Weekend College Basketball Handicapping Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 2/3/2012
Beware of the “All Of A Sudden” Expert.
Football is coming to a grand end with the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 5. Once our National Pastime has been put to rest college basketball will become the forefront of our nation’s sports betting scene.
With that, all of the bobblehead media on television and on the Interweb will suddenly all transition into their roles as experts on college hoops, despite the fact that they have probably barely, or at most with one eye, been keeping tabs on the sport since it began all the way back in November.
As a result, you can expect a lot of people to start rehashing the kind of trivial, played out storylines that have been underlying this season. You’ll hear a lot of people bicker about who should be the No. 1 seeds, about whether Murray State can go undefeated, you’ll hear the ESPN bobbleheads trash the Pac-12 (mainly because Fox owns the rights to the Pac-12), and you’ll hear a lot of “What’s wrong with so-and-so” discussions about streaky teams throughout the sport.
But what you won’t get is substantive talks about what is shaping up as a frantic, hazy, bizarre stretch run toward the NCAA Tournament. College basketball, around the board, is as bad this year as it has been in a decade. Parity and poor play have been the standard. And because of that the crop of teams vying for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament is getting larger and less qualified.
This weekend there are a host of games that are off the radar of most of the bobblehead media and the All Of A Sudden Experts. These games are seemingly beneath them. But the following under-the-radar games will play a key role in shaping the national picture during nonstop college basketball Saturday:
Xavier at Memphis (1 p.m.)
At one point these two schools were not only locks for the NCAA Tournament but dark horse contenders to make it to the Final Four. But they then actually started playing. And the last month hasn’t been kind to either of these teams. Now they come together for what will be a crucial resume-building win for one of them.
Memphis began the season in the Top 10 and has been the most overrated team in the nation this year. They played a bunch of marquee games against top-tier teams this year. But the problem is that they didn’t win any of those games. Their best win right now is over Miami and they only have two wins over teams in the Top 50. And one of those was against Belmont. It is clear that Memphis isn’t the dominant force in Conference USA anymore and there is a great chance that they won’t win the league’s automatic bid. If they want to earn an at-large bid this might be a must-win.
Xavier has been all over the map this season. They have wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue, Butler and Cincinnati. But they also went through that weird period in December and early January where they lost five of six games to some mediocre competition. Then just when it looked like they had things turned around in the A-10 they have lost two of their last four games and their two wins came by a combined five points. They need something positive to right the ship but that will only happen if they start to play together, which has been a big problem this season.
No. 15 Marquette at Notre Dame (1 p.m.)
Suddenly Notre Dame can’t lose. This team has scarce talent and a weird, 1974, four corners-style approach. But they have been working it to perfection recently, beating Syracuse and Connecticut and moving to No. 4 in the Big East.
Marquette wants to play at a break-neck pace and they are just one game behind the Orange for the top spot in the conference. The Golden Eagles have won seven straight games and are led by one of the best one-two punches in the nation: Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder.
The Irish should again be home underdogs and will be at a physical disadvantage. But they are as hot as anyone in the nation right now and could continue to make an out-of-nowhere case for inclusion into the NCAA Tournament field.
Vanderbilt at No. 11 Florida (1 p.m.)
Vanderbilt is seemingly every analysts “sleeper Final Four team”. But the problem with the Commodores is that they are soft. And over the last few years they have just not been able to get these key road wins against the top-tier teams in the SEC.
Florida has been a bit shakier than their ranking and their 17-4 record suggests. Key big man Patric Young has been hobbled by injury – which he is fighting through – and they are just 1-3 against the spread in their last four games. But they did sweep the ‘Dores in three meetings last year and they will have the benefit of the home court here.
Vanderbilt has won at Alabama and at Marquette this season so they can play with good teams on the road. But they are coming off a tough loss at Arkansas on Tuesday and they need to turn things around quickly if they want to keep the momentum of their recent 10-2 run going. Jeffrey Taylor has to have a big game here or Vandy will fall flat yet again.
