Best Bets: Point spreads, betting lines, picks for Friday’s college hoops action

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Gambling is now legal in the United States, and not just in the state of Nevada.

So with that in mind, and with a full weekend of college basketball in front of us, let’s preview the games on the docket this weekend with an eye on spreads and over-unders.

Let’s get rich!



No. 25 WASHINGTON at No. 11 AUBURN, 9:30 p.m.

  • Line: Auburn (-8.5)
  • O/U: 150.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Auburn 79.5, Washington 71
  • KenPom Projection: Auburn 81, Washington 72

This is easily the most interesting game of the weekend, as a Washington team that struggled to put away Western Kentucky at home on opening night — they trailed by nine at the half before winning by 18, although that had a lot to do with foul trouble — treks down to Auburn in a matchup between the potential Pac-12 champ and the potential SEC champ.

Auburn is the reigning SEC champion. They opened their season on Tuesday with a resounding thumping of South Alabama. Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke looked terrific, Jared Harper played like the best point guard in the SEC and Bryce Brown made a handful of threes before that one came to an end. As a team, Auburn made 18 threes, and will likely have the chance to shoot even more tonight against Washington’s 2-3 zone.

The Huskies are better than what the projections have them at right now. Remember, this is a team that returns everyone from last season, including a now-sophomore Jaylen Nowell, and that will have another year of added experience playing the zone that head coach Mike Hopkins spent two decades learning as an assistant at Syracuse.

For my money, the key here is going to be what happens up front. Chuma Okeke and Anfernee McLemore don’t get any of the attention when discussing this Auburn team, but McLemore was quietly the most important piece for the Tigers last season while Okeke was sensational in the opener this year. Both can make threes and space the floor, both — particularly McLemore — can protect the rim and they bring a level of energy that is difficult for anyone to match. Their ability to stretch that Washington zone will create problems for the Huskies.

But they are also going to have their hands full with Noah Dickerson defensively. Dickerson is one of the strongest post players in all of college basketball, and as an undersized big man, he’s used to dealing with shot-blockers around him. He gets fouled as much as anyone in the country and has 30 pounds on Okeke and McLemore. There’s a very real chance he gets them on bench for extended minutes.

PICKS: Washington (+8.5) and the over. Washington is really, really good. They beat a good Western Kentucky team by 18 points on Tuesday night despite trailing by nine at the half. They can defend, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessarily easier to shoot threes against a zone, not when a zone is played well. If anything, Auburn is more likely to beat up Washington with second chance points than they are with the three-ball.

I see this being a close game, as I think the metrics this early in the season are still undervaluing Washington. Washington (+8.5) seems like the easy bet here. I also think the over is very much in play. Auburn played at the 18th-fastest pace in college basketball last season, but Washington played just as fast offensively; in fact, they had a lower average offensive possession length than auburn did. The reason Washington’s pace was slower was because it takes teams a while to work through their zone, and long offensive possessions is not exactly what Auburn is known for.

(NOTE: Since writing this, the line has moved to Washington (+10.5), which makes me like it even more.)

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS at No. 2 KENTUCKY, 7:00 p.m.

  • Line: Kentucky (-17)
  • O/U: 148.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Kentucky 82.75, Southern Illinois 65.75
  • KenPom Projection: Kentucky 82, Southern Illinois 68

Southern Illinois is good this year. They are right there with Loyola-Chicago and Illinois State as the early favorites in the Missouri Valley. They are coming off of a season where they won 21 games and went 11-7 in the league and they bring back five starters from last season, four of whom will be seniors this year. The Salukis actually rank in KenPom’s top 100 right now.

So Kentucky is going to have a tough, veteran opponent on their hands. This is the kind of game that John Calipari’s teams have struggled with over the years. Last season, three of their first four buy games were decided by 10 points or less, and the Wildcats very nearly lost at home to Vermont. That Kentucky (-17) line is a lot of points — the spread is three points higher than KenPom’s projected spread, which is the kind of inefficiency we like to capitalize on — but it’s the narrative here that has me rethinking what looks like an obvious bet on paper.

