It’s the final day of 2016, and the sports calendar is going out with a bang. Obviously today is the College Football Playoffs, but college basketball is bringing a ton to the table as well. There are so many highlights it is almost difficult to list them all – and a quick note – because football rules the day, most of the marquee games are happening very early; noon or 1pm EST, so get any picks you like in nice and early.
There are about a dozen games worth watching today, but here are my three favorite plays on the board.
Today’s Free Picks:
Xavier Musketeers -2 at Georgetown Hoyas
The Muskies have had some foibles on the road this season, melting down at Butler in the last six minutes and dropping a game at Colorado by a single bucket. But their opening Big East salvo was an impressive and thorough dismantling of Providence by 28 points and was a nice reminder of the potential for this preseason Top Ten team. They have a very balanced offense and one of the best backcourts in the nation with Edmond Sumner and Trevon Blueitt. Neither get a ton of pub, but Sumner is a likely NBA first rounder with Rajon Rondo like defensive abilities and ranginess and Trevon Blueitt was the most unheralded returning All American in recent memory (Third Team last season).
Meanwhile, Georgetown has proven to be pretty mediocre for the second straight season. They enter today at 8-5 and just 5-2 at home with losses to Arkansas State and a 27-point loss to Oklahoma Sate blotting the resume. They lost their Big East opener at Marquette by ten after reeling off six straight wins over five patsies and a down Syracuse squad.
Xavier is the vastly superior team, and a team I still have in my Top Sixteen with a real potential to creep into my Elite Eight. They defend as well as anyone in the conference and have nice depth on the wing with shooters and a reliable, if not spectacular, supply of rebounders and post scorers. They are a complete team, and I think they go on the road today and get the win.
Villanova Wildcats at Creighton Blue Jays – PICK
Let’s stay in the Big East for our second pick of the day. I’ve been slow to come around on Villanova, but no longer. This team has balance, maturity, defense, and fantastic shooting. They are smart, disciplined and play beautiful, unselfish offensive basketball. They have a National POY candidate in Josh Hart, a knock-down, stone-cold shooter (and closer) in Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson, as much as it seems tough to believe, is probably an UPGRADE at the point. Jay Wright’s team has everything required to make a real run at defending their title.
Creighton won’t be easy however. The Jays enter a perfect 13-0, and one of only four unbeaten teams left in the country after the work Oregon put in leveling the city of Los Angeles this week. They score massive amounts of points and have a dynamic backcourt. Their convincing win over Wisconsin in their second game of the season gives the resume some validity. The conference opening win over Seton Hall instills some confidence. The 112-point outburst against NC State is impressive as well.
In truth, I’ve nothing negative to say about Creighton. They have begun scheduling up as late, and aside from Villanova’s gutsy trip TO Purdue, their schedules are comparable.
I just am not convinced their TEAMS are. I think Nova has the edge, and I’ll take them to stay perfect and clear one of the three big road tests they will face in conference.
Florida State Seminoles at Virginia Cavaliers -9
Florida State has proven me right so far this season with my claim they are one of the more underrated teams in the country. Unranked in the preseason, the Noles have surged into the polls behind a 12-1 record and with the help of several future-pros on the roster. They have the talent to compete in the loaded ACC this season, and I think they are headed to a single-digit seed in March.
Virginia answered some MAJOR questions in their ACC-opening road win at Louisville. The Hoos can still defend with the best of them and rarely rush or waste an offensive possession. It isn’t always the prettiest basketball to watch, but man is it effective.
However, the do play at a slower tempo. And as I alluded to when picking them with the points in the Louisville game earlier this week, contracted tempo adds a point or two of value to the spread. That makes FSU essentially a double-digit dog today, and I’m not sure I’d lay double digits against them with any team in the country.
Look for a competitive game and for Florida State to have some success offensively behind Bacon, Issac, and Rathan-Mayes.