Second to None: Weekend Picks

This is a fun time of year. Most of the teams have already secured their position in the tournament and are jockeying for seeding. There is a feverish competition for the last few bubble spots with teams trading in/out position based on something as thin as the margin of victory or defeat each game. Then you have marquee games where a conference champion could be determined. We have a couple of those this weekend in UCLA-Arizona and Florida-Kentucky.
Let’s talk about those for a second. One of my (Mike’s) biggest annoyances is that regular season champions don’t get automatic bids. I get why the conference tournament winners get automatic bids, but winning a regular season championship is far more impressive than having a good week in early March.
There’s a lot going on this weekend, so let’s gamble on it.

Picks To Date

Beer Bets:  Mike by 1

Mike: 30-28 (51%)
Nate: 31-35 (47%)

Huge week for me last week going 3-0 in beer bets to take the lead by one. This year has been a big comeback on the beer bet front. Outside of Nate having a bit of an off week last time out this has still been basically a 50/50 proposition all year. Still, I have faith that coming down the stretch that we’ll be able to provide some gambling insight. I know that once the conference tournaments begin I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is. Let’s hope we have our act together by then.

Saturday (all times Central)

#13 Florida (23-5; 13-2) @ #11 Kentucky (23-5; 13-2), 1 p.m., CBS

fl-uk

This is going to be fun. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.

Line: Wildcats -3.5

Reason to Watch: Identical records both overall and in-conference. One team that has been under the radar all year against a team that was a preseason darling. We woke up to Florida late at this blog, but we got there. Kentucky is one of the very few teams that is always a threat to win the title given their talent. I could go on, but honestly why should I? If you’re not interested in this game then I don’t know why you watch college basketball.

Picks:

Mike: Without Fox this is going to be a challenge for the Wildcats. Florida is actually a very good team and I could see them winning this one even if UK had Fox. That being said…hard pass. This is a show-me game for Kentucky and I’m guessing they’ll show. Either way we’ll have a much better read on whether they’re going to be dangerous in the tournament after today.

Nate:  DeAaron Fox is questionable with a “bruised knee” or something because we all know coaches aren’t exactly forthcoming with injuries.  If he plays, this feels like payback.  If he doesn’t play, who knows what happens.  I’m not touching this one.

VCU (23-5; 13-2) @ Rhode Island (18-9; 10-5), 1 p.m., ESPN2

NCAA Basketball: Rhode Island at VCU

Photo courtesy of Rhody Rampage

Line: Rhody -2 (I F*cking Told you)

Reason to Watch:  Here’s a reason. This game is huge for the A10 regular season title even though Rhode Island doesn’t have a chance anymore. That doesn’t mean Rhody doesn’t have a reason to win this one – this is their last chance to win a big regular season game. And they need it. Despite their best efforts (losing at home to Fordham) Rhode Island’s resume is still almost good enough to warrant an at-large bid. Not that anybody who has been paying attention thinks that the third A10 team has a snowball’s chance in hell of making the tournament without winning the conference tournament. Honestly – I bet that Indiana will make the tournament before Rhode Island even if Rhody wins out. That’s the world we live in. Anyway…watch this game – it’ll be hugely entertaining.

Picks: BEER BET!!!!

Mike: I can’t back off my prediction that VCU is going to drop its last two road games. I’m thinking Rhody wins by 3 in some Ram on Ram action.

Nate:  VCU certainly isn’t great on the road, but Rhode Island lost at home to Fordham.  I can’t get past that.  VCU +2

#23 Creighton (22-6; 9-6) @ #2 Villanova (26-3; 13-3), 2 p.m., FOX

Line: Nova -10.5

Reason to Watch:  This one could be a tough sell.  Creighton is 4-5 since Maurice Watson got hurt, and now has the distraction of a felony sexual assault charge.  By the way, what the hell is going on in Middle America?  Kansas is an absolute disaster as four players have either been arrested or under investigation in the past month.  No explanation necessary for Baylor.  Crazy.

Picks:

Mike: Losing to Duke Midwest at home isn’t a good look for a team that was threatening the overall #1 seed. I think that train has left the station unless Kansas loses out or something equally unlikely. They’ll win this one going away. Nova -10.5. Creighton is a mess.

Nate: Villanova looked average the other night against Butler, but that’s fine.  They had won their previous five games by double digits.  Jay Wright gets the defending champs back on track.  Nova -10.5

#9 Baylor (23-5; 10-5) @ Iowa State (18-9; 10-5), 3 p.m., ESPN

Line: Unranked team -2.5

Reason to Watch:  Baylor’s lost 4 of 7, while Iowa State has won 5 of 6.  These two teams are a whole lot closer in talent than the discrepancy in the rankings.  Plus, Iowa State is going to be dangerous in March as a 6-8 seed…very dangerous.

Picks:

Mike: I loathe both of these teams. Pat Forde said that if he were a Baylor trustee he would eliminate all major sports at the school because of their obvious inability to control the behavior of their players and coaches (murder, rape). I don’t disagree. Iowa State is just obnoxious with that “Hilton Magic” bullshit. Someone wrote this on their Wikipedia page: “Hilton Magic”, the power of the Coliseum faithful to produce unexpected victories. Jesus. I hope this game ends with a players-only brawl at center court where everyone gets hurt.

