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Best Bets: Where do you want to bet your money on college basketball’s opening night?

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Basketball is back!

It’s been 218 days since we had a college basketball game that counted, and while Wisconsin Lutheran vs. Green Bay isn’t quite Michigan vs. Villanova for the national title, it is the first Division I college basketball game of the season. 

The best part of college basketball being back is that betting on college basketball games is back. 

So let’s dive head-first into Tuesday night’s lines.



No. 2 KENTUCKY vs. No. 4 DUKE, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Line: Kentucky (-2)
  • O/U: 157
  • Vegas Implied Score: Kentucky 79.5, Duke 77.5
  • KenPom Projection: Duke 78, Kentucky 77

This game actually opened at Kentucky (-1) and has moved to (-2) since, and that makes sense. In early season games like this, it makes sense to bet on the team that has more experience, and while calling a team that has just one scholarship player on the roster that’s not a freshmen or sophomore “experienced” seems silly, this is the one-and-done world we live in. Duke will, after all, start four freshmen.

That said, I think this matchup favors Duke. I fully expect the Blue Devils to come out playing the kind of pressuring, switching, halfcourt man-to-man defense that Mike Krzyzewski has been forced to go away from in recent years. In theory, the pieces on their roster are perfect for this — Tre Jones is a much better athlete and defender than his older brother, Tyus, was, and the three freshmen wings (R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish) all have the tools to play this way. Given some of the concerns about Duke’s offensive effectiveness playing in the halfcourt, seeing them become a team that thrives on defense and playing in transition would make sense. This is how Duke played in their two exhibition games and during their tour of Canada.

When a team plays this way defensively, overplaying passing lanes and extending out 40-feet in the halfcourt, it forces an offense out of what they are trying to run and puts the onus on the ball-handlers to try and make a play on their own. The two best point guards on this Kentucky roster are both freshmen — Quade Green is at his best playing as a secondary ball-handler — which will put quite a bit of pressure on Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans in their first college game.

Now, this all assumes that the Blue Devils are going to A) play this way, and B) be effective playing this way. Blindly accepting that Duke will be elite defensively early in the season would be to ignore everything that has happened with this program in recent years. Throw in the concerns I have with Kentucky — Who is their best five? Can they put a team on the floor that is both elite offensively and defensively? — and I think Duke wins this game.

PICKS: I think Duke (+1.5) is the bet in this game. I also like the under in this game. While both teams are going to want to play fast, I think this is the kind of game that is going to be ragged, inefficient and feature a whole lot of scoring inside the arc. The line has already climbed from 156 to 157, so I’d suggest waiting until closer to tip-off to see if you can get another point or two in your favor.

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No. 1 KANSAS vs. No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Line: Kansas (-5.5)
  • O/U: 155.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Kansas 80.5, Michigan State 75
  • KenPom Projection: Kansas 79, Michigan State 72

While Duke-Kentucky is the game that will get all of the hype, there is some intrigue with the undercard as well.

The line for the opener of the Champions Classic opened at Kansas (-5) and has moved to (-5.5) since, and I expect the line to continue to move towards Kansas. I think the Jayhawks are going to overwhelm Michigan State tonight.

For starters, I have trouble seeing how the Spartans are going to matchup with Dedric Lawson, who has a chance to be the single-most productive player in college basketball this season. As a sophomore at Memphis, he averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 boards, 3.3 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks. In two exhibition games, he showed off a newly-minted jumper, burying 6-of-8 from beyond the arc. Bill Self has raved about Lawson’s passing ability, and Lawson fits perfectly at the four in a program that has thrived with players that do what he does — the Morris twins, Perry Ellis, Wayne Simien.

Lawson is a fourth-year junior. He’s going to be guarded by … who, exactly? Slow-footed bigs Nick Ward or Xavier Tillman? Former walk-on Kenny Goins? One of Michigan State’s (admittedly underrated) freshmen?

