Coast to coast we go with Thursday's take on the top college basketball odds plays on the board, making stops along the way in the AAC and SEC before finishing off in the West Coast Conference.
Cincinnati vs. Memphis: AAC
A quick check of the latest rankings finds nary a single representative from the American Athletic Conference. In fact, only one school -- Southern Methodist -- is even drawing any interest from voters in the AP and coaches polls.
There's certainly time for an AAC team or two to push their way into the top 25, but the conference is in all likelihood playing for just four, maybe five, spots in the Field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament. Getting an invite could very well hinge on the outcome of a January conference game, like Thursday's tilt in Memphis between the Tigers and Cincinnati Bearcats.
ESPN will begin its broadcast at 7 PM (ET), the game initially going out as a pick and most sports books carrying Cincinnati -1 after early wagering. SBR's live NCAA basketball odds should have a total by mid-morning.
Mick Cronin's crew is 35th on the latest RPI list, leaving the Bearcats in great shape to go dancing. Only it's not Mick Cronin's crew any longer as the little redhead watches games from home instead of the Cincinnati sidelines after being diagnosed with an unruptured aneurysm. Larry Davis has been in charge of the bench since just before Christmas, and brings the 'Cats into this one off a loss at UConn last Saturday, stopping a 4-game win streak (and 3-game cover run).
Josh Pastner's squad split a trip through Texas last week, getting soundly beat in the first one at SMU before putting a beating on the Cougars in Houston on Sunday. The Tigers played both of those contests without Kuran Iverson who is serving a suspension, plus missed Nick King in the loss at SMU due to an ankle injury. King returned for a little action vs. Houston, and is probable once again for Thursday's tussle.
This is a huge game for both clubs, but especially so for Pastner and the Tigers who have tough road games at Tulsa, Tulane and Gonzaga before we get out of January. Memphis is simply too inconsistent right now, so I'm laying a point on Cincy for my free pick.
Free NCAA Basketball Picks: Cincinnati -1
Auburn vs. Florida: SEC
The Southeastern Conference is doing better than the AAC as far as the polls go, though not by much with two among the top 25. A third team could make its move back into the conversation, that is if the Florida Gators can ever maintain a consistent roster for Billy Donovan to work with.
Florida looks to remain unbeaten in the SEC race Thursday when the Auburn Tigers come to Gainesville. Tip is a little past 7 PM (ET), Florida backers needing to give up 14½.
The Gators, of course, were supposed to give top-ranked Kentucky some competition in the conference before struggling through a 7-6 non-conference schedule. Just five players have managed to suit up and play in all 15 games to date, and two of them that have been missing due to suspensions are each probable for this game, senior forward Jon Horford and freshman guard Zach Hodskins.
Auburn checks in with the same 9-6 overall record Florida has, though not nearly the talent. Still, despite that and the series belonging to the Gators, the Tigers have enough for me to take the points in this one.
Free NCAA Basketball Picks: Auburn +14.5
San Diego vs. Saint Mary's Gaels: WCC
We've got a double look-ahead spot for Saint Mary's near the end of Thursday's college basketball betting card, and a pesky little team like the San Diego Toreros could at least put a scare into the Gaels, if not upset the West Coast Conference race.
McKeon Pavilion in lovely Moraga, CA is the site for this tip a bit past 11 PM (ET); the Gaels went out -8½, that spread dipping a point overnight.
Saint Mary's has a 2-game stretch coming up vs. BYU and Gonzaga, Saturday's tango with the Cougars at home before traveling to meet the Bulldogs a week from tonight. Randy Bennett has his team on a 7-game run and a perfect 5-0 in the WCC ranks, so keeping his Gaels focused on a Toreros outfit that split last year's series is all-important.
Both teams are trending 'under' right now -- SD 0-4 O/U, SMC 1-3 O/U -- so totals bettors will want to keep that in mind when the numbers are released. My final free NCAA Basketball pick for the day will be on the Gaels minus the points.
Free NCAA Basketball Picks: Saint Mary's -7.5
Season: 15-19 (-5.90)