<span class="vcard">Rob Dauster</span>

Wayne Selden Jr.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Odds for college basketball’s National Title, Player of the Year winner

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Bovada.lv has released their latest odds for the national title winner and the Naismith Player of the Year award.

A couple thoughts on this list:

  • I like Providence at 33/1. I’m not saying bet your house on them, but they have the makeup of the two most recent UConn national title teams and in a year where there is no clear favorite, they can certainly get hot in March and win six straight games.
  • Don’t bet on Duke. Don’t bet on Kentucky, either. Instead, bet on Butler and Iowa at 50/1.
  • If I was going to invest any money in the National Player of the Year race, it would be on Ben Simmons. There’s a chance that LSU might actually be the best team in the SEC, but even if they’re only, say, top three in that conference, if Simmons can get the Tigers into the NCAA tournament and win a game or two, he’s going to win some National Player of the Year awards. He’s not the winner right now, but I think he’s the most likely to be the winner come March.

Odds to win the National Title

Kansas 15/2
Michigan State 17/2
Oklahoma 9/1
North Carolina 10/1
Duke 12/1
Kentucky 14/1
Virginia 14/1
Xavier 14/1
Louisville 16/1
LSU 16/1
Maryland 16/1
Purdue 16/1
Villanova 22/1
Arizona 28/1
Iowa State 28/1
Miami FL 28/1
Providence 33/1
UConn 33/1
Gonzaga 40/1
Butler 50/1
Indiana 50/1
Iowa 50/1
Texas A&M 50/1
Vanderbilt 66/1
Baylor 75/1
California 75/1
Cincinnati 75/1
Utah 75/1
West Virginia 75/1
Wichita State 75/1
Florida 100/1
Michigan 100/1
Notre Dame 100/1
Oregon 100/1
Pittsburgh 100/1
South Carolina 100/1
St. Mary’s 100/1
Texas 100/1
UCLA 100/1
Dayton 150/1
Florida State 150/1
Georgetown 150/1
Marquette 150/1
Ohio State 150/1
Syracuse 150/1
Colorado 300/1
UNLV 300/1
USC 300/1
Wisconsin 300/1
Alabama 500/1
Arizona State 500/1
Auburn 500/1
Boise State 500/1
BYU 500/1
Georgia 500/1
Illinois 500/1
Kansas State 500/1
Memphis 500/1
NC State 500/1
Northern Iowa 500/1
Oklahoma State 500/1
Ole Miss 500/1
Rhode Island 500/1
San Diego State 500/1
Stanford 500/1
VCU 500/1
Wake Forest 500/1
Washington 500/1
Arkansas 1000/1
Minnesota 1000/1
Mississippi State 1000/1
Missouri 1000/1
Nebraska 1000/1
Penn State 1000/1
St. John’s 1000/1
Temple 1000/1
Tennessee 1000/1

Odds to win Naismith College Player of the Year

Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) 2/3
Ben Simmons (LSU) 4/1
Kris Dunn (Providence) 7/1
Denzel Valentine (Michigan State) 7/1
Grayson Allen (Duke) 14/1
Georges Niang (Iowa State) 16/1
Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia) 20/1
A.J. Hammons (Purdue) 33/1
Jakob Poeltl (Utah) 33/1
Melo Trimble (Maryland) 33/1

College Basketball’s Most Improved Players

Providence forward Ben Bentil (0) looks to go up for a shot against Rhode Island guard Jarvis Garrett (1) and forward Hassan Martin (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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On Wednesday, we released our Midseason Awards, which included the NBCSports.com All-American teams, the Player of the Year, the Coach of the Year and the Freshman of the Year.

We also named our Most Improved Player. That decision wasn’t quite as easy as it seemed, so here is a complete list of the nation’s most improved players:

THE BREAKOUT STARS

Ben Bentil, Providence: As we wrote yesterday, Bentil had some promising moments as a freshman and found his way onto a few Breakout Stars lists in the preseaosn, but I don’t anyone could have predicted that he would end up being a guy that averages 19 points and eight boards for a team ranked in the top ten. He’s got a legitimate case to be an all-american. Who saw that coming?

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield was the Big 12 Player of the Year last season and, depending on where you looked, he found his way onto some all-american teams as well. But he did all that as a guy that was more-or-less a spot-up shooter that did much of his damage in transition. This season, he’s become Oklahoma’s late-clock option. He’s getting isolations. He’s the ball handler in pick-and-roll actions, and he’s far more effective doing it as well. Last season, he scored 21 points in 42 totals isolations, according to Synergy’s logs. This season, he’s already had 29 isolation possessions and scored 31 points. When you factor in possessions that end in a pass, he’s creating 1.083 PPP in ball screen actions as compared to 0.825 PPP last season.

Kelan Martin, Butler: This may be a situation where Martin simply needed to get the opportunity, but he’s become the most consistent offensive weapon for a Butler team that’s currently ranked in the top 20. Martin, who is averaging 14.1 points after scoring 7.7 per game last season, began the season as Butler’s sixth-man but played his way into the starting lineup with Kellen Dunham’s shooting slump.

Elijah Brown, New Mexico: Brown has usurped coach’s son Cullen Neal as the star of the Lobo back court. A redshirt sophomore, Butler transfer and the son of former NBA coach Mike Brown, Elijah is averaging 19.4 points, 5.6 boards and 3.1 assists.

