Free College Hoops Pick – March 9th – March Maniacs
Here we are, the final day of the college hoops regular season. And while most teams already know their likely tourney fate (conference tournaments excepted) there are still about a dozen teams with life and a dozen more clinging nervously to their soft bubble position.
And tournament and bubble and seeding aside, there is PRIDE on the line today. Michigan State faces Michigan, Florida heads to Kentucky, and of course, Duke gets their rematch at Chapel Hill.
It is a loaded day of action, so let’s see if we can finish it off with some W’s.
TODAY’S FREE PICKS:
For the official record, I am staying off the Duke game tonight. North Carolina at home laying four seems like a good value, but the unknown factor of Zion will he/won’t he/how well will he play is just a little more than I feel like having money exchanging hands upon. So, I am watching, but not wagering. Feel free to be more daring if you choose…
Texas Tech Red Raiders -1.5 at Iowa State Cyclones
There is always a little mystique around how difficult it is to play at Hilton. And for good reason. Over the years, not many foes have gone into the den of the Cyclones and emerged victorious. But in 2019 (and in 2018 as well) that might be a little overstated. Iowa State is limping to the finish line, losers of four of their last five games and five of seven overall.
They also own HOME losses this season to squads far less powerful than the surging Red Raiders, getting dropped by both TCU and Baylor (and also Kansas State by a point, but no shame there). Iowa State will get back to the NCAA Tounament, which makes this a successful season, but the arc of that success feels a little disappointing.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech has ripped off eight straight wins and can clinch no worse than a share of the Big XII crown with a win today on the road. That’s no small accomplishment when you consider Big XII glory have been the dominion of the Jayhawks since before most of this year’s current roster began kindergarten. It seems like Chris Beard should have no difficult having his men dialed in at full attention and intensity tonight – always a good thing for one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
Texas Tech is still in play for a #1 seed in March, and is at worst, a scary #2 lurking oddly under the radar. The Red Raiders rank FIRST in the entire nation in defensive efficiency, ahead of Virginia (3) and Michigan (4), Duke (5), Gonzaga (6) and other teams more lauded.
I like them to go on the road and cap off an amazing regular season in grand fashion; cutting down the Big XII nets.
MY PICK: TEXAS TECH -1.5
Michigan Wolverines at Michigan State Spartans -3.5
Duke vs. Carolina will get all the ink and eyeballs, but this game is going to be fantastic. The Spartans got the road win 77-70 just a few weeks ago over Michigan and can cap off the season sweep today by holding serve in East Lansing. The win would guarantee Sparty a share of the Big Ten regular season title (almost certainly shared, barring a bizarre Purdue loss at struggling Northwestern). It will leave Izzo’s squad in legit search of a top two seed in March, leave them well-positioned for another Final Four run, and cap off a strange season in which they win a conference crown by sweeping Michigan, yet losing twice to disastrous Indiana. Odd indeed.
It is also odd to consider Michigan State underrated, but they very well may be. No one is putting them in the same category as Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga or Kentucky, and their attention nationally lags behind the pluckier story of Tennessee and even some mid-major darlings. But here we go again, Sparty looking like the team that could, relatively “starlessly” slip into the season’s final weekend once again.
I digress. Back to today. Michigan State is a strong favorite in my eyes, despite Vegas seeing them lay just three and a half. Michigan State has won six of their last seven, leaving in the dust the odd three-game malaise that coincided with the official loss of Langford for the season. Their losses were ugly; Indiana and Illinois back-to-back. But if you can give them a pass on that week, you see a relatively bullet-proof resume. The losses are @Purdue, @Louisville, Kansas on a neutral back when the Jayhawks were uninjured and un-suspended, etc. They own wins over Michigan, Texas, Florida, Iowa, Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Michigan was a metrics darling most of the season, ranking first or second in defense all season long. But that number has slipped of late, and their offense has been failing the eye test. They struggle to score more than a typical Michigan team and have been exposed a little as the season has worn on. They are just 5-3 in their last eight games, and while they were earlier frequently holding teams under 60, the games are starting to creep closer to 70 and above.
Both of these teams have been fantastic ATS in league play, with State just a game better at 14-5 ATS. No edge here. The edge is in the recent eye test and the home court advantage. I’ll expect a good game but will take Sparty to grab a few extra buckets late to pad the margin and earn both the win and the cover.
MY PICK: MICHIGAN STATE -3.5