The first few games of the college basketball season are interesting. You see good teams put up fifty or sixty points wins against schools you couldn’t find on a map with three hints. And you’ll occasionally see good teams struggle against teams they’ll beat by 50 if they played again in three weeks. Such is the case with yesterday’s Kentucky win over Buffalo. The Cats trailed at halftime before putting down the defensive clamps and using their supreme size and athleticism on the boards to run away in the second half. It was far from the impressive test-run Big Blue faithful wanted to see before the marquee matchup with Kansas tomorrow night, but it is a good reminder of two things. One, this team is young and will have to learn to play together. And two, they are not going 40-0.
Meanwhile, Top 25 and media darling Harvard lost their opener to Holy Cross. It’s a bad loss. While it is unfair that most big guys can drop a few bad games and no one cares, for the Crimson, playing in the Ivy League affords so few opportunities for quality wins. The only decent games on their schedule are BC, Arizona State, UMass and a trip to Virginia. If the Crimson want to be wearing home jerseys in the opening round of the Big Dance, they are going to need win at least two of those games and look good in the trip to UVA.
Today’s the last day before the REAL kickoff to the season, so let’s try to grab another winner before we dive in to the big pool.
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Today’s Free Pick:
SMU Mustangs at Gonzaga Bulldogs -7.5
The Bulldogs don’t lose games in The Kennel as a rule, and I expect that to be especially true with this year’s tantalizingly beautiful palette of talent. They are built for a March run. They have an elite senior point guard who can score and distribute in Kevin Pangos. They have stretch fours and wings, including for Kentucky player Kyle Wiltjer, and tough, strong guards like Gary Bell, Jr. and Byron Wesley (USC transfer). Add in the size in the paint in returning big man Przemek Karnowski and incoming freshman Donatus Sabonis. I’m all in on the Zags this year.
Meanwhile, Larry Brown has this SMU program in a place they’ve never been; ranked preseason and on the cusp of their first tourney bid in decades. But the loss of prize recruit Emanuel Mudiay to China cannot be overstated. It takes them from darkhorse Final Four contender, to “can Nic Moore really carry them all the way to March?” Things are especially complicated tonight without Markus Kennedy, whom SMU is still awaiting word of his academic eligibility. He is the Mustangs second-leading returning scorer and his absence leaves WAY too much on Moore’s shoulders tonight.
Gonzaga is bigger, deeper and playing at home in one of the toughest road venues in all of college sports. I like the Zags to win by double digits tonight and against an SMU team that will likely be substantially better after Christmas. It’s a good time to catch them, and a great opportunity to get a good resume win right out of the shoot.