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Green Sheet Issue #6 is posted

Don’t miss this week’s issue of the Green Sheet with an in-depth look at the 2020-21 football season in the Big XII.

Can Oklahoma continue its reign in the conference or can a team like Texas or Oklahoma State rise to the top. Four head coaches will be looking to take a step forward in their second seasons while Dave Aranda joins the conference as one of the most accomplished first time head coaches in recent memory.

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Free NCAA Pick Tuesday

#625 Davidson +6 over Richmond 6:00 PM CT

Richmond has won seven of the past eight games to stay relevant in the NCAA Tournament bubble chase. The Spiders turned in an emphatic 96-71 win over UMass at home on Saturday but this team has lost a pair of A-10 home games and this will be a huge game for Davidson who had a miserable shooting game in a home loss vs. Richmond earlier in the season. Coached by offensive genius Bob McKillop, Davidson can post big numbers but is reliant on hitting outside shots. On the season Davidson is among the nation’s best with a 37 percent 3-point percentage while even stronger than that in A-10 play as the top team in the conference beyond the arc. Richmond has good numbers defending the 3-point shot but the Spiders have also played one of the weakest schedules in the conference. Davidson was humbled by Dayton in its last game on Friday but has had a nice turnaround to prepare for this opportunity and the Wildcats are 8-4 since losing the first meeting against Richmond. In that span are a 4OT defeat and a one-point road loss as Davidson could easily be a few games higher in the standings. Davidson has several recent wins in this building and with good size the Wildcats are an attractive underdog with the ability to put together big scoring runs. Seven of the past nine meetings between these teams have been decided by single-digit margins as the underdog points are appealing.

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NCAA Contender Concerns

NCAA Contender Concerns

Selection Sunday is less than two weeks away and some of the top contenders for the NCAA Tournament are clear. Many expect a wide open field this season however and here some possible concerns for 11 teams that have a good shot to wind up seeded in the most favorable spots on the bracket.  

Kansas: Bill Self’s past tournament failures

With a long winning steak heading into the final week of the regular season including a late February win at Baylor, Kansas is a near-certain #1 seed and currently in position to be the #1 overall seed in the tournament. The statistics are very compelling with the top rated defense in the country while Silvio De Sousa is set to rejoin the team next week. This team has great size and talent and a quality track record featuring five top 20 caliber wins, four of which have come away from home while being a one-point and a two-point loss away from being 28-1.

It is impossible to ignore Bill Self’s disappointing NCAA Tournament track record however. Kansas did win the 2007-08 championship but they had a favorable path in terms of opponents and locations on that run, including beating a #12 seed in the Sweet 16 and a #10 seed in the Elite 8. Recall they also trailed by nine in the championship game with just over two minutes to go before Memphis collapsed including missing four of its final five free throws while failing to foul up by three in the final seconds of regulation.

Since that championship season Kansas has been a #1 seed six different times while at least a #4 seed in every other year and yet Self and the Jayhawks have been back to the Final Four just twice in those in 11 seasons while failing to escape the opening weekend six different times in Self’s tenure, all as a top four seed. Kansas is a bad free throw shooting team and has limited depth with the roster getting a scare with a possible injury to Udoka Azubuike last weekend. Kansas has the profile of a top contender and this is Self’s best defense since the championship season but we’ve seen plenty of great Jayhawks teams falter in March in recent years as it will be an uncomfortable choice to write Kansas six times in your bracket.

Gonzaga: Not a championship caliber defense

A run to the national title game in the 2016-17 season has legitimized Gonzaga as a program that can win it all and this year’s team could be a #1 seed for the fourth time in the past eight years. Gonzaga has made at least the Sweet 16 each of the past four seasons and this year’s team grades as the top offensive team in the nation. There is great size on the roster and this is an experienced veteran team even with significant turnover from last season’s squad that fell just short of the Final Four.

