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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

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.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
Getty Images
1 Comment

ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
Getty Images
5 Comments

NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.