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Best Bets: Previewing Tennessee-Kentucky, Big 12 title race, Nevada-Utah State

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

No. 4 KENTUCKY at No. 7 TENNESSEE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 71
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 73, Kentucky 72

The biggest game of the weekend could end up acting as the de-facto SEC title game, as two of the three teams currently tied for first in the SEC standings will square off in a rematch of a blowout that happened in Rupp Arena two Saturdays ago.

The final score of that game was 86-69, as P.J. Washington went for 23 points, Keldon Johnson finished with 19 and Kentucky used a 14-0 run to open the second half and blow Tennessee out of the water. That game was won, however, by the job that Reid Travis did on Tennessee’s all-american forward Grant Williams and the strength that Travis has in the paint. His absence — assuming his knee injury keeps him out — may end up being the difference-maker on Saturday afternoon.

Let me explain.

Tennessee’s offense is unique in the sense that they are a hyper-efficient team that relies more on two-pointers than any hyper-efficient offense I can ever remember seeing. In an era of analytics and Morey-ball and the Golden State Warriors, the Vols operate on post-ups and mid-range jumpers. Just 24.3% of their point come from three-pointers, which is 333rd nationally. Villanova, they are not.

So much of that offense is created by the way that they run offense through Williams, running actions that A) get him isolated in the low- and mid-post, and B) use his strength to seal off shot-blockers when Tennessee’s guards drive. Travis is uniquely suited to being able to take that away because of just how strong and physical he is:

By no means does that mean that Kentucky cannot win this game.

For starters, E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards are actually better offensive rebounders than Travis, and that may actually be the most exploitable part of Tennessee’s defense. And if there is a real weakness in Kentucky’s defense, it is their ability to run people off of the three-point line.

And all of that comes before the simple fact that Tennessee’s guards are not going to have it easy trying to break down Kentucky’s perimeter defense. That’s the knock on them. Their backcourt is not a game-changing backcourt, and if there is something Kentucky’s guards do well, it’s guard the ball.

PICKS: It will be interesting to see where this line opens, but at first glance I do think I like Tennessee, assuming it ends up around the Tennessee (-3) that the metrics are projecting. Part of that is because the Vols are playing at home. Part of it is because of the absence of Travis.

But I think that it is also worth mentioning here that after the win in Rupp, Tyler Herro told reporters, “I think they’re scared of him, honestly,” referring to the way Tennessee views P.J. Washington. After Tennessee’s win at Ole Miss on Wednesday night, Admiral Schofield told reporters, when asked about the Kentucky game, “Hopefully we aren’t scared of PJ.” That team is aware of Herro’s quote. They are going to be play in a sold out Thompson-Boling Arena. And the concerning part of that is that during this recent Tennessee slide, one of their issues is that they haven’t been playing with the same level of toughness. This is essentially the same team as last year, but where they were a top ten defense nationally last year, this year they are sitting outside the top 35.

I fully expect Tennessee and their roster full of upperclassmen built like body-builders to be up for a fight against a Kentucky team that will start four freshmen and a sophomore.

No. 9 MICHIGAN at No. 17 MARYLAND, Sun. 3:45 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 65, Maryland 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan 65, Maryland 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 64, Michigan 63

Michigan bounced back from last Sunday’s home loss against Michigan State by absolutely boat-racing a Nebraska team that looks to be dead in the water. Maryland, on the other hand, followed up a week where they won at Iowa and beat Ohio State by losing to Penn State by 17 points.

The x-factor here is going to be the health of Charles Matthews. He did not play on Thursday night after injuring his ankle against the Spartans, but Michigan did push back against a report that said he suffered a serious ankle injury.

I don’t love this matchup for the Terps from a personnel perspective, not when Bruno Fernando is going to have to deal with Jon Teske and Anthony Cowan is going to have Zavier Simpson in his face for 40 minutes. Missing Matthews would be a major loss on the defensive end of the floor, but with Isaiah Livers starting, Michigan should be able to space the floor better.

That said, since the blowout win at Villanova in November, the Wolverines have lost on the road against the three teams ranked highest on KenPom that they’ve played. In total, they’ve dropped three of their last six road games, and Maryland has not lost at home in Big Ten play and has lost just twice in College Park all season long.

PICKS: If I can get Maryland as an underdog at home, I am going to take the Terps and the points. If we get word that Matthews is going to be playing, I like the under as well.

