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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.

No. 13-seed UC Irvine pulls off upset of No. 4-seed Kansas State

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And the Anteaters go marching on.

Max Hazzard hit five threes, including a critical three with less than two minutes left on the clock to give UC Irvine a five-point lead, and scored 19 points to lead the No. 13-seed to the first real upset of the NCAA tournament.

Evan Leonard added 19 points, six boards, four assists and four steals, making four free throws to ice the game in the final 20 seconds, as No. 4-seed Kansas State went down, 70-64.

Kansas State entered this game as the co-Big 12 champion, but they were playing without their star, Dean Wade, who is dealing with foot issues that cost him the Big 12 tournament as well. His absence hurt. He is the best shooter, the best passer and the best player for the Wildcats, and his absence contributed to Kansas State’s 38.6 percent shooting now and an 8-for-27 performance from three.

But that should not take any of the credit away from Irvine. Remember, Kansas State reached the Elite 8 last season with Wade playing.

Jarrett Culver’s big game leads No. 3 Texas Tech past No. 14 Northern Kentucky

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All-American Jarrett Culver had a monster outing as No. 3 seed Texas Tech cruised to a 72-57 win over No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky during a Friday afternoon NCAA tournament first-round game in the West Region.

Finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Culver was efficient and dominant for the Red Raiders as they opened up the game in the second half. Only a 30-26 lead for Texas Tech at the break, the Red Raiders clamped down and used the offense of Culver and it’s No. 1 overall defense to break the game open.

The Big 12 Player of the Year had one of the best individual games of any player in the first round as he was 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from three-point range. Big man Tariq Owens also finished in double-figures for Texas Tech with 12 points while Davide Moretti added 10 points.

Northern Kentucky (26-9) stayed in the game for a half thanks to the hot shooting of junior guard Tyler Sharpe as he finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Norse couldn’t generate much consistent offense outside of Sharpe, however, as Northern Kentucky shot 5-for-21 from the three-point line. Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald was held to only five points on 2-for-12 shooting as he struggled to get going. Dantez Wilson (11 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Norse.

The Red Raiders advance to face either No. 6 seed Buffalo or No. 11 seed Arizona State in Tulsa on Sunday.

Oklahoma advances past Ole Miss in rout

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Rashard Odomes and Christian James both popped off for 20 points and Kristian Doolittle added 19 points, 14 boards and five assists as No. 9-seed Oklahoma blew out No. 8-seed Ole Miss, 95-72, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Sooners, with the win, will advance to face No. 1-seed Virginia as long as Virginia can get past Gardner-Webb in the first round.

This was something of a cathartic win for an Oklahoma team that was among the handful of at-large invites that had thoroughly mediocre performances in league play. The Sooners opened the Big 12 season with eight losses in their first 11 games and finished with a 7-11 record in the conference.

One game samples really should not determine whether or not a body of work merited inclusion in an event like that, but it’s hard to see the performance that this team — and the Big 12 as a whole — put together thus far in the event and think the committee was wrong to add a sub-.500 team from the Big 12 to the field.

It’s also a sign for what this Oklahoma program is and can be under Lon Kruger.

It’s difficult to compare things like this year over year, but it is certainly interesting to note than not only did Oklahoma get a better seed this year than they did last year, with Trae Young on the roster, but they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, which is something they did not do with Trae.

That’s not to say that the team is better without him — frankly, I think that’s a silly argument to make. Guys are a year older and a year better, which matters, and I think that the 7-11 mark in Big 12 play says more than the result of a one-game knockout tournament.

It is, however, important to note that Kruger has this thing to the point that they can lose a guy that is now averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists in the NBA and still be good enough to get a bid and win a game.

No. 10 Iowa rallies past No. 7 Cincinnati

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Iowa rallied from a slow start to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati with a 79-72 win on Friday in a South Region NCAA tournament game in Columbus.

Cincinnati generated an early 18-5 lead in the first half as they fed off of the Bearcat-friendly Columbus crowd only to see the No. 10-seed Hawkeyes get hot in the second half.

Things turned in Iowa’s favor about midway through the first half when the Hawkeyes started working the ball more inside. Behind sophomore big man Luka Garza (20 points, 8-for-11 shooting), the Hawkeyes were able to establish an inside presence while opening up the team’s perimeter-shooting options.

