Utah vs. Cal Pick NCAA Basketball – February 2nd

Winner winner, chicken dinner!  South Carolina went down into the Bayou and manhandled the slumping Tigers to deliver another stress-free college winner to pull the season mark on TheSportsGeek to a whopping 57-30-1 ATS.   The Gamecocks are very similar to Maryland in that they have a nice collection of Top 50-75 wins, no bad losses, but because they lack the marquee Top 15-Top 20 win, no one seems to be paying attention.  Fine by me, I’ll keep banging both for easy winners until Vegas catches up, but it is odd to see two teams in power conferences with so few blemishes ranked so low nationally.

Elsewhere, in the most important result of the night, Kansas held off Baylor at home in an absolutely fantastic college basketball game to wrest control of the Big Twelve in pursuit of their incomprehensible in the modern era, thirteenth straight Big Twelve regular season championship.  The Jayhawks are 8-1 in conference to Baylor’s 7-2.  The return trip to Waco comes on February 18th and will be on CBS at 1pm (you know, in case you are already excited).

It sounds odd, but for the first time this season I am FINALLY convinced Baylor is a Final Four contender.  I knew they were good, but after watching them last night play toe-to-toe in Phogg for 39+ minutes, this team is a legitimate contender in the same breathe as Kansas, Villanova, Gonzaga, Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA/Arizona/Oregon.

We’ve notched six NCAA winners in a row.  Let’s keep it going tonight.

Today’s Free Pick:

Utah Utes at Cal Bears -2.5

This is easily the best and most interesting game on the slate tonight, thought it will likely garner little national attention.  Neither team is ranked and the Pac 12 in general doesn’t move the needle west of the Mississippi except in rare cases (like this year) where UCLA captures the national fancy.  However, both of these teams look like NCAA Tournament teams; Utah somewhat surprisingly after losing a lot from last year’s squad and Cal somewhat reluctantly as they often perform slightly less than their talent level.

That talent level is where I start with this pick.  Cal, despite an average resume, boasts above-average talent.  Ivan Raab and Jabari Bird will eventually get paychecks to play basketball and freshman point guard Charlie Moore has been sensational.  Those three alone make Cal a difficult first round opponent for some unsuspecting team in March.  They enter today at 15-6 (6-3) with a bad early loss to San Diego State (before we new just how pedestrian the Aztecs were this season), close loss to a very good Virginia team, and a three point loss to bubble-team Seton Hall.  Their three conference loss are respectable; UCLA, Arizona in competitive games and getting smoked at Oregon.  The problem is, the best WIN isi either Stanford, Washington or Washington State.  Yuck.  They really NEED tonight.

Utah is a similar story, only with less headlining talent.  Jacob Poeltl went pro early, leaving a void, but Coach K (the other one) is really good at this.  He has kept one of the nation’s more underappreciated programs cruising along smoothly.  They are also 15-6 (6-3) with losses in league to Arizona, Oregon and UCLA.  Their losses were a little closer overall, but they hosted Oregon as opposed to facing them on the road.  Their non-con losses are Xavier and Butler and a BAD loss to San Francisco.

Almost identical resumes.  Almost identical NCAA profiles.

SO in a game like this, I’ll take the home team with more talent.  Three points is a slim price to pay.  The game will be competitive, but I’d be willing to flirt with -4.5 or -5 and Cal.  I think they are sleeping giants whose schedule has prevented them from a big win.  The Pac 12 is top heavy with three Final Four caliber teams (both are 0-3 against them) and a bunch of pedestrian teams and two solid tourney teams (themselves).  Tonight is a clear battle for the fourth Pac 12 perch which could be the difference between LOCK and SWEATING on NCAA Selection Sunday.

Look for Charlie Moore to have a big game and to get Bird and Raab involved early.  The home crowd should carry the slightly more talented team to a victory.

Pick: CAL BEARS -2.5