Best Bets: Big 12 favorites in for good night

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No. 23 OKLAHOMA at No. 5 KANSAS, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • LINE: Kansas -8.5, 151
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 79.75, Oklahoma 71.25
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 78, Oklahoma 70
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Kansas 74, Oklahoma 72

This is the chance for Oklahoma to prove a point this season. The Sooners have been one of the surprises in college hoops this year, and there’s not ‘Welcome to 2019’ moment quite like having to kick off Big 12 play in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

The way that Lon Kruger is winning this season is with a stout defense that attacks and scores in transition. They are nowhere near as dangerous offensively as they were with Trae Young, but the Sooners are a top ten defense entering the new year. Kansas will be happy to run with Oklahoma, but I’m not convinced this will turn into an up-and-down contest. League play tends to be slower-paced, and both of these teams are top ten defenses.

PICKS: This game is going to come down to whether or not Oklahoma can exploit Udoka Azubuike’s inability to defend on the perimeter. I don’t think that they will. I don’t think they can run Brady Manek at the five, I’m not convinced Jamuni McNeace will be able to hold his own in the paint and I need to see Matt Freeman make an impact in the Phog before I believe that he will.

Personally, I will be staying away from this game, but if I was forced to make a pick, it would be Kansas and the over.

UTAH STATE at No. 6 NEVADA, 11:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

  • LINE: Nevada -9.5, 148.5
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Nevada 79, Utah State 69.5
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 81, Utah State 69
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Nevada 76, Utah State 71

This is an incredibly important game for a Utah State team that is much better than anyone realizes. The Aggies are a top 50 team, according to KenPom, that badly needs to get at least one win against Nevada to have a shot at an at-large bid this season. I don’t think that they’ll get it in Reno, but I do think that they have a real shot to cover. The reason is simple: I buy just how good Utah State can be defensively. Nevada is dangerous because they have a bevy of ridiculous shot-makers that don’t turn the ball over. The Aggies are top five nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage and they are second-nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

In other words, they force as many misses as anyone in the sport and they don’t let you get a second chance.

PICKS: I’ll take Utah State to cover.

No. 24 NEBRASKA at MARYLAND, 6:30 p.m ET (BTN)

  • LINE: Nebraska -1.5, 137.5
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Nebraska 69.5, Maryland 68
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Maryland 71, Nebraska 70
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Nebraska 71, Maryland 70

It’s hard to get a read on how good Maryland is this year. The Terps don’t have any statement wins yet this season, but they did play Virginia, Purdue and Seton Hall close in losses. They also beat Penn State.

Nebraska, on the other hand, has already landed some impressive wins. They beat Clemson on the road, they smacked Creighton at home and they knocked off Seton Hall and Oklahoma State. They were also in firm control at Minnesota for roughly 32 minutes before blowing a lead at the end.

PICKS: Nebraska has performed well on the road this year, winning at Clemson by two and outplaying Minnesota last month. But they also lost at Minnesota, and Maryland has been a tough out at home. I’ll probably stay away, but if I had to, I’d probably take Maryland plus the points.

No. 11 TEXAS TECH  at WEST VIRGINIA, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

  • LINE: Texas Tech -4.5, 136
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Texas Tech 70.25, West Virginia 65.75
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 70, West Virginia 66
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Texas Tech 73, West Virginia 63

I don’t think I can remember ever seeing a line move as much as this one has. The total opened at 150.5 in some places. It’s down to 136 or 137, which means the chance for you to get in on the obvious bet in this game is gone.

What we have now is not ideal. Texas Tech is a road favorite in league play, which is never a great situation, while West Virginia is, frankly, not all that good. They will also be without Sagaba Konate tonight, who is the presence in the paint that lets the Mountaineers gamble for steals.

PICKS: While the situation isn’t ideal, I do think that Texas Tech will be able to cover here. West Virginia is not forcing turnovers the way they have in the past, and no Konate means they will not have the rim protection they are used to. Combine that with the fact that the Red Raiders are literally the nation’s best defense and should be capable of keeping West Virginia off of the offensive glass, and it makes sense. I don’t know if Vegas as adjusted for just how good the Red Raiders are yet.


SETON HALL at XAVIER (-3.5, 143), 6:30 p.m. ET (FS1): As much as I don’t like betting road underdogs, I have a hard time putting money on Xavier at this point in the season. Consider me thoroughly unimpressed with wins over DePaul and Illinois. If I bet this game, it will be Seton Hall (+3.5). KenPom and Haslametrics both agree.

