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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).

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

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For the fourth time in the last five years, Duke is tapping into that Minnesota pipeline to mine talent.

Following in the footsteps of Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 forward and a top ten prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on Friday that he will be playing his college ball for the Blue Devils.

Hurt ultimately picked Duke over Kansas, but he was also pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota. He joins Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Hurt is the perfect compliment to Carey, a powerhouse low-post force, and Moore, who is a talented wing. He has size and is extremely skilled, with the ability to stretch the floor out to 25 feet and the potential to be a dangerous face-up scorer, both in the mid-post and on the perimeter. He needs to get stronger and tougher, but that will come with time. As it stands, he’s the piece to the puzzle that Duke needed to add.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.