College basketball bettors and fans are going to have a tough decision to make Thursday night with three key conference matchups all set to tip in the nine o'clock hour.
Memphis vs. SMU
Same ol' stuff, different Iverson. Josh Pastner and the Memphis Tigers begin a 2-game trek through Texas on Thursday, and they'll be without swingman Kuran Iverson for the matchup with the SMU Mustangs as well as Sunday's tilt in Houston against the Cougars.
Thursday's tip-off at Moody Coliseum is set for a few minutes past 9 PM (ET), ESPN2's cameras on hand to televise the American Athletic Conference clash. Playing the Ponies means giving up 8 points; SBR's live college basketball odds will have a total as soon as lazy sports books get around to putting one out there.
Iverson was suspended for both games due to violating team rules, the third time he's been forced to sit for getting into Pastner's doghouse. The 6-9 sophomore missed a preseason contest earlier this season for an unspecified violations, and also was held out of a few contests due to a concussion. The cousin of Allen Iverson, Kuran may not be the only Tiger we won't see against the Mustangs as Nick King is also questionable with an ankle injury. King is third on the team in rebounding (6.0 rpg) and fifth in scoring (8.0 ppg).
Losing both Iverson and King leaves Pastner's rotation without much versatility since the two players can fill either guard or forward spots. Memphis is coming off a 74-66 loss to Tulane last Saturday, 16 turnovers a big reason why the Tigers were embarrassed as 12 point home favorites.
Southern Methodist also dropped an AAC clash this past Saturday, falling 56-50 at Cincinnati as 1 point road chalk. Larry Brown's bunch ran off 8-straight wins before the setback, and could use a victory in this one before spending three of the next four games on the conference highway with stops at Central Florida, Temple and Tulane.
A split season series was the result a year ago, with SMU covering the last four at home. My free NCAA basketball pick will be on that string continuing.
Free College Basketball Pick: SMU -8 at 5Dimes
Stanford vs. UCLA
Johnny Dawkins and the Stanford Cardinal are on a roll with four straight wins. Meanwhile in Westwood, Steve Alford and the UCLA Bruins are mired in a 5-game losing streak. That sets the stage for the Pac-12 rivals as they head into another 9 PM (ET) clash on Thursday, ESPN broadcasting this one from Pauley Pavilion. Cardinal backers will need to lay 1½ after the number first went out -1 on SBR's live NCAA odds.
Stanford started its run with an overtime upset at then-No. 9 Texas just before Christmas, continuing the dubyas through the first two conference tilts vs. Washington State and Washington. Freshman Reid Travis, who leads the team in rebounding and was a big part of that win over the Longhorns, will miss his third consecutive game with a stress fracture and could be sidelined another 2-3 weeks.
UCLA's troubles started a little less than a month ago when the Bruins dropped a home game to Gonzaga. They left home at that point and saw their skid balloon to five games with setbacks to Kentucky, Alabama, Colorado and Utah. In addition to the 5-game losing streak, UCLA backers have seen their cash blow away 7-straight.
The Cardinal have lost 9-straight at Pauley Pavilion, their last road win over UCLA coming just shy of 10 years ago; I'm betting on that streak to end tonight.
Free College Basketball Pick: Stanford -1.5 at BookMaker
San Francisco vs. Gonzaga
Speaking of Gonzaga, the Bulldogs make their West Coast home debut tonight with a visit from the San Francisco Dons. You'll need Root Sports to view this 9 PM (ET) matchup at McCarthey Athletic Center, and Gonzaga is huge 22½ point chalk.
Gonzaga completed a 3-game roadie to begin the WCC slate with an 87-75 win at Portland this past Saturday, just enough to cover a -11½ point opening line. The Zags still have just the one loss at Arizona a little more than a month ago, falling by three in overtime to the Wildcats, and Mark Few is hopeful to have Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan available for this one after the junior sat to begin the season due to eligibility requirements.
The Dons have lost three straight since opening the league slate with a win at Pacific, two of the defeats coming at the hands of West Coast powers Saint Mary's and BYU. San Francisco failed to cover any of the losses and will be looking to stop a 4-game losing streak to Gonzaga.
Gonzaga has more than enough to blow the Dons out tonight, but it's just too many points for me to lay. I'll back the visitors for my final free college basketball pick.
Free College Basketball Pick: San Francisco +22.5 at The Greek