What a weekend in college hoops. Ohio State flexed their muscle in Champaign, beating the Illini to remain unbeaten and begin the week as the undisputed #1 team in the country. However they won’t get long to pat themselves on the back and the Big Ten gauntlet continues with a visit from Purdue on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, things are getting really interesting in Big Twelve country. Kansas had their stunning 68-game home winning streak halted by Texas, who not only won in Lawrence, but did so convincingly. The win certainly elevates the Longhorns into the growing list of teams who have to be taken seriously as Final Four contenders.
Add Villanova to that list as well. The Wildcats went into Syracuse and lit up the Orange from behind the arc en route to a double digit win in front of 30,000-plus in the always-difficult Carrier Dome. If it weren’t for Texas, Villanova’s win, one of the best this season, would be garnering a lot more notice.
There’s a ton of big games coming up this week as well. The drive towards Selection Sunday is starting to really heat up – it’s going to be a great final month of the regular season in college hoops.
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Today’s Free College Basketball Picks:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ Pitt Panthers -10
On the surface, laying ten feels like too many with a solid Notre Dame team coming into Pittsburgh. Then one digs deeper into the numbers. We talked about some of the jarring home statistics for the Panthers last week before the Syracuse game. Pitt is simply dominant in their home gym.
This is also a particularly difficult matchup for the Irish, whose guards are excellent – but not particularly quick. Pitt plays an aggressive, physical brand of perimeter defense that makes it difficult for point guards to initiate offense. Pitt will defend you fifteen feet beyond the arc and will rarely allow uncontested jump shots. They certainly won’t sit back in a zone and let the Irish’s sharpshooters snipe away from 21-feet.
In order for the Irish to compete, they are going to have to be very physical setting screens, attacking the basket, and be able to penetrate deep into the lane to force the Pitt defense to collapse to the ball in order to kick it out and get clean looks from 3-point range.
Pitt’s home crowd is frenzied, and their defense is tough. The red-flag for me, is that Notre Dame is 0-3 on the road this season. That tells me two things; one, they do not have A SINGLE road win. The second? Why have they only played THREE road games all season?? That’sa strong indicator their 16-4 record might be just a tad inflated.
I like Pitt – who is now 51-1 in their new home gym, including a perfect 9-0 against Top 5 teams, to jump on the Irish early and force a ton of turnovers – and frustration. Gimme Pitt, despite having to lay ten to a quality opponent.
Baylor Bears @ Kansas State Wildcats -5.5
This game could just as easily be called the “Who is more disappointing this season” Bowl. Both teams entered the season with sky-high expectations, particularly Kansas State who entered the season ranked #3 in the country.
Suffice it to say things have not unfolded according to plan in Manhattan. The Wildcats enter tonight’s game at 13-7 and an embarrassing 1-4 in conference play. Not only are they now unranked – they are in real jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament all together. If they have any aspirations of returning to the Big Dance it is imperative they get things rolling tonight and beat Baylor at home.
Easier said than done. Baylor enters the game in a similar desperation mode – desperately needing a quality win to get back in the Big Twelve race and feel a little more solid in their tournament footing. The problem for Baylor is similar to Notre Dame’s above; they haven’t gone on the road all year. The few trips they have made haven’t gone so well, highlighted by last week’s blowout loss at lowly Iowa State.
Kansas State HAS talent; that has never been the issue. Tonight is a last stand of sorts. Do the Wildcats pack it in, or will they band together and fight on their home court? I like the latter and the Wildcats capturing an absolute must-win at home tonight.