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.

Flagler, No. 6 Baylor rally late, top No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63

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USA Today
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Adam Flagler hit a pair of 3s as No. 6 Baylor scored the final eight points of the game to rally past No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63 Friday night.

Gonzaga’s Rasir Bolton missed a wild, driving layup try at the buzzer.

The Bears (6-2) trailed 63-56 before Flagler hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. Flagler’s 3 with just over a minute to play cut Baylor’s deficit to 63-62.

After a Gonzaga shot clock violation, Flagler’s 3-point attempt for the lead was off the mark, but teammate Jalen Bridges was fouled by Drew Timme on the rebound attempt. Bridges hit two free throws with 16 seconds left for the lead.

The Zags (5-3) had a final chance when Bolton caught an inbounds pass near his own foul line with 4.6 seconds remaining. He drove the lane, but his off-balance shot went high off the glass and missed as the buzzer sounded.

Freshman Keyonte George had 18 points and seven rebounds for Baylor. Flagler had 11 points and Langston Love added 10.

Malchi Smith scored 16 points for Gonzaga. Anton Watson added a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Timme had nine points.

Baylor led by as many as 12 in the first half before Gonzaga closed to five at the break.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The win was a big rebound for Baylor after its 26-point loss to Marquette earlier in the week. The loss was the Bears’ most lopsided since they fell to Kansas 82-56 in 2007

Carr scores 19, No. 2 Texas beats No. 7 Creighton 72-67

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas had pressured Creighton’s shooters into a miserable night, only to watch a late flurry of 3-pointers start swishing.

An 11-point Longhorns lead was down to three.

That hardly rattled Marcus Carr and the second-ranked Longhorns, who stepped up with big late shots of their own and steady free-throw shooting to secure another impressive early-season victory, 72-67 over the seventh-ranked Bluejays on Thursday night.

Carr scored 19 points and made two free throws with 10 seconds left as Texas held off Creighton’s furious late-game rally.

Creighton struggled through a wretched 3-point shooting night, but pulled within 62-59 thanks in part to five points in a row by Baylor Scheierman. Carr’s baseline jumper and an easy layup by Tyrese Hunter when Creighton lost him on an inbound pass with 46 seconds left stretched the Longhorns’ lead again.

That didn’t quite close the door on Creighton, which got two more 3-pointers from Scheierman, who had missed his first nine attempts. That forced Texas to finish it from the free-throw line behind Carr and Brock Cunningham. Cunningham’s two free throws with 4 seconds left were his only points of the game.

“There’s going to be a bunch of times one of us has to go down there and knock down a bunch of free throws,” Carr said. “We talk about it all the time.”

The matchup was part of the Big 12-Big East Battle and Texas earned its second win over a top-10 opponent in its new arena. The Longhorns (6-0) beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga on Nov. 16 and have their highest ranking since they were No. 1 during the 2009-2010 season.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better.”

Hunter scored 15 points for Texas.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton (6-2), and Ryan Nembhard scored 17 points. The Bluejays were 4 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Scheierman, a 44% shooter from beyond the arc this season, made three 3s in a row late. His off-balance shot from the right corner over a defender pulled the Bluejays within 68-65 with 11.4 seconds left.

Scheierman finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“The reality is you are gonna have nights,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It just happens. We don’t ever want him to stop shooting.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Kalkbrenner was all but unstoppable on a 9-of-10 shooting night for the Bluejays, who kept launching from long range instead of looking for their 7-foot-1 center.

Texas: The Longhorns couldn’t force their usual numbers of turnovers and fast-break points, but were exceptionally clean with the ball on offense. Texas had just three turnovers that Creighton turned into three points.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Texas senior forward Christian Bishop played three seasons at Creighton before transferring prior to last season. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“We understood what this game was, not just for our team but for Christian,” Carr said.

TIRED TEAM

McDermott suggested his team maybe just wore out. The Bluejays went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week and then played their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court.

“Three games in three days against ranked teams (in Hawaii) and then to come in here,” McDermott said. “That’s a lot to ask of my team.”

UP NEXT

Creighton hosts in-state rival Nebraska on Sunday.

Texas plays No. 16 Illinois in New York City on Dec. 6 in the Jimmy V Classic.

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.