Film Session: The case for Jerian Grant as National Player of the Year

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Jerian Grant (AP Photo)

I feel comfortable saying that I’ve been the conductor of the Jerian Grant hype train this season.

I wrote a feature story about him back before the season started. I’ve had him in my Player of the Year Power Rankings every week that we’ve done them, never lower than sixth and within the top three for five of the last six weeks.

That’s not a humblebrag. It’s a not-at-all-humble I Told You So.

And now?

I’m going to contradict myself.

Yesterday, when I posted the latest installment of those power rankings, I said that the race for the Wooden Award was down to just two players: Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky.

That’s incorrect.

Jerian Grant is the most valuable player in college basketball. And if he’s not the National Player of the Year right now, he’s every bit as deserving as Okafor and Kaminsky. I’m not only saying that because he went for 23 points, 12 assists and six boards — including the go-ahead jumper and an assist on the game-clinching three — as the No. 8 Irish knocked off No. 4 Duke last night.

This is a season-long travesty that needs to be corrected.

WHAT NOTRE DAME DOES

It’s called ‘Five-Out Cutters’, and it’s the crux of the Notre Dame offense this season, an offense so simple that it’s hard to believe it’s so effective.

Notre Dame spreads the floor with five guys and sends cutters through the lane, looking to get to get some movement before their big man, be it Zach Auguste or Bonzie Colson, sets a ball-screen for Grant.

And that’s it.

“It’s a simple formula,” head coach Mike Brey told NBCSports.com. “We want some initial movement and eventually a ball-screen for Jerian.”

“Then we just play play basketball.”

There’s more that goes into it than what Brey alludes to, as the offense is based on all five players on the floor being able to read each other. The key is “spacing away”, as Brey calls it, and that hinges on Notre Dame’s three wings being able to get to the opposite side of the floor at the same time as the ball-screen is being set. Notre Dame works on that every day; their warmup for practice is to run 5-on-0 offense, practicing the timing of their ‘Five-Out Cutters’ offense.

To get an idea of what makes this attack so effective, take a look at this screen-grab from last night’s game. Bonzie Colson is setting a pick for Grant (in the red box) while Demetrius Jackson, V.J. Beachem and Patrick Connaughton — all three of whom shoot better than 44.0 percent from distance — are on the opposite side of the floor:

source:
Screengrab via ESPN

It splits the floor in half, meaning that Grant and his big man will essentially have a chance to play 2-on-2. Three things that can happen here:

1) Grant can look to attack and score himself, either by turning the corner using the screen or by trying to beat Okafor by turning down the screen.

2) Grant can hit Colson — or Auguste, depending on who is on the floor — for a dunk if he rolls hard or an open-jumper if he pops:

3) One of the help-side defenders will leave the guy he is guarding, giving a lethal jump-shooter a wide-open rhythm three:

Good luck trying to stop that.

THE STATS

Let’s start with the obvious: Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country. They are currently second in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, just 0.1 PPP behind Wisconsin. They’re currently on pace to be the sixth-most efficient offense in Kenpom’s database, which dates back to the 2001-2002 season. Prior to their win over Duke on Wednesday night, the Irish were actually No. 1 on that list, meaning that the 77 points they scored on 68 possessions against the No. 4 team in the country actually hurt their rating.

That should give you an idea of just how good Mike Brey’s club has been on that end of the floor this season.

And they’ve needed everyone one of those points. The Irish are 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in the ACC, but they’re also 143rd in adjusted defensive efficiency and have won six of those eight ACC games by single-digits. They trailed by double-figures in four of their last five games.

In simpler terms, it’s that powerhouse offense that has been keeping Notre Dame afloat this season, launching them into the top ten and keeping the dream of bringing an ACC regular season title to South Bend alive.

source: Getty Images
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It’s easy to look at the numbers and say that the Irish are built around their ability to shoot the three, and you technically wouldn’t be incorrect. Nearly 40 percent of their field goal attempts are three-pointers — 58th nationally — and they’re making 40.2 percent of those threes — 15th nationally. Nearly a third of the points they score come via the three-ball, and of the five players that see minutes in their perimeter rotation, three are shooting better than 44.0 percent from beyond the arc and only Grant, believe it or not, is below 37.2 percent.

So yes, Notre Dame can shoot, but that’s more of a by-product of what they run than the way their offense is structured.