No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE at INDIANA, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 72, Indiana 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan State 72, Indiana 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Indiana 62

Michigan State is coming off of their biggest win of the season — beating Michigan in Ann Arbor — and now get a chance to land a bit of revenge on the Hoosiers for an overtime loss they took at home a month ago that is still, to the day, the single-most head-scratching result of the season.

Before beating Wisconsin in double-overtime on Tuesday night, that win at Michigan State was the only win that Indiana had to their name since January 3rd. They have lost 12 of their last 14 games as their offense has devolved into a stagnant mess.

Sparty has their own issues, however. They are playing without Nick Ward and Josh Langford, which leaves the entire offense on Cassius Winston’s shoulders. He was the initiator on 45 of their 57 possessions in the win over Michigan, and 36 of those 45 possessions involved him using a ball-screen.

Indiana is going to know what’s coming. Can they stop it?

PICKS: This is tough. On the one hand, I think Michigan State has a statement to make, and with a Big Ten title very much within their reach, I expect them to play like it. I think that it is also worth noting here that that game was somewhat fluky. Michigan State shot 8-for-22 from the free throw line and the Hoosiers, who shoot 30.8 percent from three (323rd nationally) made six straight second half threes.

That said, assuming this line ends up around Michigan State (-9) — the average of the metrics — I think I like the Indiana side here. In their last eight games, Indiana has covered that spread seven times.

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No. 5 NORTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 76, Clemson 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 75, Clemson 73
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 78, Clemson 71

This feels like a trap.

Because based on the way that the metrics are projecting this game, the line looks like it is going to end up somewhere around North Carolina (-5), and that seems way too low. The Tar Heels are rolling right now. They have won four straight, 11 of their last 12 and 15 of 17 since the loss to Kentucky on Dec. 22nd. In the last 10 days, they’ve won in Cameron Indoor Stadium by 16 points and knocked off both Florida State and Syracuse at home by an average of 13 points. They’ve climbed into the top five of every ranking on the planet, and they are widely considered one of the few teams that can realistically be listed as a national title favorite. Win out, and they are, at the worst, co-ACC regular season champions. Clemson has one win over a tournament team and that came at home against Virginia Tech when the Hokies were without Justin Robinson.

And they’re only giving five?

PICKS: I think I like Clemson here. The Tigers are right on the NCAA tournament cutline — we have them as the first team out — and this will be their last chance at adding a Q1 win to their resume. The last two times that the Tar Heels have played at Littlejohn Coliseum, they struggled. They lost last year and in 2017, the national champion Tar Heels got taken to overtime by a 15-loss Clemson team. I don’t know if Clemson wins, but I do think they keep it close.

No. 11 TEXAS TECH at TCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 68, TCU 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, TCU 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 71, TCU 64

Part I of the Big 12 title race tips off in the afternoon, as the Red Raiders head to Fort Worth to take on a TCU team that really needs another win or two to seal up an at-large bid. The Horned Frogs are just 6-9 in Big 12 play and have lost four of their last five games. Chris Beard’s club has won six in a row, and the first time there two teams got together, Tech was up 16 by halftime and won 84-65.

PICKS: I like Tech to cover, assuming the line opens around (-5), and I also think that this game goes over the total if it’s in the low 130s. The Red Raiders got the dud out of their system when Oklahoma State took them to overtime in Lubbock on Wednesday. Prior to that game, they had been shooting 47 percent from three in their last five games. The last time these team played, TCU let Tech shooting 9-for-21 from beyond the arc.

BAYLOR at No. 16 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 64, Baylor 60
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Baylor 59
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 64, Baylor 59

Somehow, Baylor is still in the Big 12 title picture despite seeing seemingly half their roster get injured and running out a rotation that includes seven newcomers. If they win at Kansas State on Saturday, they will be in a three-way tie for second place in the conference, just a game off the pace set by Texas Tech. They have to win this game to have a chance.

Kansas State, on the other hand, already owns a win over the Bears — which came in Waco — and are playing for the right to say that they ended archrival Kansas’ streak of Big 12 regular season titles. Motivation abounds.

PICKS: For me, the pick here is Kansas State even if the line opens around (-5), and the reasoning is pretty simple: Dean Wade will be playing. He is the best shooter and the best passer on Kansas State, and the Wildcats have been much, much better against zone defenses with him available. It is worth noting that Cartier Diarra likely won’t play for KSU while Makai Mason and King McClure will be back for the Bears, but I still lean towards Bruce Weber’s club here. I’m betting on Bramlage to turn back into the Octagon of Doom and for Kansas State’s defense to win out.

