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Best Bets: Eight top ten teams on the road, which underdogs have a chance to win?

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There is a wild weekend of basketball on tap.

The No. 1 team in the country is heading down to Tallahassee to take on a top 15 team, and they are one of eight top ten teams that will be playing on the road this weekend. 

One of those games is a rivalry game. Two of them involve elite mid-major teams visiting the second-best team in their league. Two elite Big 12 defenses face-off while Kansas takes another road trip in the league. Indiana tests themselves at Maryland. Myles Powell vs. Markus Howard. And, surprisingly enough, a battle between two Mississippi schools that carries quite a bit of weight. 

But the game of the weekend is the features a pair of teams that reached last year’s Elite Eight, one of whom has an entirely new roster and the other who returned basically everyone from a season ago.

As always, this column is running on Friday morning. The official Vegas lines will not come out until Friday night or Saturday morning, so we will be using projections from KenPom and Haslametrics. KenPom is typically better for projecting what the lines will be, while Haslametrics tends to be more useful to gauge if I’m on the right side of the bet or not. 

No. 1 DUKE at No. 13 FLORIDA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 81, Florida State 73
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 85, Florida State 71

This game is projected to be quite high scoring, as Duke plays at the ninth-fastest pace nationally while Florida State averages better than 70 possessions per game, and it’s worth noting that the only two losses that Florida State has taken on this season have come in their two slowest games — Villanova on a neutral and at Virginia.

There aren’t a lot of teams that want to run with Duke, but my guess is that the Seminoles will be one of those teams — they are in the 63rd percentile nationally in points-per-possession in halfcourt offense, and average 0.15 PPP more in transition than they do in a halfcourt setting. There are two reasons for this: They do not have good point guard play and they are not a good three-point shooting team. If they have to go up against a set defense, one that can clean the defensive glass, they are in trouble. (They were down 65-36 to Virginia, which is all the evidence you need.)

Duke is not Virginia in the halfcourt, but what they are is a top 30 team nationally in steal percentage playing a Florida State team that turns the ball over on 20.6 percent of their possessions. In fact, they actually rank second in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric as of today, while Virginia ranks third.

So this is how I see this game playing out: Tre Jones overwhelms whoever is trying to initiate offense for the Seminoles. Duke gets their quota of “pick-six” dunks and layups off of live-ball turnovers, and Florida State’s press struggles to slow down a team that starts four players that can bring the ball up the floor. The only real concern that I have here is that Duke will be playing on the road against a good team for the first time this season, and I don’t love taking heavy favorites on the road.

PICKS: This matchup favors Duke, and if the line ends up close to what KenPom is projecting, I would probably take the Blue Devils and the over. I can’t see the game not getting into the 80s, and I don’t think that Duke will smother the Seminoles like Virginia did. Their defense isn’t about suffocating teams, it’s about turning steals and rebounds into easy buckets.

No. 3 TENNESSEE at FLORIDA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 67, Florida 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 67, Florida 65

I just do not see it with Florida this year. This is a young group whose two best returners — Jalen Hudson and Kevaughn Allen — have seemingly forgotten how to score the ball. They are 9-5 on the season. Their three best wins came against West Virginia, Arkansas and Butler, none of whom were in our more recent bracket update. Only Butler was close, and the Bulldogs split with the Gators.

Should I mention that Florida lost at home to South Carolina?

PICKS: I will say this about Florida: They are terrific defensively. They grind teams down and force a bunch of turnovers, although I’m not sure that will have too much of an effect on a Tennessee team that protects the ball. I love Tennessee and I think the computers are overvaluing Florida at this point in the season, but the fact that both KenPom ad Haslametrics are projecting the same score is worrisome. I like the Tennessee side better, but I’ll probably stay away.

No. 4 VIRGINIA at CLEMSON, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ACCNET)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 65, Clemson 58
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Virginia 67, Clemson 54

Virginia has played two ACC games this season and both of them were essentially 30-point blowouts. Clemson has played two ACC games this season and gotten rocked by Duke and Syracuse, both on the road. Coming back home will help, but the Tigers are a team that struggles with turnovers and can’t shoot it from the perimeter, which is what you have to be able to do to beat the Pack-Line.