Gonzaga doesn’t have a ton of weight in its non-conference campaign however as wins over Texas A&M, Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina didn’t pan out to be overly meaningful results despite the past track records of those programs. A one-point overtime win over Oregon is the best non-conference win for the Bulldogs but that result was cancelled out the next day in the Bahamas with an 18-point loss to Michigan.

With BYU and Saint Mary’s expected to also be in the NCAA Tournament field the WCC is as good as it has been in several years but it will still be a big leap in competition for the Bulldogs in March. This is also Mark Few’s worst defensive efficiency team since 2010-11 when Gonzaga earned just a #11 seed and was bounced in the round of 32. The Gonzaga team that lost in the championship to North Carolina graded as the nation’s best defense, this year’s team barely cracks the top 40, a range almost no championship teams emerge from historically.

San Diego State: A long layoff without quality opposition

It took a comeback win in Saturday’s regular season finale for San Diego State to avoid losing for a second time in three games, pulling out a comeback win at Nevada to finish 28-1. Some will argue it was better for the Aztecs to not enter the tournament with the pressure of being undefeated but another issue for San Diego State is that the Mountain West tournament starts this week and there will be at least an 11-day layoff before the Round of 64 game for a team that could still earn a #1 seed if they are victorious this week in Las Vegas.

November wins over BYU, Creighton, and Iowa have put some meat on the great record for San Diego State but from a possible Round of 32 game it will have been three and half months since the Aztecs have faced a top 40 caliber opponent. The Mountain West hasn’t performed very well in recent NCAA Tournaments and this looks like a down year for the conference as whole, grading as the 10th best conference in the nation when as recently as 2012-13 the conference cracked the national top four.

That season produced five NCAA Tournament teams from the conference but those teams collectively wound up 2-5 in the Big Dance despite four of five teams being seeded #8 or better. Last year the conference produced just two teams in the field and both lost badly in the Round of 64 as favorites. This year Utah State has a shot at earning one of the final at-large bids but if the Aztecs roll through the conference tournament it will likely be a one-bid conference. The Aztecs have been a great story but the track record of success for teams from this conference has been poor. This team also often becomes too reliant on low percentage shots from Malachi Flynn while by major conference standards this group is going to have a hard time matching up size-wise against most power conference foes.

Baylor: Rebounding and free throws

The #1 team in the polls most of the season with a 23-game winning streak Baylor could still earn a #1 draw even with losses in two of past three games. Two opportunities for quality wins finish the regular season slate and the Bears will hope to fare well in the Big XII tournament, though they are 0-3 in the past three seasons in the conference tournament.

Baylor has a top 20 offensive and defensive efficiency ranking and as one of the nation’s top defensive teams this team has a championship pedigree even with some offensive lapses at times. Baylor is a bottom four team in the Big XII in two-point scoring and free throw shooting but the deliberate pace and the mix of zone defense can be challenging for opponents, particularly in a short scheduling turnaround in a tournament setting. Scott Drew’s team made the Elite 8 in 2009-10 and 2011-12 but hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since but under Drew the Bears have never drawn better than a #3 seed, which they almost certainly will this season.

Baylor is not a good defensive rebounding team and opponents were handed the perfect formula for beating the Bears by a marginal TCU group last week. Keep pace with Baylor on the boards and turning the game into a free throw shooting contest with Baylor struggling at the line outside of MaCio Teague. Davion Mitchell is a primary ball handler for the Bears despite being a 68 percent free throw shooter and a 31 percent 3-point shooter and without a starter above 6’9” the Bears don’t have as imposing of a front court as they have had in years past.

Dayton: Marginal defense with quality wins absent

On paper there is a lot to like about Dayton sitting at 27-2 with both losses away from home in overtime against high-quality competition. Dayton grades as one of the best offensive teams in the nation including the top 2-point shooting percentage in the nation as the Flyers rarely have scoring droughts. Obi Toppin is a future NBA lottery pick that is capable of being one of the stars of the tournament as well.

