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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.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.