In the second half, freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 points) and the Hawkeyes started to make an abundance of threes as they finished 11-for-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter — including a blistering 7-for-10 mark in the second half. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon also tallied 13 points while Nicholas Baer added 10 points as Iowa outscored Cincinnati 48-36 in the second half.

Using the hot shooting of senior point guard Justin Jenifer (19 points), Cincinnati appeared to be completely in the driver’s seat in the first half. But once Iowa started responding with a flurry of second-half threes, the Bearcats struggled to play from behind in the final minutes. Jarron Cumberland (18 points) didn’t get rolling as a scorer until the second half while big man Nysier Brooks (11 points) fouled out with a few minutes left. Tre Scott also finished with 10 points on the afternoon for the Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled to match Iowa’s hot perimeter shooting as they were 6-for-27 from three-point range (24 percent) on the day.

This is a great comeback win for Iowa, as they overcame the bad start by working to take better shots. Forcing a lot of early looks, once the Hawkeyes started getting Garza comfortable on the block, it opened up looks for their shooters. It’s also notable that junior forward Tyler Cook, one of Iowa’s best players, was limited to only five points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Iowa was playing sluggish basketball the final three weeks of the regular season. Friday’s second half was a reminder of how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be if they are hitting shots. And for Iowa to rally when Cook was playing this poorly is yet another positive sign that the Hawkeyes are not to be taken lightly going forward.

With Iowa’s win, the Big Ten now moves to 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tournament after a 5-0 start on Thursday. Iowa advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.

Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Saturday’s NCAA tournament games

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12:10 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland, CBS

  • LINE: LSU (-2)
  • TOTAL: 147
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 74.5, Maryland 72.5
  • KENPOM: LSU 74, Maryland 73

If you love watching soon-to-be NBA big men do battle in the paint, this is the matchup for you. Naz Reid, Kavell Bigby-Williams and Emmitt Williams facing off with Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith and Ricky Lindo. Buckle up!

I think I lean towards the Maryland side here. The Terps have the size and athleticism on the wings to be able to handle Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, their big men should be able to keep LSU’s frontcourt in check and Tremont Waters is a pest, I do think Anthony Cowan will be able to avoid the live-ball turnovers that are killers.

PICK: This is a toss-up and a fascinating matchup between two teams with very similar roster constructions. That said, my money here will be on Mark Turgeon, who isn’t exactly the best coach in the world but who should be able to find a way to get it done against Tony Benford, LSU’s interim head coach. This is where it’s worth nothing that LSU blew a big lead in the second half against Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals before nearly blowing a bigger lead to Yale in the first round. Thats the difference-maker for me.

2:40 p.m.: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford, CBS

  • LINE: Kentucky (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 138.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 72, Wofford 66.5
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 72, Wofford 68

P.J. Washington will not be playing in this one, which is a problem for the Wildcats if this is a longterm injury but not necessarily one that I think will cost them against Wofford. The key here is going to be Kentucky’s ability to chase Wofford’s shooters around screens and how well they deal with Cameron Jackson in the paint. I think that Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson will be able to keep Fletcher Magee, Storm Murphy and Nathan Hoover from going absolutely bonkers. Jackson is not all that dissimilar from Grant Williams in terms of the way he does his job, and Travis did a good job keeping Williams in check when they played.

PICK: I do like the Kentucky side here, although I don’t feel great about it. We’ll see if that line continues to climb, and maybe that would change things.

5:15 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan (-7)
  • TOTAL: 120
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 63.5, Florida 56.5
  • KENPOM: Michigan 63, Florida 56

I fully expect this to end up being one of the ugliest games of the tournament. Both teams have top 15 defenses, and Florida has guys that can guard the likes of Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis. I think this game plays out as a possession-by-possession battle played in the 50s that ends up being a one or two possession game in the final minute.

PICK: I don’t know if Florida will win this game, but seven points is a lot of points in a game that should be as slow and low-scoring as this game will be.

6:10 p.m.: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State, TNT

  • LINE: Florida State (-5)
  • TOTAL: 143
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 74, Murray State 69
  • KENPOM: Florida State 74, Murray State 69

This is so tough. On the one hand, Florida State¬†should have the bodies to be able to keep Ja Morant in check. They have a roster full of length and athleticism on the perimeter and they are a top 15 defense nationally. They are going to do a lot of switching, but that shouldn’t matter as Leonard Hamilton has built a team that is designed to defend like that. The matchup, to me, screams Florida State, especially at just (-5).