That matchup favors Kansas, as does the matchup in the backcourt. The big concern for me with Kansas is that they are going to be starting two freshmen in the backcourt in Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, but I just cannot see Michigan State providing the kind of ball-pressure defensively that they need to slow them down. Neither Cassius Winston nor Josh Langford are known for their athleticism or their defensive prowess, and as a team, Michigan State was among the worst in the nation last season at forcing turnovers. Should I mention they lost their two-best defensive playmakers?

I’m very in on Michigan State as being better than people realize this year.

I’m very out on Michigan State covering 5.5 points on Tuesday night.

PICKS: To me, Kansas (-5.5) is a pretty easy bet, and I would lock that in before the line gets any higher. I also like the under in this game, as I think that this game will be played at a slower pace than it being projected. The Vegas over/under is currently 155.5, while KenPom is projecting the total at 151.

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FLORIDA at No. 17 FLORIDA STATE, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • Line: Florida State (-4)
  • O/U: 149.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Florida State 76.75, Florida 72.75
  • KenPom Projection: Florida State 79, Florida 74

I actually think that Florida is going to sneak up on some people this season. They might have lost Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov, but they bring back Jalen Hudson — who is going to have a monster season — and we should see the best out of the ever-streaky KeVaughn Allen. Getting him more consistent shots should result in more consistent play out of the talented scorer.

I also really like Florida’s freshman point guard, Andrew Nembhard. He’s mature beyond his years and he’s already played at a really high level with the Canadian senior national team. Throw in the fact that Florida State will be playing without Phil Cofer, and I can see why people would be on the Gators in this game.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the obvious — Florida State will be playing at home. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Seminoles not only returned essentially everyone from last year’s Elite 8 team, the departure of Braian Angola and the injury to Cofer opens the door for their two sophomores that everyone is expecting to make a jump this season —  M.J. Walker and Mfiondu Kabengele.

PICKS: I actually think this is a really good line. If forced to pick, I’d probably lean Florida State (-4), but that’s not the bet I like in this game. I think the over/under is far too low. Florida State had finished top 50 in adjusted tempo in each of the last three seasons, according to KenPom, and I don’t see that changing this year. Last season was the first time in Mike White’s head coaching career that one of his team’s finished outside the top 120 in adjusted tempo. I expect an up-and-down affair, and unlike Duke-Kentucky, I think a game between two teams loaded with good veterans will be far more efficient. The line is 149.5, which has already dropped a point, while KenPom is projecting a total of 153. I’ll be on the over in this one.

No. 8 NORTH CAROLINA at WOFFORD, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • Line: North Carolina (-10)
  • O/U: 154.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: North Carolina 82.25, Wofford 72.25
  • KenPom Projection: North Carolina 84, Wofford 72

Wofford won this game last season when it was played in Chapel Hill. The Terriers return essentially everyone from that team, including one of the nation’s best shooters in Fletcher Magee. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, lose both their point guard in name (Joel Berry II) and the man that ran their offense in the halfcourt (Theo Pinson), replacing them both with freshmen — Nassir Little and Coby White. Wofford’s strength defensively is on the glass, which helps mitigate UNC’s ability to get second-chance points. UNC didn’t force turnovers last season, which makes them less likely to take advantage of Wofford’s ball-control issues.

The dots connect here.

I just cannot pull the trigger.

PICKS: To be clear, I don’t think that North Carolina (-10) is a “good bet”. I’ll stay away from this game personally, but that’s because I cannot unwrap the narrative here. North Carolina lost at home to Wofford last season in their last game that was played before Christmas. This year, on national television on the opening night of the season, they get a shot at a rematch against a team that went 11-7 in the SoCon and lost 13 games in total. I don’t care that it’s on the road. I think UNC makes a statement here, even if picking on freshman point guards in road games is something that’s relatively easy to do.

