Valpo vs. Oakland Pick – February 17th

Valpo looks to sew up another regular season Horizon League title tonight in a revenge game at Oakland.  The Grizz handed them their lone home defeat this season in the conference opener - can the Crusaders turn the tables tonight?

We caught a rough break last night with Bronson Koenig being unexpectedly scratched in the afternoon well after the column ran and the lines were established.  Wisconsin moved quickly to a 2.5 point underdog after opening as a favorite and Michigan took advatnage of the break en route to a vitally-needed home win.  If you watch the game, the impact of Koenig’s absence was palpable; the Badgers were uncharacteristically disjointed on offense, and despite Michigan missing free throws late, Wisconsin could never get into offensive sets efficiently and had trouble even getting shots UP quickly in the last minute.

If you follow on Twitter @TheMarchManiacs, I tried to get an update out for anyone who might be following the pick blindly, HOPEFULLY that steered a few of you away and to safer waters (like Oregon or Gonzaga).  I’ll count the game as a “loss” for my official record, but as most of you who read regularly have heard me say often – I try to put wagers in closer to game time and I generally suggest you do as well – so in real life, my daily pick headed out West with an enjoyable late night trip with the Zags.  Alas, I published it – so I’ll eat the L.

Today is the typical light Friday fare with very few high-major games on the schedule.  As usual, the A-10 swoops in to the rescue and the Pac-12 is on Fox Sports 1 tonight with a 10pm tip between Cal and Stanford.

Here’s my favorite play on tonight’s limited board.

Today’s College Basketball Pick:

Valpo Crusaders at Oakland Grizzlies -2

Oakland notched one of the biggest wins of the season when they opened Horizon League play with a convincing win AT Valpo.  It sent mid-major shockwaves that Valpo may not only fail to even challenge for an at-large bid, but that winning the league seemed not just uncertain but unlikely.

Things have changed since that fateful encounter.  Valpo has won nine of their last ten including road wins at Milwaukee and Cleveland State and checks in tonight at 21-5 and 11-2 in conference play.  Meanwhile, Oakland followed up their monumental road win with home losses to Detroit and Cleveland State and has also lost at home to Green Bay.  They are still second in the Horizon at 9-4, but look a long cry from the team that dominated Valpo in their opener.

I was big on Valpo preseason as being a LEGIT Top 25 team.  I though Alex Peters would be no worse than a third team All American and that Valpo had a good chance to wear home jerseys to open the NCAA Tournament.  All that is probably gone, but the season is far from over.  This is still a team with a ton of talent, and with a win tonight sparking a season-ending running of the table, could still claw their way to a #12-ish seed and well-positioned for the dreaded 5/12 upset.

Their loss to Oregon doesn’t hurt them.  But losses to Santa Clara and the home loss to Oakland have relegated them to “run the table and pray” or more likely, win the Horizon Tourney.  They no longer play their tournament at the host site of the top seed, opting this year for the more neutral Detroit setting, so winning the league isn’t AS vital as before, but with a fringe at-large still in play, there’s little room for error.

I think Valpo comes up big tonight and avenges their earlier loss.  Oakland has shown plenty of home vulnerability, so returning the favor on the road tonight is far from out of the question.  Valpo had a really bad night in their first meeting, shooting 3 of 14 from distance and just 36.2% from the floor overall.  Bad shooting always owes SOME credit to good defense, but in truth, Valpo missed a lot of makeable shots in that game.  I’m looking for a regresion to the mean tonight and a more productive night for the Crusaders.

This game is fluctating between pick ‘em to a few points Oakland’s way.  I’m good with Valpo in that range either way, as I think they win this game straight up and show some muscle tonight.

Today’s Pick:  Valpo Crusaders +2