As we showed you earlier, the Irish run an offensive built around Grant’s ability to break down defenses, either in isolation situations or ball-screens actions. Nearly a quarter of their total offensive possessions — and almost a third of their possessions in the half court — involve pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy. Only 11 high-major programs use ball-screens more often, and none of them are close to as efficient as Notre Dame is doing so; the Irish score 1.075 points-per-possession (PPP) when using ball-screens, which is good for fifth nationally.

No one on the Irish runs more pick-and-rolls that Grant. More than half of his total possessions come via ball-screen action, and in the half court, 68.6 percent of the time that Grant shoots or creates a shot for a teammate it comes after a ball-screen, according to Synergy. That accounts for nearly 20 percent of all of Notre Dame’s half court possessions on the season. According to Synergy, the only player in the country that has been involved in more ball-screens as the ball-handlers is Terran Petteway of Nebraska, and only Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and DePaul’s Billy Garrett have been as efficient and used in ball-screens in such a high-volume.

“Jerian is just so involved with everything on the offensive end, it’s amazing how much is on him,” Brey said. “When you look at his assist-to-turnover ratio (3.40:1) and all the decisions he has to make, it’s really remarkable. He’s a computer.”

“He conducts the whole thing.”

And Brey isn’t just talking about the offense.

“We’re down, we’re getting our [butts] kicked and Connaughton has two fouls,” Brey said of Sunday night’s overtime win at N.C. State where Grant had 23 points as the Irish erased a 14-point deficit. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna hold him out, we’re starting to cut [the lead] a little bit.”

“Jerian turns to me and points at Pat and says, ‘We need him.’ I immediately turn to Pat and go, ‘Get on in there, buddy. The man needs you.'”

He’s got his fingerprints everywhere on this team.

Brey added, with a laugh, “He’s running the [Joyce Center] too.”

Bryce Drew out after three seasons at Vanderbilt

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Vanderbilt has terminated the contract of head coach Bryce Drew after only three seasons, the school announced on Friday.

A shocking move given that Drew was only head coach for a limited time, Vanderbilt has a new athletic director, Malcolm Turner, who recently took over the program in February.

Struggling to a 9-23 record and 0-18 mark in the SEC this season, Vanderbilt was one of the youngest teams in the country. The Commodores also lost McDonald’s All-American and starting freshman point guard Darius Garland to a season-ending knee injury in late November as a promising young core never had a chance to play much together.

Although Drew had a bad season in 2018-19, he took the program to the NCAA tournament in his first season. Drew also recruited two McDonald’s All-Americans (forward Simi Shittu being the guy besides Garland) for the 2018 class — uncommon at a program like Vanderbilt.

According to a report from Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, Turner only had one meeting with Drew and only attended one practice during the season before making his decision. The former president of the NBA G-League, Turner has no experience working in college athletics before taking the AD job at Vanderbilt.

Drew previously spent time coaching his alma mater of Valparaiso as he’s perhaps most famous for his NCAA tournament buzzer-beater against Ole Miss in 1998. The son of legendary Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew, Bryce’s brother, Scott Drew, is head coach at Baylor.

It’s hard to say what direction Vanderbilt it looking to go since this was an unexpected move. But it appears that Turner wants to make his mark as the new AD by bringing in his own guy right away.

Thursday Recap: Ja Morant goes off, Nevada dies off, Fletcher’s record

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ja Morant, Murray State

Ja Morant was so good against No. 5-seed Marquette on Thursday afternoon that he has really smart people seriously saying they would take him over Zion Williamson at No. 1 in the draft in June. That, of course, is an overreaction by those who probably have not seen Morant before, but it’s not entirely unwarranted.

That’s because the 6-foot-3 Morant put up one of the most dominant performances that I can remember in the NCAA tournament, scoring 17 points on just nine shots while handing out 16 assists, grabbing 11 boards and doing this to Joey Hauser:

The Racers beat the second-best team in the Big East, 83-64, in a game that was never close in the second half.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas was one of the trendy upset picks entering Thursday afternoon, playing a Northeastern team that won the CAA and had been dubbed by many — including me — as the Cinderella du jour.

Kansas, of course, won by 34 points.

GAME OF THE DAY: Maryland 79, Belmont 77

Dylan Windler had 35 points to lead Belmont but Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando combined for 33 points and 25 boards as Maryland launched two different comebacks to knock off the Bruins.

The highlight, of course, was The Deadening:

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Fletcher Magee, Wofford

Magee hit seven threes, scored 24 points and set the NCAA Division I career record for the most three pointers made.