PICKS: Clemson has struggled this season adjusting to a lineup where they have to play three forwards instead of three guards, and struggling is not something that works against a team as ruthless as Virginia. I expect this line to be around (-8), and I love Virginia there.

No. 5 GONZAGA at SAN FRANCISCO, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Gonzaga 80, San Francisco 73
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Gonzaga 83, San Francisco 73

Don’t sleep on San Francisco. The Dons already own wins over Stanford, Cal (on the road) and Saint Mary’s. The knock on Gonzaga is on the defensive end of the floor, and while they’ve rocketed up from sub-70 to top 35 in adjusted defensive efficiency, they’ve done so by steamrolling six horrible teams. The Zags have struggled to stop good teams this year, and USF is the second-best team in the WCC.

PICKS: My concern here is that USF doesn’t have the dudes to really take advantage of Gonzaga’s weaknesses. Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. can be exploited in plus-matchups, and it’s hardly a secret that talented forwards can attack Rui Hachimura, a freak athlete that is still figuring it out defensively. I do, however, have plenty of respect for the Dons defensively, and I think they’ll be able to handle Gonzaga’s ball-screens action. Where the line opens will be interesting. If it gets to double-digit, I’ll be all over USF, but I don’t expect it to open higher than around (-8).

No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE at PENN STATE, Sun. 4:30 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Penn State 67
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 81, Penn State 64

Penn State has had a brutal start to Big Ten play, and it doesn’t get any easier with Michigan State coming to town. The Nittany Lions are a 7-9 team on the verge of starting 0-4 in Big Ten play. Their backs are against the wall, and unfortunately, the Spartans are hitting their stride.

PICKS: I’m not really interested in this game from a betting perspective. I’m still trying to figure out what Michigan State is, and Penn State always has at least one shocking win in them per season. If I do bet this game, it will probably be just a small moneyline bet on the Nittany Lions.

No. 7 KANSAS at BAYLOR, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 70, Baylor 66
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas 69, Baylor 66

Kansas is cratering in KenPom. They’re all the way down to 10th after losing two of their last five games, and I still don’t think we truly know that this team is without Udoka Azubuike. Baylor, who plays a tricky zone, will certainly make it difficult for the young Jayhawks and will definitely make a team that can’t really shoot prove they can hit threes.

PICKS: I like the Baylor side here. Playing Scott Drew’s zone — which is somewhere between a 1-1-3, a 1-3-1 and a 2-3 — is always weird, and without knockdown perimeter shooters or their best offensive rebounder, I can see Bill Self’s team getting into some trouble. Iowa State has a similar makeup to what Kansas is right now, and they lost in Waco on Tuesday.

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No. 8 TEXAS TECH at TEXAS, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (LHN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 61, Texas 60
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas 58, Texas Tech 57.8

Texas Tech has the nation’s No. 1 defense, according to KenPom, and ranks outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Texas is 11th defensively and 73rd offensively. This will not be pretty basketball.

PICKS: This total is going to open in the low 120s. Take the under. This will be my heaviest bet of the day. I also expect the Red Raiders to win, and fully expect this to end up in the 50s.

No. 10 NEVADA at FRESNO STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 73, Fresno State 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Nevada 71, Fresno State 69

Is it safe to believe in Nevada again? They bounced back from an ugly loss at New Mexico by absolutely running San Jose State out of California. But Fresno State on the road will be the toughest game that Nevada has played to date.

PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens up. If I had to guess, I think it will open around (-3) and get bet up a few points once the public sees a top ten team in what’s perceived as a weak league only giving three. I think I’d probably lean towards Fresno State here, but I will wait and see where the line moves before I bet on it.

No. 25 TCU at No. 23 OKLAHOMA, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Oklahoma 75, TCU 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Oklahoma 75, TCU 71

The key here is entirely Jaylen Fisher. If he doesn’t play, then I really like Oklahoma if the line ends up around (-4). This is a really, really good defensive team, and Fisher means so much to the Horned Frogs offensively.

