New Mexico Lobos at Cincinnati Bearcats -6 (Total: 138)
It has been a pretty slow week in college hoops with the Holidays, but there is a hidden gem tonight in the Queen City. This game will go largely under the radar, but if you have a chance to pick it up, it is an interesting barometer game.
The Mountain West is no worse than the fifth best conference in the country this season, and is easily better than the beleaguered Pac 12. UNLV is a legit Final Four contender and San Diego State is a solid second-weekend level tournament team. Wyoming is undefeated (though lightly tested) and Boise State, Colorado State and Air Force are all only carrying two losses. However, in my opinion, the only team with a legit chance to stay even with UNLV and SDSU is the New Mexico Lobos.
Steve Alford once again has a sure-fire tourney team. They haven’t knocked off any huge elite teams, but with wins over UConn, Indiana State (which looks a lot better after they beat Miami), George Mason, and Davidson they do have some quality wins under their belt. Even the loss last week to South Dakota State isn’t a terrible one (SDSU’s Nate Wolters is one of the best players in the country). However, tonight’s true road game at #8 Cincinnati is their best chance to launch themselves into the Top 25 permanently.
Cincinnati has a similar narrative to New Mexico, without the one semi-questionable loss. The Bearcats are undefeated, and though they don’t have a huge slate of impressive wins, they have ridden the natural attrition that befalls early non-conference play all the way to the #8 ranking in the country. Their best wins are Alabama, Xavier and Oregon; all sound way better than they are. None of the three are going to the tourney. In fact, unless Iowa State or Marshall do some unexpected conference damage, Cincinnati doesn’t have a win over a tourney team yet this season.
That makes tonight’s game dire for UC as well.
I’m not sure there is a huge home court advantage tonight for Cincinnati, as the game is being played downtown at the Fifth Third Center as opposed to on-campus at The Shoe. It will also be the first time they have played a legit opponent with similar caliber athletes and I think they will have some struggles at times to score tonight.
This should be a good game, and it is a great opportunity to get an early glimpse if Cincinnati is truly a Big East contender or simply a team that has fattened up a bit on some soft opponents. I think it is likely a slight combination of both. They might squeak out a win tonight, but I don’t see them covering a six point spread.
Free Pick: New Mexico Lobos +6