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On to my complimentary winner for tonight, as I keep it rolling after last night's winner on North Carolina A&T improved my free-pick run to 93-72-5. I've actually won with my freebie the past three nights, and will keep it right here in Las Vegas for Free Pick Winner #4 in a Row, and roll with a Pac 12 winner on the Utah Utes plus the points against the Southern Cal Trojans at the MGM Grand Garden.
The winner of this game gets top-seeded UCLA, and as much as most people would like to see L.A.-based rivals USC and UCLA get it on tomorrow, I'm here to tell you the Utes have other plans.
This has been nothing more than another forgettable basketball season for the Trojans, and even though they're seeded higher than Utah, I like the scrappiness the Utes exude when they step on the floor.
Their record may not indicate it what they actually do on the hardwood, and there's no doubt we've seen them play terribly in all facets of the game, but I also saw them close out the season by knocking off both Oregon schools. So forget about that 76-59 ass whooping the Trojans out on Utah back on Jan. 12, it's all about the teams that are bringing momentum into the postseason.
And knowing Utah finished the season strong by winning four of five games, including that double-digit win over No. 19 Oregon last weekend, it's clear which one of these teams has the momentum flow.
Utah moved into this conference last season and dropped its first-round contest to Colorado. This year it is fully capable of scoring its first tournament win in this conference, especially with one of the top offenses in the league, particularly from beyond the arc.
Southern Cal has lost 5 of 6 at the window against Pac 12 foes, while Utah is on ATS win streaks of 4-1 after an ATS cover and 6-2 in conference play.
My free winner for Wednesday is going to be a matinee game out of the Conference USA, as I head to the Bok Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma and play Southern Methodist catching points from Alabama-Birmingham.
Seeded 10th, SMU (15-16, 5-11 C-USA) isn't necessarily that far off from the seventh-seeded Blazers (15-16, 7-9 C-USA), and will actually be out for revenge today. The Mustangs lost 74-69 at UAB on March 2 after Cannen Cunningham's game-tying 3-point attempt with 12 seconds left clanked off target. UAB's Rod Rucker went on to ice the game with a pair of free throws.
Now it's time for payback.
And on this neutral court in Tulsa, look for the 'Stangs' stingy defense to be the difference today. SMU leads the league in field goal percentage defense (.397) and free throw percentage (.745), while it also ranks third in the league in scoring defense (63.0).
Trust me, this is not a bad basketball team, and I honestly wouldn't be surprsied to see it make a run after winning this game. On deck for the winner of this game is second-seeded Southern Miss, which the Mustangs gave fits to back on Jan. 16 in the teams' only meeting this season, losing just 74-70.
And allow me to shed a little light, the Mustangs opened the campaign winning eight of their first nine games, including wins over TCU of the Big 12 and Utah of the Pac 12.
As for its losses, SMU's last 12 have come by a rather respectable margin of 6.75 points per setback.
And while the Blazers are mired in ATS losing streaks of 2-6 after an ATS loss, 3-7 after a straight-up setback and 5-17 on neutral courts, SMU has covered four of five against losing teams.
I've got two free college basketball winners for tonight, as I like what I'm seeing i Conference USA action and Mid-American Conference play. My first one is out of the C-USA, as I'm laying the points with the Houston Cougars over the Rice Owls, in and H-town rivalry.
This is the third time these crosstown rivals will meet this season, after both teams split the season series by winning one a piece at each team's respective home court. But let's be real gents, while Houston finished 18-11 overall this season - with a 7-9 mark in C-USA play - Rice finished up a dismal 5-25 this season and was an abysmal 1-15 in Conference USA action.
And get this, Rice's lone conference win this season was against these Cougars back on Jan. 30th, when the Owls got it done by 10 points with a 79-69 victory. Of course, the Cougars already got revenge, with an 84-62 victory on March 6. But this is the tournament, and you best believe Houston has its sights set on challenging everyone in its path in this event.
You may think I'm nuts, but the Cougars are dangerous on the offensive end of the court, ranked 7th nationally with an average of 78.6 points per game. They also rank 29th in the country with 38.4 rebounds per game and 35th in the nation with 15.1 assists per game.
Conversely speaking, Rice ranks 346th nationally with just 25.5 rebounds per game and 282nd in assists with 11.3 per game. The Owls are also near the bottom of all Division I schools, sitting at 316th in the country in field goal percentage (39.8 percent), out of 345 teams in the nation.
That's a whole lot of stats I'm throwing at you, but in this case, in this game between city rivals, it's the main reason I like the Cougars tonight. Look for Houston to be on top of things with its sharp shooting ways, and to win this one going away by a final of something similar to 80-63.
My second free play for tonight is on the Eastern Michigan Eagles, catching points from Miami, Ohio. The Green Birds are in after narrowly defeating Northern Illinois on Monday, 45-44, but it's because of that close game I think EMU will be able to light things up tonight.
A wake-up call like that will refocus the Eagles and have them even more ready for this game, as they make a 170-mile jaunt from Ypsilanti to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for this second-round showdown.
Eastern Michigan leads the conference in scoring defense (59.2) and 3-point defense (29.9 percent), so you can fully expect the Eagles to step things up on defense and limit the Redhawks' production. EMU has limited opponents to 50 points or less 11 times this season, and tonight it catches the same Miami team that had won 16 straight meetings before dropping a 65-58 decision back in January.
The Eagles are in on ATS win streaks of 13-4 after an ATS setback, 11-5 in conference play and 8-2 against losing teams. On the flipside, Miami-O has lost 6 of 8 at the window, when playing on neutral courts.
This one is not so much a play ON the Green Wave, as it is a play AGAINST the Thundering Herd.
Marshall is just 6-21-1 versus the number their last 28 games, and that includes a 91-75 loss to Tulane the last time these teams played back in February. True, the Thundering Herd did actually split the season series with the Green Wave this year, but with a 2-6 overall spread mark in this series, and a 2-13 overall spread mark away from home this season, hard for me to get pumped about taking the Herd in this tournament opener.
Tulane comes in with losses in their last 4, but at 18-13 for the season, the Green Wave are eyeing playing in one of the many postseason tournaments upcoming. A win in tonight's opening round will solidify their cause.
When the RedHawks meet the Eagles at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland in the second-round of the MAC tourney the first reaction is what has #11 seed Miami done to deserve carrying the weight of a favorite against #7 seed Eastern Michigan in this game tonight. After all, they dropped 13 of their last 15 games, including a 65-58 decision in Ypsilanti back on January 19. That loss, however, snapped a 16-game series win streak by Miami. With EMU riding a 0-7 ATS losing skein in this tourney, and the RedHawks 13-2 SU and 10-5 ATS in this event versus sub .560 opposition, we now understand why Miami is favored in this battle of the birds. And we concur. We recommend a 1-unit play on Miami.