HARVARD at No. 15 NORTH CAROLINA (-16.5, 152.5), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): The total in this game has already moved quite a bit — it opened at 158.5. The total is 4.5 points below what KenPom is projecting, and neither Seth Towns nor Bryce Aiken are expected back. I think UNC can control tempo, and I don’t think Harvard has the horses to run with them. Wait and take the over when the total is as low as it gets.

GEORGETOWN at BUTLER (-8.5, 151), 7:00 p.m.: Georgetown looks like it will be without Mac McClung in this one. I already think Butler is underrated, and with the Hoyas missing the guy that went for 38 last week, I’ll err on the side of KenPom and Haslametrics, who both have this game projected as a double-digit Butler win.

TULSA at No. 19 HOUSTON (-10.5, 135), 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3): This is a huge game for Houston, but bettors seem to think that Tulsa can put up a fight. The line has already move three points in Tulsa’s favor and the total has risen 3.5 points. I’ll stay away personally, but if you’re into fading the public, Houston and the under seem to fit that narrative.

NORTHWESTERN at No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE (-12.5, 138.5), 8:30 p.m. (BTN): Northwestern has been tough defensively this season, and while the Wildcats have not landed a marquee win yet, they’ve made it tough on some good teams — they lost to Michigan by two at home, lost by two at Indiana and took Oklahoma to overtime. I like the Wildcats to cover.

DEPAUL at VILLANOVA (-12, 140.5), 8:30 p.m. (FS1): I’m not on Xavier this year, and Xavier won at DePaul by nine. Villanova is coming off of a shellacking of UConn, should get Colin Gillespie back and, hopefully, will have used the last two weeks to work through the issues with their youngsters. Don’t make me regret it, Jay.

IOWA STATE (-4, 143) at OKLAHOMA STATE, 9:00 p.m. (ESPNN): The line is already moving in this one. The total has come down from 146.5 to 143 and Iowa State is down from a 4.5-point favorite. I love home dogs in league play.

TEXAS at KANSAS STATE (-2, 129.5), 9:00 p.m. (ESPNU): This game is going to be ugly. Two top ten defenses and sub-100 offenses? No Dean Wade? Gross. The total opened at 123 and shot all the way up to 129.5. KenPom has it at 123. Haslametrics has it even lower, at 115. Hammer the under.

Report: Notre Dame closing deal with PSU’s Shrewsberry

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is finalizing a deal to make Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry its new men’s basketball coach, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract details were still being completed and needed school approval.

Shrewsberry, in his second season at Penn State (23-14), led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and a tournament victory for the first time since 2001.

The Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M and were eliminated by Texas in the second round.

Notre Dame has been searching for a replacement for Mike Brey, who spent the last 23 season as coach of the Fighting Irish. He announced in January that this would be his last season with Notre Dame

The Irish finished 11-21.

Shrewsberry grew up in Indianapolis and went to school at Division III Hanover College in Indiana.

He was the head coach at Indiana University South Bend, an NAIA school located in the same city as Notre Dame, from 2005-07.

He later worked as an assistant coach at Butler and Purdue, with a stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in between.

ESPN first reported Notre Dame was close to a deal with Shrewsberry.

Bacot says he’s returning for fifth season at North Carolina

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina forward Armando Bacot is returning to play a fifth season for the Tar Heels.

Bacot announced his decision Wednesday, giving North Carolina fans a bit of good news after the Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Bacot is North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds, double-doubles and double-figure rebounding games.

Bacot led North Carolina to a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and his decision to return was a major reason the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to meeting those expectations. They went 20-13 and opted against playing in the NIT. Bacot earned Associated Press All-America third-team honors and averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds in 2021-22. He capped that season by becoming the first player ever to have six double-doubles in one NCAA Tournament.

Bacot participated in North Carolina’s Senior Night festivities this year. He has a fifth year of eligibility because of the waiver the NCAA granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cooley takes over at Georgetown with lofty aspirations

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WASHINGTON – Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.

Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.

At his introductory news conference Wednesday that felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins – many of them – and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.

“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”

Georgetown has lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play.

While Cooley at Providence was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.

“I don’t have anything to do what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”

Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After late Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year-old run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and Ewing getting the head job, Cooley is the school’s first outsider in the position in a half-century.

His only connection to the Hilltop – beyond coaching in the Big East – is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.

It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”

That landscape, including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more easily transfer schools, are the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.

“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”

Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.

