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Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to the Elite Eight

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SATURDAY, MARCH 30

(All times eastern, all lines and totals via DraftKings Sportsbook)

6:09 p.m. No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

  • SPREAD: Gonzaga (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 139.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 72, Texas Tech 67.5
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 72, Texas Tech 69

Texas Tech is the best defensive team in college basketball. They are also one of the very best defensive teams in the country at stopping ball-screen actions. They rank in the 99th percentile on Synergy in defending pick-and-rolls, which is significant because so much of what Gonzaga does in the halfcourt offensively comes down to what they can get out of ball-screen actions featuring Josh Perkins.

So once again, Perkins is going to have his work cut out for him against one of the best defenses — and best defensive point guards — in all of college basketball. Matt Mooney can flat out guard, and he is going to ensure that everything Perkins does is hounded. Against Florida State, Perkins put on a clinic in the first half, finishing with 11 points and four assists in the first 20 minutes as Gonzaga built an 11 point lead. That lead was big enough to survive a 10 minute stretch in the second half where Perkins lost his mind, committing four turnovers and finding himself at fault for a shot clock violation.

He was good enough in the first half that it didn’t matter.

And that is going to be critical for Gonzaga that he does the same on Saturday.

I also think that it is important to note here that with Killian Tillie back in the fold, Gonzaga looked downright impenetrable defensively at times. Tillie didn’t add much to the box score against Florida State, but it was striking how often he was in the first place at the right time. His presence on the court lifts a Gonzaga team that is already much-improved on that end of the floor, and it allowed Gonzaga to play lineups with Tillie, Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke that had all kinds of length and athleticism.

That might be where Gonzaga’s real advantage here lies. Texas Tech, for as good as they are, doesn’t have a ton of size, length or athleticism outside of Tariq Owens, at least not when compared to the players Gonzaga has. The question is going to be how well Gonzaga matches up Jarrett Culver. Tech’s all-american is a 6-foot-6 wing that plays as an initiator for the Red Raiders, and the best matchup Gonzaga has for him might actually be Jeremy Jones or Geno Crandall. In three tournament games, Culver is averaging 22.3 points, 7.3 boards and 5.3 assists. Slowing him down slows down Texas Tech’s offense.

PICK: I tend to lean Gonzaga here. As much as I love this Texas Tech team, I think Gonzaga ends up finding a way to pull out a win in this one. With the way the Zags are guarding right now, I think they get enough stops to cover. I also think this will be a close game and I’m not sure I feel comfortable needing a five-point win, but Gonzaga will certainly be the side I’m on.

8:29 p.m. No. 1 Virginia (-4.5) vs. No. 3 Purdue, 127

  • SPREAD: Virginia (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 127
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 65.75, Purdue 61.25
  • KENPOM: Virginia 67, Purdue 63

The best way to breakdown Virginia’s vaunted Pack-Line defense is to run offense that involves a lot of movement and off-ball screening action. You want to force Virginia’s defense to chase, to get them moving so they are pulled out of the paint.

No team left in the tournament runs more beautiful and complicated actions that Purdue, and frankly, it’s out of necessity. They don’t really have anyone that can create in isolation. When, for example, they get to the end of a shot clock, the best play for them isn’t putting someone in a ball-screen and letting them go, it’s to run Carsen Edwards or Ryan Cline off through that dribble-handoff action and dare the Hoos to try and chase them.

I think that it is also worth noting that the Pack-Line dares teams to beat them over the top with the three-ball. Purdue shooting 37.1 percent from three, takes more than 45 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc and gets nearly 40 percent of their scoring off of threes, which is 21st nationally.

The flip side here is that I’m not quite sure how Purdue is going to matchup with UVA. I’d assume that Nojel Eastern gets put on De’Andre Hunter, but that means that Grady Eifert will be asked to chase either Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome all over the floor when Virginia has their three-guard lineup in the game. And while they haven’t really shown it yet in this tournament, the ‘Hoos are actually a really dangerous team on that end of the floor. Kyle Guy is 3-for-26 from three in this tournament, but he is unquestionably one of the elite shooters in all of college hoops. Jerome, too. Hunter is a top ten pick that, in this writer’s opinion, is the second-best player in college basketball when he shows up.

But given their pace, given some of their struggles in this event and given the fact that this Virginia program seems to be playing with a mental block that keeps them from getting where they want to get to in March, if Purdue hits them with one of their offensive explosions — like we saw in the first half against Villanova and the second half against Tennessee — UVA could find themselves in a hole they can’t dig out of.

PICK: I tend to lean towards Purdue here, but I don’t feel great about either side.

SUNDAY, MARCH 31

2:20 p.m. No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Auburn

  • SPREAD: Kentucky (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 142
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 72.25, Auburn 69.75
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 73, Auburn 71

Everything about this game changed when Chuma Okeke went down with his knee injury. He’s so important to the way that Auburn wants to play. Not only is he a floor-spacing four-man that can beat slower defenders off the dribble, he’s big enough to hold his own in the paint and is a play-maker defensively.

Put simply: He spaces the floor, he ignites their transition game and he’s the guy that can guard P.J. Washington without mucking up Auburn’s offense.

Kentucky and Auburn played twice this season. Auburn needed a furious second half comeback to lose by two points at home, and they were sandblasted, 80-53, in Lexington. According to HoopLens.com, Okeke was not on the floor for 28 possessions in those two games combined. With Okeke, Auburn scored 1.12 points-per-possession. Without him, they scored 0.64 PPP.

