Before getting today’s free picks, a melancholy farewell to coaching legend Dean Smith. I was fortunate to sit spellbound and watch him win his second national title live in the Superdome in New Orleans as a kid (thanks Pop for faking that doctor’s note to school and taking me to the Final Four). Dean Smith was a true class act and a legend, and his incredible footprint in basketball lives on through the numerous coaches and players who benefited from his tutelage.
From sad news, to some mea culpas… Man, I got smoked last week. No other way around it. There were a few real tough losses in the mix, but losing is losing and I did more than enough last week to last me for a long, long while. The culmination of a week of futility was mirrored by one of the best halves of basketball in recent memory. I whiffed on Notre Dame yesterday even with a ton of points going to the Irish, but even though I lost – that first half Duke played was simply spectacular. The Irish are still a really good team and a darkhorse Final Four contender. But that display put on by Duke leaves some legitimate hope that this NCAA Tournament is NOT a foregone conclusion. Seeing Duke (and Virginia) yesterday tells me the ACC will be a factor in March and a definite potential landmine on the ‘Cats cruise to immortality.
So much happened yesterday it’s hard to cover it all, so let’s hit on highlights. Villanova avenged their loss to Georgetown in similar dominant (though nothing quite equals) fashion as Duke over ND yesterday. Arizona and Kansas threw a blanket on heating Final Four talks by losing to Arizona State and Oklahoma State respectively, and of course Gonzaga still looms with a question mark winning with ease again against a team that couldn’t reasonably expect to beat them.
Today’s Free Pick:
Clemson Tigers at Miami Hurricanes -6
Miami looks like an NCAA Tournament time most days, but certainly has some no-show clunkers on their resume. They looked great beating the Gators in November. They looked stunning in the decimation of Duke in Cameron. They looked inept in losses to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky, and this last week was BIG trouble, losing by 20 to a lousy Georgia Tech team and following it up with back to back losses to Louisville and Georgia Tech. That makes today a virtual last-stand for the 14-8 Hurricanes. Their quality wins give them a little wiggle room, but their three bad losses keep their margin for error lower than it otherwise would stand.
Enter Clemson. They have the same 14-8 record as Miami, but it lacks the extremes on both poles. They don’t have 20+ point losses to EKU or Georgia Tech on the resume, but they do have losses to Florida State and Rutgers, as well as starting the season 1-2 after losing to Gardner Webb and Winthrop. Given the extreme early nature of the losses, the committee (and me) are more willing to put those in the distance. In the immediacy, the Tigers have been really good. They’ve won four straight conference games and six of eight overall. They’ve lost to the big boys; UVA, UNC, and L’ville, but aside from those three Top Four seed-quality teams, they are 6-1 against the middle of the pack.
I don’t love Clemson, but at 6-4 in the ACC and with no bad conference losses, it’s hard to ignore their surging bubble-worthiness. Miami is in a real funk, and while they do have some greatness lurking deep inside of them, it seems the clunkers are more prevalent.
I like Clemson to keep this one close, and maybe even steal a huge win on the road that would push them ahead of UM in the crowded ACC bubble picture.