It wasn’t a night full of glamorous matchups in college basketball, but there were two traditionally-powerful programs that took damaging losses last night to put their lengthy NCAA Tournament streaks in jeopardy. Memphis let a golden opportunity to get back into the at-large conversation slip away with a home loss to SMU. The loss leaves the Tigers 17-11 and trending towards a middle seed in the NIT. Meanwhile, it feels impossible to picture the Michigan State Spartans actually missing the NCAA Tournament…until you look at some sobering realities. After last night’s overtime loss to Minnesota in East Lansing, Sparty is just 19-9 with a trip to Wisconsin this weekend and two final home games against Indiana and Purdue. Uh oh… things could get a little scary for Izzo and company if they can’t better defend their home court next week.
Friday’s are always a little slow, but there are a few decent games on the schedule tonight and one I particularly like from an advantageous line perspective. So let’s dive in to tonight appetizer before tomorrow’s awesome feast of hoops.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Valparaiso Crusaders at Cleveland State Vikings -3.5
It’s Friday, so that means Horizon League madness! Ok, so you may not be super geeked up for Horizon hoops, but the league has actually been really entertaining and has three teams that could all win a tournament game or two if they make their field (and don’t sleep on Oakland who is also 11-4 and has played a tough non-con slate). For the second Friday in a row, two of those teams are knotted up for an ESPN contest. Last weekend Cleveland State outlasted Green Bay and Kiefer Sykes to notch a huge overtime win. This week, they’ll be at home trying to pick off first place Valpo to force a tie atop the Horizon League standings.
Both teams come into tonight fresh off surprising losses. But rather than lament what could have been, they have to dust off and bring it tonight. Valpo has gone 8-2 over their last ten games with their only losses coming on the road and by a single possession. I’;d expect nothing less than a tense game again tonight. Very few teams have gotten the jump on Valpo this year, home or away. In their three conference losses, no one has beaten them by more than a bucket in regulation.
Cleveland State has shown they can win tough games. They went into Green Bay and won an OT thriller last weekend. They’ve also tested themselves against tough competition, facing Louisville, VCU and Virginia this season. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they won tonight, but in a league where every big game seems to come down to a single possession, I’ll take the team getting three and a half points. I think Valpo is the slightly better team, especially on the interior. I’ll take the points and the Crusaders tonight on the road.