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Best Bets: Bettor’s guide to Thursday’s NCAA tournament games

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At 9 p.m. the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.

Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.

12:15 p.m.: No. 7 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 10 MINNESOTA, CBS

  • LINE: Louisville (-5)
  • TOTAL: 136
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Louisville 70.5, Minnesota 65.5
  • KENPOM: Louisville 71, Minnesota 66

The Pitino Bowl!!!

For those that don’t get it, Louisville fired Rick Pitino 18 months ago. His son, Richard, is the head coach at Minnesota. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be the case that Rick will be flying home from Greece to be at the game, which does take away some of the revenge factor if you like to take a ride down Narrative Street.

There are two problems here for Minnesota. For starters, they do not shoot the ball all that well. Just 28.8 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc (346th nationally) and they shoot it at just 32.1 percent from three. Louisville runs the Pack-Line, which is a defense designed to cut off penetration and force perimeter jumpers. The other problem that then arises is that Minnesota’s point guard situation is a mess. Isaiah Washington hasn’t really panned out, so Amir Coffey and Dupree MacBrayer are running the show. That’s sub-optimal.

Jordan Murphy is an absolute monster in the paint, and Daniel Oturu is quite promising, but this seems like the kind of matchup and the likes of Malik Williams will be up for and one of those two will have to guard either Sutton or Jordan Nwora.

PICK: I think Louisville is the better team and I think that their style of play matches up really well with Minnesota. The only concern that I have is that Louisville has melted away so many covers because of what they do at the end of games. They’d be a top 10ish team if basketball games ended at the under four timeout. Will we see them collapse again in the tournament? That worry is probably enough to keep me away from this line.

12:40 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 YALE, TruTV

  • LINE: LSU (-7.5)
  • TOTAL: 157
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 82.25, Yale 74.75
  • KENPOM: LSU 85, Yale 76

I am all in on the Elis taking down the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.

The biggest reason for this is that LSU is playing without their head coach. Will Wade has been held out by LSU after he refused to speak with the administration following the reports that he was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing a payment for a player. That’s big, because Wade is a terrific coach that is terrific when it comes to make in-game adjustments, and I do think there is something to the idea of substitute teacher syndrome setting in.

But beyond that, I just believe in this Yale team. They got dudes. Miye Oni is going to be an NBA draft pick, potentially a first rounder, as a 6-foot-6 combo-guard. Jordan Bruner is a do-it-all, 6-foot-9 forward that should be playing in the SEC, not the Ivy League. Alex Copeland proved that he can take a game over at the point. I also think it’s important to note that LSU does a lot of their damage on the offensive glass, and while Yale is going to be physically outmatched against LSU, they are top 25 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

There’s talent on Yale, they matchup well with LSU and the Tigers will be missing their coach. I like it when the dots connect.

PICK: I think I lean towards taking the money line instead of just Yale on the points, especially since we can still get it at (+260).

1:30 p.m.: No. 5 AUBURN vs. No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE, TNT

  • LINE: Auburn (-6)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 75.25, New Mexico State 69.25
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, New Mexico State 69

I love New Mexico State in theory. They’re tough, they’re old, they play hard and they won 30 games behind a really, really good coach in Chris Jans. I don’t love this matchup, however. Auburn’s got dudes. Jared Harper is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, Bryce Brown can take over any game on any day and Chuma Okeke — who is a little nicked up — and Anfernee McLemore are both really useful pieces for the way Bruce Pearl wants to play.

They’re also absolutely rolling right now. In the last 12 days, they’ve beaten Tennessee twice, once by 20 points on a neutral floor.

PICK: I just don’t think NMSU has the horses to run with Auburn on Thursday, not when Pearl is going to have those kids ready to run through three brick walls.

