It took longer than it typically does, but we’re starting to see the contenders separate from the rest of the college basketball pack. This is not to say that the tournament looks like it is not going to be wide open this year (it does), but the top 1-3 seeds are getting a lot clearer. This weekend we have a few of those teams facing each other in marquee games and a handful of other intriguing matchups among the teams on that tier right below the contenders.
That lower tier, the 4-9 seeds, are fluid. This might be a byproduct of increasing parity in college basketball or it might just be that this year is full of teams that are seemingly interchangeable outside of the top 10-12 teams. You don’t have to look outside of the Big14 to see that there are an awful lot of mediocre teams out there. Picking among those teams is tough now and we have conference history and home courts to work with. Good luck when the tournament starts.
Let’s see how this goes.
Picks To Date
Beer Bets: Nate’s up two beers
Mike: 26-26 (50%)
Nate: 29-30 (49%)
It’s official: we are the most mediocre pickers possible. At least all you’re losing on us is the casino’s take if you’re actually betting along with us. Although if you’re really betting along with us, you should rethink your life. The way that we’ve gotten to even is slightly different, though, as I (Mike) have been just atrocious for three weeks now while Nate hit a leveling off point and has stayed at his 50%-ish plateau since mid-January. Maybe this is the week one or both of us makes a move.
Saturday (all times Central)
#25 Notre Dame (20-7, 9-5) at North Carolina State (14-13, 3-11), 11 a.m., ESPN
Line: Irish -5.5
Reason to Watch: I (Nate) am curious to see how the fans react to Gottfried now that he’s canned. They were brutal to him earlier this week, pre-firing, as the Wolfpack were getting stomped by UNC. What happens when they announce “and the head coach of your Wolfpack…Mark Gottfried?”
Two years ago during the Tournament, I witnessed NC State’s fans in Pittsburgh, and they are just awful. One dude (Angry Trucker Hat Guy) honestly bitched about every single possession over two games, stood up to bitch about 78 times…AND THEY WON BOTH GAMES, including a win over #1 Villanova. He, Gottfried, Mr. Wuf, their 60-year-old band director who appeared to have a thing with the 18-year-old drummer…they’re all terrible.
Mike: Despite the weirdness of the ACC scaring me off from this game a little, I’m going to have to bet against the team in complete chaos here. The Wolfpack have a bunch of talent, but they are getting run out of the gym more often than not. The Irish are not a team to trifle with and NC State has been doing an awful lot of trifling. Irish -5.5.
Nate: With all that said above, I’m really nervous about this one. ND survived BC on Tuesday, as it was a one possession game with under a minute to go. Plus, ND doesn’t blow anyone out. Then, I realized something. If NC State wouldn’t play hard to try to save their coach’s job, why the hell would they play hard once he is fired? ND 92 NC State 79.
#2 Villanova (25-2, 12-2) at Seton Hall (16-9, 6-7), 11:30 a.m., FOX
Line: Champs -6
Reason to Watch: ‘Nova is worth the price of admission (in this case…free) regardless, but Seton Hall is the interesting watch in this one. Seton Hall is one of the last four in at the moment, and bagging Villanova would obviously be huge for them. That’s a tall order, though. The Pirates beat Creighton last time out, but the four games before that were either losses or 2-point overtime wins. Villanova is on game 3 of a 3-game road trip, though, so they might be ripe for the picking.
Mike: Taking road favorites looks like it’s going to be a bit of a theme for me today, which means that everyone should run screaming away from these picks. Still, I just don’t think that Seton Hall is up to the challenge here. Nova -6.
Nate: Delgado is a beast in the paint for the Hall, and leads the country in rebounds per game (13.2). Then, Khadeen Carrington goes for 41 in the Creighton W. I’m going to take the points here. Hall +6
#3 Kansas (23-3, 11-2) at #4 Baylor (22-4, 9-4), Noon, CBS
Line: Bears -1.5
Reason to Watch: Baylor may be the #4 team in the country (for now), but they are not heading in the right direction having lost 3 of their last 5. We might be thinking the same thing about Kansas if they hadn’t pulled off one of the most incredible comebacks anyone’s ever seen on Monday. Even with that comeback, though, there is reason to be skeptical about the Jayhawks (and not only because they continue to play a dude that kicked a woman in the head). Kansas has been playing a LOT of close games lately, just squeaking by Texas Tech and Kansas State before that comeback. Baylor has to win this game if they’re going to end Kansas’ run of conference titles but both teams need to play better heading into the stretch.
Mike: This is a tough pick. Kansas has been trying to give away games for a few weeks now with only limited success while Baylor has hit the skids more traditionally. For the sake of the tournament, I hope both teams figure out how to recapture their mojos because both of these teams looked like final four-caliber teams not too long ago. I’m abstaining here, but rooting for a good one.
Nate: There are some pretty damn good trios in college hoops this year…and Mason/Graham/Jackson may be the best. But as Mike said, they’ve been living on the edge for a while. Baylor wins…big. Baylor -1.5.
Wake Forest (15-11, 6-8) at #12 Dook (21-5, 9-4), Noon, ACC Network
Line: Trippin’ Graysons -11
Reason to Watch: As annoying as it is, Dook looks to have figured things out lately. There’s a reason these guys were one of the preseason favorites: they have a ton of talent. Wake is an interesting case. They’re also one of the last four in at the moment, and like Seton Hall, they are desperate for a big win. This would certainly qualify. Until they get that big win, though, they’re going to remain the slayers of bums they have been all year. One fun note for this one: there should be a lot of offense since both of these guys average over 81 points per game.