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WESTERN KENTUCKY at No. 25 WASHINGTON, 10:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

  • Line: Washington (-7.5)
  • O/U: 152.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Washington 80, Western Kentucky 72.5
  • KenPom Projection: Washington 80, Western Kentucky 73

Western Kentucky is a talented team — arguably more talented that Washington — but one that is dealing with some personnel issues. Auburn grad transfer Desean Murray will not travel for this game due to a suspension. Josh Anderson was suspended for their most recent exhibition, while Taveion Hollingsworth missed the first WKU exhibition through suspension. Lamonte Bearden is ineligible for the first semester.

Murray and Bearden are probably starters for this team. Hollingsworth started 38 games as a freshman last season. Anderson started three of 23 games after getting eligible in January. Those losses hurt, but the news isn’t all bad — top ten recruit and potential lottery pick Charles Bassey will be playing.

PICKS: I think Washington (-7.5) is the easy money here. The Huskies are arguably the best team in the Pac-12, and they return everyone from a team that nearly made the NCAA tournament in their first season playing under Mike Hopkins. Combining the pieces that WKU will be missing with just how good Washington has a chance to be (remember, they smoked No. 7 Nevada in a scrimmage) makes me wonder why this line is just (-7.5)

BYU at No. 7 NEVADA, 11:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • Line: Nevada (-14)
  • O/U: 156
  • Vegas Implied Score: Nevada 85, BYU 71
  • KenPom Projection: Nevada 85, BYU 72

This might be the toughest test that Nevada will face at home this season, and while I do think BYU is flying a bit under-the-radar with the return of Yoeli Childs and Nick Emery back with the program, I have a feeling this will be something of a statement game for the Wolf Pack.

Eric Musselman is known as one of the toughest and most demanding coaches in the country. His team, which is legitimately ranked in the top ten in the preseason and returns their top three players from last year’s Sweet 16 team, will not have enjoyed practice since Washington ran them out of the gym. If there is a concern for Nevada, it’s that they may not actually have a point guard, as Lindsay Drew is not yet back to 100% after tearing his achilles. As good as Cody Martin is, I’m not sure he’s a pure point guard.

But I’m also not sure BYU is the team that can exploit that defensively.

PICKS: 14 points is a lot of points, and I think BYU does deserve some respect. I would probably stay away from that line, although I do think that this game hits the over. I won’t have any money on this game.

ALSO KEEP AN EYE ON

  • Florida-Gulf Coast at Illinois State, 7:00 p.m.
  • Fort Wayne at No. 21 UCLA, 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday’s Things To Know: Badgers return to form, futures of Georgetown and Illinois on display and Izundu’s big night for Miami

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There were only two top-25 teams in action Tuesday night, but there was still plenty of solid hoops action around the country with rematches, youth vs. youth and sterling individual performances. Here’s everything you need to know about what went down.

1. Wisconsin resurgent

The 2017-18 season was as disappointing as any for Wisconsin in some time. The Badgers were under .500, missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years and were just generally uncompetitive in the Big Ten after years of consistently being one of its best programs. Given how Greg Gard inherited the program, that made this season an important one in Madison.

The Badgers look to understand that.

Wisconsin got 30 points from Ethan Happ, 22 from D’Mitrik Trice and 19 from Brad Davidson, who added a little flavor to the victory. The issues last year for Wisconsin were many, but so often the main problem was Happ being left to do everything himself. If the Badgers can consistently get help around Happ – while he continues to reassert himself as one of the country’s best players – Wisconsin should be back in the NCAA tournament and pushing for a spot atop the Big Ten. There’s a long way to go and Wisconsin finishes off November with a difficult slate of games, but the early returns are positive for Gard and Co.

2. Georgetown beats Illinois in fun battle of two young teams

I don’t know that either Georgetown or Illinois will be all that good this season. In fact, I would venture to guess neither is all that great once we hit the middle of winter. They did, however, play a super entertaining game Tuesday night.