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2:00 p.m.: No. 4 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 13 VERMONT, TBS

  • LINE: Florida State (-9)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 71.25, Vermont 62.25
  • KENPOM: Florida State 72, Vermont 63

Before the bracket was released, Vermont was one of the mid-majors that I really wanted to pick to win. After the bracket was released, I cannot say the same thing. The Catamounts are not all that big or long or that athletic. Florida State is all of those things, and they go two-deep at every position with players that are all of those things. It’s just the worst possible matchup that Vermont could have drawn as a No. 13 seed.

PICK: I think Florida State wins by about 15 points, and this line is moving in the opposite direction. I’ll keep letting it move.

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 15 BRADLEY, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan State (-18.5)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 76, Bradley 57.5
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 78, Bradley 57

I want no part of betting this game. Michigan State has been banged up all season long. In the Big Ten tournament, Tom Izzo pulled his starters against Ohio State in the quarterfinals with three minutes left, and they promptly gave up a 12-0 run that blew an easy cover. If you guys want to sweat out Tom Izzo trying to steal a few extra minutes of rest for his point guard that has been an absolute workhorse this season, be my guest. I’ll be betting elsewhere.

3:10 p.m: No. 6 MARYLAND vs. No. 11 BELMONT, TruTV

  • LINE: Maryland (-4)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Maryland 75.75, Belmont 71.75
  • KENPOM: Maryland 76, Belmont 72

I didn’t think that Belmont would be able to deal with the guards on Temple, and I feel the same way about the Bruins and Maryland. But I’m even more concerned about what Belmont will do with Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, who are first round picks that have just not gotten to the NBA yet. That line seems a little bit low as well, which is why I’m leaning towards Maryland here.

PICK: Nick Muszynski looked really good against Temple. He’s going to have his work cut out for him against Maryland’s bigs, which is why I will be on Maryland (-4) here.

4:00 p.m.: No. 4 KANSAS vs. No. 13 NORTHEASTERN, TNT

  • LINE: Kansas (-6.5)
  • TOTAL: 142.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 74.5, Northeastern 68
  • KENPOM: Kansas 76, Northeastern 68

Kansas is not the Kansas we are used to seeing. They start four freshmen this year, and while two of them are five-star — one of whom has not exactly played like a five-star this year — the other two are the Jayhawks third-string center and a guy that was supposed to redshirt this season. I also think Kansas is overseeded relative to the team they have now based on some non-conference wins they earned with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick healthy.

Northeastern is a really, really well-coached team that doesn’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over, they shoot it well from three, they control tempo, they don’t give up second chance points and they have a couple of high-level shot-makers, namely Vasa Pusica. The Huskies are dangerous.

PICK: Clearly, I think Northeastern is the play, but again, the money line is +235. I like it better before the line moved, but it’s still good value.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 MARQUETTE vs. No. 12 MURRAY STATE, TBS

  • LINE: Marquette (-4)
  • TOTAL: 149.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Marquette 76.75, Murray State 72.25
  • KENPOM: Marquette 76, Murray State 72

I just cannot seed the Racers getting this done against Marquette. For starters, I think that the Golden Eagles will be able to hide Markus Howard defensively on one of Murray State’s non-Ja Morant wings. Then, I think that Sacar Anim will be able to go a good enough job on Morant that it will keep him from having one of his 40 point nights. And finally, I think Theo John’s presence at the rim will help prevent Morant from having an absolute blow-up game.

And that’s just on the defensive end of the floor. I think that the Hauser twins are going to be able to get whatever they want against small Murray State defenders.

PICK: I didn’t necessarily envision myself going all-in on Marquette in the first round, but here we are. Marquette (-4) seems low for the matchup.

6:50 p.m.: No. 7 NEVADA vs. No. 10 FLORIDA, TNT

  • LINE: Nevada (-2)
  • TOTAL: 132.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Nevada 67.25, Florida 65.25
  • KENPOM: Nevada 67, Florida 66

This bet is pretty easy for me. Nevada is old, they made a run in the NCAA tournament last year and their season has felt like they were coasting and waiting for the chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage again. Well, here we are.