No. 22 INDIANA at MARYLAND, Fri. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Maryland 74, Indiana 69
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 75, Indiana 68

Another injury to keep an eye on here. If Indiana point guard Robert Phinisee is out, I would lean towards taking Maryland, but I don’t really love this spot. I’m not quite buying the Terps the way that the computers are at this point, and while Indiana’s three losses are on the road, two of them were at Duke and at Michigan and the third was a game they probably should have won at Arkansas. They tend to play teams tight, so if this ends up around (-7), it would be tough not to take the points.

Again, a lot of that thinking revolves around Phinisee.

SETON HALL at No. 21 MARQUETTE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Marquette 78, Seton Hall 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Marquette 76, Seton Hall 72

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do not like betting on Marquette because you’re betting on whether or not you think Markus Howard will go bonkers. I do think Seton Hall’s Myles Cale will be able to disrupt Howard — the key to slowing him down is length, but there really is no “key” to slowing Howard down because he could put 35 on a Monstar if he gets into a rhythm — but again, I don’t like betting Marquette.

PICKS: If I’m going to bet this game, I’ll probably just take the over, assuming it’s in the high 140s. I also like the idea of taking prop bets on points scored by Howard and/or Myles Powell. Always take the over with them.

OLE MISS at No. 14 MISSISSIPPI STATE, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Mississippi State 78, Ole Miss 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Mississippi State 79, Ole Miss 72

This is quietly a huge gauge game in the SEC. Ole Miss has won a bunch of games but didn’t beat anyone until they took down Auburn at home. Mississippi State has won a bunch of games and does have some solid Ws, but they also just lost to South Carolina.

PICKS: To be frank, I have no feel for Ole Miss and how good they are, but if we don’t know whether or not a team is good by mid-January, I think we can bet on the idea they aren’t that good. If Mississippi State is (-5) or lower at home in the Egg Bowl, I’d feel comfortable taking them.

Oklahoma State dismisses three players from the program

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Oklahoma State announced on Wednesday that they have dismissed Michael Weathers, Maurice Calloo and Kentrevious Jones from the program due to a violation of team rules.

“We have a standard of behavior that we expect from everyone in our program,,” head coach Mike Boynton said in a statement, “and we’re going to move forward with the people who want to abide by those standards. I wish the others well as they move on.”

Weathers is the biggest loss. He is a sophomore guard that was averaging 9.2 points on the season. Calloo (2.5 ppg) and Jones (1.3 ppg), both freshmen forwards, were bit players that saw limited minutes in their first year in Stillwater.

No. 15 Marquette beats Georgetown after Markus Howard leaves with injury

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Marquette got a career performance from Sam Hauser and won a Big East road game Tuesday, but the Golden Eagles’ 74-71 win against Georgetown came with a caveat.

Markus Howard, the nation’s fourth leading scorer, played just three minutes before bowing out with a back injury.

“He’s been experiencing some low back soreness,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said after the game, per The Associated Press. “I’m not going to put a guy out there unless he’s 100%.”

Hauser shined offensively for Marquette with Howard unable to carry the load. The sophomore scored 31 points in the victory. It was the Golden Eagles’ defense, though, that got them to the finish line. Marquette blocked two go-ahead attempts by Georgetown freshman guard James Akinjo in the final 15 seconds, with the first coming from Brendan Bailey and the second courtesy of Theo John.

Now, though, attention will turn to the health of Howard, who is averaging 25.8 points per game and is a week removed from dropping 53 points on Creighton. Marquette does have a pair of home games upcoming against Providence and DePaul, so the Golden Eagles do have some fortuitous timing in their favor, but if Howard is sidelined for an extended period of time or the back is an issue all season, that’s going to be a significant issue.

Little, No. 13 North Carolina hold off Notre Dame 75-69

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Once Nassir Little got rolling, No. 13 North Carolina didn’t have to worry much about yet another home loss.