The highest rated win for Dayton is against Saint Mary’s however as while the Atlantic 10 has pretty good depth with a handful of decent teams, it ultimately is at risk to be a one-bid league should the Flyers win the conference tournament. Dayton has also been pushed with single-digit wins in six straight road games as the Flyers have had some good fortune to escape unblemished in league play.

Dayton will certainly be the worst defensive team to land in the top three seed lines in the tournament field. If the Flyers can win out they could earn a favorable venue draw with Cleveland a possible landing spot and if they end up in the Midwest the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games are in Indianapolis as the Flyers have a chance to be ahead of every Big Ten team as well as Kentucky, teams that would normally be considered to snag the top billing in Cleveland. Getting the Midwest draw would likely mean being the #2 seed in the Midwest behind Kansas however as if Dayton lands a #1 seed, they would likely land in the New York region for a more daunting path in terms of locations.

Duke: Youth and road woes

The Blue Devils haven’t resembled a #1or a #2 seed lately dropping three of the past four games but wins over Kansas and Michigan State are going to keep Duke in the mix for a great seed should they finish strong. As usual Duke seems likely to land a close-to-home draw in Greensboro, particularly with the other major Tobacco Road power not likely to even be in the field barring a miracle ACC tournament run.

It has been a down year for the ACC but Duke is one of only a handful of teams with a chance to finish as a top 10 offensive and defensive efficiency team and in great contrast to last year’s popular title contender that fizzled in the Elite 8, this year’s team is a good outside shooting team and an improved free throw shooting team. Coach K’s mixed NCAA Tournament track record deserves scrutiny but the program has made the Elite 8 four of the past seven years though Duke hasn’t won a title from outside of a #1 seed since Krzyzewski’s first championship in 1990-91.

Duke is also just not as talented as last year’s team that featured three players drafted in the top 10 of the 2019 NBA Draft. Vernon Carey is considered a borderline lottery pick but the youth of this team has shown up with very marginal results on the road in ACC play including four losses and a few other narrow escapes. New York has been kind to Duke as a Greensboro-New York draw could be very appealing for this group but a strong finish will be needed for Duke to still have a shot at a preferred seeding placement given the recent slide.

Michigan State: Inconsistent performances all season

The preseason #1 didn’t look the part most of the season with nine losses by mid-February after a stretch of losing four of five early in February including two losses in East Lansing. With three straight wins including a huge win at Big Ten leader Maryland last weekend, Michigan State has put itself back in play for a decent seed on Selection Sunday, possibly even a #2 spot even with a high loss count. With some help, Michigan State can still win a share of the Big Ten title though the remaining games with Penn State and Ohio State will be challenging.

Tom Izzo has been to eight Final Fours and most impressively is that the past five trips have come seeded at #5, #2, #5, #7, and a #2 as this team hasn’t needed a favorable path to get the job done. Less important than seeding could be locations for the Spartans as drawing a #2 or #3 seed in Indianapolis would be very appealing if the Spartans finish strong, though there will be great competition for those spots from teams like Maryland, Seton Hall, Dayton, Kentucky, and Louisville.

The Spartans have quietly joined the top 15 of the efficiency rankings on both sides of the ball to sit in rare company and the Spartans are the #1 effective field goal rate team on both sides of the ball in the highly competitive and tightly-packed Big Ten. The conference grind has hurt Michigan State’s record but could have team prepared for a March run but the inconsistency of a team that returned three starters from last year’s Final Four team will make this group difficult to trust. While Izzo’s Final Four appearances stand out, Michigan State has also lost in the opening weekend of the tournament three of the past four years.

Seton Hall: Late season health and not living up to its size

The Pirates don’t have the credentials to earn a #1 seed with seven losses and only a win over Maryland standing out on the non-conference schedule despite what will be a stand-alone Big East title with one more win. Size and experience will make Seton Hall a team that many will pencil into the Final Four even if the Pirates are in a tougher seeding position than most of the other teams on this list. Winning out could put the Pirates as a #2 seed in a favorable venue draw and Myles Powell is the kind of player the team can lean on to carry the load for a big run.