But my heart?

My heart says that Ja Morant is about to go on a Stephen Curry-esque run. He’s going to be an NBA superstar, and while we saw what he can do as a creator on Thursday, we have not yet seen just how dangerous he can be as a scorer. I want the Ja Morant ride to last.

PICK: My head says Florida State (-5). My heart says go along for the Racer ride. So I’ll probably just take the over.

7:10 p.m.: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor, TBS

  • LINE: Gonzaga (-12.5)
  • TOTAL: 148
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 80.25, Baylor 67.75
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 81, Baylor 69

I think Killian Tillie is the important piece in this matchup. He’s such a good shooter, an underrated passer and the piece that should allow Gonzaga’s offense to get unclogged against this Baylor zone. In three games back since returning from his second foot injury of the season, he’s averaging 10.3 points in just 15 minutes per game, shooting 6-for-7 from three and 80 percent from the floor.

PICK: The Bears getting 12.5 points is a lot of points for a team that is going to be able to get only the offensive glass. The biggest issue for Baylor this year is that they turn the ball over like crazy, and Gonzaga has not been all that good at forcing turnovers this season. I think I lean Gonzaga, but I won’t bet it myself unless the line moves towards the Zags.

7:45 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan State (-10)
  • TOTAL: 141.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 75.75, Minnesota 65.75
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 77, Minnesota 67

Minnesota was not great this season. They are playing a wing at the point guard spot because Isaiah Washington has been a mess. They only go five deep at this point, and they were able to run over Louisville because the one guy that can make threes on their roster made a bunch of threes.

Michigan State beat Minnesota by 24 points the one time that they played this season, but they are a team that relies almost entirely on Cassius Winston running ball-screens, and Minnesota has been pretty good defending ball-screens this season.

PICK: With the spread at (-10), I think I would lean towards taking Minnesota. That’s a lot of points. But I think my favorite bet in this game is actually the under. Michigan State looked gassed in the first round after playing three games in three days during their run to the Big Ten tournament title. Minnesota is basically running out a five-man rotation these days. Legs will catch up with them eventually.

8:40 p.m.: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova, TNT

  • LINE: Purdue (-3.5)
  • TOTAL: 137
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70.25, Villanova 66.75
  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Villanova 67

This is my favorite bet of the Saturday slate. The defense that Villanova runs is pretty simple: They switch everything, 1-through-5, because it forces you out of the offense that you want to run. They dare teams to beat them 1-on-1, betting that their players are good enough to defend a cross-match regardless of opponent.

The problem for Purdue here is that, like Saint Mary’s, so much of what they get offensively comes out of the sets and actions they run. Put another way, Matt Painter doesn’t have all that many guys on his roster that can efficiently create for themselves in isolation. That includes Carsen Edwards, who is a tough-shot taker but, in the last month, has not exactly been a tough-shot maker.

The other part of this that makes me lean towards Villanova is that Villanova shoots more than 53 percent of their field goal attempts from three, and Purdue has not made running teams off the three-point line a priority this year.

PICK: If you are going to give me the defending national champs plus the points, I’ll take it. Villanova, if you’re tracking at home, has won 24 straight neutral court games. They win in knockout settings.

9:40 p.m.: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn, TBS

  • LINE: PK
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 73.75, Auburn 73.75
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Kansas 74

This is tough because Auburn is just so up-and-down while Kansas has looked downright bad for the last month until they faced Northeastern and suddenly turned into Kansas again.

What Auburn wants to do is to is to turn defense into offense. They are going to gamble — for steals, for blocks, for leak-outs — and look to get quick threes in transition once they get possession. For 33 minutes, it worked against New Mexico State. Twice in the last two weeks it worked for 40 minutes against Tennessee. Kansas has been turnover prone this season, particularly their ball-handlers, but they have cleaned that up in recent weeks. Devon Dotson, for example, had a turnover rate higher than 20 percent entering the Big 12 tournament and has committed just three turnovers in the last four games.

PICK: The matchup is going to get won based on how well Kansas protects the ball and how well they defend in transition — they finished the year in the 51st percentile nationally. It’s worth nothing that the Jayhawks struggled with West Virginia once this season but handled them easily on two different occasions in the last three weeks.

I think I will probably stay away, personally, but when it comes down to it, I think Auburn is the better team with the better players.