NCAA Notes: Prather stepping up for Gators

Published on Friday, 2/15/13, at 11:03 a.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

–When Florida power forward and defensive stalwart Will Yeguete went down with a knee injury that will sideline him until at least early March, and perhaps beyond, I noted that the Gators needed Casey Prather to step up in his absence. Right on cue, Prather has produced his two best games of the year since Yeguete’s unfortunate injury. Prather played 23 minutes in Tuesday’s run-away-and-hide win over Kentucky, filling the stat sheet with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. He also had 12 points last Saturday against Mississippi St. In those two games, Prather made 11-of-17 shots from the floor (61%).

–Florida will undoubtedly be a double-digit favorite Saturday at Auburn. The Gators are 5-1 ATS as double-digit road ‘chalk’ this season. As for Auburn, it is 4-2 ATS as a home underdog.

–Colorado St. could be in a letdown situation Saturday at Air Force. The Rams pulled away late to beat San Diego St. on Wednesday by a 66-60 count as six-point home favorites. On the same night, the Falcons sent UNLV back to Las Vegas with a 71-56 loss.

–If Miami’s Jim Larranaga is the national Coach of the Year, then Colorado St.’s Larry Eustachy is a strong candidate to be runner-up. The Rams’ senior-laden squad is 20-4 overall and second in the Mountain West standings with a 7-2 record, one-half game behind first-place New Mexico. They are No. 13 in the RPI Rankings.

–Whatever Shaka Smart said to his VCU troops at halftime of Thursday’s game against UMass, it worked! Trailing 42-37 at intermission, the Rams erupted with a 21-1 run to start the second half en route to an 86-68 win as 12-point home favorites. VCU improved to 20-5 overall and 8-2 in the Atlantic-10. The Rams have now posted seven straight 20-win campaigns. As I’ve been saying all year, watch out for this squad in March.

–Gonzaga stayed unbeaten in WCC play and improved to 9-2 against RPI Top 50 teams by rolling to a 77-60 win at Saint Mary’s on Thursday night as a one-point road underdog. Gary Bell Jr. drained 4-of-5 treys en route to scoring a team-high 20 points. In the losing effort, Gaels’ stud Matthew Dellavedova knocked down 6-of-12 from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 22 points.

–Going into the weekend, Miami has the country’s best against-the-spread record at 15-4-1. The second-best ATS ledger belongs to Western Illinois (15-5 ATS), a team that’s been given no credit this year despite leading the Summit League standings. This space and others have noted the play of Nate Wolters and Travis Bader at South Dakota St. and Oakland, respectively. But the Leathernecks (yes, that’s really their mascot) are looking down at those teams from atop the Summit standings. They won 49-36 at North Dakota St. as 9.5-point underdogs Thursday and will be ‘dogs again Saturday at South Dakota St. Western Illinois is 4-1 ATS in five games as a ‘dog this year.

–Is Akron worthy of an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the MAC Tournament? Well, let me start by saying that I wish the Zips would’ve scheduled a little tougher non-conference slate. Nevertheless, I say they are certainly deserving of a bid if they win out from here but lose in the MAC Tournament finals (or at any point in the league tourney). Keith Dambrot’s team owns a 16-game winning streak, a 20-4 overall record and an unbeaten mark in MAC play. Two of Akron’s four losses came in overtime (at Coastal Carolina and vs. Oklahoma St. on a neutral court), while the two other defeats came at Creighton (RPI: 50) and at Detroit (RPI: 75). The Zips’ two best wins came over Middle Tennessee (RPI: 29) and Ohio (RPI: 80), but they can add two more quality wins (vs. North Dakota St. (RPI: 77) and at Ohio) in the next two weeks. The Zips have one of the nation’s best post defenders in Zeke Marshall, who first drew my attention when he dominated both Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney in the paint of a season-opening win at Mississippi St. last season.

–Creighton is ok in terms of at-large aspirations with eight wins over RPI Top 100 foes, but the Bluejays need to tighten up soon. They have lost three in a row and five of their last eight. They play at Saint Mary’s next weekend in their BracketBuster game.

–Colorado avenged its controversial loss at Arizona on Jan. 3 by hammering the Wildcats 71-58 Thursday night as a 2.5-point home underdog. Spencer Dinwiddie was the catalyst with 21 points and seven assists.

–The ‘under’ has hit in nine consecutive games for Alabama, which will host South Carolina on Saturday. Looking at the Crimson Tide’s resume, I just don’t think they are going to be able to recover from home losses to Tulane, Dayton and Mercer unless they win at Florida on March 2.

–The ‘under’ is connecting at an incredible 15-3 overall clip in Cincinnati games. The Bearcats will host Georgetown tonight as 3.5-point favorites with a miniscule total in the 119-120 range.

–Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel recently weighed in on New Jersey’s upcoming battle in the courts to allow sports betting in the state’s casinos and horse tracks.

–If you don’t stay up late to watch or simply DVR ‘Inside the NBA’ on TNT on Thursdays, then you’re missing out on some of the best television around. Charles Barkley and the gang were on fire last night, providing laughs galore with many of the one-liners aimed at Alabama and Tuscaloosa following the arrests of football players earlier this week.

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