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Best Bets: Where do you want your action in college basketball this weekend?

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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, Torvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 16 TEXAS TECH at No. 11 KANSAS, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Kansas 66, Texas Tech 63
  • HASLAMETRICS: Kansas 67, Texas Tech 64
  • TORVIK: Kansas 67, Texas Tech 64

This matchup is a tough one to parse.

On the one hand, Kansas has been in a funk offensively that centers around the fact that they don’t have enough perimeter shooting, Marcus Garrett has been a non-factor offensively and teams can throw two bodies at Dedric Lawson with reckless abandon. But the crux of the issue stems from KU’s size. They’ve been forced to play small without Udoka Azubuike and they’ve struggled on the defensive end of the floor without being able to matchup with the size of teams that go big while being unable to take advantage of the mismatch offensively.

Texas Tech is the third-best defense nationally, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, so that does not bode well for Kansas. But the Red Raiders really struggle to score at times, and they — like Kansas — tend to play four guards with Jarrett Culver at the four.

The result is a fascinating matchup between a potential top five pick in Culver and one of the best defensive players in the country in Garrett. We’ll also get to see Tariq Owens, an athletic marvel and one of college basketball’s best shot-blockers, going head-to-head with the all-american Lawson.

PICKS: If the line is Kansas (-3), I think that I would probably lean Kansas, although I don’t love it. The Jayhawks have struggled this season, but they are still undefeated at home and on neutral courts. Their real struggles have come on the road, where they are just 1-5 this season. I know Texas Tech won in the Phog last year, and I firmly believe that the Red Raiders are a top 15 team with a top ten coach in the sport, but I can’t pick against Bill Self in this spot, not when he has a team that’s lost two in a row and three of four.

that said, I think the under might be the best that I like more here, depending on where the line opens. If it is in the low-to-mid 130s, hammer the under.

No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 15 LOUISVILLE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Louisville 79, North Carolina 77
  • HASLAMETRICS: Louisville 82, North Carolina 80
  • TORVIK: Louisville 81, North Carolina 78

The game of the weekend, in large part due to the fact that just three weeks ago, Louisville went into Chapel Hill and beat down the Tar Heels, handing Roy Williams the worst loss that he’s ever suffered at home as the head coach at UNC.

Neither team has lost since then, meaning that this is now a matchup between the two teams in the ACC that have been keeping pace with Duke and Virginia at the top of the league. The question I have heading into this game is how North Carolina decides to lineup. Louisville’s preferred lineup features Malik Williams at the five with Dwayne Sutton and Jordan Nwora — a pair of athletic, versatile combo-forwards — flanking him on the frontline. This will be a problem for the Tar Heels if they opt to roll out their typical, two-big look. Sutton, in particular, was sensational in the first meeting, finishing with 17 points, nine boards, seven assists and four steals in his breakout game.

If I was coaching North Carolina, I would play Luke Maye at the five with Cam Johnson and Nassir Little joining him, matching up with the versatility Louisville will have on display. But I also would have been doing this since the first day of the season, so the assumption of rational coaching probably shouldn’t come into play here.

North Carolina tends to go as Coby White goes. Roy Williams’ offense is heavily reliant on point guard play, and as a volume scorer that is A) a freshman and B) not all that adept at making teammates better at this point in his career, it makes sense. He can be somewhat streaky, and when he’s bad, UNC is beatable.

Louisville does have some really good on-ball defenders, specifically Khwan Fore and Darius Perry, so if they can once again do a job on White — he had four points, four turnovers, and three fouls in 19 minutes in the first meeting — I think Louisville wins.

PICKS: I do think that this game will be close. If the line opens at Louisville (-1) I would lean the Cardinals here. If it opens at Louisville (-5), then I’d probably want to be on UNC’s side, although I would feel less good about that bet.

No. 7 KENTUCKY at FLORIDA, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Kentucky 64, Florida 62
  • HASLAMETRICS: Kentucky 62, Florida 61
  • TORVIK: Kentucky 63, Florida 62

I might be a bad person to speak on this, but I am just not sold on Florida this year. The metrics love them because they’ve lost a lot of close games, but they’ve still lost those games. And now they are playing without Keith Stone while Jalen Hudson has been about as effective as Henry Hudson this season.

Kentucky, on the other hand, is absolutely rolling. Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans have emerged, Reid Travis is starting to understand what his role is and P.J. Washington has been arguably the best player in college basketball over the course of the last ten days.

PICKS: I have no idea what this line is going to look like when it opens. The metrics are all projecting a close, low-scoring game, but this is also Kentucky. I thought they would open up as three or four point favorites against Kansas and the line opened at six.

I do think Kentucky wins this game, but I don’t expect it to be a blowout. Florida may start three freshmen, but they are tough and competitive and the O-Dome is never an easy place to play. I’d take Kentucky up to about (-4), but given that these are two of the top ten defenses in American and that neither of them are playing all that fast this year, the better bet may end up being the under if the total opens in the 130s.

