College basketball has the sports stage to itself for the next three days, and fortunately there are some really good games on tap. We are entering the stretch tourney run with about three weeks of regular season jockeying remaining and a bubble as crowded as ever.
Meanwhile, a few teams strengthened or hurt their bubble causes this weekend. Here are a few of the most notable. The Big East continues to be one of the wackiest conferences from top to bottom (save Villanova’s dominance). Xavier dropped a home game to St. John’s to put themselves back ON the bubble, and probably did likewise for the sliding Johnnies. Meanwhile, also in the Queen City, Cincinnati took a damning loss to Tulane after scoring 16 points in the first half to join AAC mates Temple and Tulsa back on the Bubble. And perhaps the most impressive team who continues to claw their way into Tourney consideration are the Purdue Boilermakers. Most pundits still have them on the fringe, but at 9-4 in the Big Ten they’ve done enough in my opinion to erase early losses to Vanderbilt, Garner-Webb and North Florida (but man those are some bad losses).
Staying with the Bubble-theme, an ACC bubbler is seeking their second marquee win in three days tonight. But can they get it at #2 ranked Virginia??
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Today’s Free Pick:
Pitt Panthers at Virginia Cavaliers -12.5
Pitt made me look pretty bad last weekend after their decimated North Carolina with ease. The numbers say Pitt still has real problems, including on the defensive end where they rank 14th in the ACC. But their recent play suggests that perhaps, like Purdue, they have figured some things out lately. They are 4-1 in their last five games with wins over North Carolina, Syracuse and Notre Dame. Their only loss is at Louisville.
Meanwhile, UVA is still winning but it has been pretty tense without All-American front-runner Justin Anderson. They beat Wake by one at home Saturday and scuffled past NC State 51-47 earlier in the week. They are 0-3 ATS in their last three games.
UVA can still defend with ferocity and intensity. They lead the ACC with a 35.9% FG allowed and are limiting opponents to a nation-best 50.9 ppg. But offensively, it still remains to be seen if they can cover up the glaring gap that Justin Anderson leaves behind. They are shooting 16.2% as a team from behind the arc in Anderson, a good floor spacer’s, absence.
Pitt has been good offensively, and it has coincided with a few personnel moves. Sheldon Jeter scored 22 points against UNC in his second straight start, giving Pitt some much-needed offensive juice. I still would be surprised if they spring the upset in Charlottesville, but given the eye-test both teams have exhibited the last week, it’s hard to see them getting boatraced by more than 13 points either.
I’ll bet on a close and entertaining conference battle tonight.