Georgetown outlasted the Illini, 88-80, in Champaign as part of the Gavitt Games in a back-and-forth game that featured fun, mistakes, highlight plays, more mistakes, breathless action and, yup, some additional mistakes. Still, it was apparent that both teams have young talent that can take them places, whether it’s this year or in the future.

The Hoyas’ starting backcourt of freshmen James Akinjo and Mac McClung combined to score 31 points and dish out 11 assists while making game-winning plays down the stretch. On the flip side, they also tallied a combined eight turnovers. There was good and bad from the two youngsters, but the positive well outweighed the negative and the potential of both was on major display. Patrick Ewing looks to have this thing pointed in the right direction in D.C.

For Illinois, it was Chicago product Ayo Dosunmu starring. The point guard put up 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 3 of 4 form deep. He was electric and at times unstoppable. Fellow freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili had 12 points, five boards and four assists. Brad Underwood’s four non-senior starters combined for 17 of the Illini’s points on the night while sophomore reserve Da’Monte Williams had 11 of those points. The future look good for Brad Underwood, too.

3. Izundu puts up numbers, Louisville impresses, Mays throws down and Temple knocks off Georgia

Ebuka Izundu had a night that’s not often seen. The Miami big man went for 22 points and 17 rebounds while shooting 11 of 13 from the floor. It was just the 13th time since 2010 that someone put up at least 22 and 17 while shooting 84 percent or better from the floor. So that’s pretty good. So, too, was the Hurricanes’ 96-58 win over Stephen F. Austin to improve to 3-0 on the season.

Louisville wasn’t all that good in Chris Mack’s debut, but the Cardinal looked significantly stronger Tuesday in a 1014-54 win over Southern. Jordan Nwora scored 20 points off the bench, and Louisville shot 58.2 percent from the floor as a team.

LSU defeated Memphis, 85-76, but more importantly, the 22nd-ranked Tigers got 19 points and one thunderous dunk from Skylar Mays.

Georgia shot 50 percent from the floor, but turned it over 20 times and lost to Temple in Philadelphia. The story, though, was the Owls’ duo of Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, Jr., who both tallied 25 points as they improved to 3-0 in what will be coach Fran Dunphy’s final season leading them.

Defense carries No. 5 Tennessee past Georgia Tech 66-53

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Grant Williams scored 22 points and No. 5 Tennessee used its stingy defense to beat cold-shooting Georgia Tech 66-53 on Tuesday night.

Tennessee (3-0) was playing one day after moving up a spot in the Top 25 to earn its first top-five ranking since the 2007-08 season. After the Yellow Jackets made the game’s first basket, Tennessee scored the next seven points and stayed in control the rest of the way.

Georgia Tech (1-1) shot just 27.6 percent from the field — its lowest mark since Josh Pastner took over as coach in 2016. The Yellow Jackets had nearly twice as many fouls (30) as baskets (16).

The Yellow Jackets missed 15 straight shots during one stretch, including their first 11 attempts of the second half. They didn’t make their first second-half basket until Jose Alvarado sank a 3-pointer with 12:12 left.

Georgia Tech still managed to hang around and cut Tennessee’s lead to 45-37 on another basket by Alvarado with 10:08 remaining, but the Volunteers responded with seven straight points.

Jordan Bone had 15 points and Kyle Alexander added 12 for Tennessee. Brandon Alston led Georgia Tech with 16.

Tennessee’s defense enabled the Vols to win on a night when they shot just 39.6 percent (19 of 48) from the field and 63.2 percent (24 of 38) at the foul line.

Georgia Tech received some good news earlier in the day as the NCAA granted a waiver allowing Texas transfer James Banks III to play immediately for the Yellow Jackets rather than sitting out the season. Banks had five points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes before fouling out.

The game marked a return to Knoxville for Georgia Tech guard Shembari Phillips, who played two seasons at Tennessee before transferring. Phillips started and played 22 minutes but scored just two points.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets lacked the outside shooting that helped them beat Lamar 88-69 in their season opener. Georgia Tech shot just 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Georgia Tech’s 12 3-point baskets and 30 3-point attempts against Lamar were the most by the Yellow Jackets under Pastner.