Moses Kingsley, Arkansas: As a freshman, Kingsley played 10 minutes a game and averaged just 3.4 points and 2.5 boards. As a sophomore, he’s averaging 17.1 points, 9.9 boards and 2.5 blocks, turning into a guy that may actually be the best big man in the SEC. Chew on that for a second.

Michael Gbinije, Syracuse: The fifth-year senior has become one of the best guards in the ACC and is one of the only reason that Syracuse has a reason to believe they can play their way into an NCAA tournament bid. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 4.7 boards and 4.3 assists.

Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten, a sophomore, has become the anchor on the interior for a Georgia team that still has NCAA tournament hopes. The 6-foot-8 Michigan native is averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 boards.

Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall: When he’s not getting benched for yelling at his coach, Rodriguez is a pretty important piece for the Pirates, averaging 12.0 points and shooting 38.1 percent from three after going 1-for-12 as a freshmen.

Kendrick Nunn, Illinois: Nunn, along with Malcolm Hill, is the reason this season isn’t a total loss for the Illini. He’s averaging 18.5 points as a junior.

Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech: LeDay averaged 3.5 points for South Florida in 2013-14. He’s averaging 14.7 points and 9.5 boards for the Hokies this season and went for 22 points and seven boards in the win over No. 4 Virginia on Monday night.

George King, Colorado: King is a redshirt sophomore that didn’t play much as a freshman and then sat out last season as Tad Boyle knew that he wouldn’t get much playing time. It paid off, as King is Colorado’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points and shooting 43.1 percent from three.

Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry has embraced the point guard role for the Tar Heels, averaging 12.9 points and 4.4 assists as he’s allowed Marcus Paige to spend more time playing off the ball.

Bradley Hayes, Georgetown: Hayes was a total non-factor in his first three seasons with the Hoyas but has emerged as the best low-post scorer for this Georgetown team, averaging 9.4 points and 6.6 boards.

THE ALL-AMERICANS: There is also a small subset of guys that belong on the most improved list that were already pretty damn good.

  • Grayson Allen, Duke: I really struggled with whether or not to include Allen on this list at all, because I’m not convinced that he’s all that much better than he was last season. He’s having a sensational season — we have him as a second team all-american right now — but how much of that is simply a result of Allen finally seeing the floor? A lot of it, I think.
  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl could have been a lottery pick had he bolted for the NBA after last season, which means that some folks may not realize just how much better he is right now than he was at this time last season. He’s got post moves, he can pass out of double teams and he’s still one of the best defensive centers in college basketball.
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson has played himself into All-American consideration in the last seven games, as Kennedy Meeks has been out with a knee issue. It came to a head on Monday: 39 points, 23 boards, three steals, three blocks. Talent isn’t the issue. It’s assertiveness and aggressiveness. Let’s see if it lasts.
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine has always seemed like one of those dudes where we’re going to say, “He’s a great college players.” Now, after his start to the 2015-16 season, there’s a real shot he ends up getting picked in the first round.

 

Ole Miss opens $96.5 million new arena vs Alabama

Andy Kennedy
(AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
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After years of playing in one of the Southeastern Conference’s most outdated facilities, Mississippi hosts the first game in its $96.5 million new basketball arena on Thursday night.

Now coach Andy Kennedy hopes he has a team that’s worthy of the new home.

Ole Miss (10-3, 0-1 SEC) faces Alabama (9-3, 0-0) on Thursday night in the team’s conference home opener. The Rebels had a seven-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in an 83-61 road loss to Kentucky.

The new arena – called The Pavilion at Ole Miss – will undoubtedly be a huge upgrade over the 50-year-old Tad Smith Coliseum. The new venue has a capacity of 9,500, including more than 1,700 premium seats.

It’s a project more than four years in the making since the school announced its intentions in 2011. Construction took about 18 months and pretty much everyone associated with Ole Miss has come away impressed with the final product.

“It’s a real game-changer for our program,” Kennedy said.

Said athletic director Ross Bjork: “There’s definitely a wow factor when you walk into the building.”

That likely will be enough to draw fans in the short term. Bjork said Ole Miss has sold about 5,000 season tickets for The Pavilion through the remainder of the year, compared to about 4,100 last year at Tad Smith Coliseum.

But basketball crowds have been historically fickle in Oxford. Even though Ole Miss has had relative success lately – making two out of the past three NCAA tournaments – it hasn’t been a school that’s particularly good or interested in basketball.

More winning wouldn’t hurt as the Rebels introduce their new facility. Kennedy hopes his players don’t get distracted by the hoopla surrounding the grand opening – or lose their home-court edge because of a rare mid-season venue change.

“I’m just trying to make sure our guys are focused on the task at hand,” Kennedy said. “And that’s beating a very good Alabama team.”

Ole Miss had been one of the more surprising teams in the league before its lopsided loss to Kentucky at Rupp Arena. The Rebels were cruising until running into the Wildcats, winning seven straight games, including an impressive road victory over Memphis.

Guard Stefan Moody is the team’s unquestioned star. The 5-foot-10 senior was moved from shooting guard to point guard early in the season after Sam Finley and J.T. Escobar struggled.

Moody has managed to be the team’s main scorer and facilitator at the same time – leading the SEC with 23.7 points per game while also handing out a team-high 4.1 assists.

The problem is Moody isn’t getting a whole lot of help.

Forward Sebastian Saiz is averaging nearly a double-double with 11.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, but other consistent options haven’t emerged. No one had more than six points in the Kentucky loss except for Moody and Saiz.

“We’re constantly a work in progress,” Kennedy said.

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