The “is anyone really good?” ranged on this weekend with more highly regarded teams getting dropped by unranked and, in some cases, non-tourney type teams. Louisville became the latest victim last night, losing at Clemson – considered a bottom tier ACC team. The Cardinals had been rolling, but not last night. The same exact story for Purdue, who got dumptrucked in Champaign by light-regarded Illinois. The Boiler have Final Four talent and size but their backcourt inconsistencies must get straightened out or they will take a few more tough losses.
Add in Virginia losing their second straight conference game, ditto for Arizona and Iowa State, and it is getting tougher and tougher to establish a reasonably sized second tier of teams after Kansas, Oklahoma, Maryland, North Carolina and Michigan State. The rest feel like a giant ebbing and flowing group of 45-50 teams.
It is still very possible teams like Villanova, Xavier, Purdue, Iowa State, Duke, Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona settled in to those next three seed lines, but for now, it feels more wide open than any season I can recall…
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Today’s Free Pick:
Maryland Terrapins -2 at Michigan Wolverines
Michigan has been playing better basketball, right? After all, the Wolverines were ranked preseason and have bounced back winning six of their last seven and ten of their last twelve. So they have a great shot against Maryland at home, right?
Well, maybe not. The Wolverines have faced four ranked opponents this year; Xavier, UConn, SMU and Purdue. The closest game was a 14 point loss to SMU. They lost by 16 at home against Xavier and by a combined 42 in trips to SMU and Purdue. Against good competition, the Wolverines have been simply overwhelmed. There isn’t a ton of evidence to support them being ready to handle a visit from one of the few absolutely GOOD teams in the country, Maryland.
The Terps were pushed in their recent road game at Wisconsin, needing a Trimble three at the buzzer to escape, but are still 15-1 on the season and 7-3 ATS in their last ten games. Making matters more slanted is the likely absence of Michigan’s best player and leading scorer, Caris Levert. Levert missed the second half of last season and the Wolverines went 5-9 in his absence, fading rapidly from the NCAA Tourney picture. They are just not a real good team without him. Even if he does play I like Maryland narrowly – if he sits, this line become rather generous.
Maryland is one of the best all-around teams in the country, and I like them to look like it, even on the road at a tough opponent. The injury to Denzel Valentine and Purdue’s struggles has put them in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten. Don’t expect them to give it back tonight.
I’ll take Maryland laying the slim two points.
*** Another game I also really like tonight: Kansas -2 at West Virginia. The Mountaineers have a gaudy record at 14-1, but a really light schedule. The #1 Jayhawks are a brutal matchup.