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Best Bets: Breaking down the Duke-Virginia rematch, Marquette-Villanova and Wisconsin-Michigan

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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. 2 DUKE at No. 3 VIRGINIA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 70, Duke 65
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Virginia 69, Duke 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Virginia 70, Duke 67

(For clarity, I’m writing this as if Ty Jerome is going to be healthy for this game. If Jerome is unavailable, it really changes things. Kihei Clark going up against Tre Jones isn’t going to end well for Virginia.)

On Saturday evening, we get the much-awaited rematch between the two teams that are sitting atop KenPom’s rankings: Duke and Virginia. The first time these two teams played, we got a fascinating tactical battle between two of the best coaches in the sport that involved both of them doing something that they almost never do.

Duke switched every exchange to take Virginia out of their blocker-mover offense, and Virginia responded by using ball-screens to create the switch they wanted and then attacking that switch off the bounce with the likes of De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy.

I’ve written plenty of words about how Virginia is the worst possible matchup for this Duke team, and that is certainly still true. Playing in John Paul Jones Arena, where Virginia likely won’t have another 3-for-17 shooting night, will certainly help make a difference, one that may or may not be negated by the return of Tre Jones.

And it is his presence on the floor that has me wondering if Duke is going to switch as much as they did in the first game. Without Jones available, Duke did not play a single player under 6-foot-6 in the first matchup. That size meant that regardless of matchup, no one was going to be overpowered in the post by anyone on the Virginia roster, and that they would at the very least be athletic enough to stay in front of Virginia’s stars, who are not known for being great in isolation.

This is where the rematch gets interesting.

Since Jones returned, Duke has done a couple of different things defensively. Against Notre Dame, they played exactly like they did against Virginia – switching all exchanges, including every ball-screen. Against St. John’s, the Blue Devils did plenty of switching off the ball, but whenever Shamorie Ponds was involved in a ball-screen, they hedged and allowed Jones to recover or trapped the ball out of his hands. And against Boston College, they switched every ball-screen that Ky Bowman was involved in.

I bring this up because Virginia, which has been known for running the blocker-mover offense that Tony Bennett’s dad created in the 80s, has been running much more continuity ball-screen offense this season. It makes sense, given just how good Jerome can be in ball-screens and how often they have four perimeter players and one true big man on the floor this year:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diCUq-5p4FY&w=560&h=315]

This is the perfect offense to run against what Duke is likely going to do defensively. Virginia is one of college basketball’s best three-point shooting teams with a number of talented perimeter players that are capable of beating Marques Bolden or Javin DeLaurier on a switch. The ball-screen continuity offense will ensure that there is plenty of space for them to do so, and frankly, I’m not expecting Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett to be able to dominate with penetration like they did at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

PICKS: I think Virginia wins, but what scares me here is where the projections currently sit. Based on the averages above, we’re looking at Virginia (-5), which is a lot of points to be giving against a team as good as Duke. If that number is (-1) or (-1.5), I’d feel a lot more comfortable betting Virginia. If it gets to the higher end of that range — Torvik has Virginia winning by six — I personally will be betting smaller and taking the value on Duke’s money line.

No. 14 VILLANOVA at No. 10 MARQUETTE, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Marquette 72, Villanova 70
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Marquette 73, Villanova 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Marquette 69

The battle between the two titans in the Big East lost a bit of luster when, on Tuesday night, Marquette lost at home to St. John’s. They are now two games off the pace in the league standings, but a win here will ensure that the Golden Eagles can earn at least a share of the league title if they win out.

And I think they have a really good shot to win on Saturday, because I’m not sure how Villanova matches up with them. My guess is that Phil Booth starts out guarding Markus Howard, but Villanova does like to switch a lot and Booth is not exactly the kind of defender that has given Howard trouble. He’s smoked everyone in the Big East except for St. John’s this season because no one else in the Big East has Justin Simon, whose length and athleticism really, really bothered Howard.

That said, I would not be surprised to see Wright run Saddiq Bey or Jermaine Samuels on Howard and let Booth matchup Sam Hauser, which might be more favorable for the Wildcats, but the Hausers are another major reason why I think Marquette gets this win. I can’t see Villanova slowing both of them and Howard down. This is the conundrum that every team faces. The Hausers (especially Joey) are tough as nails and can hold their own banging against bigger defenders, but they are absolutely lethal shooters that cannot be left open on the perimeter. It’s a nightmare matchup, especially when you consider that someone has to help on Howard at some point.

PICKS: Look, Villanova is Villanova. With the way that Booth, Paschall and Collin Gillispie have been playing of late, and with the way that they can shoot the rock, Villanova can beat anyone, anywhere on any night. But I think the fact that they are playing at home combined with how improved the Golden Eagles are defensively will be the difference here, and if the line ends up around Marquette (-2), I think that’s the play.

I would also bet the over if the total ends up in the low 140s, mostly because when two teams that love to shoot threes and don’t love to defend play, I typically lean over.

