It’s an absolutely huge day of college hoops. It starts off with a bang at noon on ESPN with Louisville trying to deal Duke their third straight loss for the first time in eight years. It was supposed to be a chance for Coach K’s 1000th victory. Instead, his Devils find themselves at a devil of a crossroads between elite and also-ran. The game is going to be great.
The day doesn’t take its foot off the gas pedal afterwards either. There are three huge Big 12 games, including #9 Kansas facing #11 Iowa State in a huge game towards retaining the Big 12 crown that has been theirs since they started call it the “Big Twelve.” Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia – all contenders, are all in action as well. It’s probably the best conference in the country top to bottom and hardly anyone is paying attention to them.
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There’s a hundred games to choose from, so let’s dive in to today’s action.
Today’s Free Picks:
Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Fighting Irish -6.5
The Irish are still bug favorites today, but I admit I am a little hesitant on a team I liked from the get-go (see the preseason review) now that their only big man is academically suspended. I’m not sure where the inside “fight” will be for the Fighting Irish. The Irish essentially play four guards and one interior player – that being Augstine – and are now left with an enormous void. He was averaging 14.2 ppg and close to seven rebounds, but more importantly, was shooting a nation-best 65.3% from the floor. He was their clean-up man and literally their only option inside.
That’s a big void.
And much like Duke discovered earlier this week, Miami’s guards can scoot. They are blindingly quick and could provide some real issues for the Irish, who defend admirably as a team, but aside from Jackson and Grant, are far from fleet of foot. I think today is a bad matchup for them, and though I like ND and respect what they’ve accomplished thus far, they are in some trouble today.
Michigan State Spartans at Maryland Terrapins -2
The Terps have already gone into East Lansing and won. They are 16-2 and have three professional players on their roster led by freshman All-American candidate Melo Trimble. Yet no one seems to be on board with Turgeon’s Terps, especially Vegas.
Only a two point fave at home? Maryland has started 4-1 in their inaugural Big Ten season and has looked good in the process. Michigan State enters on a three game win streak. But their last win was an overtime win over hapless Northwestern. This is a clear example of the line being influenced by perceptions that go well beyond the current editions of each ballclub.
I like Maryland to win and cover at home and start demanding some long-overdue respect. This team is legit, and I think they show it today.
Utah Utes at Arizona Wildcats -5.5
There are games that might feel bigger by the names (L’ville v. Duke), there are games that might get more attention. There are NO games today bigger and more important than the late night tilt between Utah and Arizona. These are the clear-cut top-two teams in the Pac 12 and their head-to-head matchups will all but certainly settle who wins this league.
The season started with the thought that perhaps Utah could be a decent challenger to the obvious-champ Wildcats. Now, it is fair to ask the question, “is Arizona the one team that can knock off Utah?” If there is a player in the country that deserves to be in the discussion for POY with Jahlil Okafor and Frank the Tank, it’s Utah’s Delon Wright. If you haven’t seen him play yet, you are missing the best two-way guard in the nation. His offensive numbers aren’t as jarring as some like Okafor, Jerian Grant, Bobby Portis, etc., but there is no one better at his position for 94 feet.
Here’s my favorite stat (aside from the “the better team isn’t the one with the better reputation” factor behind this line. Utah is 11-3 ATS this season. That’s insane. Arizona is 8-9-1 ATS. That’s all I need to know. One team is better than anyone wants to give them credit for. One team is good like we thought, but perhaps not quite as great as the sum of its parts.
Can the Utes knock off Arizona in the McKale Center for the first time since joining the Pac 12? Perhaps not. But with a near half-dozen cushion, I’ll take Delon Wright and Utah.