I thought Kentucky was the second-best team in the country entering Tuesday’s embarrassing demolition at the hands of Duke. I was far from alone in that sentiment, and I still think this is a team with a nice blend of youth, talent and experience. So there are two questions you need to answer before you invest any money on this line:

  1. Did Tuesday’s game get out of hand because Kentucky is not as good as we thought they were, or was this a team that got blitzkrieged in a bad matchup and rolled over once they realized — like everyone else on the planet — that the game was over midway through the first half? If you believe that’s the case, then …
  2. … what do you think practice was like for the last two days? John Calipari is a notoriously tough coach. He connects with his guys and he understands the psychology that comes with being a superstar at such a young age, but he holds them accountable and he does it in a way that is not always pleasant to be on the receiving end of. Kentucky is going to want to make a statement tonight.

PICKS: Generally speaking, I think the process play here is to take SIU. Good, veteran mid-major programs can create some problems for young Kentucky teams even when the games are played in Rupp. But I’m going to try to avoid overreacting to one game, trust that my sense of this Kentucky team entering the season was correct and assume that one of the nation’s elite teams is going to come out on Friday night and remind everyone that they are, in fact, one of the nation’s elite teams. Kentucky (-17) is where my money will be.

WICHITA STATE vs. PROVIDENCE (Annapolis), 6:00 p.m.

  • Line: Providence (-4.5)
  • O/U: 139.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Providence 72, Wichita State 67.5
  • KenPom Projection: Providence 74, Wichita State 71

Wichita State is not very good this season. They return just 11% of their minutes from last year, and that’s more or less because Markis McDuffie returned to school. In a season-opening, 13-point home loss to Louisiana Tech, McDuffie finished with eight points on 3-for-11 shooting.

It’s a rebuilding year in Wichita, and it doesn’t look like the books have caught up to that yet. It’s also worth pointing out that not only is Providence being underrated this season, that 10-point home win against Siena doesn’t look quite as bad after the Saints went into D.C. and picked off George Washington. Alpha Diallo is underrated, Ed Cooley is underrated, A.J. Reeves had the best freshman performance this side of Zion Williamson and Emmitt Holt still hasn’t fully worked his way back into shape.

PICKS: Providence (-4.5) seems too low. I think the Friars can win this by double-digits.

No. 8 NORTH CAROLINA at ELON, 7:00 p.m.

  • Line: North Carolina (-17)
  • O/U: 148
  • Vegas Implied Score: North Carolina 82.5, Elon 65.5
  • KenPom Projection: North Carolina 85, Elon 67

North Carolina is playing their second straight road game to start the season. They struggled at Wofford in the opener but still managed to pull out a win (and a cover!), and on Friday night, their opponent won’t be as tough as Tuesday. Throw in the fact that this will be the second game for Coby White, and I like the Tar Heels here.

PICKS: North Carolina (-17)

BUFFALO at No. 13 WEST VIRGINIA, 9:00 p.m.

  • Line: West Virginia (-10)
  • O/U: 156.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: West Virginia 83.25, Buffalo 73.25
  • KenPom Projection: West Virginia 83, Buffalo 71

Buffalo is one of the best mid-major teams in college basketball this season. They bring back four starters from a team that upset Arizona in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, but going into Morgantown and coming out with anything other than a series of bumps and bruises is tough.

The Mountaineers are a tough team to project this season. On the one hand, Press Virginia is going to suffer without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles pacing them. On the other hand, WVU should be a better team on the offensive end of the floor without those two playing varying degrees of hero-ball. Throw in Esa Ahmad spending a full year on the roster and Lamont West coming into his own, and I think the bet here is the Mountaineers.

PICKS: West Virginia (-10), and that’s because Morgantown is a nightmare to play in and Buffalo did lose last year’s starting point guard. The line looks like it is already starting to move that way.

MISSOURI at IOWA STATE, 7:00 p.m.

  • Line: Iowa State (-8)
  • O/U: 142
  • Vegas Implied Score: Iowa State 75, Missouri 67
  • KenPom Projection: Iowa State 76, Missouri 67

This is going to sound weird, but Missouri is playing without star center Jontay Porter is actually going to be the healthier team here. Cameron Lard is suspended. So is Zoran Talley. Solomon Young strained his groin. Talen Horton-Tucker missed time in the opener with cramping issues. Lindell Wigginton hurt his heel. There’s a real chance that, going up against a frontcourt that includes Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Puryer, that the Cyclones are going to have to play their best point guard, Nick Weiler-Babb, at the five.

Yikes.

PICKS: I got in at Missouri (+8), but the line is moving quickly in some places. Get on it as soon as possible.