Free Picks NCAAB – January 5th, 2019
It’s a loaded day of college hoops, highlighted by big-time showdowns in the Big Ten and ACC with Michigan State travelling to Ohio State and Virginia trying to remain unbeaten after a trip to tricky Tallahassee. There’s a ton on the undercard as well. Duke vs. Clemson, Kentucky with a true road test at Alabama, Kansas at underrated Iowa State and unbeaten Nevada trying to avoid a trap game in The Pit at New Mexico.
We had a nice Tuesday, and if you caught the late line move in the UCF game you likely went 4-1 ATS with us. Let’s see if we can build on that success today!
TODAY’S FREE PICKS:
Picking against Top 15 teams getting points at home is always a daring proposition, but today’s matchup warrants the decision. Michigan State somehow got lost in the shuffle after an early five-point neutral floor loss to Kansas. Since then, Sparty has looked like the preseason Final Four contender they were assumed to be. They took a tough road L at Louisville but have been otherwise perfect.
What should scare Big Ten foes is how stellar they have looked in conference play, starting 2-0 with an average win margin of 24 points. Iowa and Northwestern may prove to be also-rans (though I still think Iowa has tourney potential), but winning conference games by 20+ is never easy in a big-time league.
Michigan State is 10-4 ATS on the season with a +5.4 ATS margin. Ohio State clocks in at just 7-6 ATS and a solid +1.6. However, Michigan State plays with weightier expectations from a wager perspective and has still been up to the task. Ohio State wasn’t projected to be quite this highly ranked and I am little skeptical it will last once conference play starts churning. They enter at 12-1 with some good names on the resume; Cincinnati, Creighton, Minnesota, UCLA – but only UC is a sure-fire tourney team and UCLA is downright awful (like, fire the coach in the middle of the season, AWFUL).
I’ll take the explosive talent of Michigan State, even on the road today. This game should be good. I don’t think MSU will cruise the way they have thus far in conference play, but I think their athleticism and shot-making will be enough to get a W with a possession or two cushion. I don’t love that Joshua Langford is listed as doubtful for today’s game, but I still think Sparty has enough with Winston and Nick Ward and will get the slack picked up by a deep squad with Tillman, McQuaid and Goins.
MY PICK: MICHIGAN STATE -2.5
Another pick, another road favorite. And this one would jump up and surprise casual college basketball fans. UConn is a home underdog to UCF??? Huh?
Yep. And the line should be even wider. UConn is a dumpster fire this season, as the once-mighty program continues to sputter to new lows. They enter today at 9-5 and the mileage from the surprising win over Syracuse has long since expired. They have losses to decent teams, but most have not been “quality” losses. They got dropped by 19 to Iowa and 23 to Villanova. They competed better against Florida State in what might be their best effort of the year and lost close to a down Arizona squad. It’s an admittedly strange college hoops season, full of “so who IS good???” discussions. In a normal year, games where UConn took on Villanova, Arizona and Syracuse would be blockbusters. This year? None is a guaranteed tourney team (though I’d bet my house Nova makes it).
Meanwhile, UCF is puttering along under the radar. The hoops team lacks the bluster of their gridiron counterparts, but Johnny Dawkins has built a legit NCAA Tourney squad in 2019. Tacko Fall, one of the tallest humans on Earth at 7’6’’ gets most of the attention, but BJ Taylor is leading the squad in scoring for the fourth season and is the engine that makes the Knights go. Think “Carsen Edwards-lite” and you have a good picture of this dynamic scoring lead guard.
UCF is athletic and big and can defend along with some of the best teams in the nation, especially when Tacko stays out of foul trouble. UConn is fresh off an embarrassing loss to USF.
I think UCF goes on the road and wins this game. It’s not about the name on the jersey, it’s about the players wearing them. And this year, UCF has a much better squad.
MY PICK: UCF KNIGHTS -2
Let’s make it three for three. I’ll take one more superior team overcoming a hostile road environment, though admittedly, this will be the MOST hostile of the three. Ames, Iowa knows how to get up for the visiting Jayhawks and generally has this game circled on the calendar months in advance. But be careful what you wish for… KU was ranked #1 in the preseason and is much better now than they were in November thanks to the return of Udoka Azubuike. The big man gives them a defensive presence in the paint and also attracts some attention to free up Legerald Vick and Devon Dotson, both shooting over 42% from distance.
Kansas will have to contend with Marial Shyock, averaging nearly 20 points a game and making an early case for Big XII Player of the Year. They will also have to contend with a raucous crowd. But this is Kansas. They are ALWAYS the highlight of the road team’s schedule and the crowd is always fever pitched. Iowa State played four players over 30 minutes in their narrow conference-opening win over Oklahoma State. I am not sure they can sustain that emotion and pace today against a far-superior Kansas squad. I’ll happily take the two points, but would also recommend goosing up the value a bit and taking KU straight up.
MY PICK: KANSAS JAYHAWKS +2