The Wolf Pack — led by fifth-year seniors Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline — more or less run an offense that identifies matchups and allows their studs to go and try to win that matchup. Florida’s roster is made up of freshmen and inconsistent seniors. They also like to press a bit and that often leaves them cross-matched on the defensive end, with bigs guarding smalls and vice versa. Imagine a point guard trying to stop Jordan Caroline. Good luck.

PICK: Nevada (-2) is one of my favorite bets of the first weekend.

7:10 p.m.: No. 2 KENTUCKY vs. No. 15 ABILENE CHRISTIAN, CBS

  • LINE: Kentucky (-22.5)
  • TOTAL: 132
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 77.25, Abilene Christian 54.75
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 75, Abilene Christian 59

P.J. Washington has been in a walking boot since Sunday. For my money he is Kentucky’s best and most important player. Are we sure that he is actually healthy? Are we sure that Cal is going to play him a full compliment of minutes? Can Kentucky cover even if Washington doesn’t play or only sees the floor for a limited stretch?

Those are too many questions for me. I’ll fade this game.

7:20 p.m.: No. 6 VILLANOVA vs. No. 11 SAINT MARY’S, TBS

  • LINE: Villanova (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 130.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Villanova 67.5, Saint Mary’s 63
  • KENPOM: Villanova 66, Saint Mary’s 65

This is the game that I have gone back and forth the most. The spread opened at six, which was an insanely high number considering that KenPom had this line at Villanova (-1). That makes me think Saint Mary’s. But the Gaels also run a lot of ball-screen stuff and get their shots within their offense, which is something that Villanova can take away with the way they switch. That makes me think Villanova.

This is the kicker, however: Villanova shoots 53.5 percent of their field goal attempts from three, which is the third-highest rate nationally. Saint Mary’s game-plans to run teams off of the three-point line, as just 31.4 percent of the field goal attempts against them are threes, which is the ninth-lowest number nationally, and teams have shot just 31.8 percent from three.

PICK: As Saint Mary’s has gotten hot over the last six weeks, their defense has really kicked up a notch, culminating in holding Gonzaga to 47 points in the WCC tournament final last Tuesday. I think it’s also worth noting that both SMC and Nova play really, really slowly. So not only do I like the Gaels here, I think that the under is a solid play as well.

7:27 p.m.: No. 1 GONZAGA vs. No. 16 FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON, TruTV

  • LINE: Gonzaga (-26.5)
  • TOTAL: 152.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 89.5, Fairleigh Dickinson 63
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 90, Fairleigh Dickinson 65

You can criticize Gonzaga for a lot of things, but one thing they have done pretty consistently is to blow the doors off of their overmatched opponents. Fairleigh Dickinson is overmatched. They are 207th in KenPom this season. Gonzaga has played nine games against sub-200 KenPom opponents, and they’ve won those nine games by an average of 37.2 points. That number jumps to 43.5 points against the six sub-200 teams they played in the non-conference.

Should I mention that Fairleigh Dickinson played on Tuesday and had to travel tonight from Dayton to Salt Lake City to play at elevation?

PICK: Gonzaga (-26.5) is the play.

9:20 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN vs. No. 15 MONTANA, TNT

  • LINE: Michigan (-15.5)
  • TOTAL: 131
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 72.75, Montana 57.25
  • KENPOM: Michigan 74, Montana 57

This line has been moving as much as any line in the first weekend. It’s down to Michigan (-15.5) at the time of this writing, and I don’t think that it is crazy to say that it is going to move another point. Michigan and Montana played in the first round of the tournament last season. It was ugly as hell, but Michigan found a way to win by 14. The score? 61-47.

PICK: That’s where I think the edge is in this matchup. I think Michigan uglies this game up again. The under seems like the play here.

