It’s home stretch time in college hoops land, the final three week sprint to the finish for teams balancing precariously on the dreaded bubble. With the expansion of the field to include 68 teams, as well as the relative “down-year” for strong mid-major at-large contenders, more teams then ever find themselves with a chance, albeit nowhere close to a guarantee, to merit an invitation to the Big Dance.
There are true must-win games for a host of teams tonight. South Carolina hosts Florida this evening, the Gators are pretty safe, but an upset win for the Gamecocks would move them to 14-8, 5-4 in SEC play and enter them back into the discussion.
Same situation for Colorado tonight when they host Texas A&M – who looked like a lock and a Top 4 seed just two weeks ago. However, if the Buffs can defend their home court they would actually pass Texas A&M in the conference standings and at yet another team into the “soft bubble” discussion.
It’s the best time of the year for college hoops, with about 50 games to choose from tonight, pick a few winners and enjoy the action.
Today’s Free College Basketball Picks:
Northwestern Wildcats @ Michigan Wolverines -4
Michigan is certainly not in the NCAA discussion this season, but their recent play does suggest some cause for optimism. They played #1 Ohio State very tough in Columbus for about 36 minutes, and they already own road wins over Penn State and Michigan State.
Last month Northwestern beat Michigan 74-60 at home, tonight the Wolverines look to even the season series on their home floor. Northwestern is all but eliminated from any hope of receiving their first EVER NCAA Tournament invitation, and a loss tonight will pull the plug.
However, both team do have a realistic chance at making the NIT, and tonight’s contest will go a long way towards that aim. Michigan is playing good basketball of late, winning three of their four previous contests, while things have been a little more uneven for Northwestern. They suffered a humiliating 28-point loss at home to Wisconsin, the followed it up with a double-digit loss to Minnesota. However in their two most recent games they lost by just one to Ohio State, and beat Illinois by one.
That tells me that if Northwestern brings their best effort, they can be a competitive ballclub. However, those best-efforts have usually come at home. I like Tim Hardaway Jr. and the Michigan Wolverines to get a big win at home.
PICK: Michigan Wolverines -4
Richmond Spiders -5.5 @ George Washington Colonials
Richmond is one of the growing list of teams that falls squarely on the bubble. They have a decent resume, with non-conference wins over Purdue, VCU and Seton Hall, yet they also own losses to Iona, Georgia Tech and Bucknell. They enter tonight’s game suddenly back in the A-10 race at 7-2, after both Xavier and Duquesne each suffered a surprising first conference loss last week.
The Spiders have looked like the team most thought would make a return trip to the Tournament, going 5-1 over their past six games, their only blemish a 85-62 game against Xavier that was close in the first half and then got away from the Spiders in the second half. Including in that stretch is a 68-58 win over George Washington.
For GW it has been a mixed bag. They started strong (3-0) in league play thanks to a light early schedule, and have sense struggle, losing five of seven, including a recent stretch of three straight double-digit losses against better competition (Xavier, St. Bonnaventure, Richmond).
The Colonials have generally been bad against quality competition this season; every single game they have played against an RPI Top 100 team they have lost by at least ten points (0-7 in that stretch). Tonight? It’s a Top 50 opponent, and a desperate one at that, knowing they can’t afford any more questionable losses if they want to make the tourney.
I like Richmond on the road – they are a far superior team, as long as they bring their focus they should have little trouble getting the road win.
PICK: Richmond Spiders -5.5