It was a wacky day yesterday in college hoops with favorites falling or being challenged all over the place. The Big 12 had the most drama, with three games between ranked opponents – and the two bottom feeders stealing the show. TCU should have beaten West Virginia if not for several dramatic late buckets and a questionable last-second foul in overtime. The Horned Frogs fought valiantly, but conference wins continue to be elusive and the 10-0 start has faded into distant memory. Meanwhile, the other last place team got a huge stunner as Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State. As good as the Cyclones are, not many top tier teams have a pair of losses as bad as South Carolina and Texas Tech on their resume.
Meanwhile a second half DePaul collapse saw a 50-point first half and six point lead somehow evaporate into a 13-point loss at Xavier, and cost us the cover by a single point and cost us a winning day at the same time. That was a tough one to swallow, but let’s rebound today and see if we can cap off the week with a few winners.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Duke Blue Devils -6 at St. John’s Red Storm
The hype for this game will focus solely on Coach K going for win #1000 – in the mecca of hoops and on the same floor he passed his mentor Bobby Knight for the most wins in Div I Men’s Basketball history. But the more compelling storylines are Duke looking to re-solidify the #1 seed status after a bobble two weeks ago against NC State and Miami, and St. John’s trying to re-establish a Tourney-worthy profile.
The Johnnies were nationally ranked and flying high a few weeks ago. But now they are just 2-4 in the Big East, their RPI has sagged to the mid-forties, and they have losses to DePaul, Seton Hall and Butler – likely a few teams who might be similarly bubble-mates.
The key to this game is the defense of Duke. When they get spread thin on the perimeter and their guard can’t contain dribble penetration and Okafor is forced to roam, bad things happen (see: Miami). I don’t think St. John’s can do that to them however, and I see them losing this game on the backboards. Duke has some size and athleticism, and St. John’s has a -2.2 rebound differential – one of the worst in the nation among major conference schools – and particularly staggering when you think of the cupcakes they loaded up on in November and December.
I’ll take Coach K once again notching a big milestone in MSG.
Bonus Pick: Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio State Buckeyes -9
My first thought: Is this is misprint? Second thought: At what point will people take IU seriously this season?
I whiffed on the Hoosiers earlier this week as they picked apart Maryland with their perimeter shooting and insane hustle. Granted, this is a different team as Assembly Hall – as seemingly all major teams are this season, home/away Jeckyll and Hydes. But nine points to an Ohio State team that is 4-3 in conference play including an overtime win over Minnesota and a two-point win over Northwestern? That seems a bit ambitious.
I like the Hoosiers today, and wouldn’t be opposed to a small flyer on a huge money line straight-up winner. They’ve already won at Nebraska and Illinois, and except for a bad night in East Lansing, have been the second most consistent team in the league. They have excellent guard play and unless their shooting completely abandons them today, they should fare no worse than keeping things close.
Keep an eye on the Blackmon/Russell matchup – it’s as good a freshman matchup as you will see all season unless Kentucky and Duke meet in the Final Four.
Last thoughts: No officialy picks or write-ups, but I love Pitt getting 8 at home against an offensively-challenged Louisville team. Pitt is gritty enough to make this an ugly slug-fest. I also lean to Notre Dame keeping it rolling on the road tonight at NC State. That team has got something special going offensively – think Atlanta Hawks-lite. They share the ball and every one can shoot…