All that is great, but what matters more is that the Terriers knocked off Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This was the biggest shot of the day:

WTF OF THE DAY: Auburn 78, New Mexico State 77

I don’t think either of these teams wanted to win this game.

Auburn did everything they wanted to do for 34 minutes. They forced turnovers, they created offense from their defense, they hit threes, they played with a ton of energy. They were up 13 points with seven minutes left … when they forgot how to pass. Six turnovers and a few missed free throws down the stretch allowed NMSU right back in the game, setting up a wild final possession.

NMSU was down two, drove the lane, passed up a wide-open layup for a three, got fouled on said three, missed two of the three free throws, got the ball back out of bounds with 1.1 seconds left down by two points, got a good look at a three from the corner and missed it by ten feet.

It was a roller coaster.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Minnesota Golden Gophers

I did not think that Minnesota was all that good heading into the tournament, so of course, they went out and smacked around Louisville in the first round.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada finished the season 29-4. Were they the most disappointing 29-4 team ever? My column.

THREE MORE THINGS TO KNOW

1. PHIL COFER’S DAD DIED

Phil Cofer found out after Florida State’s win over Vermont that his father had died. Cofer did not play in the game due to an injury, and the death was not necessarily a surprise — his father had dealt with a “long illness” — but that is still a nightmare situation.

2. NO P.J.

Kentucky’s star forward P.J. Washington did not play in the team’s win over Abilene Christian on Thursday evening. He was wearing a hardcast on his right foot/ankle. Calipari’s statements after the game made it seem awfully unlikely that Washington will play on Saturday, which then puts his status for the rest of the tournament in doubt.

3. WILL WADE ISN’T TELLING THE TRUTH

LSU athletic director Joe Alleva spoke to Stadium in Jacksonville, and he made it clear that he was not happy with the way that Wade had handled the situation.

“I don’t know how deep this goes,” Alleva told Stadium. “That’s the problem, and Will’s refused to talk to us. That’s the hardest part for me. … I wish he’d come in and just tell the truth. Just tell me what went on. I can handle the truth even if it’s bad.”

Wade has been suspended from the LSU team after a report from Yahoo Sports that he was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment for freshman Javonte Smart.

No. 10 Florida puts an early end to disappointing Nevada season

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If it’s possible, Nevada just finished off a 29-4 season that was nothing less than a massive disappointment.

And the way it ended is fitting, really.

It took 30 minutes and a 51-33 deficit for Nevada to finally show up against No. 10-seed Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and by the time they did, the deficit to overcome was too great and their ability to actually make the shots they take too little for it to matter.

They entered the season as a team many believed was a top five team nationally. They will be heading back to Reno on Thursday with a 70-61 loss and nothing more than the memory of what could have been.

Caleb Martin, who entered the season as Nevada’s all-american candidate, finished with 19 points but shot 5-for-22 from the floor to get there while turning the ball over six times. Jordan Caroline, who had played like Nevada’s all-american this season, was 2-for-11 from the floor with just seven points. Cody Martin came to play, but the rest of the roster mustered all of 10 shots from the floor.

Eric Musselman played a risky game all season long. He bet on the fact that his studs — both of the Martin twins and Caroline — were good enough to win their matchup by making enough of the tough shots they take to win. That was not the case on Thursday, and it’s worth noting that in Nevada’s four losses this season, Caleb Martin and Caroline combined to shoot 8-for-47 from the floor.

But that happens.

Living and dying with tough shots coming out of isolation is inherently risky. There are going to be some nights where the shots just don’t fall.

The bigger story, to me, is that Nevada never looked like they were fully engaged this season. It never felt like they had everyone on the roster pulling in the same direction. Musselman was coaching with one eye on his next job. The Martins and Caroline returned to school after declaring for the draft, and it’s fair to wonder just how badly they wanted to be back at Nevada. Jordan Brown is McDonald’s All-American freshman and the only thing he checked in the box score on Thursday was a foul. Transfers Corey Henson and Nisre Zouzoua were big time scorers at Wagner and Bryant, respectively, and they combined to average 18 minutes this season. Neither played in the NCAA tournament.

For a team that has 13 scholarship players that are probably good enough to play in someone’s rotation in the Mountain West, having a rotation reduced to roughly six guys by the end of the season is not easy.

And when you start off the season by running off two players that had committed to the program, it doesn’t exactly set a precedent of loyalty.

We talked about this back in October.

It’s the risk that Musselman ran by bringing in so many transfers and talented recruits.

