3* Toronto Raptors (-9)
Night after night in NBA, teams overcome major injuries with non-starters stepping up for solid performances. Not last night, as our PICK on the LA Clippers, who without PG Paul, not only went from (-3) to (+2), but played like they were a dog in losing to Phoenix for the first time in 6 tries. Looking forward to turning around the NBA with these plays for Friday night.
Among the lost plays this week, was when New Orleans, who had lost their first 6 games of the season by 6 or more points, covered as the favorite against the Dallas Mavericks (120-105). The next night, they added their best player, Davis, to an injury list that also includes Evans, Cole, Perkins and Poindexter and came in under the number vs. the Atlanta Hawks, who had just suffered the embarrassment of losing by double digits as a double digit home favorite. Toronto got back on track, after a trio of inexplicable losses with a pounding of the 6ers Wednesday night (119-103). We are looking for that to transfer for a Raptors’ team who’s +7 on the boards for the season, has a high-scoring guard duo of Lowry and DeRozan, averaging more than 40 PPG and is playing against a New Orleans team (still without AD), who is allowing 113 PPG in new coach Gentry’s Golden St. model.
COLLEGE HOOPS BONUS GAMES
IT AINT NO FUN WHEN THE RABBIT GOT THE GUN…Pitt (+4)
Pittsburgh vs. Gonzaga (-4) 7:00 ET Okinawa, Japan
The Panthers and Zags travel halfway around the world for us to find out, if the No. 10 team in the ACC (Pitt) is better than the No. 10 team in the country (Gonzaga) as rated by the prestigious 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. My answer is definitively, yes!!
These teams finished in dichotomous ways last season, when the Zags lost in the NCAA Elite 8 to Duke (66-52). This, after breezing their way to yet another WCC regular season and Tourney Title. They then dispatched a very good N. Dakota St. team, as well as Iowa and UCLA, before falling to the Blue Devils for a 35-3 SU finish.
The season for Pitt was far dichotomous. Early season suspension and injury to the Panthers’ two best scorers, left the Panthers scrambling from the beginning. By March 1st, however, they were in position to make their perennial post-season move at 19-10 YTD and 8-7 in the ACC. BUT, THE PANTHERS CLOSED THE YEAR WITH 5 CONSECUTIVE LOSSES, INCLUDING A 1ST ROUND NIT DEFEAT TO GEORGE WASHINGTON. A season in which the Panthers lacked their usual defensive and rebounding numbers came to a depressing close.
If you paid any attention at all to the preseason talk by the media prognosticators, you will know that the Zags are all but firmly entrenched in their 17th consecutive NCAA Tourney under veteran HC Few. The Zags’ frontcourt of Wiltjer, Karnowski and Sabonis (may miss tonight with a back injury) is being hailed as the best in the nation. Early on, at least, the challenge for HC Few will be to replace his dynamic backcourt trio of Pangos, Bell and Wesley, who were the corps of last year’s successful unit. Not sure the young replacements in (PG) Perkins and (SG) Melson are ready to face the task of the rededicated Pittsburgh defense.
The Panthers clearly have much to prove. 13th year HC Jamie Dixon (humbled by only his 2nd failure to make the NCAA) is quietly predicting good things. For, his team is loaded with experience and depth from the addition of 3 graduate transfers and a JUCO addition. Leading the way, however, will be senior PG Robinson, who has started all but one game in his career. He will be complimented by interior forces Jamel Artis and Michael Young, rugged players who prospered from the ACC wars last year. Rounding out the returners is Cameron Wright who missed the first 8 games of last year. Rounding out the frontcourt is Vandy transfer, Jeter who will be far more settled after a year of ACC experience.
The bottom line here is that we have a Gonzaga team with little to prove after last year’s 35-3 SU season vs. a Pitt team who has much to prove after missing the NCAA for only the 2nd time in the Dixon regime. And as the Zags will find out this evening in Japan, “it aint no fun when the rabbit got the gun!” I invite you to join me by putting the NCAA basketball ODDS in your favor with our NCAA basketball PICK on the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Rice at California (-15-) 11:30 ET PAC 12 TV
The Rice Owls travel to the west coast to face the California Golden Bears in this late-night tipoff on Night 1 of the CBKB season. It is a battle of a Rice team who is projected to the middle of CUSA play against the California team who is projected at the top of the PAC 12 as the No. 12 team in the land by the prestigious 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. To put the matchup in further perspective, CUSA was the 18th ranked conference in the season last year compared to the No. 6 ranking of the PAC 12, as done so by the Sagarin ratings.
Rice has been a struggling basketball program in recent seasons. The Owls won a combined 12 games in the 2 previous seasons, before Rice hired Mike Rhoades from the staff of Shaka Smart at VCU. Rhoades knew it would be a monumental rebuilding job. He is right! In the early going last year, Rice lost to Alaska-Anchorage in the Great Alaska Shootout and, as they entered conference play, had only 1 victory, against Prairieview, which is perennially at the bottom of the list of 351 D1 teams. Unlike previous seasons, however, the Owls were being competitive in many of their contests. When the smoke cleared at the end of last season, the Owls had a 12-20 SU season, but were 18-8 ATS. As a measure of their improvement, they went 10-1 ATS down the stretch. Credit to Rhoades, who has proven to be successful in changing the culture at Rice much faster than most anticipated. This year, however, Rice returns only 6 players that were on last season’s roster. The good news is that 4 of them started and that 5 of them played major minutes. Major loss was Sean Gearhart, the leading scorer. The work of Rhoades, from the beginning to end of last season, is duly noted. But, now it begins once again with an entire new crop of young, untested players. Rhoades proved he could build the ground work last season when the Owls won 6 of their last 11 games and lured more people than in any recent season to the Tudor Fieldhouse venue to watch the Owls’ entertaining style. There is little doubt that the Owls are on the rise in the CUSA hierarchy. But asking a group of freshman, to take the court for the first time in their career at a potential Top 10 program, is a bit out of their reach.
In just his 2nd year in Berkley, Cuonzo Martin, with roots from the Gene Keady coaching tree and at Tennessee, has the Bears ready to growl. Inheriting a team that had averaged 21 wins per season in the previous 4 years, Martin finished the year with a record of 18-15 SU, including 7-11 in the rugged PAC 12. Gone from last year’s team is starting (C) Kravish, a big man of solid repute. In just 12 short months, however, Martin has taken expectations to a whole new level in Berkley. A summer tour of Australia was the perfect time to determine how a team, who has NBA talent at every position, could be molded into a winning team. Martin found they had size, athleticism and a deep bench. Now, it is up to Martin to put it all together and keep everybody happy. After the quarterfinal PAC 12 loss to Arizona last year, by a blowout margin of 73-51, the Bears know how far they have to go. That humbling experience leaves them hungry for the start of this year.
A huge confidence-building opening night victory against a thin Rice Owls team with a group of freshman is exactly what these Bears need! Should the Owls persist in pushing the pace, it will only add to the Bears’ depth advantage in the 2nd half of tonight’s contest. I invite you to put the NCAA basketball ODDS in your favor. Join me in this NCAA basketball PICK and conclude your evening by watching the Cal Bears blowout the Rice Owls by 20 or more points on PAC 12 TV.