It was shaping up to be an enormous breakthrough, respect-grabbing week for the Big Ten in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. They had a commanding 8-3 lead after Iowa went into Chapel Hill and knocked off the struggling Tar Heels (who told you they were overrated two weeks ago?), Indiana routed Pitt, Michigan held off Syracuse and Purdue knocked off NC State.
But in true vintage ACC fashion, they roared back in the nightcaps; Virginia spanked Maryland, Georgia Tech won at Northwestern and most impressively, Duke went IN to Madison and handled the Badgers with relative ease, shooting 65% from the floor in the process. The Big Ten still took the overall standings 8-6, but it could have been a lot worse.
Meanwhile, it looks like Duke is the clear-cut top challenger to the Kentucky Wildcats and perhaps the only team that can derail them. It’s possible Texas stuns me Friday night (unlikely) and perhaps Louisville can hang with them in an intense rivalry game, but to this point, no team other than Duke has looked capable of beating Kentucky if they play well.
By the way, the Sixers won yesterday, so….
Today’s Free Pick:
LSU Tigers at West Virginia Mountaineers -8.5
Look, I get it. No one likes SEC basketball. But LSU, a team most people projected sa a tournament team getting eight and a half points at West Virginia, a team that has played well early, but not one projected as a March contender? It seems insanely high.
LSU has earned some skepticism with a few early losses. The Old Dominion loss looks a little less terrible after their commanding win over VCU. The Clemson loss was close, but admittedly not a game a potential tourney team should lose. However, in their last outing they showed some signs of righting the ship, ripping a decent UMass team 82-60. They still have one of the best frontcourts in the country and should be no worse than fourth in the SEC by the end of the season.
Meanwhile, West Virginia is off to their best start in five years at 7-0, but before anyone starts dreaming of a return to the Final Four, keep in mind it hasn’t been a murderer’s row of a schedule outside of the UConn win. West Virginia’s strength is also a solid frontcourt, but I expect them to be challenged tonight.
West Virginia may very well win at home, but 8.5 is a ton to swallow. I’ll take the talented Tigers to keep it close at the very least.
Arkansas Razorbacks at Iowa State -7.5
I’ve been big on Iowa State and Geoges Niang the last two years, but this line is another perplexing one to me. Arkansas is 6-0, looking fantastic, and will have the best player on the floor tonight in Bobby Portis. They absolutely hammered Wake Forest, they went to SMU and won, and they just blasted a very good Iona team that could very well be in the Big Dance. I think people and especially Vegas, are really sleeping on a quality ballclub.
I still like Iowa State, but their early returns have been unconvincing. They have a decent win at home over Alabama but a surprisingly lopsided loss to Maryland. They have some talent, but appear to be missing DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim pretty significantly.
Again, they could very well win at home tonight, but 7.5 is another big number to swallow. I’ll take another SEC road dog.