Last year, it paid off in a Sweet 16.

This season, the result was that Nevada never felt more relevant than in the preseason poll.

Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Friday’s NCAA tournament games

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At noon the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.

Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.

12:15 p.m.: No. 7 CINCINNATI vs. No. 10 IOWA, CBS

  • LINE: Cincinnati (-3)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Cincinnati 70.25, Iowa 67.25
  • KENPOM: Cincinnati 71, Iowa 70

My analysis of this game really isn’t that complicated: I do not think that Iowa is a very good or very tough basketball team. I think that Cincinnati is a pretty good basketball team that beat the hell out of Houston in the AAC title game and that is, definitively, as tough as a three dollar steak.

PICK: Give me the Bearcats.

12:40 p.m.: No. 8 OLE MISS vs. No. 9 OKLAHOMA, TruTV

  • LINE: Ole Miss (-1)
  • TOTAL: 142
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Ole Miss 71.5, Oklahoma 70.5
  • KENPOM: Oklahoma 72, Ole Miss 71

I don’t trust Oklahoma this year. That’s really what this comes down to. The Sooners went 7-11 in Big 12 play and all of the impressive wins they picked up in the non-conference look significantly less impressive now than they did at the time. Ole Miss isn’t exactly full of world-beaters, but I do think that Breein Tyree and Terence Davis are dudes.

PICK: I want to invest my money on the side that has the guards that are game-changers. If I bet this, it will be with Ole Miss.

1:30 p.m.: No. 3 TEXAS TECH vs. No. 14 NORTHERN KENTUCKY, TNT

  • LINE: Texas Tech (-14)
  • TOTAL: 136.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Texas Tech 75.25, Northern Kentucky 61.25
  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 74, Northern Kentucky 61

On the surface, I love Texas Tech here simply because I think that the Red Raiders are closer to being one of the five or six best teams in college basketball than a No. 3 seed. The problem is that the way the Red Raiders defend — by icing ball-screens — is going to leave Northern Kentucky’s best player, Drew McDonald, free for pick-and-pop threes the entire afternoon.

PICK: Personally, I will likely be staying away from this line, but I do think that Texas Tech is the side that you want to be on.

2:00 p.m.:  No. 4 KANSAS STATE vs. No. 13 UC IRVINE, TBS

  • LINE: Kansas State (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 118.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas State 61.5, UC Irvine 57
  • KENPOM: Kansas State 62, UC Irvine 56

This changes if Dean Wade plays, but since he is currently listed as doubtful for this matchup, Kansas State is a team that is going to rely on penetration and the ability of their guards to get into the paint. The problem with that is that UC Irvine is a really good defensive team that actually leads the nation in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have a couple of big uglies in the paint that can make things difficult for a Kansas State team that will be without their best shooter and one of their best passers.

Beyond just the matchup, the Anteaters are really, really good and might be underseeded as a No. 13. With the Wildcats banged up, this is a matchup that Russell Turner can get the best of.

PICK: I really like the Irvine side here, but the money line right now is just +170, so I’ll probably take the points.

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 TENNESSEE vs. No. 15 COLGATE, CBS

  • LINE: Tennessee (-17.5)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 82.5, Colgate 65
  • KENPOM: Tennessee 83, Colgate 68

I will be staying away fro this game. As good as Tennessee is, there have been too many times the season where we have see the Vols play a team that was objectively worse than them closer than they should. I also have no desire to bet a No. 2 seed projected to scored 83 points not to cover. I’ll pass.

3:10 p.m.: No. 1 VIRGINIA vs. No. 16 GARDNER-WEBB, TruTV

  • LINE: Virginia (-22.5)
  • TOTAL: 130.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 76.5, Gardner-Webb 54
  • KENPOM: Virginia 77, Gardner-Webb 55

I think Virginia is going to come out with a point to prove. The Cavaliers have heard about how they lost to a No. 16 seed for a full year now. They are coming off of a loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals that reignited the “Can Virginia win in March?” debate. They are as talented as they have ever been under Tony Bennett, and I fully expect them to absolutely bury Gardner-Webb.