Mike: That spread seems far higher than it should be, but then Duke is playing extremely well at the moment. I’m not sure any game highlights the difference between teams at the top of the food chain and the middle of the pack more than this one. Wake Forest is fine, but they’re clearly inferior here. I’m taking Wake Forest and the 11 here, but only because I think it’ll be a single-digit Dook win.
Nate: Duke has followed a script lately. Get a big win over a ranked opponent during the week, and then struggle at home against an unranked opponent.
at ND – W 84-74
Pitt – W 72-64
UNC – W 86-78
Clemson – W 64-62
at Virginia – W 65-55
Do I follow the trend, or will Coach K also recognize this trend and stress the importance of a statement win today? Damn it. Dook -11.
St. Bonaventure (16-9, 8-5) at Dayton (20-5, 11-2), 1 p.m., NBCSN
Line: Flyers -8
Reason to Watch: Finally – Dayton plays a decent team on a Saturday! I’ve tweeted a lot about how top-heavy the A10 is this year (and will be writing about that this week) so savor the few opportunities to watch two of those teams play each other. That being said, if you’re watching this one and you’re not sporting a degree from either school, the reason you’re watching is Dayton. Earlier this season the Flyers smoked the Bonnies in Olean and the Bonnies haven’t been all that good on the road this year. Dayton’s good at home and getting healthy just in time. With Josh Cunningham back, this team suddenly looks pretty deep. Sophomores Xeyrius Williams and Ryan Mikesell took advantage of the extra PT they got with Cunningham out and both have become valuable rotation pieces. Darrell Davis has discovered a purpose as a 3-and-D guy (a fact I remain stunned by). The Flyers should take this one, but it will be interesting to see how they look with this full roster that has only played together for a game and a half.
Mike: This spread should be higher, so I’m going to end the suspense and take the Flyers -8. This isn’t entirely based on the thumping they administered to the Bonnies in Olean, but that doesn’t hurt. Dayton has been guilty in past years – and earlier this season – of toying with teams rather than putting them away. They haven’t been doing much of that lately. Although the Bonnies aren’t a bad team by any stretch, I don’t expect this one to be close.
Nate: What have the Bonnies done on the road against the top of the A10? Lost at Richmond by 17. Lost at Rhode Island by 12. Flyers are getting healthy, and will continue to roll heading into the rematch with VCU on March 1. Flyers -8.
Michigan State (16-10, 8-5) at #16 Purdue (21-5, 10-3), 3 p.m., ESPN
Line: Boilers -9.5
Reason to Watch: Sparty has been playing a lot better lately after an uncharacteristic 3-game losing streak, but that resume still needs some work. Although the committee made it clear that they don’t respect the Big14 all that much, one has to believe that if they did their top 16 again that either Purdue or Wisconsin (and maybe both) would make the bottom of that cut. The Boilers have been a tough read this season without a truly signature win (unless you count the win at Maryland, which…meh). Frankly, it would be pretty typical for both teams if Purdue wins this one by something like 5-8 points. Still, betting against Izzo in February and March is usually foolish.
Mike: That spread reeks. This isn’t a typical MSU team, sure, but them getting double-digits in a conference game is still a stretch. Much like that Wake/Dook game, I’m taking the Road Team and the Points but only because I expect Purdue to win by single digits.
Nate: Vegas certainly doesn’t think that Izzo’s squad has that February/March run in them. I lean playing the Boilers here, but I’m passing because I see an 8-12 point Boiler win.
#14 Virginia (18-7, 8-5) at #10 North Carolina (22-5, 10-3), 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Heels -4.5
Reason to Watch: For my money, this is the best game of the day. Both of these teams have been varying degrees of wonky lately, with Virginia’s recent play being much wonkier. Still, this is a terrific contrast in styles, which always makes for an interesting game. You should hope it’s good, too, since these guys play again in 9 days. I, for one, am interested in seeing whether the offense-first or the defense-only team takes this one.
Mike: I’ve been riding UNC all year so I’m not going to stop now. UVA has gone from one of the favorites to a first-weekend gimmick in my mind. They still have time to get back on track, but I just can’t believe in a team that plays like they do in a tournament setting. Sometimes the other team just gets hot. That principle applies to road games, too, by the way.
Nate: Very interesting spread, as I thought it would be around 6 or 7. Virginia has lost 4 of 6, and don’t have a consistent scorer outside of Perrantes. But, they are 3-2 in their last five games against UNC…and both losses were by four points. I’m sticking to the trends today and taking UVa +4.5.
USC (21-5, 8-5) at #6 UCLA (23-3, 10-3), 9 p.m., PAC12 Network
Line: UCLA -9.5
Reason to Watch: UCLA’s a ton of fun, that’s why. I know very little about USC, but they were the last team to beat UCLA so there’s definitely some potential for an entertaining game here. This is another high-octane game where both teams should get between 80-90. This is a great dessert game after the Kansas-Baylor lunch and the UVA-UNC dinner.
Mike: I’m going to pass here more out of ignorance about USC than anything else. I’m hoping to catch most of this game, though, because it really should be a fun watch.
Nate: Gut feeling here that this is going to be a bloodbath. UCLA puts up 100 and wins by 20+. Bruins -9.5.