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Free NCAA Pick Friday

#828 Kansas State -4 over UC-Irvine 1:00 PM CT

There is great focus on the absence of Dean Wade but the Kansas State forward missed eight games this season and played just eight minutes on last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. The return of Cartier Diarra provides an off-setting boost with Diarra putting up 23 points in two Big XII tournament games after missing the second half of the conference season. Kansas State has some of the absolute best defensive numbers in the nation and this will be a difficult draw for UC-Irvine, a team with just two top 100 wins all season long. One of those wins was at Saint Mary’s but the Anteaters also lost by 24 hosting Utah State and lost by 17 at Butler for the closest comparables.

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The Big West rated as the 19th best conference last year but tournament representative Cal-State Fullerton lost by 26 to Purdue in the tournament last season while regular season champion Cal-Davis lost by 10 against Utah in the NIT. Irvine was clearly the top Big West team going 18-1 but the conference rated 24th this season. Underdogs draw more attention than usual in March and Irvine is an appealing squad with a great record but the Big West champion being a slight underdog vs. the Big XII champion is a rare price. Kansas State was similarly priced vs. a TCU team that needed to win last week in the Big XII tournament in Kansas City. Kansas State was a 14-point favorite when these teams met in November 2017, a 22-point win for the Wildcats. Much is being made of the strong defensive numbers for Irvine but Kansas State is comfortable at a slow pace and has the far superior defensive resume. Size and experience will still be edges for the Wildcats even with Wade out of action.

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