Kevin Willard has done well to put Seton Hall into the NCAA Tournament for now a fifth straight season but trusting him to advance deep into the tournament is difficult with Willard 2-4 in the NCAA Tournament including a blowout loss to Wofford last season in Jacksonville. The only quality non-conference win for Seton Hall last season was also against Maryland and this team has had a few recent ugly spells on offense, notably in the recent losses to Creighton and Providence.

Despite the experience of this team, turnovers can be a problem for this team and this is also a marginal 3-point shooting team, ranking seventh in the Big East at just 32 percent. Seton Hall also routinely struggles to dominate on the glass despite having more height than just about any team in the country. The roster could also enter March at less than full strength with Anthony Nelson and Tyrese Samuel missing recent games and Powell battling knee pain the last few weeks. The potential for a #2 seed could also be erased in the next week as well with two difficult games remaining facing Villanova and Creighton to close the regular season.

Maryland: Poor results outside the Big Ten vs. major conference foes

Somewhat via attrition Maryland looks likely to stand as the Big Ten regular season champions, though the gap with Maryland at #1 down to Ohio State and Michigan at #7 and #8 in the standings is miniscule. Maryland ultimately had one of the weaker Big Ten schedules with only single meetings vs. Penn State, Wisconsin, and Purdue, while they still haven’t faced Michigan who they will end the season against next weekend.

If you are looking for a top 25 win from Maryland in the non-conference schedule, you’ll have to keep looking as only a neutral site win over Marquette is close to that range as the overall record looks inflated. Maryland also won 12 of its 13 Big Ten wins by 12 or fewer points as this team could easily have a few more losses, notably last week’s narrow escape at Minnesota, a game the Terrapins trailed by 17 in and were still down four in the final minute.

Maryland has been patient with Mark Turgeon but in this his ninth season, the program has one Sweet 16 appearance in that span despite a lot of high-profile recruits coming through College Park. This year’s team has three potential NBA players in big roles but Turgeon’s team hasn’t held up against quality major conference foes as his four NCAA Tournament wins in nine seasons have come vs. Valparaiso, South Dakota State, Hawai’i, and Belmont while getting bounced by Big XII, Big East, and SEC teams, the caliber of teams Maryland rarely beats in the non-conference season either. It also needs to be said that despite the strong rating of the Big Ten, not since 1999-2000 has a Big Ten team actually cut down the nets, though in fairness Maryland did so as an ACC team in 2001-02.

Kentucky: Not a typical Calapari Wildcats team

Kentucky has three players that could be drafted in this summer’s NBA draft but almost certainly no lottery picks as this isn’t the usual John Calapari Kentucky team that has more talent than almost every opponent. It shows in the numbers as well as while the Wildcats have rallied to 24-5 and a SEC regular season title, the current numbers grade this unit as Calapari’s worst defensive team since the #4 seeded 2015-16 team that lost in the Round of 32 to Tom Cream and Indiana. Kentucky also hasn’t ranked this low nationally on offense since the 2012-13 NIT season. This year’s team is pretty good at everything but not great at anything even in a year where the SEC ranks as the worst of the major conferences.

The current eight-game winning streak features six wins by single-digits as there have been close calls along the way and Kentucky only had to play LSU and Mississippi State once in the league draw. Kentucky beat Louisville and Texas Tech for impressive non-conference wins but both results required overtime and damaging losses to Evansville and Utah will likely prevent the Wildcats to climbing to the #2 line unless they win out and see some other contenders for those spots stumble.

Given plenty of other teams in the mix for favorable seeds that would like to land in Dayton, Cleveland, or St. Louis it seems likely that the Wildcats could be sent to a far away spot in the opening weekend, especially with the SEC Championship not until the afternoon of Selection Sunday. The only way Kentucky would be able to claim a #2 seed would be with that title, something the committee may simply not have time to adjust for.

Louisville: Reliance on 3-point shooting and struggles vs. top teams.

