Marshall: Tuesday’s CBK Preview with Picks

Marshall: Tuesday’s CBK Preview with Picks
Butler at Villanova (-6.5, 141) …  Tough Big East foes or not, this is hardly the time for Butler to begin stacking losses, with its NET ranking now sinking into the low 50s after defeats last week vs. Marquette and Creighton, and the Bulldogs are now dropping dangerously close to the Selection Sunday cut-line. We suppose the same could be said for Nova, though unlike Butler we suspect the Cats are currently several spots short of the Dance thanks in good part to those disastrous in-Philly results prior to New Year’s vs. old Big Five foes St. Joe’s and Penn, and another loss to local foe Drexel…none of which are aging well. This is a rematch of a great double-OT game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 27 when Thad Matta’s Bulldogs finally pulled clear to win 88-81, with big buckets from UCI transfer G D.J. Davis (who scored 28…all after halftime!) proving invaluable. More often than not this season, Matta has been able to rely upon Davis and other transfer Gs like bullish Pierre Brooks (ex-Michigan State; 15.3 ppg), Jehmyl Telfort (ex-Northeastern; 13.9 ppg), and Posh Alexander (ex-St John’s, 11 ppg and 5.1 apg running the show from the point) to keep Butler afloat. Meanwhile, duly note that three of Nova’s best games of the season have come in the past two weeks, most-recently a 70-54 thumping of Georgetown on the weekend but catching Providence (only 7 of 33 from beyond the arc) and Seton Hall on cold-shooting nights earlier in the recent surge had something to do with the results. Matta’s guards have too much experience and versatility to allow the Cat backcourt to similarly dictate pace and tempo as in recent Nova wins. Butler 71 – Villanova 69 PLAY BUTLER 
Pittsburgh at Wake Forest (-6.5, 144.5)… Win five straight and seven of eight in the ACC and pretty soon you can’t help but show up on the Big Dance bubble. So, hello Pitt, which was mostly flying under the radar for the first couple of months of the season but has made a dramatic Forego-in-the-‘76 Marlboro Cup-like charge into the home stretch of this campaign to suddenly draw the attention of Bracketologists who are obliged to note the developments. Make no mistake, however, the Panthers (also 7-0-1 in their last eight vs. the line) are forcing their way into Selection Sunday discussions with the recent surge that includes wins at Duke and Virginia to further open the eyes of the Committee members. Jeff Capel’s ace-in-hand right now is rampaging F Blake Hinson, the former Ole Miss transfer who has been on fire lately, off of personally destroying the ‘Ville with 41 points on Saturday after putting 27 on Tony Bennett’s Pack-Line defense at Charlottesville. Also occasionally stepping into the limelight n recent weeks is frosh G Carlton Carrington, who scored 24 when the Panthers took down Wake at the Petersen Center on January 31, roaring back from a 10-point halftime deficit with another supporting cast member, G Ishmael Leggett (22 points), also doing extensive damage. Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, they’ve similarly been unable to close the deal a few other times in ACC play, jeopardizing their Selection Sunday prospects, and nearly let NC State off of the hook the last time they played at Lawrence Joel Coliseum on February 10. Of real concern to Steve Forbes is spot-shooter Cameron Hildreth, who was hitting nearly 50% of his triples into mid-January but since then on a debilitating 3 for 24 slump from beyond the arc…Wake remains more  vulnerable than it should until Hildreth relocates his long-range radar.  Pittsburgh 74 – Wake Forest 72 PLAY PITT  
UConn (-3, 145.5) at Creighton … Tempting as it might be for the rare chance to get Creighton plus any points, we aren’t inclined to go against UConn at the moment unless it’s the Boston Celtics on the other end of the court. The talk at the moment is if the Huskies might indeed be better than their version from a year ago that caught fire in March and rolled thru the Big Dance; a bit premature, perhaps, because we still have a few weeks of the regular season and the Big East Tourney still to go before we even get to Selection Sunday, but at the moment the comparisons are valid as the Huskies have been so dominating the past month that they became the first unanimous choice atop the pools this entire season for the rankings released on Monday.  And why not after bludgeoning 4th-ranked Marquette, the same Marquette that beat UConn twice last season, on Saturday at Storrs.  This was without much contribution from the new and exciting ingredient in the mix, frosh G Stephon Castle, who had scored as many as 21 in recent weeks before being held to three points on Saturday. Rather, it was a collective effort that included a domaining 45-27 rebound edge, with an extra spark from senior sixth man G Hassan Diara, who scored 14 off the bench Granted, Creighton might have played its best game of the year on Saturday when rolling dangerous Butler by 22 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.  And the radar has been working lately for 6-7 former South Dakota State transfer wing Baylor Scheierman, who scored 27 vs. the Bulldogs and is hitting a cool 55% from the floor across his past seven games. But the Bluejays were smothered by UConn’s length in the first meeting, limited to just 34% FG shooting and harassed into converting just 6 of 26 from beyond the arc.  The Huskies also have the requisite size to deal with Creighton’s 7-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner, limited to a quiet 11 points in the first meeting. Unbeaten with 14 wins on the spin since before Christmas, these days we need a pretty good reason to buck the Huskies at a short price. UConn 74 – Creighton 65 PLAY UCONN and UNDER
