Best Bets: Previewing Kentucky-Kansas, and why it’s time to buy Michigan schools

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
1 Comment

Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.

As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPom and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 9 KANSAS at No. 8 KENTUCKY, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 73, Kansas 69
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 72, Kansas 68

The biggest game of the weekend will feature two blue-bloods squaring off once again in the marquee matchup of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge: No. 9 Kansas heading to Rupp Arena to take on No. 8 Kentucky.

These are two teams that are heading in opposite directions. Kentucky has lost once since Dec. 8th — by two points at Alabama and in overtime against Seton Hall in New York City. Since then, they’ve been dominant against UNC on a neutral, blew out Louisville at Louisville and beat Auburn on the road after blowing a 16 point second half lead. The youngsters on this roster, namely Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans, have really come of age in the last month. Kansas, on the other hand, is still trying to work out how they are going to play without Udoka Azubuike anchoring things inside, and it hasn’t gone great. They are now 7-3 in games in which he hasn’t played, and that includes road losses to Arizona State and West Virginia.

And for my money, that’s the most notable thing in this matchup. In their last four road games, Kansas is 1-3. In those four games, they are averaging 18 turnovers. Devon Dotson, in particular, has struggled, as he’s averaged 4.5 turnovers himself. Seven of them came in the loss at West Virginia. He has just a single turnover combined in the last three home games that the’s played.

On Saturday afternoon, Dotson will get the honor of going up against Hagans, one of the best on-ball defenders in all of college basketball. In the eight games since he took over as the star point guard on this roster, Hagans has averaged 3.8 steals. Tuesday’s 21 point win over Mississippi State was the first time during that stretch that he did not collect three steals in a game — he finished with two after his third was credited as just a “turnover”.

So that’s not ideal.

Neither is the fact that Kansas is a team that really struggles to shoot the ball from the perimeter as they go up against a Kentucky team whose single biggest (only?) weakness defensively is how much they struggle to defend the three-point line.

All of that screams Kentucky, but the matchups give me some pause.

For starters, Kansas is playing four-around-one now. Kentucky is married to playing two bigs, meaning that one of Reid Travis or P.J. Washington (likely Washington, even though he’s probably a better matchup for Lawson than Travis is) will end up guarding one of Kansas’ big wings — Marcus Garrett, Lagerald Vick, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji. That won’t be ideal, but the silver lining: The best matchup would be Agbaji, and with Grimes’ continued struggles, I expect him to be on the floor for 25-plus minutes.

PICKS: Assuming the line opens around (-4), I really like Kentucky here. They’re at home, they’re trending up and Kansas has not bee good on the road this season.

No. 5 MICHIGAN at INDIANA, Fri. 6:30 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 66, Indiana 62
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan 66, Indiana 63

I love the Michigan side here. The last time they played — albeit it in Ann Arbor — the Wolverines won by 11 in a game that was never really as close as the final score would suggest. Michigan is as good defensively as anyone in college basketball, and they specifically have elite defenders in spots to guard Juwan Morgan, Romeo Langford and whoever it is that Archie Miller has at the point.

Indiana has lost five straight games, but it’s also worth noting here that Michigan is coming off of a loss of their own. They dropped their first game of the season at Wisconsin on Saturday and had another wakeup call against Minnesota during the week. This has the feel of a bounce back game for the Wolverines against an Indiana team that is in the middle of a crisis.

PICKS: Being that this is a Friday night tip, the Vegas line is out and has already been bet up to Michigan (-4.5). I don’t love much this week, but I think this is probably the best bet you can get.

No. 9 MICHIGAN STATE at PURDUE, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Purdue 73
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 78, Purdue 74

Michigan State is playing their best basketball of the season, having won 12 straight games since the overtime loss to Louisville in November. Three of their last four and four of their last six have come away from the Breslin Center, and in those four wins, they have beaten Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa by an average of 11.3 points. Cassius Winston has fully emerged and Matt McQuaid has returned to the lineup healthy.

McQuaid is the key here, because he was the guy that was tasked with chasing around Carsen Edwards the last time these two teams faced off. In that game — which came in East Lansing — Edwards was 3-for-16 from the floor with no assists and four turnovers in an 18 point loss. Last season, Edwards was 5-for-15 when Purdue played Michigan State, again at the Breslin Center. He was 6-for-16 in two games against Michigan State as a freshman. In his career, Edwards is 14-for-47 from the floor in four games against the Spartans.