Arizona at Stanford (3 p.m.)
Everyone can talk about how “down” the Pac-12 is right now, but I still contest that this league is better than the top-heavy ACC. That said, if this league wants to avoid the embarrassment of having just two or three bids they need some teams to get hot. Arizona and Stanford both fit the bill and this is really a key game.
Arizona has played a tough schedule this year but they don’t have a single marquee win that would convince the selection committee that they should be in the tournament. But this team has talent. And if they can just find someone – anyone – to stabilize their backcourt then they are a team that could go on a rush. They are in a letdown spot after a tough game at Cal, but the Cats can’t look past anyone at this point.
Stanford has dumped three of four games after an impressive 15-3 start that included a near miss against Syracuse. They have a lot of offensive talent, but they haven’t been able to get stops recently. This team has just one loss in Palo Alto this year and they were sharp against Arizona State on Thursday. They have a lot of work to do and they can prop themselves up on Arizona’s shoulders with a big win here.
Middle Tennessee State at Denver (4 p.m.)
This one isn’t going to move the dial, but it should be a great game. These are the two best teams in the Sun Belt Conference and I think that either one of these teams could pull an upset if they were to make it to The Big Dance.
Middle Tennessee gave Vanderbilt everything it could handle last weekend and they are firmly on the bubble at 21-3 on the season. Fair or not, if they want to steal an at-large bid they will need to dominate what is a very down Sun Belt field.
However, Denver is no joke. They have one of the best home court edges in the nation and they play a very deliberate style. This team can shoot, shoot, and shoot some more and they have wins over Top 60 teams like Southern Miss, St. Mary’s and Wyoming. The home crowd should give them a boost and I expect this to be an entertaining, high scoring, and very competitive game.
No. 12 Creighton at Northern Iowa (5 p.m.)
Rivalries in the Missouri Valley are as intense as in any conference in the country. This game is no exception.
The Blue Jays are coming off one of their best performances of the season, a 28-point maiming of Illinois State. They have won 11 straight and 14 of 15 games and they already took down the Panthers once this year. But they didn’t cover the number in their three-point home win back on Jan. 10. They should be small road favorites here but no road win in The Valley is ever an easy win.
Northern Iowa got off to a fast start this year and swept in-state rivals Iowa and Iowa State at home. But they are just 4-9 ATS in their last 13 games and have only won back-to-back games one time since Christmas. They are playing for pride and positioning in the MVC tournament right now and they would love to knock off the league’s top team.
Dayton at St. Louis (5 p.m.)
The Atlantic-10 is one of the toughest, most competitive conferences in the country this year. Need proof? Just two games separate the No. 1 and the No. 9 team in the league standings at the moment.
St. Louis is 11-1 at home and just mauled St. Bonaventure by 24 earlier this week. The Bills have won four of five games and are 3-1 ATS in their last four games. This team executes exceptionally well and is among the most efficient offensive and defensive teams in the nation.
Dayton actually won the first matchup, 79-72, in overtime back on Jan. 4. That was their first game without key forward Josh Benson and the Flyers didn’t seem to miss a beat without their No. 2 scorer and rebounder. But the Flyers have dropped three straight on the court and at the window and they are not a great road team. The revenge angle makes this a very tough spot for a team that, right now, is neck-and-neck with St. Louis in terms of having a solid resume for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Honorable Mention Games:
Detroit at Butler (Noon)
Virginia at Florida State (1 p.m.)
LaSalle at St. Joseph’s (Noon)
Arkansas at LSU (1:45 p.m.)
Baylor at Oklahoma State (1:45 p.m.)
Iona at Manhattan (7 p.m.)
Indiana at Purdue (7 p.m.)
Robert Ferringo is one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and is in the middle of his fourth straight winning season. In just two months he earned his clients over $10,000 in college basketball profit and he continues to be one of the top hoops handicapper around. He will have a full card this Saturday and you can find out more about his selections here.
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