A limited slate forces us to wade into the Metro Atlantic for Friday night's free college basketball picks. It's not a place we venture often, but that doesn't mean we can't come up with at least a couple of winners. Just give us three games to choose from, OK?
Canisius -7 vs. Siena
We pegged the Saints as the favorites to win the MAAC this season, with all five starters back from a team that won 20 games last season, but it's been a struggle so far, as the injury bug has taken a couple of bites. Siena lost four in a row back before Christmas, then won three of four, but last time out lost at home to Fairfield 79-67, going down as a seven-point favorite. The Saints are 3-3 SU, 2-3-1 ATS in conference play so far, as they work through the losses of two starters.
The Golden Griffins are also 3-3 SU in conference play, but 4-2 ATS, and probably have a little different outlook on the season so far than Siena. Canisius was supposed to go through a rebuilding process this season, after losing four starters from a team that won 21 games last year. But the Griffs won seven of their first 11 games, and started 2-0 in league play. They have lost three of their last four games, though, most recently falling at first-place Iona 79-76 but covering as 10-point dogs.
Bottom line, Siena has struggled so far, but could still contend in the MAAC, while Canisius started well, but might be trending back toward expectations. And the home team might be a bit overrated on this betting line. We'll add the visitors to our NCAA Basketball pick in this spot, plus the points.
Free College Basketball Pick: Siena +7 at 5Dimes
St. Peter's -3.5 vs. Manhattan
Both these teams are shooting for an upper-division finish in the MAAC this season, but at the moment the Jaspers have the edge on the Peacocks.
Manhattan only returned two starters this season from the team that represented the MAAC in the Big Dance last year, but still hoped to make a run at the conference title. The Jaspers started just 2-7 this season, with losses to Florida State, Rutgers and Pitt, but have won five of their last six games, including an 84-75 decision over Niagara last time out. Manhattan is 4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS in conference play.
St. Pete's returned four starters this season from a team that finished well last season, winning five of its last six games. But the Peacocks started just 2-6 this season, although four of those losses came by a total of eight points. Since then St. Pete's has won seven of 10, after nipping Monmouth last time out in overtime 62-61. So the Peacocks are 3-4 SU, only 2-5 ATS in MAAC play.
Bottom line, Manhattan just beat St. Peter's nine days ago 68-63 in kind of a crazy game; the Jaspers led by 19 at the half, then allowed the Peacocks to rally to within three points in the final moments. St. Pete's just about stole the cover as four-point underdogs, but Manhattan hit two free-throws with four seconds left, much to the relief of its financial backers.
Stepping back to take a longer view, our guess is these two evenly-matched teams will split their two regular-season games. So we like St. Pete's in this spot, the home team at the short spread.
Free College Basketball Pick: St. Peter's -3.5 at Pinnacle
Iona -12 at Niagara
The Gaels won the MAAC regular-season title last year, and were expected to contend for it again this season. The Eagles, on the other hand, finished last in the league last season, and were expected to do about the same this season. So far, those expectations are playing out close to reality; Iona leads the MAAC at 5-1, while Niagara sits in ninth place at 2-4.
The Gaels have won four in a row, after beating Fairfield Tuesday night 74-58, covering as 13-point favorite. The Eagles, on the other hand, have lost four in a row, after falling at home to Penn Tuesday 67-56.
On the season Iona is shooting almost 49 percent from the floor, while Niagara is shooting just 39 percent.
Bottom line, Iona is the very likely winner of this game, and playing on the road, where the spread is a bit more agreeable. If this game were being played in New Rochelle, NCAA Basketball odds would likely favor the Gaels by 15 points or more. So we'll go with the first-place team in this spot, with room to spare.
Free College Basketball Pick: Iona -11.5 at 5Dimes