Happy Conference Play Opening Day! We've got some real heavyweights tonight, so strap in and clear your DVR because there could be a few instant classics.
I went 1-4 with my last picks, bringing me to 37-36 on the season. Now that we've paddled into the clearer waters of conference play I expect that record, and subsequently my bank account, to improve. Let's get to it!
7:00pm ESPN2: No. 12 Georgetown (+5.5) @ No. 4 Louisville
There's a lot riding on this game, even though it's only the first Big East contest of their seasons. If anyone is planning on challenging Syracuse for the conference title, they need to start off with a bang. With that much on the line, and both teams excelling on defense, I think we're in for a tight one. Louisville has looked sluggish in its last three games against sub-par competition while Georgetown is positively rolling, and they're far more efficient offensively. The energy will be high and in these matchups, you pretty much throw out the records and the last couple of games. But the Hoyas are probably a Top 10 team and I think they prove it here tonight.
9:00pm ESPN2: No. 14 Mississippi State (+8) @ No. 7 Baylor
Looking for two teams playing at their peak right now? These two have a combined 23-game winning streak. Baylor is off to the hottest start in school history and is looking every bit the March Madness powerhouse with forwards Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and a lethal offense. But the Bears haven't played a Top 25 team yet, while Mississippi State is 2-0 against ranked opponents. Point guard Dee Bost is on and popping right now, and forward Arnett Moultrie has averaged 20.5ppg and 13.0rpg in his last four. Keep your eye on Moultrie vs. Jones III - it may be the matchup of the night.
7:30pm: No. 15 Indiana @ No. 17 Michigan State (-6)
Other than their massive upset of No. 1 Kentucky, the Hoosiers haven't played any other ranked opponents and frankly have a poor SOS. Knocking off a ranked rival at home is one thing - can Indiana keep their undefeated season alive against a tough squad on the road? Michigan State has clawed their way into the Top 25 with textbook Izzo defense and do-everything forward Draymond Green. Indiana may be without starting shooting guard Verdell Jones III and two reserves, and it could be good to get that first loss out of the way now: The NCAA selection committee will look favorably upon a loss to a ranked team on the road while battling injuries.
9:00pm ESPN3: No. 9 UCONN (-6) @ South Florida
The Huskies will be without suspended coach Jim Calhoun (recruiting violations) for the first of three games, but shouldn't have much trouble with a Bulls team that fell to Southern Miss over the weekend. If for no other reason, keep an eye on this game in case of a breakout from highly-acclaimed USF guard Jawanza Poland.
8:00pm ESPN3: Missouri State @ No. 19 Creighton (-10)
Creighton is absolutely rolling with a 10-1 record and probably the nation's best offense as they look for revenge over defending conference champion Missouri State. The Bears have played a much better slate than the Bluejays, and lost heartbreakers to Oral Roberts, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Kyle Weems may still be the best player in the Missouri Valley and I doubt the Bears relinquish their hold over the conference easily. But all that firepower overwhelms them at some point.
10:00pm: Central Arkansas (+34.5) @ No. 20 UNLV
Did you know that Corliss "Big Nasty" Williamson is coaching Central Arkansas? I can't root for a legend to fall by 30. Tune in for a dunk show, though.
8:00pm ESPN3: Oakland @ North Dakota State (-4)
A great Oakland offense against a stingy North Dakota defense. Golden Grizzlies point guard Reggie Hamilton is a constant danger with the ball (23.0ppg and 4.5apg) but the Bison can focus their attention on him and counter with a variety of weapons led by Taylor Braun.
9:30pm: Purdue (-4) @ Iowa
Purdue is absolutely a Top 25 caliber team and Robbie Hummel is Mr. Consistent. The Boilermakers' three losses have come to two ranked opponents and Butler, while Iowa has not impressed in losses to Creighton, Clemson, Northern Iowa and especially Campbell.
9:00pm ESPN3: New Mexico (-4) @ New Mexico State
New Mexico State already won at New Mexico early this season, 62-53, but the Lobos are riding an eight-game winning streak and have revenge on the mind. UCLA transfer forward Drew Gordon is on a tear (11.6ppg and 10.5 rpg) and New Mexico assists on 71.5% of their buckets. New Mexico State forward Wendell McKines and guard Christian Kabongo are a potent one-two punch and the Aggies pit the kibosh on the rolling Lobos.
8:05pm: Indiana State (-1) @ Drake
Drizzy Drake is an intriguing team that could very well play spoiler, but with a legitimate chance at the Tournament, there's no reason Indiana State shouldn't run away with this one.
8:00pm: Cleveland State (-8.5) @ Toledo
After ugly losses to Hofstra and South Florida, is this still a Cleveland State team that can compete for an at-large bid? They'll need to steamroll through the Horizon League and it starts against a Toledo team that has lost its last two games to Norfolk and Florida Gulf Coast.
7:00pm ESPN3: Villanova @ West Virginia (-8)
The Wildcats are notoriously a scrappy, fighting team. But Jay Wright's squad hasn't tapped into any of that this season and they'll run into a Mountaineers team led by forward Kevin Jones that took undefeated Baylor to overtime last week. Two teams headed in very different directions.