Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via AP

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

1 Comment

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.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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.

Alex Menendez/Getty Images

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.

Lance King/Getty Images

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.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Leave a comment

Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

AP Photo/Corey Perrine
Leave a comment

This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.

Lawsuit filed after two casinos couldn’t take March Madness bets

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A casino operator is suing a tech company after a contract dispute shuttered its sports betting platform at two West Virginia casinos ahead of the NCAA Tournament.

A Friday news release from Delaware North says it’s filed a civil suit seeking monetary damages against United Kingdom-based Miomni Gaming and its CEO, Michael P. Venner.

Miomni’s contract dispute with a third-party technology supplier has prevented Delaware North’s Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro and the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack from taking new sports wagers since March 6.

The casino operator’s lawsuit says Miomni misrepresented its ownership of a key part of the sports betting platform.

A voicemail left with Miomni was not immediately returned.

The suit was filed late Thursday in Delaware.

Gonzaga’s Tillie, Norvell declare for NBA draft

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Gonzaga junior forward Killian Tillie and sophomore guard Zach Norvell will both test the NBA waters.

The school said this weekend that both players will submit their names for the NBA draft, but could return to school.

Under new NCAA rules, college players can retain the services of an agent during the evaluation process but must end the relationship and withdraw from the draft by May 29. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke have also declared for the NBA draft.

A 6-foot-5 guard from Chicago, Norvell started 36 of 37 games in 2019, averaging 14.9 points and 3.1 assists. He led the West Coast Conference with 97 3-pointers and 37 percent from the arc.

Norvell averaged 12.7 points as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18. The Zags have reached the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when Norvell has played.

Tillie had an injury-filled junior season, missing 22 games with multiple issues. Tillie appeared in only 15 games and averaged 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds. He shot 50 percent in his limited action. He was a preseason all-West Coast Conference selection after a sophomore season where the 6-foot-10 native of France averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.