Tennessee: After winning its first two games by an average margin of 33.5 points, Tennessee passed a tougher test Tuesday before heading to the NIT Season Tip-Off next week in Brooklyn, New York. After facing Louisville in the first round of the NIT event, Tennessee will meet No. 2 Kansas or No. 24 Marquette.

UP NEXT

Georgia Tech hosts East Carolina on Friday.

Tennessee faces Louisville on Nov. 21 in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn.

Nwora, Williams power Louisville easily past Southern 104-54

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The second act of Louisville’s Chris Mack era produced the same outcome as the first, but this time the Cardinals came away with a much better showing.

Jordan Nwora scored a career-high 20 points as the Cardinals (2-0) easily dominated Southern 104-54 Tuesday night. Malik Williams also posted a career high of 17 points in the rout.

After Nicholls State stayed close with Louisville in last week’s season opener, Mack used the practices to toughen up his players in preparation for a schedule that includes eight games against teams ranked in the AP’s preseason top 10. Mack saw improvement on both sides of the court as the Cardinals shot 58.2 percent and forced 23 turnovers.

“The three practices that we had leading up to tonight really set the tone,” he said. “I really think you earn the right to win and you earn your victories in practice because that’s who you become on game night.”

Southern coach Sean Woods said he noticed a marked difference from the team he observed in game film.

“Handling pressure, making shots, executing high-low situations, so I tip my hat off to coach Mack because he’s been working on getting his guys better,” Woods said.

One of the players Mack wanted to see improve was Nwora. The sophomore forward came off the bench and scored 15 points in the first half. He provided an immediate spark, scoring a layup off a Jaguars turnover just two seconds after checking in. He later got frontcourt steals on consecutive possessions that he turned into back-to-back dunks, the latter of which made it 21-9 with 11:32 remaining.

Louisville kept pulling away throughout the game, leading by as many as 53 points in the final minute. Mack used 13 players, with none playing more than 22 minutes. A dozen Cardinals ended up scoring.

“After the last game, I don’t think a lot of people were happy with our performance, especially not the coaches,” said Nwora, who made 7-of-11 shots. “We just had to get better, and that’s the way he woke us up. Just having some drills in practice that really brought out the toughness in some guys.”

Aaron Ray led the Jaguars (0-3) with 14 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Southern: Facing its third major conference foe in a week, the Jaguars again struggled as they shot just 39.1 percent. They also had a hard time keeping up with bigger, more athletic Cardinals. By halftime, Southern committed 21 fouls, with two players picking up four each. The Jaguars finished getting whistled for 39 fouls. Three players fouled out, with four more drawing four each.

Louisville: The Cardinals looked much more at ease Tuesday after struggling in their season opener. In addition to the practices, it may have been due to the size advantage Louisville enjoyed over the Jaguars, who did not start anyone taller than 6-foot-7. Louisville outrebounded Southern 37-22 and enjoyed a 38-20 scoring advantage in the paint.

LOCKER ROOM CLOSED

Prior to the game, Louisville announced its locker room would be closed for postgame interviews, per Mack’s decision. The program had been one of the few to allow locker room access during the regular season. The NCAA maintains an open locker room policy during the March tournament.

AGAU RETURNS

Tuesday marked the return of Akoy Agau to the Cardinals. The graduate transfer from Southern Methodist played 22 games for the Cardinals before leaving the program in late 2014 to play for Georgetown. The 6-foot-8 forward scored seven points and tied Nwora with a team-high seven rebounds against the Jaguars.

UP NEXT

Southern travels to Fairfax, Va., for a Saturday game at George Mason as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.

Louisville concludes a three-game, season-opening homestand on Friday when it hosts Vermont.

