I may not go full on Coach Brownell and wag a finger in Roy Williams face (youTube it), but I am going to start today’s column with a little finger wagging as we picked up a pair of narrow winners last night to pull the season record to a big fat 36-19 ATS on The Sports Geek and 55-28 ATS if you are getting all my picks via Twitter @TheMarchManiacs.
Neither of last night’s wins were easy. North Carolina allowed a game tying three-pointer with 17 seconds remaining and then turned the ball over when they should have been holding for the final shot with an ill-advised forced entry pass to Kennedy Meeks. They also allowed a last-second three from Clemson in overtime to cut the six-point win to three, so if any of you gave up an extra half point on the line (and I don’t think you would have, it remained pretty steadily at -2.5 or better) you got a tough, tough loss. Ditto for our BC pick, which looked like easy hay in the barn with the Eagles leading by two at half, but a lousy second half made us sweat it out. Wake won 75-62 and we were getting 14.5 points.
Elsewhere, the one team I REALLY whiffed on this year, Indiana, dropped their third straight game and second straight at home, falling to 0-2 in the Big Ten with a loss to visiting Wisconsin. I gave you Florida State and UCLA when no one was interested. I was on Oregon prior to their sweep of Los Angeles. But the Hoosiers were a big-time whiff. Final Four? Hell, it’s looking more like they’ll need the Kansas and North Carolina wins to keep them off the bubble.
Today’s Free Pick:
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Duke Blue Devils -19
This line jumped off the page. Yes, Duke is at home and has such a vast talent advantage it’s laughable. But that has been the case in MOST of their games this season and it hasn’t translated to on-court results with the consistency one would expect. Grayson Allen is still suspended. Coach K is getting ready to have back surgery and miss a month of the season and things are suddenly a little unsettled in Devil Land.
In their last three games, they haven’t looked quite right. They were less than mediocre in eleven point wins over Elon and Tennessee State. They looked lousy in their opening ACC road loss to Virginia Tech. Now I have to lay 20 points on the assumption they will figure it out tonight?
And don’t overlook Georgia Tech’s solid start to the season. They are fresh off laying the lumber to North Carolina and Josh Pastner’s squad enters this game 9-4 and with wins over UNC and VCU. The blowout losses to Georgia and Tennessee are very troublesome, but much like BC (who’ve we’ve rode to two straight winners) and Oregon, I’m looking more at recent returns than early foibles.
Should Duke crush them? Yup, absolutely. Will they? I’m not sure. I think Tech competes and Duke wins, probably comfortably, but not in an embarrassing romp.
Look for Tech to keep things in a ten to twelve point working margin most of the night.
Villanova Wildcats -1.5 at Butler Bulldogs
What do the ‘Cats need to do to make us believers? Win at Purdue? Check. Win a gutty neutral court matchup over Notre Dame at MSG? Check. Out-poise and out-last a dynamic Creighton team in raucous Omaha? Check. Or even win a National Title and complete the most successful calendar year since Duke in 2002 and UNLV in 1990? Yeah, they did that too.
The point is, doubt if you want (and I did entering the season), but use the incontrovertible data that is being supplied with regularity. Villanova is REALLY REALLY good. They are perfect on the season and a nice 9-5 ATS with nearly every BIG game being a win and cover (Temple, Purdue, ND, Creighton). They play tense, close games, and then CLOSE TEAMS OUT in the final 90 seconds. Over and over and over again.
I think the same thing happens tonight. They won’t roll over Butler, especially in Hinkle. And frankly, if the Cats are going to lose a game this regular season, it is either tonight or at the Cintas Center when they meet Xavier. Butler is 9-4 ATS and 12-2 overall with impressive wins over Northwestern, Arizona, Cincinnati, Indiana and @Utah. They are also fresh off a surprising loss at St. John’s and were clipped by one point at home by Indiana State. It’s a weird resume, but it does show they have a really high ceiling when they are playing (and shooting) well. It also shows, they are fallible, and fallible at home.
Villanova has won six straight over Butler, covering four of them, and winning by an average margin of nearly ten points a game. And one can argue this is as good as Villanova has ever been.
I’ll keep rolling with the Wildcats until they show me some vulnerability.