PICK: Not only will I be betting Virginia (-22.5) here, but I think that I am also going to be on the under. I think an angry Virginia team is going to hold GW under 50 points.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

4:00 p.m.: No. 6 BUFFALO vs. No. 11 ARIZONA STATE, TNT

  • LINE: Buffalo (-5)
  • TOTAL: 156
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Buffalo 80.5, Arizona State 75.5
  • KENPOM: Buffalo 82, Arizona State 75

I really like Buffalo here. The Bulls are a tough, veteran team that is going to get out and pressure Arizona State and try to force them to turn the ball over. Where the Sun Devils are inconsistent, Buffalo churned out a 30-win season that included going into West Virginia and Syracuse and getting Ws. Arizona State lost by 16 at Vanderbilt.

PICK: I’m taking the tougher team to win here even if it means betting against the more talented underdog. I just can’t see C.J. Massinburg letting the Bulls lose.

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 WISCONSIN vs. No. 12 OREGON, TBS

  • LINE: Wisconsin (-3)
  • TOTAL: 116.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wisconsin 59.75, Oregon 56.75
  • KENPOM: Wisconsin 61, Oregon 56

There may not be a hotter team in the country right now than Oregon, who rolled through the end of the Pac-12 season before winning the Pac-12 tournament, beating Washington in impressive fashion twice in the process. The question is going to be how Wisconsin goes about breaking down the zone Oregon will run, and while I do think that Ethan Happ can really pick it apart, it is important to note that the Ducks will be running out Kenny Wooten. He is as good of a defender as there is in the paint, and I would not be surprised to see him slow Happ down.

Also worth noting: The line is this game has moved from Wisconsin (-4) to Wisconsin (-1), then it bounced back up to Wisconsin (-3).

PICK: I’ll lean Oregon here, and I’ll probably wait to see just how high this line will climb. If I can get Oregon (+4.5) I’ll be ecstatic.

6:50 p.m.: No. 8 UTAH STATE vs. No. 9 WASHINGTON, TNT

  • LINE: Utah State (-3)
  • TOTAL: 135
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Utah State 69, Washington 66
  • KENPOM: Utah State 68, Washington 65

This goes along with the thinking that you should fade the Pac-12 in March. Think about this: The only reason that Washington has a win over an NCAA tournament team this season is because they lost to Oregon in the final of the Pac-12 tournament, giving the Ducks an automatic bid to the dance. Washington beat Oregon in January.

PICK: Utah State has one of the most underappreciated players in the country on their roster in Sam Merrill. Craig Smith is a magnificent coach that will be at a bigger program soon. Take the Aggies.

7:10 p.m.: No. 1 DUKE vs. No. 16 NORTH DAKOTA STATE, CBS

  • LINE: Duke (-27)
  • TOTAL: 148.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 87.75, NDSU 60.75
  • KENPOM: Duke 87, NDSU 63

This spread is just so monstrous. I don’t think I really want to bet it, but if I do, it will be the Duke side. The Bison are one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament, and asking them to try and slow down Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and the rest of the Dukies is going to be a big, big ask.

7:20 p.m.: No. 3 HOUSTON vs. No. 14 GEORGIA STATE, TBS

  • LINE: Houston (-11.5)
  • TOTAL: 141.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Houston 76.5, Georgia State 65
  • KENPOM: Houston 77, Georgia State 65

Georgia State is always going to be a dangerous mid-major because of the way they run and the talent they have, but I just have too much faith in this Houston team. They aren’t the best or most talented team in the country, but I do think that they are disciplined, well-coached and good enough defensively that they are not going to beat themselves.

PICK: I’ll take the Cougars (-11.5), but I won’t feel all that comfortable about it.

7:27 p.m.: No. 5 MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 12 LIBERTY, 7:27 p.m. TruTV

  • LINE: Mississippi State (-6.5)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Mississippi State 70, Liberty 63.5
  • KENPOM: Mississippi State 71, Liberty 65

This is a tough game to get a feel for. For starters, Liberty was the second-best team in the Atlantic Sun this season, even if they did pick up a couple of wins against Lipscomb. They also run the Pack-Line defense, which is the kind of thing that can give the Bulldogs, who are without Nick Weatherspoon, some issues.

The problem here is that Mississippi State got dudes. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Reggie Perry, Aric Holman, Lamar Peters. These are guys that, which someone inconsistent, can absolutely take a game over, especially against a mid-major program.

PICK: I’d lean Mississippi State here, especially at just (-6.5), but I also think that the under is in play.