“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”

Texas’ Arterio Morris plays amid misdemeanor domestic violence case

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — In a season when Texas fired coach Chris Beard after a felony domestic violence arrest, it has allowed a reserve guard to keep playing while he awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Second-seed Texas has advanced under interim coach Rodney Terry to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, and the Longhorns play No. 3 Xavier in Kansas City, Missouri.

Arterio Morris, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, was initially scheduled to stand trial March 29, three days before Final Four weekend. Denton County prosecutors were granted a delay to an unspecified date.

Beard was fired Jan. 5, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of choking his fiancée in a fight during which she also told police he bit, and hit her. She later recanted the choking allegation and the Travis County district attorney dismissed the case, saying prosecutors were following her wishes not to got to trial and that the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Morris is charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which in Texas includes dating relationships. It stems from a June 2022 confrontation in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The charge carries penalties ranging from probation and fines to up to a year in jail if convicted.

Morris’ attorney, Justin Moore, said the charges against Beard and the player are different.

“(Beard) was charged with a felony family assault,” Moore said. “That was far more serious as to what Arterio was alleged to have to committed. We maintain Arterio’s innocence.”

According to police, the ex-girlfriend said Morris grabbed her arm and pulled her off a bed, and later pulled the front of her sports bra, causing an injury to her neck and shoulder area. Police reported seeing a sizable bruise or scratch.

Texas officials declined comment. Beard said before the season that school officials he would not identify determined the freshman could play this season.

Moore defended Texas officials’ decision to not suspend Morris.

“I do believe Texas has taken this seriously. They’ve also allowed Arterio to enjoy his due process rights,” Moore said.

Morris has played in all 36 games this season, although his minutes and have been limited on a senior-dominated team. He averages nearly 12 minutes and 4.7 points per game. His biggest moment was a soaring alley-oop dunk against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Attempts to reach Morris’ ex-girlfriend through family members were not successful. According to online records, prosecutors sought the trial delay to “procure witness availability.” Prosecutor Jamie Beck did not immediately return messages.

Wichita State hires ORU’s Paul Mills to lead program

Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program, landing what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches.

The 50-year-old Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, engineering upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed.

He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons as the Shockers slowly slipped toward mediocrity.

“My family and I are extremely excited about being a part of Wichita State,” said Mills, who will be introduced during a news conference Thursday at Charles Koch Arena. “The rich history, winning tradition and unbelievable community support will keep us working on behalf of the greatest fans in all of college basketball.”

Mills got his break in coaching when he joined Scott Drew’s first staff at Baylor in 2003, working alongside future Kansas State coach Jerome Tang in helping to turn around a program that had been mired in controversy. Mills stayed for 14 years, helping to reach seven NCAA Tournaments, before replacing Scott Sutton at Oral Roberts before the 2017 season.

“I absolutely love Paul Mills. He’s like a brother to me. So happy for him and his family, for Wendy and the girls,” said Tang, who has Kansas State playing Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. “He’s going to be incredible because he is passionate about young people and about developing young men.

“There’s no throttle, like, hold-back governor on him in terms of love and what he pours into his guys.”

Mills went just 11-21 each of his first two seasons in Tulsa, but the seeds of a turnaround had been planted, and the Golden Eagles have not had a losing season since. The biggest step came two years ago, when Mills led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament played entirely within an Indianapolis “bubble environment” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Golden Eagles slipped to 19-12 the following year before winning 30 games and the Summit League title this past season, when they were led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, an honorable mention All-American selection.

“He’s the one that told me, he said, ‘Tang, 10s hangs with 10s and one hangs with ones,’” Tang said, “and he’s a 10 and he’s going to have some 10s around him.”

The hiring of Mills comes as the Shockers try to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference. Perennial powerhouse Houston is joining Central Florida and Cincinnati in leaving for the Big 12 after this season, and six new schools are due to arrive from Conference USA for the start of next season.

Wichita State, a power under Ralph Miller and Gene Smithson in the 1960s, returned to prominence when Mark Turgeon took over in 2000. But it was under Gregg Marshall, who resigned in November 2020 amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse of players, that it began to soar. The Shockers advanced to the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten the following year and at one point went to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Brown, who was Marshall’s top recruiter, led them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. But the Shockers were just 15-13 last year and 17-15 this past season, leading Saal to decide that a coaching change was necessary.

Turns out the answer Saal was looking for was just a few hours south at Oral Roberts.

“Paul Mills’ heart for people, passion for life and approach to the development of young people and programs is energizing,” Wichita State athletic director Kevin Saal said in a statement. “He aligns with Shocker Athletics’ core values, facilitates a first-class student-athlete experience and fuels broad-based competitive excellence.”