Ball night! It’s time to tip off the college basketball season and there are a few really good games on the slate before next Tuesday’s “unofficial” opening night marathon on ESPN that will culminate with the can’t-miss-it Kentucky vs. Kansas matchup.
In the meantime, Louisville and Minnesota play tonight in an interesting Father/Son coaching matchup as young Richard Pitino and his Minnesota Golden Gophers try to knock off Pop’s more talented Cards. It will be interesting to see if the elder Pitino can keep his foot on the gas late in the game if the Cards have a comfortable lead. This game is FAR bigger for Minny, who could very well be in the “good win/bad loss” stacking business come Selection Sunday. For the ‘Ville, they are tourney locks, Dad’s job is secure and this is just one of many tune-ups before the challenge off ACC play. For that reason, I’m afraid to touch Louisville at -8 even though they should win by double-digits… Instead, let’s head to Annapolis for another intriguing opening night matchup.
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Tonight’s Free Pick:
VCU Rams -8 vs. Tennessee Volunteers (Total: 138.5) ** Veteran’s Classic @ Annapolis, MD
The inaugural Veteran’s Classic will be held at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, so technically it is a neutral floor game, but I expect the crowd to be largely Rams partisans given the closer proximity. Not that Shaka Smart’s club should need home court advantage tonight. The Rams are ranked 15th in the country and return a ton of talent, including A-10 Player of the Year and National POY candidate Treveon Graham.
The Rams have some unfinished business this season after last year’s disappointing Opening Round upset loss to Stefen F. Austin in the NCAA Tournament. The fact that game registered as a seismic upset speaks to the evolution of the Rams program under Smart. It wasn’t even seven years ago that the Rams sent shockwaves through the nation by ‘upsetting’ Duke in the Big Dance. Now, they are the hunted and it seems to suit them just fine.
Cuonzo Martin overachieved with last year’s Tennessee team to get them into the First Four and then a nice little March tourney run. But gone are all their talented bigs from last year’s squad and the roster left behind is picked 13th in the 14 team SEC. Overachieving this year could be scratching out six or seven conference wins and staying above .500 on the season as a whole.
One thing young teams with inexperienced guards are wonton to face is extreme pressure. VCU’s HAVOC defense smothers good teams on the regular. I expect them to really smother an inexperienced and under talented team tonight.