From the Big Ten to the AAC and all the way out west to the Pac-12 we go for previews and free college basketball picks for three crucial conference matchups on Thursday's card.
Iowa vs. Michigan
Things certainly haven't gone the way John Beilein and Fran McCaffery drew things up to begin the season, their Michigan Wolverines and Iowa Hawkeyes currently battling in the middle of the Big Ten standings where everyone is chasing Wisconsin.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- their middling rankings, their lone clash of the regular season remains crucial. Iowa drags a 3-game skid to Ann Arbor Thursday night to face a Michigan squad that has dropped two of its last three, and the loser might very well be signing a death certificate as far as the NCAA Tournament goes.
ESPN is carrying the matchup starting at 7 PM (ET), Michigan settling into 2 point chalk overnight after opening -2½. SBR's live college basketball odds still hasn't picked up a total for the game.
McCaffery and Iowa (13-8 straight up, 7-10 against the spread) were cooking in mid-January off to a 4-1 start in conference play, two of those wins coming in an early-season sweep of the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes have since dropped three in row, two of them to Wisconsin, failing to cover any of the defeats.
Beilein can at least use the injury card for why Michigan (13-9 SU, 9-10-1 ATS) is tied for sixth in the B1G race. First was the big blow with Caris LeVert going out four games ago with season-ending foot surgery, and now have to also play without Derrick Walton Jr. who is out indefinitely with another left-foot injury.
Michigan is 4-0 ATS since LeVert went out, so give the Wolverines some credit for that, and give me the home favorite for my free NCAA basketball pick.
Free NCAA Basketball Pick: Michigan -2 at 5Dimes
Cincinnati vs. SMU
It isn't a game that will excite many fans who need scoring, scoring and more scoring to maintain interest, but for those of us who still appreciate defense, a clash between the Cincinnati Bearcats and SMU Mustangs is on the must-see list. A rematch from a little more than a month ago in Cincinnati, the 'Cats and Ponies meet this time in Dallas with the game carried by ESPN (9 PM ET). SMU is a 6 point NCAA basketball odds favorite for the showdown.
These teams only met three times before last season and this is their fourth collision since then, the Bearcats 4-2 overall, 2-1 as AAC foes. The schools split the home-&-home series in 2014, each winning and covering on their floor. SMU's 76-55 win at Moody Coliseum coming as 4 point home chalk, the final having seven points to spare to get 'over' the total.
Cincinnati (15-6 SU, 9-8 ATS) came out smoking-hot in the 2nd-half when the teams met on January 3, stifling Southern Methodist (18-4 SU, 9-8-2 ATS) in the final 18 minutes. The Bearcats are coming off an embarrassing upset loss at East Carolina, while the Mustangs haven't lost since the setback in Cincy. I'm expecting a total a little lower than the 117½ the previous meeting closed at, and like the 'under' once again.
Free NCAA Basketball Pick: Cincinnati-SMU Under 116 at BookMaker
UCLA vs. Stanford
Why, would you look at the time, barely enough space to tell you much about the Pac-12 battle between the UCLA Bruins and Stanford Cardinal, set for a 9 PM (ET) telecast on ESPN2. Backing the Cardinal means laying 7 points.
This one's a little like the Iowa-Michigan matchup in the sense that both UCLA (13-9 SU, 9-13 ATS) and Stanford (15-6 SU, 11-9-1 ATS) are clawing around behind the two conference front-runners, Arizona and Utah. They're also battling each other in the latest RIP, the Cardinal checking in No. 33 with the Bruins No. 59.
The matchup produced a dandy of a game when it took place at Pauley Pavilion four Thursday's ago, UCLA needing a late rally to force overtime, then winning it 86-81 in double-overtime. That game had just enough to get over a 131½ point total in regulation, Stanford on 7-1 'over' run, the Bruins going the opposite direction at 1-5 O/U last six.
Safest way to play his one is taking a side, and the underdogs are the side I'm taking for my final free pick is .
Free NCAA Basketball Pick: UCLA +7 at The Greek
Season: 39-34 (+1.6)