Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Sunday’s NCAA tournament games

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12:10 p.m.: No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 10 Iowa, CBS
  • LINE: Tennessee (-8)
  • TOTAL: 156.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 82.25, Iowa 74.25
  • KENPOM: Tennessee 83, Iowa 76

I love Tennessee this year and I think Iowa is not really all that good this year, so I’m always going to be on the Tennessee side here. But this is the kicker for me: We’ve talked all season long about how Tennessee is unique in the sense that they are one of the nation’s elite offenses from an efficiency perspective despite the fact that they get just 25.6 percent of their points from beyond the arc.

What they do, however, is get 55.8 percent of their points on two point field goals (20th nationally) and shooting 55.7 percent from two point range (19th nationally). Iowa is one of the worst teams in the country in terms of defending two-point shots. That’s all I need to know.

PICK: Tennessee (-8)

2:40 p.m.: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Washington, CBS

  • LINE: North Carolina (-11.5)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: North Carolina 79.5, Washington 68
  • KENPOM: North Carolina 78, Washington 68

I really like North Carolina to cover here because I don’t going zone against the Tar Heels is necessarily ideal. One of the tenets of UNC’s offense is that they pound the offensive glass. We all know how difficult it is to rebound out of a 2-3 zone, and Washington is particularly bad at it — 345th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

The other part of this is that North Carolina has not been all that turnover prone this year, and one of the ways that Washington generates offense is with their defense. Pick-six buckets off live-ball turnovers, blocked shots leading run outs, all of the things that Syracuse thrives on. It’s worth noting that the Tar Heels beat the Orange, 93-85, the one time they played this season.

PICK: As impressive as Washington was in the first round, I do think that UNC’s familiarity with the zone that Washington plays will play a factor. Part of the reason that Jim Boeheim made the zone his staple is because it makes his opponents uncomfortable. I don’t see that happening with UNC — according to Synergy, they are actually more efficient playing against a zone than against man — and that’s to say nothing of the fact that their transition game will help reduce the number of possessions they have to face the zone.

5:15 p.m.: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 9 UCF, CBS

  • LINE: Duke (-13.5)
  • TOTAL: 143.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 78.5, UCF 65
  • KENPOM: Duke 77, UCF 66

UCF has not been quite as good defensively this season as they were last season, but this is still a team and a program that is anchored by the way that they can defend. Their strength on that end of the floor is funneling players into the paint where they have one of the world’s 40 tallest human beings — 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall — patrolling. We all know the scouting report on Duke at this point. The Blue Devils attack the rim relentlessly because they are one of the worst shooting teams in college basketball, and I think that UCF will be able to control tempo and muck it up in the paint enough to keep Duke from running away with this thing.

PICK: I think UCF (+13.5) is the play, and I also think that the under here is mildly interesting, the concern that I have is with Duke’s transition game. UCF is hardly Virginia when it comes to protecting the ball and avoiding turnovers, but B.J. Taylor has been pretty effective at protecting the ball this season.

6:10 p.m.: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 6 Buffalo, TNT

  • LINE: Texas Tech (-3.5)
  • TOTAL: 146
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Texas Tech 75.25, Buffalo 71.75
  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 74, Buffalo 70

I honestly don’t have a great feel for this game because I think these teams are just so similar. They both rely on toughness. They both play terrific, physical perimeter defense. They both force a ton of turnovers.

PICK: I’m probably going to stay away, but I will say this: I would never, ever bet on someone out-toughing a Chris Beard team. So if you’re going to make me bet, I’ll take the Red Raiders.

7:10 p.m.: No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 12 Liberty, TBS

  • LINE: Virginia Tech (-9)
  • TOTAL: 125.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia Tech 67.25, Liberty 58.25
  • KENPOM: Virginia Tech 68, Liberty 60

Liberty’s head coach, Ritchie McKay, is a Tony Bennett disciple, and what that means is that he runs the Pack-Line, he controls tempo as much as possible and his teams played a slowed down brand of basketball. The evidence? They are 349th nationally in tempo.

Virginia Tech is no different this season. While they have put up some pretty big scoring and shooting numbers this year, this is a group that ranks outside the top 300 in pace, in average possession length on the offensive end of the floor and average possession length on the defensive end of the floor.

PICK: I like the Liberty side, as nine points is a lot of points in what will assuredly be a low-scoring game. The under is also an interesting bet here. This is going to be a 60 possession basketball game, and I think that these two defenses are good enough to keep the game in the high 50s or low 60s.

7:45 p.m.: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 9 Oklahoma, TruTV

  • LINE: Virginia (-11.5)
  • TOTAL: 127.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 69.5, Oklahoma 58
  • KENPOM: Virginia 70, Oklahoma 59

The question that you need to ask yourself here is whether or not you think that Virginia shook off their NCAA tournament demons in the first round, because on paper, this is just an atrocious matchup for the Sooners. Oklahoma is not a team that gets much of their offense from beyond the arc, and making perimeter jumpers over the Pack-Line is the way that you typically have to play to beat the Wahoos.

The one thing I will say is this: Oklahoma does have some bigger guards, and Lon Kruger runs them off of a lot of flex cuts and inverts his offense with his guards posting up. This could be exploitable, especially when Tony Bennett runs out lineups that have both Kihei Clark and Kyle Guy on the floor.

PICK: I tend to lean towards Virginia here. Oklahoma has played well of late, but I just don’t think that they have enough answers for Virginia.

8:40 p.m.: No. 3 Houston vs. No. 11 Ohio State, TNT

  • LINE: Houston (-6)
  • TOTAL: 131
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Houston 68.5, Ohio State 62.5
  • KENPOM: Houston 68, Ohio State 62

I think this is where the Ohio State run comes to an end, and it’s because I think that the Cougars will be able to overwhelm Ohio State on the defensive end of the floor. Houston leads the nation in defensive effective field goal percentage. Most importantly there is the fact that they double the post and do everything they can to keep bigs from beating them, which is bad news for an Ohio State team that runs their stuff through Kaleb Wesson.

PICK: There is a part of me that wants to stay away from this game. I have the utmost respect for Chris Holtmann as a coach. He’s proven over and over again that he can get more out of a group of kids than just about anyone, and I fully expect the Buckeyes to be prepared for this game. If I had to bet, I’ll take Houston, but I don’t love it.

9:40 p.m.: No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 13 UC Irvine, TBS

  • LINE: Oregon (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 122.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Oregon 64, UC Irvine 58.5
  • KENPOM: Oregon 64, UC Irvine 60

Like Liberty-Virginia Tech, this game is going to be slow, physical and low-scoring. And like Liberty, Irvine is legitimately good enough to beat another power conference team. I’ve also reached the point where I am fully bought in on this Oregon team being a legitimate top 25 caliber team. They’ve won nine straight games, and seven of those nine have come on the road or on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Washington twice — both away from home — and smacked around Wisconsin on a neutral court.

The other part of this is that Oregon is a tougher matchup for Irvine than Kansas State was without Dean Wade. The Ducks have more shooters, their wings are bigger and more capable than Kansas State’s were and they don’t rely on scoring inside the arc the way that the Wildcats did.

PICK: It will be interesting to see where the total moves here. 122.5 is a really low number, and based on what’s happened with some other games with low totals, I would not be surprised to see it drop. If this gets under 120, I think I like the over.

I also think that Oregon (-5.5) is the bet here. I have the utmost respect for Russell Turner and the job that he has done with the Anteaters, but Dana Altman has this Oregon team playing their best basketball at the right time.

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.