It’s a pretty packed day in college hoops, so let’s get right to some free picks and make it a day full of winners.
Cleveland State at North Carolina State -17.5
The Wolfpack entered the season ranked in the top five in most preseason polls, but have had a rougher start than many expected. This team is still loaded with talent and experience, but they haven’t quite put it all together yet. To me, this is a classic example of a team getting hot for a few weeks late in the NCAA Tournament, then entering the following season overrated (think Georgia Tech the year after they went to the Final Four, the were ranked #3 the next season but barely made the tourney).
North Carolina State was a #10 seed last year, meaning they were around the 35th to 40th best team in the country most of the year. In their last four games they have lost to Michigan, were blown out by Oklahoma State, struggled (82-80) against UNC Ashville, and squeaked past UConn at home.
Cleveland State isn’t a great team, but they aren’t awful either. They enter at 6-2, with a loss at Robert Morris, and a blow-out loss to Michigan (no shame there). I don’t think they will even come close to beating NC State today, but seventeen is a ton of points, and I think they can cover that margin.
Free Pick: Cleveland State +17.5
Colorado Buffaloes at Kansas Jayhawks -11
I almost forgot this isn’t a conference game anymore, so Colorado’s chance to end their 20-game losing streak to the Jayhawks. For the last 50 years Kansas has basically penciled in a “win” whenever they saw the Buffs coming to town. They are 52-5 lifetime against CU.
Don’t think that is lost on Colorado’s players, coaches and fans. Very quietly, Colorado appears to be the second best team in the Pac 12 and a good bet to make their second straight trip to the tourney, something they couldn’t even muster when Chauncey Billups played there in the 90’s. They started the year with a bang, roaring into the Top 25 with wins over Murray State, Baylor, and Dayton. They also have beaten Air Force and Colorado State easily. They took the odd loss at Wyoming last week to earn their first loss, but overall, things have been good in Boulder.
Kansas is…well, Kansas. Despite the loss of National POY runner-up Thomas Robinson and two other starters, they appear to be back in their familiar position atop the Big 12 and a factor in the national picture. A big reason is Jeff Withey and his 5.7 blocks per game. He gives them a nice defensive anchor, but doesn’t quite solve some of their offensive deficiencies.
I like Colorado and star Ryan Dinwiddie to give KU a real test today. I think they fall JUST short, but like them to keep it within single digits.
Free Pick: Colorado Buffaloes +11
Illinois Fightin’ Illini at Gonzaga Bulldogs -11
Both of these teams are off to fantastic 9-0 starts and a win tonight would really solidify them as national contenders in 2012-2013. Gonzaga, surprisingly, is off to their best start in school history since joining Division I. They have played very well this year, though they have benefited by playing a fistful of teams having down years; Clemson, West Virginia, Washington State and Oklahoma are all likely missing the Big Dance this year, despite formidable names on the front of the jersey.
Illinois could try to argue the same thing, but the truth is, their 9-0 is just kind of soft. They have wins over USC and Georgia Tech who are terrible, and Butler who is a bubble team at best, despite their thrilling win over Carolina in Maui.
The thing that has gotten my attention with Illinois is how WELL they’ve played in those wins. It is normal to sleepwalk and play down to the competition a bit, but they beat the three best teams on their schedule (granted, not tourney teams) by a combined 60 points! Their backcourt of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson won’t be outclassed many times this season, even in matchups with Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan. I expect them to hang with Kevin Pangos and the ‘Zag guards tonight in Spokane.
I realize this is Illinois first true road game this season, and that The Kennel is one of the toughest places to play in the country and is a LOOOOONG flight from Champaign… but twelve points?? That seems likea HUGE line for a Gonzaga team that struggled with the athleticism of Clemson last month in the Old Spice Classic.
I am not telling you to go moneyline on this pick (though if you can find a book offering one, it might be worth a small flyer), but I love Illinois keeping this thing respectable, and can’t see them as a legit twelve point underdog.
Free Pick: Illinois +12