Free College Hoops Picks – December 6th
At the risk of getting Gonzaga vs. Baylor-style ‘Covid-cancelled’, let me just tentatively say, “Welcome Back!” Or perhaps, ‘welcome back?!?’ with Ron Burgendy-esque inflection.
It’s been a weird nine months. When we last spoke, we were breaking down the major six conference tournaments and making predictions, all of which certainly would have come true had not a massive pandemic dropped a toxic turd in the March Madness punchbowl. Obviously, the tournament never happened but at least things are slowly returning back to normal (assuming your definition of normal is sneakers squeaking in empty gyms and an entire NCAA Tournament being played in one city, perhaps with multiple games occurring simultaneously in a cavernous football stadium…)
I ramble about Covid because, from a wagering perspective, it REALLY MATTERS this season. Teams are always tricky to fully grasp in the first few weeks, especially in the last 5-6 years with ever-increasing roster turnover. This year, it is also VITAL to double check the general wellness of a team prior to officially locking in a wager. It’s a fluid situation, so be sure to realize that many articles are written before the final “who’s healthy” confirmation…
On the court, it’s been a wacky start to the season with massive Jekyll/Hyde swings for some of the nation’s biggest brands. Kentucky took a home L to Richmond. Virginia, whom I really liked as the favorite to win the ACC, took a loss to San Francisco (who just haven’t been the same since BILL RUSSELL graduated), Villanova lost in OT to Virginia Tech, Illinois, ranked as high as they’ve been since the Deron Williams-Era struggled to a two-point win over Ohio, Michigan needed overtime to beat an Oakland team that lost to Xavier 101-49.
The Big Ten in general has shown some real relative weakness, with nearly every top-tier team taking a loss to a lesser-regarding team, or being pushed by a non-power conference foe, though don’t be surprised if the parity results in as many as nine teams dancing in March…
Let’s get to today’s action and see if we can kick off the season with a pair of winners!
TODAY’S FREE PICKS:
Villanova Wildcats -1 vs. Texas Longhorns
I saw this game pegged at Texas -1.5 a few days ago, and many sites still have it as a pick ‘em. Bet MGM currently has ‘Nova laying a point – but no matter where this one lands, it’s an appropriately handicapped near pick-em. But should it be?
Villanova has one of the more impressive wins of the season with a comfortable handling of an Arizona State team that will likely contend for the Pac-12 crown. In fact, they are one of my favorite sleeper long value future plays for 2021. But the followed up that impressive win with a lackluster overtime loss to a less-talented Virginia Tech squad picked to finish 11th in the ACC and without a single player receiving a vote for All-Conference or All-Freshman honors. They were uninspired in a win over Boston College, picked 14th in the ACC, as well. If you took the name off the front of the jersey, you’d be hard pressed to rate Nova as more than a middle-of-the-pack ACC squad.
Of course, I do not believe that will be the end result. Villanova the veteran savvy that tends to get teams a teensy bit overrated preseason (see: Iowa, Wisconsin) but also a ton of young athletic talent that will need a month of Jay Wright’s seasoning to mature and gel. Villanova will be fine.
But perhaps not today.
Texas has looked as good as anyone in the nation in the non-Gonzaga category so far this season with tight wins over North Carolina and Davidson and an impressive throttling of Indiana. The Hoosiers are a nice value wager to win the Big Ten and have as much talent as anyone in that conference and Texas just smothered them with defense.
Shaka Smart’s squad is long and athletic, and while I wouldn’t want them in a shooting contest with Villanova, I do think they will cause them some real issues defensively. Texas is averaging over six steals a game, and I expect Matt Coleman to accept the challenge of facing off with Colin Gillespie and thrive today.
Villanova has the bigger rep, but I think Texas has better size and athleticism. I like them to win today at home.
MY PICK: TEXAS MONEYLINE -105
Xavier Musketeers at Cincinnati Bearcats -1.5
Cincinnati has only played one game so far, a tune-up against an out-manned Lipscomb squad, due to the fun associated with Coronavirus. Meanwhile, Xavier has lept out to a good-on-paper 5-0 record. However, upon further inspection, Xavier might be living a little lucky so far. They opened with a bang (101-49 over Oakland) but since have been in to-the-wire games with Bradley, Toledo and an overtime 99-96 win over Eastern Kentucky. While it is possible one of them might sneak into the NCAA Tournament via auto-bid, none are considered legit Top 75 teams.
However, there is something to be said for having five games under your belt and some substantial game pressure before heading into one of the fiercest rivalries in College Hoops. Cincinnati is replacing a ton off last year’s squad, name the loss of Cumberland, and hasn’t really had time to develop an identity yet. While the results have been middling at times, at least Xavier knows who they are.
This game has potential to be ugly at times. I would lean towards the UNDER 136.5 for value, but my official play on this game is to take Xavier on the money line at a generous +115. That’s a huge boost to give away just a point. It is a new season with new rosters, but Xavier has had the wagering upper hand in this rivalry lately, covering five of the last seven meetings. Cincy has also struggled against the Big East, going just 3-14 ATS in their 17 matchups.
Neither team is great this year, both ranking in the 50’s-60’s in KenPom and other expanded rankings. So, I’ll take the team with more experience, both this year, and in previous seasons, to steal a hard-fought victory.
MY PICK: XAVIER MONEYLINE +115