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Best Bets: Home underdogs in ranked matchups will make us rich

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The first weekend of conference play kicks off, which means that this is the first time that we have a full slate of college basketball games for our viewing pleasure. 

REMINDER: The official Vegas lines for the Saturday and Sunday games have not been released, so we will be using the projections from analytic sites KenPom and Haslametrics to talk through what the spreads and totals are. 

Let’s dive into this weekend’s games:

No. 9 FLORIDA STATE at No. 4 VIRGINIA, Sat. 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 70, Florida State 61
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Virginia 71, Florida State 57

This is a really interesting matchup for the simple fact that it is going to be our first real chance to get a taste of just how good Florida State truly is.

I’m firmly on board with the idea that Virginia is awesome yet again this season. They are just as good as ever on the defensive end of the floor but the presence of De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome has made them dangerous offensively. And I think that it is Hunter that makes this such a difficult matchup for Florida State, because the way that the Seminoles want to play is to spread out the floor and create mismatches. They have bigs that can play on the perimeter and wings that can thrive at the four, and Virginia is no longer as susceptible to those mismatches with Hunter at the four and Kihei Clark at the point.

Which brings me to another point — I don’t think Florida State’s press is going to work, not with Clark and Jerome both playing major minutes. Virginia is one of the nation’s very best at protecting the ball. They are also one of the nation’s best at clearing the defensive glass; Leonard Hamilton’s team will not be getting many extra possessions.

PICKS: Based on what KenPom and Haslametrics have as projections, I think that the spread in this game is going to end up being pretty big, and that’s not something that I really want a part of. Virginia plays such few possessions and Florida State is good enough that I can’t really see this becoming a blowout. Do you really want to sweat Virginia (-8) against a top ten team? I don’t.

No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE at No. 14 OHIO STATE, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 74, Ohio State 72
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Ohio State 69

This is going to be a tricky spot for the Spartans, who are 2-1 in true road games this year. Michigan State is clearly the more talented team. I don’t think that’s really up for debate, but neither is the fact that Chris Holtmann has quickly become one of the very best coaches in college basketball. This is not going to be easy for the Spartans, not when the Buckeyes can defend as well as they do and not when Kaleb Wesson has the size inside to keep the Spartans from being able to pound the rock into Nick Ward all afternoon. Remember, in this matchup on this floor last season, Ohio State made a statement with a 16 point win.

PICKS: To me, that’s what this bet come down to. I am not totally sold on Michigan State. And I do think that Ohio State matches up really well them. If Ohio State is getting points, I love it. I’ll probably be on the Ohio State money line, especially if the spread ends up being closer to what Haslametrics is projecting than what KenPom is projecting.

No. 5 KANSAS at IOWA STATE, Sat. 5:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Iowa State 75, Kansas 74
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Iowa State 77, Kansas 69

I am glad to see that both KenPom and Haslametric are projecting Iowa State to win this game. Given the powers of Hilton Magic, I tend to think that is how this game is going to end up playing out. The Jayhawks have lost their only true road game of the season — falling at Arizona State — while Iowa State’s computer numbers haven’t fully factored in the return of Lindell Wigginton from his foot injury.

The biggest question is going to be how the Cyclones deal with the Kansas low-post game. Udoka Azubuike has returned to the lineup and is capable of overpowering smaller defenders, and even when he was off the floor against a better defensive team in Oklahoma, the Jayhawks actually looked better running offense through Dedric Lawson at the five.

PICKS: I am very interested to see what this line is going to end up being. I will be on Iowa State as long as they aren’t favored by more than two or three points, and I will be all over the money line if they are getting points. I would also tend to lean towards the over, assuming the total will be somewhere around the high 140s. Both teams are willing to run, and I am not sure either team is really cut out for slowing the other down. It’s a bad matchup for both sides.

No. 21 INDIANA at No. 2 MICHIGAN, Sun. 4:30 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 70, Indiana 62
  • HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Michigan 71, Indiana 60

This is a tough spot for Indiana, especially if they are going to be asked to play without Rob Phinisee, who is dealing with a concussion. Not having a point guard to go up against a team that is as stout defensively as Michigan is will be a nightmare scenario for the Hoosiers, who have spent the last month finding a way to win ugly. That was on display on Thursday night, as they worked back from a deficit to knock off Illinois in Bloomington.

I do not expect this game to be high-scoring. Michigan will be able to control pace, and when combined with the fact that Indiana is going to struggle to score against a set defense makes this a game that is difficult to see getting into the 70s. That also means that it will be that much more difficult for Michigan to create separation.

PICKS: I’ll side with Michigan here, although I wouldn’t feel all that comfortable taking them at more than (-8). I’ll also lean towards taking the under here, assuming it is somewhere in the low 130s.

THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S NOTABLE GAMES AND BETS

No. 13 KENTUCKY (-3.5, 147.5) at ALABAMA, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN): The projections by both KenPom and Haslametrics are pretty similar here, which gives us a good jumping off point: Kentucky is coming off of a pair of really impressive wins away from Rupp Arena against two teams that are both better than Alabama. The Tide have landed four pretty nice wins in a row, but I’m not sure the models have fully accounted for how good Kentucky has been since Quade Green left. Throw in that Alabama fans will be probably already be pregaming for Monday night’s CFB title game, and I would be all over the Wildcats here at (-3.5), but I’m guessing the line will open closer to (-6).

CLEMSON at No. 1 DUKE, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: It is going to be interesting to see where this line opens up. KenPom is projecting Duke to win by 16. Haslemetrics has them winning by 24 points. I liked this Clemson group coming into the season because they had good guards and could really defend, but they’ve struggled adapting to a bigger lineup and their defense has taken a hit. Clemson’s best win is against Lipscomb at home. I’d probably lean Duke up to about (-15) here, but I’ll likely stay away myself.

No. 24 NEBRASKA at No. 25 IOWA, Sun. 5:30 p.m. (BTN): Another game where KenPom and Haslametrics differ pretty drastically — Nebraska (-2) for the former and (-10) for the latter. After a promising start to the season, Iowa’s defense has fallen off of a cliff, and Nebraska has the dudes to take advantage. I’d lean the Cornhuskers.

ST. JOHN’S at GEORGETOWN, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS): This is a really interesting matchup as the Johnnies are fairly unproved but coming off of a resounding win over Marquette while the Hoyas are a team no one trusts yet just smacked around Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Both sites are projecting St. John’s to win. I don’t trust the Red Storm on the road just yet, especially not in a silent Capital One Arena. Georgetown moneyline. Let’s get it.

CAL at UCLA, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (Pac-12): I will be very interested to see where this line opens up. UCLA looked like a team with three five-stars and a bunch of future pros against Stanford on Thursday night. Cal is terrible. Are the Bruins rejuvenated after Alford’s firing? Both sites have Cal losing by about 12 points, and I think I would probably hammer UCLA (-12).

No. 6 NEVADA at NEW MEXICO, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU): New Mexico wants to run and run and run. They don’t, however, have the talent to play that way. They also can’t guard, and Nevada has dudes that will kill you in transition and will expose players that can’t guard. KenPom has this at Nevada (-16) and Haslametrics has it at Nevada (-23). Both have the total right around 156. Give me Nevada and give me the over.

WEST VIRGINIA at TEXAS, Sat. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): West Virginia doesn’t really have any talent this year, not like they have in the last four years. Texas hasn’t been able to score since Shaka Smart arrived in Austin. Texas doesn’t want to play fast and doesn’t commit turnovers, which is what West Virginia’s defense is based on. Both teams are coming off hideous games that finished way under low totals. I’m hammering the under in this one, whatever it ends up being.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.

Lawsuit filed after two casinos couldn’t take March Madness bets

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A casino operator is suing a tech company after a contract dispute shuttered its sports betting platform at two West Virginia casinos ahead of the NCAA Tournament.

A Friday news release from Delaware North says it’s filed a civil suit seeking monetary damages against United Kingdom-based Miomni Gaming and its CEO, Michael P. Venner.

Miomni’s contract dispute with a third-party technology supplier has prevented Delaware North’s Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro and the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack from taking new sports wagers since March 6.

The casino operator’s lawsuit says Miomni misrepresented its ownership of a key part of the sports betting platform.

A voicemail left with Miomni was not immediately returned.

The suit was filed late Thursday in Delaware.

Gonzaga’s Tillie, Norvell declare for NBA draft

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Gonzaga junior forward Killian Tillie and sophomore guard Zach Norvell will both test the NBA waters.

The school said this weekend that both players will submit their names for the NBA draft, but could return to school.

Under new NCAA rules, college players can retain the services of an agent during the evaluation process but must end the relationship and withdraw from the draft by May 29. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke have also declared for the NBA draft.

A 6-foot-5 guard from Chicago, Norvell started 36 of 37 games in 2019, averaging 14.9 points and 3.1 assists. He led the West Coast Conference with 97 3-pointers and 37 percent from the arc.

Norvell averaged 12.7 points as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18. The Zags have reached the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when Norvell has played.

Tillie had an injury-filled junior season, missing 22 games with multiple issues. Tillie appeared in only 15 games and averaged 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds. He shot 50 percent in his limited action. He was a preseason all-West Coast Conference selection after a sophomore season where the 6-foot-10 native of France averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.