Chris Mack is clearly a good coach and he has Louisville back in the mix as a contender in just his second season with the Cardinals even after stepping into a difficult situation following the toxic exit of Rick Pitino leaving the program in a tough position for a few years. Mack was a #1 seed and a #2 seed at Xavier however and didn’t win in the Round of 32 either year however and Mack’s postseason debut at Louisville was a bit of a humiliating result with a double-digit loss to Minnesota and Richard Pitino a year ago.

Louisville played one of the weakest non-conference schedules among teams in the mix for top seeds in the field and that metric could keep the Cardinals out of consideration for a top two spot barring titles in both the ACC regular season and the ACC tournament. Louisville has also played one of the weakest ACC paths with the entire resume built on the big win at Duke in January, a game Wendell Moore didn’t play in.

Louisville is ultimately 2-5 vs. top 40 caliber teams this season and without a defense that grades as championship caliber it is very difficult to envision this team running off several high quality wins in a row in March. Louisville is one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the nation with Jordan Nwora a 40 percent shooter beyond the arc but relying on those outside shots in unfamiliar venues can be a risky formula.

This feels like a year where the eventual champion could come from anywhere as top seed lines may not be as strong as usual and there will be contenders lurking all over the board. There are concerns with each of the teams currently in play for #1 and #2 seeds though the past five champions have all been seeded #1 or #2 with 10 of the past 13 champions being a #1 seed. The jockeying for those top four spots in the next two weeks will likely be critical in determining the champion in Atlanta April 6.

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Free NCAA Pick Wednesday

#841 Miami, FL +4.5 over Virginia Tech 8:00 PM CT

It has not been a strong season for the ACC and Jim Larranaga is on his way to another disappointing season at Miami. The Hurricanes have as many conference wins as last season already however and have played its best in the past week with consecutive wins. Miami does have an ACC road win and has had to play mostly heavyweights on the road taking losses at Louisville, Duke, and Florida State in ACC road games. Miami won by 10 hosting Virginia Tech with a big edge in rebounding and interior scoring and those advantages should again show up with a massive frontcourt size edge for the Hurricanes. A transition season for Virginia Tech was expected but the team picked up a big November win for Mike Young beating Michigan State. A respectable 5-3 start in ACC play followed but the Hokies have now lost five of the past six while losing four times at home in ACC play. Virginia Tech beat Pittsburgh last weekend to snap a five-game slide but offensive rebounding was a clear problem with the Hokies the worst in the conference on the offensive glass. Virginia Tech takes care of the ball but is a lousy 3-point shooting team despite being more reliant on shots beyond the arc than any team in the ACC. Virginia Tech has also struggled despite opposing teams shooting only 66 percent at the free throw line against them. Miami has played the most difficult ACC schedule at this point in the season and is only one win short of the Hokies who have had one of the lightest conference paths. Another win for the Hurricanes won’t be a surprise in this series.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#626 Kent State -7 over Ohio 12:00 PM CT

Ohio has a top 100 road win at St. Bonaventure but that win was back on November 5. In MAC play the Bobcats are 1-4 on the road with only a two-point win at Eastern Michigan in a game that featured a big comeback and a massive free throw edge. Ohio enters this game off back-to-back wins but both games were at home against lesser MAC foes. Now back on the road the Bobcats could struggle having gone 4-7 through one of the weakest schedules in the MAC so far. Kent State is only 6-5 in MAC play but grades as a far better offensive performer through a difficult conference schedule so far. The Flashes are coming off back-to-back narrow losses and all five MAC defeats have come by single-digit margins as this team could easily have a stronger record. Kent State is 10-2 at home this season and is one of the best shooting teams in the conference, particularly from long range connecting at nearly 37 percent from 3-point range. The Flashes are also the best 2-point defense in the MAC as there should be clear advantages for the home team in this contest. Kent State has a veteran roster that is one of the most experienced teams in the nation and the Flashes won both meetings last season while winning nine of the past 12 in this series. Ohio last won at Kent State in 2014 and home court should hold again.