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

9:20 p.m.: No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA vs. No. 16 IONA, 9:20 p.m. TNT

  • LINE: North Carolina (-23.5)
  • TOTAL: 166
  • IMPLIED SCORE: North Carolina 94.75, Iona 71.25
  • KENPOM: North Carolina 95, Iowa 70

I think that I am going to stay away from the line here. If I do bet it, I would be betting on the Tar Heels, mainly because this is a team that can put up 100 on anyone but also because I just don’t think that Iona has the horses to be able to keep up with UNC this year. I also think that I like the under. 166 is a huge number, and while Iona has the reputation for being a team that wants to run, run, run and push, push, push, they are not as breakneck offensively as they have been in the past.

PICK: I don’t love either bet here, but if I am going to have action on this game, it will be UNC (-23.5) and the under.

9:40 p.m.: No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF, 9:40 p.m. CBS

  • LINE: VCU (-0.5)
  • TOTAL: 126.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: VCU 63.5, UCF 63
  • KENPOM: VCU 63, UCF 62

This best is simple for me: UCF is a great defensive team that has an elite shot-blocker in the paint and wants to funnel drivers into the lane. VCU cannot shoot threes very well, they want to drive and their best player — Marcus Evans — will, at the very least, be banged up for this one.

PICK: I like the UCF ML the play here if VCU is going to be favored. I also tend to lean towards the under. Both of these teams really, really defend, and while VCU is still going to try and force turnovers, they aren’t pressing as much as they have in the past.

9:50 p.m.: No. 6 IOWA STATE vs. No. 11 OHIO STATE, 9:50 p.m. TBS

  • LINE: Iowa State (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 140.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa State 73, Ohio State 67.5
  • KENPOM: Iowa State 72, Ohio State 68

This line actually appears to be coming down. It opened at Iowa State (-6) and now sits at (-5.5), which is a dream come true for someone like me, that has the Cyclones in the Elite 8 despite decidedly not being back on the Iowa State bandwagon.

Here’s the truth: Chris Holtmann is one of the top ten coaches in all of college basketball, but given the talent disparity between these two teams, if Iowa State shows up to play, they should be able to cover that spread regardless of how Holtmann decides to build his game-plan. The problem is that we can never really quite be sure if Iowa State is going to show up. The Cyclones looked like a top ten team in their run to the Big 12 tournament title. They looked like an NIT team when they lost six of their last eight games during the regular season.

PICK: I think Iowa State has this figured out. I think they win with ease on Friday night.

9:57 p.m.: No. 4 VIRGINIA TECH vs. No. 13 SAINT LOUIS, 9:57 p.m. TruTV

  • LINE: Virginia Tech (-10.5)
  • TOTAL: 125.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia Tech 68, Saint Louis 57.5
  • KENPOM: Virginia Tech 69, Saint Louis 58

The key to betting this game is going to be how healthy you think Justin Robinson is. He is not their most talented player but he is their most important player. The Hokies were a top ten team with him healthy and went just 7-5 after he was injured on Jan. 30th. He matters because Saint Louis is a really, really talented and tough team that can absolutely lock up defensively. They have the athletes to be able to matchup with Virginia Tech’s four-out, one-in scheme and while they have not been great offensively this year, I do think that they have the talent — Hasahn French, Jordan Goodwin, Javon Bess, Tramaine Isabell — to be able to makes plays when they need to.

PICK: I will not be picking Saint Louis to win this game in my bracket, but at (+10.5), I do think they will cover. That is a big number for a good defensive team against a Virginia Tech that wants to play slow.

Report: Alabama, Avery Johnson negotiating buyout

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One day after Alabama’s 2018-19 season came to a disappointing end in the first round of the Postseason NIT, the program is reportedly close to completing a change in leadership.

As first reported by Michael Casagrande of AL.com, the school and head coach Avery Johnson are negotiating the terms of a contract buyout. Per the terms of his contract, had Johnson been fired before April 15 he would have been owed a payment of $8 million. The buyout figure would have dropped to $6 million after that date.

Alabama lost to Norfolk State in the first round of the Postseason NIT Wednesday night, after which a Norfolk State player made note of the Crimson Tide’s lack of energy.

In four seasons at Alabama Johnson, who was also a head coach in the NBA for the Mavericks and Nets, led the program to just one NCAA tournament appearance and an overall record of 75-62. In recent years many programs in the SEC have done more to build up their basketball programs, either by improving facilities, making sound head coaching hires or both. Johnson was part of that wave, but the program hasn’t been as successful as many hoped for when he was brought on board.

One name that has mentioned in connection with this job in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s news is that of Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm. Prohm, who served as the head coach at Murray State from 2011-15, is a 1997 graduate of Alabama.