Nate:  I wish I could bet on this game being a 5-point game in one direction or the other.  This will be a good watch, but I have absolutely no feeling on who comes out on top.

#14 Purdue (23-5; 12-3) @ Michigan (18-10; 8-7), 3 p.m., ESPN2

Line: Boilers -1

Reason to Watch:  Purdue is the class of the Big 14…and has been for a while (despite just reaching first place).  I’m still not convinced that Swanigan will win National POY, but he certainly should get serious consideration.  The Boilers have won 6 in a row and look like a potential Final Four team.  Michigan’s playing pretty well too, having won 4 of 5.

Picks: Beer Bet!!!!

Mike: Since this is basically a pick, I’ll take Purdue -1 mainly because I think Maryland is better than Michigan and the Boilers pulled that one off. The only team in the B1G that I will be picking for a second weekend is the Boilers…and even that is kind of matchup-dependent. Wisconsin is annoying.

Nate:  Going out on a limb here and taking the home dog.  Michigan actually matches up pretty well with Purdue, and they will ruin Spike Albrecht’s homecoming.  Meeeeeechigan +1

#10 Duke (22-6; 10-5) @ Miami (19-8; 9-6), 3 p.m., CBS

Line: Trippers -2.5

Reason to Watch:  That Duke/Syracuse game was bananas.  Duke/Miami could be just as good.  Miami won three in a row with out their point guard, but Ja’Quan Newton returns today.  Bruce Brown is a heck of a player, and Davon Reed is as solid as they come.  Miami is good, and Dook’s in for a fight.

Picks:

Mike: Dook’s gonna drop two in a row on the road, but there’s no shame in that because the ACC is really damn good. This isn’t a situation where the conference is wildly overrated like the old Big East was every year because they’re always on ESPN…or is it? I’m going to have to think about this one when the brackets come out.

Nate:  Give me all the home dogs.  Full disclosure…this is more of a rooting interest pick as a Duke loss helps ND’s chances for a double bye…and keeps the faint dream of a regular season title alive.  ‘Canes +2.5

Northwestern (20-8; 9-6) @ Indiana (15-13; 5-10), 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

nerds-dayton

Such a painful loss. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Line: IU -3.5

Reason to Watch:  Let’s talk about desperation. Northwestern, a team that many put in the field comfortably about 10 days ago, is getting a little bubblicious. Indiana has some of the best wins in the country, but a 5-10 conference record and some atrocious losses make them a team that is on the outside looking in. (Quick note: I am highly skeptical of this narrative. There will be many people in the room deciding who gets in and who doesn’t that will pick Indiana because it’s Indiana over more deserving teams from small conferences. It happens every year. Many times it works out for the Committee. We’ll see what happens this year). Ok, that wasn’t the quickest “quick note.” I am actually hugely interested to see what happens in this game because I think the winner gets an inside track to a berth. I know the smarter bracketologists among us (Nate) think that it’s a fait accompli that Northwestern makes it for the first time and IU doesn’t get in. I’ve watched too many lousy-to-borderline major conference teams make it over more deserving smaller conference teams to take this for granted. Go Cats.

Picks: BEER BET!!!!

Mike: Nate’s getting a lot of chances to win his beers back today. The Hoosiers are going to take this one by around 10, so yeah I’ll take them -3.5. This is a classic Vegas trap where the better team is favored against a team that has a favorable record. I’m telling you – IU is going to make the tournament.

Nate:  Northwestern’s not in yet, my large headed friend.  They need one more.  IU is a hot mess…and Assembly Hall sure as hell won’t be rocking with thousands of empty seats tonight.  The Cats get the job done.  Northwestern +3.5

#5 UCLA (25-3; 12-3) @ #4 Arizona (26-3; 15-1), 7:15 p.m., ESPN

lonzo-ball-arizona

Lonzo vs. the World!  Photo courtesy of scout.com

Line: Cats -1.5

Reason to Watch:  I listen to a lot of podcasts, but one of the ones I look forward to every week is the Hang Up and Listen podcast from Slate. This week they interviewed Lonzo Ball’s dad, who was hugely entertaining if not entirely coherent. His point: I stand by my boy who I love and who is great and why do you keep asking me to compare him to Steph Curry? This would be a valid point if he hadn’t invited that comparison by making it himself. The best part of the interview, however, was when Josh Levin pointed out that he would feel terrible if he somehow deprived Lonzo Ball’s dad of his doughnuts and naps. It was just great “radio.”

These guys have to play a game today, too. During Arizona’s disastrous only league loss to Oregon, I repeated my belief that they were one of the best 2-3 teams in the country. I stand by that assessment despite that weird loss. UCLA is the most watchable team in the country. This has potential to be the best game of the season. Watch it.

Picks: BEER BET!!!

Mike: Sure, I’ll be the Mr. Ball of this group and allegedly go with the Vegas play on the NERDS-IU game and then ignore it for this one. Arizona is at least 2 better than UCLA since UCLA still hasn’t solved its allergy to defense. Go Cats.

Nate:  Oh you tricky Vegas.  Arizona wins at Pauley, convincingly, and Vegas puts this spread out signifying that UCLA would be favored on a neutral court.  I’m going with Vegas and the most underappreciated player in the country (T.J. Leaf).  UCLA +1.5

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