Little scored all 11 of his points in the final 11 minutes, and the Tar Heels beat Notre Dame 75-69 on Tuesday night.

“It was just a matter of time,” Little said. “Everybody was just waiting for me to do what I do, to help the team be as good as we can be.”

Coby White had 17 points while Luke Maye added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Cameron Johnson finished with 11 points for the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). UNC used a late 12-1 run to bounce back from its most lopsided home loss under Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams.

“I got my wish — I wanted to win one ugly,” Williams said.

Prentiss Hubb scored 18 points, John Mooney had 16 points and 19 rebounds, and D.J. Harvey added 15 points for the Fighting Irish (11-6, 1-3). Hubb put Notre Dame up 58-57 with a layup with just under seven minutes remaining, but the Irish missed their next six shots while North Carolina took control.

“Everything was just right for us,” coach Mike Brey said. “We just needed a few more plays, and we probably needed another scorer.”

White started the key run with a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down with 6½ minutes to play, and Little, a freshman, ended it with a twisting layup on the break that gave the Tar Heels their first double-figure lead, 69-59, with less than 90 seconds left.

The Irish didn’t get closer than seven until Hubb’s 3 with 4.7 seconds left made it 73-69.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have lost three of four to begin conference play and haven’t cracked the 70s in scoring in any of those games. They aren’t afraid to pull the trigger from 3-point range — no team in the ACC has taken more of them this season, and roughly half their shots in this one were from beyond the arc — but they didn’t quite hit enough of them to pull off the upset: Notre Dame was just 4 of 15 from long range in the second half.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels will hear less about that embarrassing 83-62 loss to Louisville. They also haven’t lost three straight home ACC games in nearly a decade. Perhaps the most encouraging sign: They had only two turnovers in the second half.

STAR WATCH

T.J. Gibbs, who averages a team-best 18.5 points for Notre Dame, was held to five points on 1-of-9 shooting in his return after an illness that forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career. “My trainer said, ‘You can’t play him as usual, 35 minutes, because he’s ill,'” Brey said. “And then I played him 35 minutes, because he was our only option. … We need to kind of get him back to 100 percent by Saturday.”

PLAY OF THE NIGHT

Seventh Woods earned some hustle points for his blocked shot that brought the crowd to its feet with about 12 minutes left. Nate Laszewski was headed for an easy open-court dunk after stealing the ball from Johnson. But Woods raced in to block the attempt at the rim.

BATTLE ON THE BOARDS

The ACC’s top two rebounders — Maye (10.1 rpg) and Mooney (9.8) — went at it in this one. Those two combined for 29 of the 83 total rebounds in the game.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Plays host to No. 17 North Carolina State on Saturday.

North Carolina: Visits Miami on Saturday.

Tuesday’s Three Things To Know: It was a surprisingly wild night in college hoops

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While Golden State was busy putting up 50 points in a quarter, the college basketball world had themselves a wild night that featured a pair of top 25 teams winning in the final seconds, some big dogs rolling and a couple of trendy teams taking ugly losses.

Here is what you need to know from Tuesday night:

1. THE BIG BOYS ROLLED

The biggest game of the night ended up being one of the most boring games of the night, as No. 4 Virginia put away No. 9 Virginia Tech before we reached the under eight media timeout. The Wahoos hit nine of their first 11 threes, finished 13-for-24 from beyond the arc on the evening and took a 44-22 lead into halftime, eventually knocking off the Hokies, 81-59. It was an utterly dominant performance from Tony Bennett’s club, and one that had our Travis Hines convincing himself that this is the year for UVA.

The Cavs weren’t the only big dog to handle their business in impressive fashion on Tuesday. No. 3 Tennessee jumped out to a 23-6 lead on Arkansas and never looked back, beating the Razorbacks 106-87 in a game where the Vols never seemed to get out of third gear. While that was happening, No. 12 Kentucky was in the midst of going into Stegeman Coliseum and dropping a hammer on Georgia, 69-49. Ashton Hagans — who was previously committed to the Bulldogs — put a career-high 23 points on the board.