San Diego State at Utah State (-2.5, 143.5)… The default recommendation in games between Mountain West contenders this season has been to go with the home side. So, let’s see if the Danny Sprinkle’s Utags can do a Jannik Sinner and hold serve at Logan tonight after getting eliminated in straight sets at Colorado State on Saturday. Doing so comes with rewards; ranked in the NET top 30 for most of the season and placed similarly high in strength of record calculations, all Utah State probably has to do to move solidly to the safe side of the Big Dance cut line is take out the Aztecs tonight. Easier said than done, perhaps, especially after SDSU rolled the Utags by 14 at Viejas Arena just over two weeks ago (February 3 to be exact), owning the glass by a 39-30 count and holding normally dangerous Utag shooters to just 6 for 23 (26.1%) beyond the arc. But the home/road splits for the Aztecs in Mountain West play are rather illuminating, especially when facing the upper tier of the loop; Brian Dutcher’s boys have already lost and failed to cover at New Mexico, Boise State, Colorado State, and Nevada, and for good measure didn’t cover at San Jose State, either (only at bottom-feeder Air Force have the Aztecs covered a road conference game this term).  A bit alarmingly, perhaps, SDSU has also become heavily reliant upon 6-9 PF Jaedon LeDee (23.3 ppg the last three games), who has admittedly been punishing most MW foes. But he wasn’t quite as dominant in the first matchup vs. USU, hitting only 6 of 13 from the floor, and indeed outscored by the Utags’ 6-8 Montana State transfer, All-Name PF Great Osobor (17.8 ppg this season). Remember, USU’s only slip at the Spectrum this season came against Nevada two weeks ago; when last on the court at home, the Utags dismantled capable Boise, 80-61, harassing the Broncos into missing 22 of their 29 triples. Osobor usually gets more help at home, too; in the last two games at Logan, 6-3 frosh G Mason Falslev has scored 20.5 ppg, hitting 65% from the floor. Mostly, however, with team and conference trends pretty well established by late February, evidence points to the home side in these Mountain West showdowns. Utah State 76 – San Diego State 67 PLAY UTAH STATE
San Jose State at Boise State (-15.5, 141.5)…  It’s not last season for San Jose, when Tim Miles led the Spartans into the CBI quarterfinals. Miles has definitely missed graduated go-to threat G Omari Moore (now performing for the Raptors’ G-League entry in Mississauga), who scored better than 17 ppg and was able to go one-on-one and create his own looks if needed. No one has quite filled that Moore role in the current term, and San Jose is also missing some of the frontline presence that allowed it to mostly hold its own underneath a year ago; not so much this season, as the Spartans rank a poor 314th nationally in rebounding margin. This also isn’t the season to endure a downturn in a loaded Mountain West, which has been using San Jose for target practice, as SU losses for the Spartans in 11 of their last 13 games and a 1-8 spread mark the last nine outings would suggest. When at home, loop contenders Utah State, Nevada, and CSU have all laced the Spartans in recent weeks, with each of those margins by 19 points or more. San Jose backers are thus left to hope that Boise might be overlooking the Spartans tonight, but straddling the Big Dance cut-line, the Broncos are not likely to look beyond any foe left on the schedule, as Fresno found out on Saturday when on the wrong end of a 90-66 whipping. Boise was all business, hitting nearly 59% from the floor and led by reliable F Tyson Degenhart’s 24 points in a game that looked an awful lot like the previous home effort vs. Air Force on February 3 when the Broncos romped by 38. Leon Rice seems to be leaving nothing to chance with a Big Dance bid in the balance, (Boise also hit 60% from the floor vs. the Force), and the Broncos had just enough of a scrap at San Jose on January 15 not to overlook the Spartans, who had a seven-point halftime lead at the Event Center before a 45-29 second-half blitz allowed Boise to pull clear, with rampaging St John’s transfer PF O’Mar Stanley (30 points) doing the most damage. Keep in mind that SJSU’s shortcomings on the boards was once again exposed in the first meeting, as the Spartans were outrebounded a whopping 43-23. Boise State 81 – San Jose State 58 PLAY BOISE STAT