Mays scores 19, No. 22 LSU tops Memphis 85-76

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Skylar Mays scored 19 points, transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams added a career-high 14, and No. 22 LSU held off a relentless effort by first-year coach Penny Hardaway’s Memphis squad, 85-76 on Tuesday night.

Each of LSU’s three freshmen starters — Naz Reid, Ja’Vonte Smart and Emmitt Williams — scored 11 points. Williams also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Tigers (3-0), who trailed briefly with about 13 minutes to go before surging ahead for good with a pivotal 12-1 run that included back-to-back 3s by Mays and Reid. Smart set up Reid’s 3 with a behind-the-back bounce pass from the right wing.

Bigby-Williams, a transfer from Oregon, never scored more than 11 in a game for the Ducks, and is expected to be relied upon primarily for defense this season. He made all seven of his shots, all from close range, including an emphatic dunk that gave LSU a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining.

Memphis freshman Tyler Harris, who missed all six of his shots and didn’t score in his debut, was 6 of 13 on 3s and finished with 20 points in his second collegiate game.

Jeremiah Martin scored 15 points and Kyvon Davenport had 10 for Memphis (1-1), which remained within single digits for most of the game.

Mays scored from all over the court, mixing in a soaring, driving one-handed dunk with his usual array of perimeter shots. He hit three times from 3-point range.

LSU had trouble distancing itself from Memphis most of the night but appeared in control for most of the final 10 minutes, when its highlights included a roundhouse dunk from Williams and Reid’s double-pump, back-to-the-basket, no-look scoop off the glass that made it 74-64 with 4:35 to go.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The way Memphis played on the road against a ranked team provided an early indication that Hardaway’s first season at the helm could turn out better that the fourth-place finish predicted in the AAC preseason coaches’ poll. When Harris found his shot from the perimeter, it opened up opportunities inside for Davenport and Martin.

LSU: The Tigers’ dramatic upgrade in talent was evident in the fact they led 48-39 at halftime despite Tremont Waters, their best player from last season, not scoring at all to that point. Mays also asserted himself more, scoring more points in the first half than in either of his previous two full games while throwing down a monster first-half jam. Waters finished with eight points and eight assists. LSU’s top freshman reserve, Darius Days, had nine points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Memphis hosts Yale on Saturday night.

LSU hosts Louisiana Tech on Friday night.

Brad Davison chomps Xaiver, Wisconsin is back

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It’s really nice to see the nascent-yet-kind-of-nasty rivalry between Wisconsin and Xavier has survived the graduation of JP Macura.

The Badgers and Musketeers met for the third time in four years Tuesday, with Wisconsin taking the rubber-match, 77-68, behind a big-time performance from Ethan Happ and some beautiful turnabout-is-fair-play trolling from Badger guard Brad Davison.

The genesis of this fun little back-and-forth is the 2016 NCAA tournament, when Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beater ended second-seeded Xavier’s tourney run in the first weekend. Then last season as part of the Gavitt Games, the Musketeers dropped the Badgers 80-70 with Macura going for 20 points and a Florida-inspired (???) taunt to finish things off.

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So the Badgers got a little bit of payback at the Cintas Center, leading by as many as 18 points as they turned a tight game into a what goes for a rout at the pace Wisconsin plays despite a mini-run late by Xavier, which saw a 41-game home non-conference winning streak come to a close.

Happ scored 30 points on 15 of 23 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out five assists in what looked like an All-American performance from the Badger big man. D’Mitrik Trice added 22 points and Davison added 19 plus the finishing trolling touches in the callback to a fellow Twin Cities native and master trash talker in Macura.

The win looks to be a significant sign that the Badgers are poised to bounce back after going 15-18 last season and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades. Just exactly how good of win it’ll ultimately be remained to be seen with Xavier in transition under Travis Steele, but winning big in Cincy can’t be ignored.

We’ll almost certainly know for sure where the Badgers stand by the end of this month when they get three big games at the Battle 4 Atlantis followed by tips against NC State, Iowa and Rutgers.