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Free NCAA Pick Friday

#877 Illinois-Chicago +11 over Wright State 8:00 PM CT

Illinois-Chicago owns an ugly 12-14 overall record but the Flames have found some rhythm in Horizon play with a 6-2 run with one of those losses coming by just a single point. On the run of solid play Illinois-Chicago has been on the road a lot with five consecutive road games at one point but as it stands the Flames have won four of seven road games in league play with only one loss coming by more than two points with that being the first conference road game of the season. Illinois-Chicago stunned Wright State at home in mid-January with a 76-72 win despite a sloppy effort with 19 turnovers and a deficit at the free throw line. Illinois-Chicago scored inside with ease with a front court with three starters 6’8” or taller as Michael Diggins, Jordan Blount, and Braelen Bridges combined to make 19 of 28 shots. Wright State shot just 36 percent in that game as the interior points were very difficult to find. The small Raiders lineup is likely to have problems again in this matchup and this is a hefty home favorite price in Dayton. Wright State has lost two home games this season and while the team is 7-0 at home in conference play there have been some close calls along the way with six of those games decided by 13 or fewer points. Scott Nagy’s team has drawn the second weakest schedule in the league so far and Illinois-Chicago grades as the second best defense in the conference though a tougher schedule despite sitting in the middle of the pack. Turnovers are a concern for UIC in this matchup but the Flames look likely to hold their own on the boards while scoring inside with success against a lineup that is the worst in the conference defending 2-point shots. Illinois-Chicago has won three in a row in this series and Wright State has just one win in by more than seven points in the past seven meetings.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#673 Virginia +7.5 over Louisville 3:00 PM CT

At 11-1 Louisville appears to have control of the ACC but the path has been one of the lightest in a down year for the conference. The Cardinals are balanced but there are few things in ACC play that the team has been the best at among the 15 teams. The one exception is an outrageous 45 percent 3-point shooting rate that won’t be sustainable. That is five percent better than the 40 percent season average for Louisville that checks in at fourth nationally.

Louisville has played many of the worst teams in the ACC already and still is mostly playing close games with five of the past eight games decided by 10 or fewer points including a big comeback on Wednesday night at home vs. Wake Forest. Virginia has won three in a row to climb back into the NCAA Tournament discussion while still a viable threat to finish in a top tier spot in the ACC. As usual this is one of the nation’s best defensive teams holding foes to 29 percent 3-point shooting. Virginia has five wins away from home this season including three ACC road wins while the team’s four ACC defeats are by 7, 8, 4, and 2 points respectively.

Virginia is 14-3 all-time vs. Louisville with nine straight wins in this series including four straight wins on the road. Only once all-time has Louisville defeated Virginia by more than three points and that was back in 1990. The offensive numbers for Virginia are problematic but the Cavaliers will slow the pace of this game to a crawl to minimize the possession count. Louisville has had trouble scoring inside this season and the 3-point shooting rate for the Cardinals looks certain to go down in this contest as the points will be appealing.

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Free NCAA Pick Tuesday

#630 Texas Tech -9 over Oklahoma 8:00 PM CT

Beating Oklahoma State isn’t overly consequential this season but the Sooner bested their rival 82-69 on Saturday for an impressive home result, leading wire-to-wire and leading by 20 at one point in the second half. A lot went right with 12 3-point makes and a 50 percent shooting game overall against a Cowboys team that has slide to 0-8 in the Big XII. Oklahoma is 4-4 in league play but the wins have all come against the bottom half of the league. The Sooners have lost three straight road games and are 2-6 in true road games this season with the last road win nearly a month ago.

After last season’s near national title, Chris Beard had significant work to do this season at Texas Tech, needing to replace a number of key players. The Red Raiders have eight losses already but five of those defeats against top 20 caliber teams. The two home losses came by five points vs. now #1 Baylor and in overtime by two points vs. Kentucky. Last Saturday Texas Tech lost by only three in Lawrence vs. highly-ranked Kansas and in the last home game the Red Raiders blasted a highly ranked West Virginia team with 89 points.

