We notched another easy win last night with UMass going to Ohio and handling their business. The Minutemen are now a legitimate 10-0 and look like a sure-fire NCAA team and a contender in the surprisingly deep and talented Atlantic 10. You could make legitimate cases for Dayton, UMass and VCU being opening round tourney favorites, and St. Louis is still a dangerous foe as well. So much for the league collapsing under the departures of Xavier, Temple and Butler…
Meanwhile, another mid-major darling is showing there are anything BUT “mid-major” this season. Wichita State is the REAL DEAL folks. They notched their fifth quality win last night, this time over a bubble-like Alabama squad, and are a solid 11-0. They could very well be this year’s Gonzaga – the mid-major contender for a #1 seed that everyone will poke at and scrutinize. Don’t be surprised if they have only one or two losses and are a Top 5 team heading into March.
There’s some decent games on the slate tonight, but only one that is absolutely captivating. So let’s dig into the marquee matchup of the night.
UCLA Bruins vs. Duke Blue Devils -4 (@ Madison Square Garden)
The Bruins are off to a nice start in Steve Alford’s rookie season. They are 9-1 with their only loss being a tough game at a tough Missouri squad. They have plenty of talent, despite losing Shabazz Mohammad to the NBA Draft, and more than a few folks around the program have postulated it could actually be addition by subtraction.
Tonight is technically a neutral floor game, but do not underestimate the huge home court advantage the Blue Devils have cultivated over the years at MSG. They are a national brand more than any other college basketball program, and have been playing several games a year at MSG for decades.
Duke isn’t a defensive juggernaut, but I think they match up well with UCLA. The Bruins struggled against their best opponent this season, Missouri, shooting just 33.7% from the floor in that contest. Duke is allowing about 45% shooting this season. However, you can consider the Blue Devils not just the better team, but the presumptive HOME team tonight. They have won 15 of their last 18 games at MSG, basically making it Cameron Indoor II – just on a much larger platform.
I don’t see UCLA, or anyone in the country, stopping Jabari Parker, and the Duke shooters are beginning to round into form around him as they learn to play a slightly different style this season than the traditional four-wing gunning lineups.
I think it’ll be a decent game, but I think in the end Duke will cover the four points with relative ease.