And lastly, while the Tar Heels didn’t run away with this win, they did manage to hold off Notre Dame, 75-69. This win was notable because of the second half performance from Nassir Little. He scored just 11 points, but all of them came in the final 11 minutes, and he had nine in a 14-6 run that turned a deficit into a 65-58 lead.

2. SAM HAUSER SAVES No. 15 MARQUETTE, No. 17 N.C. STATE IS NOT SO LUCKY

Hauser put up a career-high 31 points to go along with eight boards in a 74-71 win at Georgetown as he was forced into point guard duties as Markus Howard was dealing with a lower back issue and Joseph Chartouny has apparently forgotten how to be a point guard. The Hoyas are not exactly a powerhouse these days, but they are a dangerous team offensively that has won some games we did not expect them to win, and going into Washington D.C. and winning this game without the Big East Player of the Year is, frankly, really impressive.

And important.

The Golden Eagles remain the only team that is one game behind Villanova in the Big East regular season title race.

N.C. State was not as fortunate. Playing without starting point guard Markell Johnson, the Wolf Pack found themselves down by 15 points at the half and by as many as 22 points in the second half at Wake Forest. A 29-7 run tied the game at 58 with about seven minutes left in the game, but Wake Forest did enough down the stretch to get the win, 71-67.

This is not a great loss for N.C. State, who has now lost two of their last three games and no longer looks like a top 25 basketball team.

3. THE OLE MISS HYPE TRAIN DERAILS

The trendy team this week was Ole Miss, and deservedly so — in the span of 96 hours, they beat No. 11 Auburn by 15 points and went into Starkville and picked off No. 14 Mississippi State. They were 13-2 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC at that point. They deserved to be trendy.

And it all came crashing down with a visit from LSU. Tremont Waters scored 20 points and added nine assists as the Tigers knocked off No. 18 Ole Miss, 83-69, in Oxford. Now 3-0 in the league, it may be time that we start looking at LSU as the new Ole Miss.

AND I NEED TO MENTION …

That a pair of top 25 teams survived at the last second. In Starkville, Mississippi State survived Florida, 71-68, thanks to a three-point play from Quinndary Weatherspoon with 3.6 seconds left on the clock. And out in Boise, No. 10 Nevada knocked off Boise State, 72-71, thanks to a three with 4.5 seconds left from Cody Martin, who had not made a three since Dec. 15th and was shooting 19.5 percent from beyond the arc entering the night.

LSU cruises past No. 18 Ole Miss 83-69; 3-0 in SEC

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OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Tremont Waters scored 20 points, Kavell Bigby-Williams had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, and LSU beat No. 18 Mississippi 83-69 on Tuesday night.

LSU (13-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) used an early 8-0 run in the second half to take a 48-39 lead. The Tigers maintained a healthy advantage from that point, playing tight defense and forcing several turnovers.

Waters also had nine assists, and Skylar Mays scored 14 points. LSU has won six straight.

Ole Miss (13-3, 3-1) had its 10-game winning streak snapped. The Rebels hadn’t lost since Nov. 24, when they fell 71-57 to Cincinnati. Terence Davis led the Rebels with 21 points and 10 rebounds. K.J. Buffen added 13 points.

Neither team played particularly well in the first half, with LSU and Ole Miss both shooting 36 percent from the field. Tyree had 12 points before the break, and the teams went into halftime tied at 31.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: It’s another good win for LSU, which has quietly established itself as one of the SEC’s elite teams. The Tigers are extremely athletic in the post and should cause problems for plenty of teams around the league.

Ole Miss: The Rebels were probably due for some sort of regression and struggled in their return to the national rankings for the first time since 2013. They didn’t play very well offensively, and their 16 turnovers were particularly costly. Ole Miss will still take its 3-1 league start, but a big home game against Arkansas looms on Saturday.

UP NEXT

LSU returns home and hosts South Carolina on Saturday.

Ole Miss hosts Arkansas on Saturday.