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

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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).

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.