“Go Big Blue” applied in two of last night’s big games; albeit with very different results. For the Carolina Blue, it was a strong, assertive message-sending night in Chestnut Hill. The much-maligned Tarheels moved into a tie atop the ACC with a thorough dismissal of Boston College. The win put Carolina in an excellent position to start thinking about seeding rather than “will we get in” in regards to the NCAA Tournament. If this weekend’s performance in The Garden was any indication, Duke might not be as unrivaled in conference play as everyone thought just a few weeks ago…
For the Big Blue of the Kentucky Wildcats, it was as troubling a result as it was surprising. Ole Miss drained a three at the buzzer to send the Wildcats to yet another defeat, dropping them to 4-3 in SEC conference play. Granted, Kentucky was on the road, but losing to Ole Miss really can’t be classified as a “good loss.” The Wildcats are still a near lock for the Big Dance, but losses like last night’s have them trending towards a #6/#7 seed and likely first weekend exit rather than the #3/#4 that most of their fans expected.
Adding even more consternation for the Lexington faithful is the resurgent play of Billy Donovan’s Gators. They staged a nice comeback late in the second half and then held off Vanderbilt in OT last night in the O’Connell Center to move into sole possession of first place in the hyper-competitive SEC East. They now sit one game up on Tennessee, one and a half ahead of Kentucky and a full two and a half games in front of Vanderbilt and Georgia.
Conference play is definitely heating up, and tonight’s Free Picks focus on two of the top teams in two very interesting leagues; the Big East, one of the nation’s unquestioned top conferences, and the Atlantic 10, whose recent March performances make the “mid-major” tab almost a tad too dismissive.
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Today’s Free College Basketball Picks:
Syracuse Orangemen @ Connecticut Huskies -3
Three weeks ago Syracuse was ranked #3 in the nation and was undefeated. It is hard to believe that tonight quite likely could be their fifth consecutive loss, a scenario that would likely drop them out of the Top 25 for the first time this season. Such is life in the brutal Big East Conference.
UConn has had their share of struggles lately as well. Kemba Walker’s scoring has tapered off slightly, but more importantly his shooting percentage has plummeted. Quite simply this indicates that teams have begun to focus all their defensive efforts on shutting down the Big East’s leading scorer, and Walker has yet to make the adjustment to defer to his teammates and instead create easy shots for them.
Syracuse is notorious for their matchup zone and the trouble it causes for opponents. However, a matchup zone might be just the type of look that loosens things up for Walker and allows him to get some clean looks from deep behind the arc.
This is an important game for both teams. The loser realistically is eliminated from any hope of claiming the Big East regular season crown. More importantly, a loss puts both in the jumbled pack between 6th and 11th that will be furiously jockeying for position, as well as inclusion, in the tourney down the stretch.
Give me UConn at home continuing the Orange’s surprisingly rapid implosion. Lay the three and take the Huskies in Storrs.
PICK: Connecticut Huskies -3 (-110) @ SportsInteraction.com <– special Super Bowl week bonuses!!
Xavier Musketeers -8 @ Charlotte 49’ers
After some disappointing losses against their tougher non-conference foes, including a disheartening 22-point pasting at the hands of Crosstown Shootout rival Cincinnati, there was some legitimate concern Xavier might miss the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in eleven years. Suffice it to say that fear has subsided.
Xavier is a perfect 7-0 in Atlantic 10 play, and they haven’t just been winning games, they’ve been destroying teams. In their seven wins the Muskies have won by an average of 15.7 ppg. They haven’t just been loading up on cupcakes either. With the exception of the surprising Duquesne Dukes, Xavier has successfully taken out all of their foremost challengers; Temple, Richmond, Dayton, UMass and Rhode Island.
Charlotte on the other hand has been a complete disaster. Last season the 49’ers were a surprising bubble team most of the season before eventually tapering off and settling for an NIT bid. This season they are 9-12, and a disappointing 1-6 in Atlantic 10 play. Even being at home has been of little help. Charlotte has dropped home games to LaSalle, UMass and Davidson this season – by an average of 12.7 points. That makes the eight they are getting tonight against a far superior Xavier squad seem way too low.
I like the Muskies and the All-American consideration-worthy point guard Tu Holloway to win easily and move to 8-0 in the A-10 and continue their climb up the seeding ladder heading into Selection Sunday.
PICK: Xavier Musketeers -8 (-105) @ 5Dimes.com <- $520 free on first deposit