After a nice opening night 2-0 against the number, we’re back with a breakdown and free pick in tonight’s showcase game at Madison Square Garden, Arizona versus St. John’s.
I am the first one to loudly tell folks that preseason rankings do wagerers more of a disservice than favor. Take for example the early season home losses by Vanderbilt and Pitt. “Shocking” by ESPN Sportcenter standards, but not for the trained eye of a good college handicapper. So, extrapolating from that theory, it would appear I am leaning towards St. John’s tonight.
Absolutely not. This game is a close line because of the slightly over-rated perceived advantage that being at home in The Garden gives the Red Storm. They technically call the Mecca “home” but it will be many of their young players first contest there after opening the season on campus in Carnasecca Arena. For Arizona, big neutral floors are par for the course. In fact, since 1990, Arizona is 11-1 in Madison Square Garden.
Arizona has a nice infusion of young talent, along with veteran contributors like Josh Fogg and the uplifting return of Keith Parrom. They have a clear experience and overall talent advantage at nearly every position. Both teams are 3-0 on the season, but two of St. John’s win were very shaky; second half comeback victories over William & Mary and Lehigh, neither of whom should be making dance plans for March. If they come out with a similarly lackluster opening half against the Wildcats, they will get blown out of the gym in a hurry and might be playing walk-ons in the final three or four minutes of an embarrassing night.
Not that Arizona’s win leap off the page; victories over Duquesne, Ball State and Valparaiso are not marquee victories, but it is likely two of them will stand up to be RPI Top 100 wins by season’s end. The point is, they have been moderately tested and passed each test with aplomb.
I think they do the same thing tonight on the road, easily covering the two and a half point spread and moving to a perfect 4-0 on the season.