Before we get into the picks, I want to touch on the Louisville situation briefly since they come to the Joyce Center this afternoon. First, allowing a school to self-impose punishment as some sort of olive branch is just asinine (I understand the NCAA can impose additional sanctions…but what’s likely is just a Jim Boeheim-like suspension for Pitino next year). The NCAA continues to show how inept it is, as this story came out…what…almost a year ago? As attorneys, Mike and I understand that some cases are red hot and need immediate attention, and some can hang out in the corner of the office for a while. Apparently, the NCAA is handling an investigation involving some serious allegations like a case gathering dust and cobwebs in the file room. The NCAA needs a swift kick in the ass to get it together.
Second, Louisville self-imposing in the middle of the season is a disgrace. Of course, Trey Lewis and Damion Lee come to mind as they used the fifth-year transfer rule to get a shot at going to an NCAA Tournament. I really don’t understand why people criticize kids from small schools that were not heavily recruited, work their asses off to become excellent players, and then want to do what’s best for them and play on a bigger stage. Shouldn’t the smaller schools like when they get players who develop into studs? Wouldn’t this theoretically help them (at least a little bit) with recruiting?
But, the main reason it is a disgrace is that it happened mid-season, with players on a Top 15 team with hopes of a National Championship. Either get it together before the season and self-impose, or wait for next year. This mid-season decision (albeit probably caused by the internal investigation turning up some really bad evidence) is simply the worst possible outcome for all involved. These “olive branch” self-imposed punishments need to stop.
Let’s get to the picks on a loaded Saturday slate.
Mike: 34-41 (14-13 A10)
Saturday (all times Central)
#22 Kentucky (18-6; 8-3) at S. Carolina (21-3; 8-3), 11 a.m., ESPN
Line: UK -2.5
Reason to Watch: Both of these teams have shown some serious life lately, making one of us (Mike) feel pretty dumb about thinking there weren’t any good teams in the SEC. This should be a great brunch viewing option and an opportunity to scout a couple of tournament teams.
Mike: Kentucky really showed up against a Florida team that looked legitimate. This will be another stern test, although I certainly wouldn’t have thought so a couple of weeks ago. Still, I’ll double down on my “South Carolina is overrated” stance and take the road favorite here. Kentucky -2.5.
Nate: The Gamecocks certainly don’t seem to be fraudulent, but this is a big test. Kentucky is playing some excellent basketball right now, but I usually take the home team getting points. Not today. Pass.
Georgetown (14-11; 7-5) @ #20??? Providence (18-7; 6-6), 11 a.m., FOX
Line: Providence -4
Reason to Watch: Yes, Providence has a worse conference record than Georgetown. Yes, the Big East really isn’t all that good once you get past Villanova and Xavier. Unlike South Carolina (maybe), the skepticism we’ve been lobbing toward Providence has been proven accurate. How a team with two of the better players in the country isn’t better remains a mystery. Tune in to see if Georgetown can continue to pound nails into Providence’s coffin.
Mike: I’ll try to avoid timely political jokes and horrible puns. I keep waiting for Kris Dunn to do Kris Dunn things but it just isn’t happening. You could probably make an argument that he isn’t even the best player on his own team anymore. All of that being said, Georgetown is pretty terrible. I want no part of this one.
Nate: Providence is falling harder than Marco Rubio after his debate blunder last weekend. Dunn just isn’t getting the job “dunn.” The Hoyas are much better than their record, and the way Providence is trending, they may win. But I just don’t know with these two teams.
Northern Iowa (15-11; 7-6) @ #25 Wichita State (18-6; 12-1), 11 a.m., ESPN2
Line: Shockers – 14
Reason to Watch: To see if the Bilas knows what he is talking about. Bilas said last week on Gameday that Wichita State not only was a Final Four contender, but they could win it all. Then, they promptly lost to Illinois State. This is probably their last chance for a statement win.
Mike: We should probably look into which team is the weirdest in the country in terms of results, but my strong hunch is that it’s UNI. The Shockers have looked really damn good lately, but UNI is just too weird for me to have any confidence betting on this game.
Nate: 1) That’s a lot of points. 2) How the hell does UNI have 11 losses? Give me the points. UNI +14.
#15??? Texas A&M (18-6; 7-4) @ LSU (15-9; 8-3), Noon, CBS
Line: LSU -2
Reason to Watch: This has a chance to be a terrific game. Obviously Ben Simmons is worth watching no matter what and Texas A&M was good…for a while. They’re in a serious free fall now having lost 3 straight. LSU badly needs to win this game if we’re going to get a Ben Simmons game in the tournament. Both teams should be playing with a lot of desperation.
