter at 15-9 and still in the mix. But they have come back to Earth a bit in their last two weeks, dropping three of four games with their only win coming over lowly DePaul and two of their losses coming in blowout fashion. They have some good wins this season; Butler, Georgetown and Seton Hall, but their games against Villanova, Oklahoma, and Indiana have all been double digit losses. I’d put Xavier in that same category of talented teams. I expect the Muskies to win, even on the road in a tough environment, and to fortify their top five ranking.
Xavier is one of the best rebounding teams in the country and plays exceptional team defense. They lack the star power of other Big East teams, but don’t let their balanced attack fool you – this team can score in bunches. They average over 80 ppg in conference play, six more than second-place Seton Hall and Villanova. They are second in offensive efficiency to Villanova and are second in the conference in rebounding (Seton Hall) but lead in rebound efficiency.
Xavier is the vastly superior team, and I’m kind of surprised they aren’t getting more respect on the road tonight. I’d have laid three and a half or four and not blinked. I’ll take the virtual pick em and hope to pocket an easy winner.