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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:

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.

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.