That matters more now than ever, as there is just one high-major player (Ethan Happ) with a higher usage rate than Edwards. His usage rate, at 34.9, is higher than Markus Howard’s and just a shade below Ja Morant’s, at 35.6. Slow him down and you slow Purdue down.

PICKS: I want to see where the line opens on this game, because I don’t have a great feel for it. On the one hand, Purdue is unranked and sitting at 13-6 overall on the season. On the other hand, they’ve won seven of their last eight games, they’re coming off of impressive wins over Indiana and at Ohio State and they won at Wisconsin two weeks ago. That’s part of the reason why they are a top ten team on KenPom.

If this line ends up around Michigan State (-5), then I’ll probably pass. But KenPom is projecting the score at Michigan State (-2), and if the line opens around there, then I think Sparty will be a good bet.

No. 24 IOWA STATE at No. 20 OLE MISS, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Iowa State 73, Ole Miss 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Iowa State 75, Ole Miss 72

Before we dive fully into this conversation, understand this: I am not a believer in Ole Miss. They are an awesome story. Kermit Davis has done a terrific coaching job getting the Rebels to the point where they aren’t even in the bubble conversation right now. They are also a team that I think is closer to the top 40 than they are the No. 20 team in the country.

On the other hand, I love this Iowa State team. They space the floor, they are hard to guard because of just how skilled their wings are and they haven’t yet hit their ceiling, not with Lindell Wigginton and Cam Lard still trying to find their way. They’ve lost three of their last five games and two of their last three on the road, but those losses came by three points at Baylor and by four points at Kansas.

PICKS: I’m guessing this will open around a pick-em or with the Cyclones giving a point, and I think Iowa State wins outright.

No. 16 AUBURN at No. 22 MISSISSIPPI STATE, Sat. 8:30 p.m. (SECNET)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Mississippi State 75, Auburn 74
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Mississippi State 78, Auburn 75

The Bulldogs have lost three of their last five games, they are coming off of a 21 point loss to Kentucky and they currently have a 2-3 record is SEC play. Auburn has also lost three of their last five games — including their last two — and sits at 2-3 in the SEC. Both teams pounds the offensive glass and shoot the three ball well while neither team clears the defensive glass or runs opponents off of the three-point line all that well.

PICKS: I don’t think either team is all that good and I don’t think either team will actually be able to consistently get stops. I think I like the Auburn side more, assuming the line opens at Auburn (+2) or something close to that, but I think my favorite bet would be the over, especially if you can get it in the high 140s.

SYRACUSE at No. 10 VIRGINIA TECH, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia Tech 71, Syracuse 64
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Virginia Tech 74, Syracuse 64

This is such a weird matchup.

On the one hand, Virginia Tech is one of the very best three-point shooting teams in the country, making 42.1 percent of their triples while taking 43.9 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. They have shooters everywhere in their lineups and a pair of dynamic playmaking lead guards to create those open looks. At the same time, Syracuse holds opponents under 30 percent from beyond the arc while forcing more threes to be taken than any other high-major team in college hoops.

This makes sense. Their zone is so limiting to penetration that you have to settle for out of rhythm threes is a long and athletic defender jumping at you.

But here’s the thing: Monmouth in the only team in the country that has allowed a higher percentage of their points allowed to come on threes than Virginia Tech, and Syracuse is the only high major team that forces opponents into a higher percentage of their field goal attempts coming from deep. This would normally be a good thing against Syracuse, but they are coming off of a game where they made 14 threes and Buddy Boeheim is now 11-for-20 from beyond the arc in his last four games.

PICKS: If the line opens at Virginia Tech (-7), I think I’m going to have to take it. The dots connect, but it is worth noting that when these two played last season, Virginia Tech lost by 12 at the Carrier Dome on a night where they shot 10-for-30 from three.

KANSAS STATE at TEXAS A&M, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Texas A&M 60
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Texas &M 60

We were all over Kansas State last week and I think we need to be all over the Wildcats again this week.

Texas A&M is a bad basketball team. They are 7-10 on the season, they’ve lost six of their last seven games and one of those six losses came at home against Texas Southern. Kansas State, on the other hand, has now won five straight and is playing with a healthy Dean Wade. They are suffocating defensively and better than what the computers recognize on the offensive end of the floor now that Dean Wade is back in action. Their leading scorer — T.J. Starks — averages more turnovers than assists and is shooting 34.2 percent from the floor and 22 percent from three. He will be early alive by Barry Brown.

PICKS: I really, really hope this opens at Kansas State (-5).