No. 19 WISCONSIN at No. 7 MICHIGAN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 62, Wisconsin 56
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan 62, Wisconsin 55
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan 61, Michigan 57

Another rematch, and this time around, the narrative surrounding the two teams involved has been flipped.

The last time we saw these two teams face-off, Wisconsin had just lost four of their last five games and Michigan was undefeated, which, of course, led to Ethan Happ putting up one of the most impressive individual performances of the season in a Wisconsin win. The Badgers have not lost since that game, which Michigan struggled to put away Minnesota at home, lost by 15 at Iowa and is now coming off of an unconvincing win at Rutgers.

Beyond the simple fact that Happ reminded Jon Teske that he is still just Jon Teske, what the Badgers did to win that game was completely take away Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews for the game and Jordan Poole for the second half. Wisconsin has developed into a top ten defense in college hoops, and I don’t really expect anything to change in regards to that in this game.

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

And for my money, I think Michigan gets it done. In the first game, Happ had his ceiling games while Brazdeikis, Matthews and Poole — for a half — had their floor games. Brazdeikis has scored double-figures in every game since Dec. 22nd except for when he went scoreless against the Badgers in the first meeting.

PICKS: I do think that Michigan is going to win. I also think that this is going to be a close, low-scoring dogfight that plays out the same way as the first game. Think about it like this: Michigan is the nation’s second-best defense and Wisconsin is the nation’s seventh-best. Neither team ranks in the top 25 of adjusted offensive efficiency, neither of them draw a lot of fouls and both of them fade offensive rebounding while doing everything they can to prevent fast breaks.

This is going to be a prototypical Big Ten slugfest. Assuming the total opens in the mid-120s, I will be all over the under. I’d lean the Michigan side if forced to make a pick, but at Michigan (-5.5), which is what the metrics are suggesting, I’ll likely stay away. That’s a lot of points in a low-scoring game.

No. 5 KENTUCKY at MISSISSIPPI STATE, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 70
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 70

There has not been a hotter team in college basketball in the last month than Kentucky, and including in that run was a game against Mississippi State in Lexington on January 22nd that saw the Wildcats knock off Ben Howland’s club, 76-55.

In total, Kentucky has won nine straight and 12 of their last 13 games. They are 8-1 in the SEC, a run that includes wins at Auburn and Florida as well as a home win over Kansas. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have lost three of their last five and five of their last nine, including a pair of home games against Ole Miss and LSU.

The first matchup was won by P.J. Washington — Mississippi State’s less mobile bigs did not have an answer for the way he could wreak havoc on the perimeter — and he is going to have his work cut out for him dealing with Reggie Perry. The 6-foot-10 freshman has had the three best games of his season in the last three games, averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 boards during that stretch. He and Aric Holman both fouled out in the first game against Kentucky.

I’m not too concerned with Quinndary Weatherspoon in this game. I know that he is going to get his, and I think that Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson will be able to make him work for his buckets. That’s all you can really ask. I also think that Ashton Hagans will, once again, assert his alpha status against whoever Howland has handling the ball on a given possession. For me, what this game comes down to is Washington. His value here is that he’s the guy that is tough enough to be able to bang in the paint while being the guy that Mississippi State’s bigger fours cannot guard at the other end of the floor.

He creates the mismatches, and he has arguably been the best frontcourt player in the country over the court of the last three weeks.

PICKS: I’ll take him to Washington to win his matchup, and if the line ends up at Kentucky (-2), as all the metrics are projecting, then I will be heavy on the Wildcats Saturday. Go Big Blue.

No. 16 LOUISVILLE at No. 22 FLORIDA STATE, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Florida State 72, Louisville 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Florida State 73, Louisville 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Louisville 73, Florida State 72

Both Louisville and Florida State enter this game having played very well of late. The Cardinals lost to North Carolina at home last Saturday, but they bounced back with a win at Virginia Tech on Monday night, their seventh win in the last eight games.

Florida State, on the other hand, has won four straight to get back over .500 in ACC play, but the best win in that bunch in a win at Syracuse, where Old Dominion and Georgia Tech have also won.

The Seminoles actually matchup really well with Louisville from a personnel perspective. They’ll have the length, athleticism and versatility to throw bodies at Jordan Nwora, and the things that Dwayne Sutton does well are the things that Florida State’s team is built on. But the other side of it is that Louisville’s scheme is not ideal for Florida State. The Cards are a Pack-Line team, meaning that they force teams to shoot jumpers, really protect the offensive glass and prevent dribble penetration and post touches. For context, Florida State was down 65-36 at Virginia with two minutes left when they played.

PICKS: I don’t love either side here, so I’ll bet on the locale. If this game ends up as a pick-em or with Florida State as a small favorite, I’ll take the Seminoles. The only team to beat them at home this season is Duke, who won on a buzzer-beater. It’s also probably worth noting that Louisville hosts Duke on Tuesday. It will be easy for them to look ahead here.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

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Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”