No. 21 MARYLAND at No. 24 WISCONSIN, Fri. 9:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Wisconsin 68, Maryland 62
  • HASLAMETRICS: Wisconsin 67, Maryland 62
  • TORVIK: Wisconsin 67, Maryland 62

I think Wisconsin wins this game. They are playing at home, the Kohl Center has historically been one of the toughest places in the country to win and, frankly, the Badgers are just the better basketball team. I don’t think Bruno Fernando gets the best of Ethan Happ (but it’ll be fun to see him try) and Brad Davison strikes me as precisely the kind of pest that will keep Anthony Cowan from getting into a rhythm.

PICKS: This is a Friday night game, so the lines are already out. It makes sense that Wisconsin would be favored by five since that is more or less what all the metrics are projecting. They are also projecting that this game ends up under 130, and the total opened at 133.5 The Badgers are very, very slow. Maryland is just very slow. Throw in the fact that Wisconsin has a top five defense and that they have failed to reached 16 points in the first half twice in league play — including at Maryland — and the under seems like the best bet you can get.

No. 12 VIRGINIA TECH at No. 23 N.C. STATE, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ACCNET)

  • KENPOM: Virginia Tech 78, N.C. State 77
  • HASLAMETRICS: Virginia Tech 79, N.C. State 76
  • TORVIK: Virginia Tech 79, N.C. State 78

This is a fascinating game matchup. N.C. State loves to press, loves to run and is as good at forcing turnovers as anyone in college basketball. That works against some teams. I don’t think it will work against a Virginia Tech team that essentially starts three point guards — Justin Robinson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede — and is the second-best three-point shooting team in college basketball.

PICKS: I know they’re on the road and I know the Wolfpack just took Virginia to overtime, but if this ends up as a pick-em or with the Hokies getting points I will be all over that line.

TEXAS at No. 20 IOWA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM: Iowa State 74, Texas 66
  • HASLAMETRICS: Iowa State 75, Texas 65
  • TORVIK: Iowa State 75, Texas 67

Texas, coming off of an impressive win at home against Kansas, now heads on the road to take on the Cyclones in Hilton Coliseum.

Isn’t life in the Big 12 fun?

Texas will grind you down defensively, but they’ve actually shown to be pretty capable of playing small this season even it their win over Kansas came because they played big. And while this group is now just 1-4 on the road with the one win coming against a Dean Wade-less Kansas State team, their three Big 12 road losses were by an average of three points. That includes a loss at Kansas.

PICKS: Iowa State is might just be the best team in the Big 12, and I do think that they win this game, but if the line creeps up towards the Cyclones (-10), then I would probably lean the Longhorns. Their record doesn’t quite show how good they have been against a monstrous schedule.

No. 22 MISSISSIPPI STATE at OLE MISS, Sat. 3:30 p.m. (SECNET)

  • KENPOM: Ole Miss 76, Mississippi State 75
  • HASLAMETRICS: Mississippi State 77, Ole Miss 77
  • TORVIK: Ole Miss 77, Mississippi State 74

I felt like I had to mention this game in a weekend preview because it is a rivalry game between two good teams in the SEC, but I honestly want no part of betting it. I do not think Ole Miss is all that good, and while I feel a little bit better about the Bulldogs, Mississippi State also lost at home to this Ole Miss team in January.

PICKS: If this game ends up a pick-em, I would lean towards the home team, but I will have my action elsewhere this weekend.

ST. JOHN’S at No. 2 DUKE, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Duke 90, St. John’s 71
  • HASLAMETRICS: Duke 96, St. John’s 71
  • TORVIK: Duke 93, St. John’s 73

The thing about this St. John’s team is that they are not all that well-coached and they have not been all that good in the Big East this year. Think about it like this: The Big East has just two teams that are above .500 in league play and the Johnnies are not one of them. They are well and truly on the bubble right now.

PICKS: 20 points is a lot of points to cover, but I just cannot see this St. John’s team finding a way to hang with Duke. They basically do the same thing that Duke does — create mismatches, play with versatile athletes, win on talent — but they’re just not as good as the Blue Devils.

Throw in the fact that Shamorie Ponds is going to have to deal with Tre Jones, and I’ll ride Duke to cover.

INDIANA at No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 79, Indiana 62
  • HASLAMETRICS: Michigan State 82, Indiana 62
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 80, Indiana 63

Indiana is an absolute train wreck this season. The Hoosiers have lost seven straight games, their star player looks like he has checked out and the lack of confidence with this group is palpable. Michigan State, on the other hand, has been rolling. They are now rated above Michigan on KenPom and look like they are hitting their stride.

PICKS: I love the Spartans. For starters, they are actually a better team without Josh Langford. As good as Langford is, he does not fit the role that he is asked to play as well as Aaron Henry and Kyle Ahrens. The latter two are better athletes and better defenders that can shoot but that don’t see the ball stick in their hands. Langford was ruled out for the year on Wednesday.

The Spartans are also coming off of a mollywhopping at Purdue in a game that was played on an island on big CBS on a Sunday afternoon with no football. Everyone watched it, which means that hopefully public money will move the line in our favor.

Go Green.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.