Creighton vs Duke Pick + Bonus NCAAB March 24th

The only undefeated team in the history of the NCAA Tournament puts their unblemished mark on the line tonight.  Granted, the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast University have only played one tournament game in the school’s brief basketball history, but it is a fun stat nonetheless.  Their opponent is certainly not as formidable as the Georgetown Hoyas, but this is a theme that has played out many times in NCAA Tournaments past; the plucky upstart plays an amazing game, gathers the attention and respect of the basketball world – and then goes out an gets whooped in their next game in the Round of 32.

Can FGCU avoid that fate tonight against a good San Diego State team?

Let’s dig inside that matchup as well as a bonus pick in a preview of tonight’s NCAA Round of 32 action.

#15 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. #7 San Diego State Aztecs -7.5

Everything for SDSU starts with do-everything star Jamal Frankin.  Franklin was the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals.  Sometimes it can be a negative for a team to be so entirely dependent on one player, but for the Aztecs it is more a compliment to Jamal Franklin’s ability than it is an indictment of a feeble roster.  The only question mark for tonight is how fresh he will be after expending a ton of energy Friday and limping on occasion after tweaking his ankle.  There is no mention of him being hurt anywhere, but it is something to keep an eye on tonight as the game progresses. (Maybe it’s those crazy Timberland boot-looking sneakers he’s wearing….)

SDSU is far from a one-man band.  Xavier Thames and Chase Tarpley provide plenty of offensive punch as well.  The two combined for just 15 points Friday night, but averaged a combined 23 this season.  I’d expect a little more of a contribution from the supporting duo tonight.  They have been a balanced team all season despite Franklin leading in all categories.

It’s fair to assume you have a pretty good idea what you are going to get from San Diego State.  The bigger question is what is coming from FGCU??  Are they the athletic, loose, potent team that stormed the court against Georgetown?  Or are they just another #15 flash in the pan, soon to regress back towards the norm?  No #15 seed has ever advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and only Lehigh last year against Xavier even put up much of a fight.

However, this FGCU team feels a little different.  They have already beaten Miami this season.  They played Duke head-up at Cameron Indoor for 33 minutes before succumbing late.  They played well on the road against Iowa State and St. John’s.   While they might be new to the national stage, they are not new to playing big conference top-tier competition.  They simply will not be intimidated by the name on the jersey; particularly Mountain West foe San Diego State.

It feels a bit ambitious to expect them to WIN outright, but an eight point cushion feels like a nice soft place to hedge.  I’ll take the Eagles with the points in what will hopefully be one of the evening’s most entertaining games.

Free Pick:  Florida Gulf Coast Eagles +7.5

#7 Creighton Blue Jays vs. #2 Duke Blue Devils -5.5

Many of the experts are leaning Creighton tonight, but I think some of that is a result of the trend of disrespecting the Blue Devils.  It is easy to poke at Duke and question their athletic ability in big NCAA Tournament games.  But if athleticism is going to be their undoing, is Creighton really the opponent to expose it??

Doug McDermott played great against Cincinnati, but they will face a much more concerted and disciplined defense in duke tonight.  The Blue Devils have good size with Plumlee and Kelly, and more importantly, have a pair of bigs who won’t get lost having to move out of the paint to keep an eye on the All-American.  Creighton’s Echinique is an animal in the post and very physical – those are the type of guys who have given Mason Plumlee some troubles this season, but the clear edge to Duke’s guards should be enough to counter balance things, even if Plumlee doesn’t have a great game.

This line opened at 4 and has moved all the way to 5.5 or 6 in some books.  If you got Duke a day ago, you’ll enjoy and extra point of cushion.  If you are just now getting to the party, don’t let the extra point sway you.  I like to Duke to win and cover tonight and advance to a much-anticipated Sweet 16 date with Tom Izzo and the Spartans.

Free Pick:  Duke Blue Devils -5.5

Chris Scheeren / Author