9:40 p.m.: No. 7 WOFFORD vs. No. 10 SETON HALL, CBS

  • LINE: Wofford (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 143.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wofford 73, Seton Hall 70.5
  • KENPOM: Wofford 74, Seton Hall 69

It’s a battle of the heat-check all-stars, as Wofford’s Fletcher Magee goes up against Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. As a team, the Terriers are as three-point heavy as anyone. They shoot 41.6 percent from three and more than 40 percent of their points come from beyond the arc, 17th nationally. Seton Hall is not great when it comes to running opponents off of the three-point line, but they do have some long and athletic defenders on the roster. Quincy McKnight and Myles Cale will both get a shots at Fletcher Magee.

I also think it’s important to note that Wofford has more than just Magee. Cameron Jackson is a terrific mid-major big man that is going to have a chance to prove his mettle against a power conference for. Nathan Hoover was the star of Wofford’s two biggest wins — the win at South Carolina by 20 points and the SoCon title game — and Storm Murphy is named Storm.

PICK: The question you have to ask here is just how many points will it take for you to bet on the more athletic team? For me, I think it’s more than Seton Hall (+2.5). This line has already been moving towards Seton Hall, and I think I’m going to wait it out and see how low it will go before I bet on Wofford.

9:50 p.m.: No. 3 PURDUE vs. No. 14 OLD DOMINION, TBS

  • LINE: Purdue (-13)
  • TOTAL: 127
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70, Old Dominion 57
  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Old Dominion 59

I think that Purdue is probably the play here, simply because I don’t think that Old Dominion is going to have an easy time scoring. The Monarchs are just a bad, bad team on the offensive end of the floor, and while Purdue isn’t great defensively, they should be good enough to make life hell for ODU. I do think that this game and this spread is going to come down to whether or not Purdue hits shots, and I think they will be able to get it going a little bit.

PICK: If I’m going to bet this game, I am going to bet the Purdue side. What worries me, however, is this has the feel of a game that is played in the high 50s or low 60s, and 13 points is a lot of points in a game that is that low scoring. The under might be the play, but with the total at 127, I think I’ll probably just fade this game.

9:57 p.m.: No. 8 SYRACUSE vs. No. 9 BAYLOR, TruTV

  • LINE: Syracuse (-2)
  • TOTAL: 133
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Syracuse 67.5, Baylor 65.5
  • KENPOM: Syracuse 67, Baylor 66

Two teams that play zone, two teams that don’t shoot it all that well or run great offense, two teams with coaches that seem to find a way to make it work regardless of who is on their roster. Two things that are worth noting: Syracuse is really good at forcing turnovers while Baylor is pretty sloppy, but they are really bad at getting defensive rebounder and Baylor ranks second nationally is offensive rebounding percentage.

PICK: If I bet this, I’ll probably bet Syracuse simply because Jim Boeheim just finds a way to get it done in March seemingly every year this days.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.

 

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver declaring for draft

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Jarrett Culver made a reality Thursday what appeared inevitable. The Texas Tech sophomore is heading to the NBA.

The projected top-10 pick declared his intentions to enter the drat at a press conference in his native Lubbock just over a week after leading the Red Raiders to the national championship game.

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft,” Culver said to applause in a standing-room only crowd full of supporters.

It’s little surprise to see Culver become the second early-entry player under third-year coach Chris Beard after Zhaire Smith went one-and-done to the first-round last year. The 6-foot-5 Culver averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last year while being named the Big 12 player of the year as Texas Tech split the regular-season conference title with Kansas State to put a stop to Kansas’ 14-year reign atop the league.

He could be picked in the top-three of the draft while the top-10 seems assured. He’s a proven scorer and two-way player, though NBA teams will have questions about his athleticism and 3-point shot.

His departure also means a huge reload is in order for Beard and Co., but that was the case coming off an Elite Eight trip in 2017, which Texas Tech followed up with a near-national championship earlier this month.