Xavier vs. Cincinnati Pick NCAA Hoops – Feb 18th

We notched an easy winner last night with San Diego State continuing to roll and New Mexico continuing in their misery. As it turns out the UNDER I was afraid of would have cashed by a single point, but I’m still glad we went with the safer haven of the easy Aztec cover.

Meanwhile, scary news for the rest of the country – Kentucky seems to be getting BETTER every game. They routed Tennessee to move to 26-0, and despite some of the subtle rumblings that the SEC isn’t the best preparation for the Big Dance, I think wins over Louisville, Providence, Texas, Kansas, UCLA and North Carolina – all in dominating fashion, provide enough evidence that it is going to take a heck of an effort to derail the Big Blue train.

Speaking of Carolina, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils take center stage tonight in one of college basketball’s grandest rivalries. Duke is an 8.5 point favorite at Cameron. History tells us that these games are usually close and tense, but I am not sure I’m willing to go against Duke with how consistently well they have been playing lately.

That’s not the only big game on the docket tonight by a long shot. Louisville travels to Syracuse with both teams trying to rebound from tough losses. Davidson and George Washington play in what feels like the equivalent of an at-large elimination game, and Cincinnati and Xavier renew one of the fiercest (sometimes too much so, but more on that later) in the country tonight. Let’s dive in to today’s free pick.

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Today’s Free Pick:

Xavier Musketeers at Cincinnati Bearcats -2

These two proud programs, separated by less than ten miles, showed the nation the downside of fierce school rivalries when the long-tense and physical series finally boiled over into violence with an ugly brawl punctuated by Xavier players saying “we zip em up” repeatedly in the postgame interviews (referring to bodybags. Classy move for a Jesuit private school in a conservative town…)

The fallout from the brawl resulted in the game being moved to a neutral floor in an attempt to quell the insanity. This year, the game rightly reverts to it’s home and home format, and the jolt of enthusiasm that was lacking the last two years will hopefully return with it.

On to the game itself. Both teams have been IN nearly every mock bracket, but neither can feel too secure, in fact, the loser tonight could very well find themselves in the First Four OUT with just two weeks of regular season play remaining. Xavier has been dreadful on the road, losing all their conference road games except Marquette and Georgetown. They are just 16-10 and despite some clever gaming of the RPI numbers, lacks a true Top 25 win.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati has dropped two in a row after an embarrassing loss to Tulane and should be desperate tonight. This game will be fierce, though sensibly so, and both teams will be ratcheting up the defense with fury. However, given the near-equal rosters and teams, I’ll give the Bearcats the edge at home. This game opened as a pick em and has since moved to -2 for the Bearcats. I’m fine with them anywhere in the range you can get them.

Look for Cincinnati to get a much-needed resume win tonight.

Free Pick: Cincinnati Bearcats -2

Chris Scheeren / Author