** NOTE – SEVERAL PICKS ARE EARLY GAMES
We have a huge day of college hoops on tap, including four games between ranked opponents and several others with one ranked opponent taking on another marquee program (like Duke visiting Syracuse, Ohio State going to Michigan State and North Carolina visiting Pitt). Fortunately, we also snapped a miserable skid last night with Arizona handling their business with ease and knocking down staggering Washington. Let’s see if we can make it a momentum-building victory.
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Here’s today’s free picks:
North Carolina Tar Heels -4.5 at Pitt Panthers
This isn’t a vintage Jamie Dixon Pitt team, but despite a rough start to the season the Panthers have a chance to once again make the Big Dance by navigating their way through the gauntlet of the Big East. They have won five of their last six home games, including wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse with the lone loss coming to Louisville. They are 12-2 at home overall despite a brutal 6-15-1 ATS season record.
North Carolina is back up to #12 in the country, but they are just 2-3 ATS over their last five games and just 2-7-1 ATS over their last ten games. The fact they have risen to #12 in the polls is more a symptom of widespread insanity in college basketball and the fact that EVERYONE loses a game a week outside the top six or seven teams than it is an indicator of their great play.
However, this is a decent spot for North Carolina. They aren’t a great perimeter shooting team and Pitt traditionally loves to rumble and tussle with physical play. However, it hasn’t translated to typical Pitt results. They are just 14th in the Big East with 49.4% FG allowed inside the arc. This plays well into UNC’s offensive strengths and will allow them to use athleticsm and size rather than trying to chip away with long jump shots.
Pitt’s troubles are on the offensive end. They have shot well under 40% against a couple of similar defensive opponents like Louisville, and Carolina has held opponents to 39% shooting overall in their last five games. Pitt has showed some flashes, but has yet to get it done against a marquee opponent this season aside from Notre Dame. In their games against ranked opponents other than Notre Dame they have lost by a minimum of 12 points in every single one of them.
I’ll take UNC to use their talented slashers and athleticism to wreak havoc inside and get a covering double-digit win at The Zoo.
VCU Rams at George Washington Colonials -0.5
VCU has hit the skids since Briante Webber went out with a season-ending injury just a handful of steals before setting the all-time NCAA record. They have lost three of their last four to fall into a messy four-way tie atop the underrated Atlantic 10. To make things a little murkier still, their best player Treveon Graham is listed as questionable today after tweaking his ankle.
Add those two massive factors together and you STILL have the fact the GW is at home where they are 10-0 this season , though they are just 1-4 ATS in their last five home games. They are also fresh off a crippling loss at Duquesne that knocked them out of the first place log jam and put their tourney hopes in jeopardy. To say today is a HUGE game is an understatement.
I’ll take the Colonials, despite some recent slip-ups at home, primarily because; they haven’t lost there all year, and because VCU is reeling big time and it isn’t mental – it is personnel. They are missing one of their two best players for the season and could be missing the other one today. That’s a lot to overcome to beat a similarly talented team on the road in a must-win game for the home team.
Villanova Wildcats -2 at Butler Bulldogs
Butler is easily one of the three most pleasant surprises in the country this season. Nearly no one had them projected as a tourney team, yet they enter today a virtual lock, ranked #18 in the country and with a bevy of marquee wins under their belt, including North Carolina, Georgetown, Xavier and… hmmm, wait a second. Perhaps the well-played narrative of Butler’s huge wins is a little over-played. A lot of their wins seemed big at the time, but as St. John’s and Seton Hall have wilted furiously, the Butler resume is littered with a lot more “good” than “great”wins. In fact, only UNC is a iron-clad lock among their wins (though I suspect both X and G’Town get it, and quite possibly one more of their Big East fallen will rally). However, against NCAA tourney teams, it’s been more of a mixed bag than advertised.
Butler has lost to Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Providence, Georgetown and @ Villanova by double digits. Don’t get me wrong. Butler is a good team. They have ZERO “bad losses” and deserve to be a #5-#6 seed today. However, I think Villanova is a different animal, even in Hinkle Fieldhouse today.
Villanova is 22-2 and is one of the under-the-radar Final Four contenders. Their early loss in the tourney last year after a similarly-dominant regular season has cooled perception of their legitimacy, as has the lack of an All-American caliber-type player. Think of them as the Atlanta Hawks of college basketball. No one single star, but a ton of B+ players who play together with beauty and precision.
Villanova got their doors blown off in an off-night at Georgetown. Aside from that, they have won nine of ten games including road games at Providence and DePaul. They have covered five in a row and are a staggering 16-7 ATS on the season. Butler is legitimately a good team. I fear I ripped them too much to lend the wrong impression. I LIKE Butler. They are a tourney team who will wear home jerseys in the first round. But they ain’t Villanova. I like the Wildcats to get a big win on the road today and stay in the #1 seed discussion.