Mike: Really like LSU in this one even if Texas A&M wasn’t circling the drain. Since they are…oh yeah. LSU -2.
Nate: Johnny Jones vs. a team dropping in the polls worse than Hillary Clinton (OK, I’ll stop inserting politics into my picks). I have absolutely no clue how this game turns out, other than it will be close, and Johnny Jones will do his best to lose the game.
#18 Purdue (20-5; 8-4) @ Michigan (18-7; 8-4), 1 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Purdue -1.5
Reason to Watch: Michigan has been straight dominated by the upper echelon of the B1G at home. Purdue is (barely) in that upper crust. Michigan has also had some serious trouble guarding bigs of which Purdue has 3. Can Michigan buck the trends?
Picks: BEER BET!
Mike: No. Purdue -1.5.
Nate: LeVert is still out, which sucks because I wanted to take Michigan here. Oh hell, let’s go nuts, Michigan +1.5.
#5 Xavier (21-3; 9-3) @ Butler (17-7; 6-6), 1:30 p.m., FOX
Line: Butler -3.5
Reason to Watch: Butler’s another strange team. They looked really good until conference play began, then they turned into just a mediocre team. Xavier has been playing far more inconsistently than their record indicates for the past few weeks, just getting by in games they were dominating earlier in the season. It’s entirely possible that they did the dreaded “peak early” routine, but they still have time to right the ship. Let’s see if Butler can take advantage. Vegas certainly thinks they can.
Mike: This spread is very strange. I’m taking Xavier +3.5 but I’m not super happy about it.
Nate: This spread is stinky. Butler is playing better and Xavier is coming off a loss. Action/reaction. Xavier +3.5
#6 Kansas (20-4; 8-3) @ #3 Oklahoma (20-3; 8-3), 1:30 p.m., ESPN
Line: Boomer -4.5
Reason to Watch: Duh.
Mike: Bill Self gunning for yet another Big12 title. His run really is 90s Atlanta Braves-esque. That’s all I’ve got for this one. No pick. I just hope the game is 1/8 as good as the first one was.
Nate: Buddy. Freaking. Hield. OU -4.5.
#13 Louisville (19-5; 8-3) @ Notre Dame (17-7; 8-4), 3 p.m., ESPN2
Line: ND -1
Reason to Watch: The likelihood of free basketball. When the Cards and the Irish get together, the game has a very good chance of reaching overtime. This year appears to be no exception, as Vegas is on board with a tight game.
Mike: I’m not touching this game. Louisville is too volatile right now for my liking and the Irish seem to be improving.
Nate: This game scares the living crap out of me, as the Irish have put together two straight excellent wins. But I’ll still ride the Irish -1.
#7 Virginia (20-4; 9-3) @ Duke (18-6; 7-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Duke -2
Reason to Watch: By being something other than great Duke has actually gotten pretty interesting this year. Virginia looks terrifying right now. There’s plenty of intrigue in this one.
Mike: I’ll take the better team and the points for $500, Alex. UVA +2.
Nate: Virginia is on fire, but this seems like a perfect spot for them to go down. Wait, didn’t I say that last week at Pitt? I’m not touching this one.
#24 Texas (16-8; 7-4) @ #14 Iowa State (17-7; 6-5), 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Line: ISU -5.5
Reason to Watch: Shaka has Texas leaping up the polls and they’re in an ideal spot here to secure a tournament-guaranteeing win. Iowa State is making me look like a damn fool for thinking they could be a Final Four team because they look very vulnerable.
Mike: Well this isn’t good. Both of us like Texas +5.5 and we tend to be pretty awful when we pick the same team.
Nate: Has Iowa State beaten anyone of significance by more than 5 points all year? Seems like you hear the term Hilton Magic way too much, because they tend to get down 15-20 early at home way too often. Texas +5.5.
Indiana (20-5; 10-2) @ #8 Michigan State (20-5; 7-5), Noon, CBS
Line: MSU -7
Reason to Watch: We’re mainly including the rare Sunday game to cram in the picture above. Well, that and this should be a terrific game. IU is another strange team, but you can figure out a lot about them based on their B1G schedule so far. It’s been very soft up until Iowa and they handled that one. But there’s that loss to Penn State…. Sparty also is doing something odd for them this year – peaking early. They haven’t looked all that great lately, and this is a great opportunity for them to prove they deserve the top-15 ranking they’ll have if they win this one.
Mike: If that is indeed the line it seems a bit high for me. Thinking MSU will win but not gonna bet on it.
Nate: Sparty -7. Didn’t Valentine have a triple-double last year on V-Day? He goes for another in a blowout.