We are entering that weird couple weeks of the college basketball season where most of the glamour big-time pre-conference matchups have already happened (or are waiting for New Year’s Eve), and we are still two weeks away from the start of most major conference play. And of course there’s all that “it’s final exams” stuff too, but for us the fans, there are not many games on the slate and there is some real slop to muddle through. There may be a few days where I simply do not have a pick for you, because feigning to know a ton about tonight’s Sacred Heart vs. Hartford game feels a little disingenuous. But, I am a giant mid-major hoops nerds, so I will do my best to deliver you a pick, even if it is a game you probably don’t want to (or can’t) watch.
But first, what a weekend in college hoops. Dramatic upsets, tense games between seemingly mismatched foes – parity reigns supreme in 2015-2016 as there simply isn’t a Kentucky juggernaut with a second clear tier (last year, Wisconsin, Duke, Arizona, Gonzaga) lurking right behind them. You can cling to the notion that Michigan State is #1, but there are at least seven teams that would be favored against them on a neutral floor tonight.
It’s going to be a fun ride, and this week notwithstanding, it’s just starting to heat up.
Today’s Free Pick:
Cal Poly Mustangs @ St. Mary’s Gaels -8.5
Ok, so if you are a casual fan, you might very well be unaware that Cal Poly actually plays basketball. I am pretty sure that is where the dudes in Big Bang Theory work (could be wrong, so please don’t bug Kevin with emails if I am), but it definitely is not a school known for their hoops.
But hidden inside the Mustangs 5-3 record is some pretty quality work. They lost by just two at UNLV to open the season. They lost by a mere field goal two nights later in Pauley Pavilion (a place where Kentucky has lost by more and a team that just won AT Gonzaga). They have a third loss to IPFW, also by 2 points (IPFW has one of the best records in the nation ATS by the way). Other than that, a string of five wins. Granted, beating Austin Peay and Fresno State isn’t cause for a parade, but that win over Antelope Valley is pretty big (not screwing with you -that was a real game that ended 85-55, and possibly threatened their future hunting license)
The point is, Cal Poly has gone on the road to face big time programs and acquitted themselves very well. However, there were picked middle of the pack in a better-than-advertised Big West with UC-Irvine, Riverside, and Long Beach. This is a solid basketball team who won’t be a push-over, but certainly has a very stern test tonight against a team that appears to have reloaded more quickly than some anticipated. St. Mary’s was thought to be in transition, instead, they look like they always do; a dangerous NCAA Tournament-level team.
St. Mary’s sounds familiar; it is the school that spawned Patty Mills, Matty Delavedova, and of course, Oman Samhan (loved that guy). They’ve been a decent foil to Gonzaga’s conference dominance and a perennial NCAA Tournament team for the better part of the last decade. They enter with a nice 7-1 record and, more importantly to me, a nice margin of victory over some comparable foes to Cal Poly. They hammered Stanford by 17, and they own double digit wins over Cal-Irvine and UC Davis. They also obliterated a decent Manhattan team by 26. Their only loss is a four-point road loss at Cal, which is actually fairly impressive.
Tonight they are back at home. And, yes, Cal Poly has hung with some big name foes on the road, but those were first week of the season. St. Mary’s has started to blend and gel and won’t be taking this game lightly. Look for the balanced Gael attack to be too efficient tonight at home. They have six guys averaging at least nine points a game, and all of them shoot over 53% from the floor except for one who shoots 49.6%. This is a smart, disciplined team who should be able to get a double-digit win over a decent opponent tonight. They have a younger roster in years past with their main rotation comprised of two frosh, two sophomores and a pair of juniors and they have started to really click together in the last few games.