No. 12 NEVADA at UTAH STATE, Sat. 8:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Utah State 72, Nevada 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Utah State 73, Nevada 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Utah State 74, Nevada 73

There is so much on the line for Utah State in this game. They need this win if they want to have any sense of comfort heading into Selection Sunday with the Mountain West’s automatic bid. They are also still playing for a Mountain West regular season title — they’ll be tied for first place with Nevada if they can get a win.

But here’s the wildest part: This is going to be the first time all season long that the Wolf Pack will play a game that qualifies as a Q1 game, according to the NET. Other than the win in January at home against the Aggies, Nevada has playing just one team — Arizona State (63) — that ranks in the top 75 of the NET. They’ve struggled on the road this season, including a loss at San Diego State the last time they left Reno, and the Spectrum can get rocking for a big game.

PICKS: All that said, I’m going to have a very hard time betting against Nevada to win a conference game if they are getting a point or two, as all of the metrics suggest. I’m not convinced USU has the perimeter defenders to be able to slow down the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline, and I worry about Nevada being able to go small and play Neemias Queta off the floor.

I’m going to hope Nevada opens around (-3) and take the USU money-line.

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.”

CBT Podcast: Pat Chambers, moving the season up, Running Back Buddy Hield’s 46 points at Kansas

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In the latest edition of the Run It Back podcast, Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan recap Buddy Hield’s memorable 46-point outburst in a three-overtime loss to Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 1 back in 2016. The game was unbelievable. Before they dive into the game itself, the boys talk through Pat Chambers’ noose comments to Rasir Bolton and the potential for the college basketball season to get moved up.

Michael Jordan, Roy Williams among UNC greats to condemn systemic racism

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Roy Williams and Michael Jordan joined numerous North Carolina luminaries in condemning systemic racism and voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement in a video that was released by the school on Monday.

“Systematic racism has to stop now,” Jordan said in the video. “We must take the time to listen and educate our family, our friends, our children on social injustice and racial inequality. Black Lives Matter more now than ever before. We have to get this right, so please take time to educate yourself and improve the lives of many people, many Black people. Thank you.”

James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Tyler Hansbrough, Luke Maye and Sean May were among the former players that appeared in the video.

Williams led by discussing Charlie Scott, who was the first Black scholarship athlete in UNC’s history.

“Some of the greatest to play our game have been Black players, but here we are more than 50 years later and our country is still fighting systemic racism and police brutality against Black men and women,” Williams said. “The North Carolina basketball program, our family, our current and former players believe Black lives matter, and it’s critically important that we don’t just believe it. We must stand together and loudly and clearly demand that we as a country and the world embrace the fundamental human right that Black lives matter.”

Former Penn State guard Rasir Bolton left program after coach Pat Chambers made noose comment

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Former Penn State point guard Rasir Bolton has accused of Pat Chambers of making racially insensitive remarks, including a reference to a noose.

According to Bolton, who tweeted about the incident on Monday morning, midway through his freshman season in 2018-19 with the Nittany Lions, Chambers made a reference to a “noose” about Bolton’s neck.  Bolton described the encounter in an interview with the Undefeated, and said that the phrase was a result of Chambers talking about easing the pressure on his freshman’s shoulders. “I want to loosen the noose that’s around your neck,” Bolton recalled.

Bolton also alleged that after his parents went to the Athletic Director with their concerns about this statement, Chambers told him during an exit interview that he was impressed by how “well-spoken” and “organized” his parents are. Remarks like this are considered racially-insensitive because they are based on the underlying assumption that Black people are not expected to be either organized or articulate.

Chambers, to his credit, admitted his wrong in making the noose comment.

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“I’ve realized the pain my words and ignorance caused Rasir Bolton and his family and I apologize to Rasir and the Bolton family for what I said,” Chambers’ statement read. “I failed to comprehend the experiences of others, and the reference I make was hurtful, insensitive and unacceptable I cannot apologize enough for what I said, and I will carry that forever.”

Bolton left Penn State after his freshman season and transferred to Iowa State. He was given immediately eligibility with the Cyclones after mentioning the noose comment when applying for a waiver. He averaged 14.7 points this past season with Iowa State. He also alleged that after he came to the Penn State athletic department with this claim, they offered him a meeting with a sports psychologist who told him how to “deal with Coach Chambers’ personality type.”