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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.

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.