The line on this game has been adjusted a bit too high but the Red Raiders have won by a combined margin of 63 points in three Big XII home wins and while these teams are both 4-4 in the conference the records and numbers suggest dramatically different teams. Texas Tech is a top four team in both offensive and defensive efficiency despite a much more difficult schedule so far and the Red Raiders are #1 in the Big XII on offense and defense in 3-point shooting percentage. That will be critical against a Sooners team that is second in the conference in 3-point attempts. The Red Raiders are five percent better at the free throw line and much better at creating turnovers as well. Some evening buy-back looks possible with this line jumping from 7.5 to 9 and if it slips back downward the Red Raiders may be play-able at more than a free pick level.

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The Big E is on a big basketball run the past seven weeks, winning again last night. A 10* Biggie will be up for Tuesday before huge games Wednesday and Thursday. His 15* Game of the Month is scheduled for Wednesday (3-0 in 15* picks) and his 20* Big Sky Game of the Year is scheduled for Thursday (6-2-1 in 20* picks).

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Nelly’s Free Saturday Pick

#786 Syracuse +7 over Duke 7:00 PM CT

The past five meetings with Duke for Syracuse have featured a win and three single-digit losses as the Orange have played the Blue Devils tough in recent years. Syracuse is coming off a one-point road loss on Tuesday at Clemson but will have an opportunity to bounce back in a big way on Saturday in this marquee home game. Syracuse has lost four home games this season but the past two defeats came by a combined total of five points. This team has great offensive efficiency numbers despite the low-scoring pace and has a clear size edge defensively in the starting fives, particularly with Wendell Moore injured. Duke also lost its last road game at Clemson and the only ACC road wins were at Virginia Tech, at Miami, and at Georgia Tech as this will be the toughest ACC road game the young Blue Devils have faced. Duke’s ACC path grades as the 15th toughest slate out of 15 teams at this point in the season yet statistically Syracuse in a 6-4 ACC start has compared favorably with Duke. Syracuse is a top 5 ACC team on offense and defense in the ACC and has a 13 percent edge in free throw shooting while featuring a lower turnover rate. Duke could continue to climb up the ladder as a top ACC and national threat but the Blue Devils haven’t proven much in conference play so far and could be overpriced as a popular road favorite in the prime time slot.

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Free NCAA Pick Wednesday

#809 Alabama +5.5 over LSU 6:00 PM CT

LSU has certainly had some good fortune on its way to a 15-4 mark, rebounding nicely amidst lower expectations after a Sweet 16 season a year ago that was marred by controversy surrounding Will Wade. After a mediocre 7-4 start to the season the Tigers have won eight in a row including a perfect 6-0 start in SEC play. The noteworthy wins over Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Florida all came at home and all came by a grand total of five points combined. LSU has now won six straight games by no more than four points including an overtime win but will lay at least five tonight hosting Alabama.

Alabama is 12-7 behind new head coach Nate Oats who led Buffalo to NCAA Tournament wins the past two seasons. Alabama has won four straight games and has six top 100 wins in the last month for a nice run that puts the Tide into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Only the season opening loss came outside the nation’s top 100 and the Tide have four wins away from home this season. Alabama defeated Auburn and lost close games with Florida and Kentucky in matchups vs. top SEC contenders.

An Alabama offense that pushes the pace will go up against a LSU team that ranks 11th in the SEC in defensive efficiency despite the perfect record while Alabama is actually second in the conference. No team has been better in the SEC against 2-point shots while no SEC defense has been worse than LSU in defending the 3-point shot allowing over 27 percent. Alabama takes a great deal of 3-point shots and should have favorable looks in this matchup.

LSU’s ability to close out close games makes the Tigers a worthy favorite but given the slim recent margins vs. similar or lesser caliber teams the points are appealing in this rivalry that is usually much more consequential on the football field.

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