We picked up a second straight NCAA winner yesterday with VCU covering against instate rival Old Dominion. We will try to make it three straight today, and there are some pretty enticing matchups on today’s schedule. The marquee games are Xavier and Dayton, two former conference rivals from their A-10 days renewing their very personal and passionate rivalry in the championship game in the AdvoCare Invitational down in Orlando.
Meanwhile, two of the National Player of the Year front-runner will link up in a very interesting game between a pair of unbeaten; Michigan State and Providence. Denzell Valentine vaulted himself into the national conversation by notching two triple doubles – an extremely rare feat in college basketball, in his first five games. One of them came on national television on a neutral court against Kansas. Meanwhile, Kris Dunn is piloting his team to an unbeaten record and has been fantastic in the process. Michigan State is the better team overall and should win the game, but this one if worth watching just to see two of the nation’s best operate.
And for those of you who want an extra helping of hoops-goodness in between your NFL football watching, you can’t go wrong with Wisconsin at Oklahoma (and a look at another POY candidate in Buddy Hield) and an under-the-radar game between UC Irvine and Evansville (with Wichita State’s injuries and struggles, Evansville and Northern Iowa are dreaming NCAA Tourney).
Ok – let’s get to my free pick and see if we can cap off a perfect 3-0 ATS weekend.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Xavier Musketeers -3 vs. Dayton Flyers (in Orlando, FL)
I’m really surprised this line isn’t wider. Dayton has been good this season, entering unbeaten at 5-0 and having destroyed Alabama (so did X) and narrowly beaten Iowa and Monmouth. Archie Miller’s squad is NCAA Tourney experienced and has some talent, though they are replacing a lot of scoring and leadership from last year’s team, most noticeably Jordan Siebert who graduated and Dyshawn Pierre who is suspended for half the season.
Meanwhile, Xavier went from unranked preseason to “maybe they can contend with Villanova to win the Big East” in a matter of two weeks. IF they win today, expect them to move into the low teens in tomorrow’s poll. They went TO Ann Arbor and laid the wood to the Wolverines. They thrashed Alabama and dispatched USC with relative ease. No one has been within single digits of this team, and their balanced attack is difficult to defend. They have size and quickness, tenacity on the board and defensively, and despite losing a key contributor like Matt Stainbrook off last year’s Sweet 16 team, they are playing quicker and freer this season. Their +14.5 margin is Top-ten in D1, and they have outrebounded all six opponents they have played this season.
Xavier is the real deal, and though no player on either roster is a true holdover who played meaningful minutes in the “X vs. UD” rivalry days, I think both coaching staffs and fan bases will let these guys know how much this game means. Expect some intensity and high-level play. But also expect Xavier to prevail.