PICK: That’s enough to get me on the Kentucky side. Yes, I know Washington is banged up. Yes, I know that Auburn is still dangerous, and that the likes of Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and Malik Dunbar will do their damnedest to fill in for Okeke.

I just can’t see them being nearly as effective.

5:05 p.m. No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State

  • SPREAD: Dule (-1.5)
  • TOTAL: 149.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 75.5 Duke 74
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 77, Duke 76

I think this is a tougher spot for Duke than some may realize. The Blue Devils have not been a very good team when it comes to defending ball-screens this season, and the one thing that the Spartans have excelled at more than anything this year is putting Cassius Winston into ball-screen action and letting him roll.

I also think that this is going to be a matchup that the Spartans win on the glass. Like LSU, Duke has a roster full of big, physical athletes that still manage to find a way to get beaten to the offensive glass, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a program not named North Carolina that has consistently been better than Michigan State at getting to the boards in recent seasons. Zion Williamson and company will get their’s when it comes to second chance points, but Michigan State will, at the very least, make them work for it.

The problem for the Spartans starts with the size and athleticism on the Duke roster. Assuming Reddish is healthy and ready to play — which, frankly, is no guarantee — Duke is going to have a serious advantage at every spot on the perimeter. My guess is that Kenny Goins (maybe Xavier Tillman?) ends up on Williamson while Aaron Henry is matched up with R.J. Barrett and Matt McQuaid draws Reddish. Those are going to be tough covers, although I do think that the fact that Tre Jones can be helped off* will do a world of good in saving Winston’s legs.

*(I fully expect Michigan State to help way off Jones, but it is worth noting that he scored a career-high 22 points and hit five threes in the Sweet 16.)

I’m also worried about the fact that Michigan State wants to run, and that Duke will thrive in a game that becomes uptempo. This is, again, where Jones comes into play. He’s a terrific on-ball defender, and if there is a knock of Winston, it’s that he can struggle with turnovers.

PICK: I’m going against everything that I have said all season long, because I think that this is the game where Duke gets done in. They’re only in the Elite Eight right now because: UCF missed an alley-oop and had two layups roll off the rim in the second round after Tre Jones hit five threes as Ahmed Hill’s game-tying layup air-balled.

I will be on Michigan State (+1.5).

Wife, daughter of Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore killed in car accident

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The Wisconsin basketball program officially confirmed an awful piece of news on Sunday morning: Assistant coach Howard Moore was involved in a tragic accident early on Saturday morning that claimed the life of his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Jaidyn.

Howard and his son, Jerell, were both injured in the accident but are expected to recover.

“There are no words to describe how devastated we are for Howard and his family,” head coach Greg Gard said in a statement. “Our basketball program is an extremely close family and we are all grieving for the Moore and Barnes families. Howard is so much more than a colleague and coach. He and Jen and their children are dear friends to everyone they meet. Their positivity and energy lift up those around them. We will miss Jen and Jaidyn dearly and we will put our arms around Howard and Jerell and the entire family, giving them love and support during this unspeakable time.”

According to Michigan state police, the Moore family was driving on a highway in Ann Arbor, Mich., at about 2 a.m. on Saturday morning when they were struck head-on by a car driven by a 23-year old woman going the wrong way on the highway. The woman driving the other car died at the scene.

“I’ve known Howard ever since he was a student-athlete at Wisconsin and gotten to know his wonderful family through the years,” director of athletics Barry Alvarez said. “He has always been an incredible representative of our athletic department and a positive influence on everyone around him. We are truly heart-broken for his family and will be doing everything possible to help him through this tragic time. Our prayers, love and support go out to the Moore and Barnes family.”

NCAA reverses ruling on Silvio De Sousa, clears him for 2019-20 season

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Silvio De Sousa’s appeal has been approved.

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA announced that they will be reversing their original decision, allowing the Kansas center to be eligible to play during the 2019-20 season. He was suspended for the entirety of the 2018-19 season.

“Kansas appealed the NCAA staff decision of a two-season withholding to the Division I Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee, which determined additional relief was appropriate,” the NCAA said in a statement.

This decision came just hours after De Sousa’s final appeal formal appeal and not a moment too soon; Wednesday marks the final day that players that have declared for the NBA draft can withdraw and return to school. It is unlikely that De Sousa would get drafted should he be forced to leave his name in the draft.

The NCAA originally determined in February that De Sousa would have to sit out the remainder of the 2018-19 season and the entire 2019-20 season after allegations arose that his guardian, Fenny Falmagne, had accepted at least $20,000 in order to steer De Sousa to Kansas. These allegations arose as a result of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.

De Sousa was a freshman during the 2017-18 season, averaging 4.0 points and 3.7 boards as Kansas made a run to the Final Four. He will join Udoka Azubuike and David McCormick in the Jayhawks oversized frontline.

NCAA president Mark Emmert made $2.9 million in 2017

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Mark Emmert holds the top job of a major organization. It oversees thousands of people and generates billions in revenue. It’s not surprising the guy makes a lot of money.

It always just looks silly, though, as Emmert is the president of the NCAA, which does not allow its athletes compensation beyond the scholarships schools give them. So, we’ll take a minute to highlight that silliness here.

Emmert, who has led the NCAA since 2010, made $2.9 million in net compensation in 2017, USA TODAY reports after examining the organization’s tax filing.

The 66-year-old was credited with $3.9 million in total compensation, but $1 million of a deferred $1.4 million payment had been reported in prior years, according to USA TODAY.

Three other NCAA executives cleared $1 million in salary in 2017.

Again, given the scope, size and profitability of college sports, it’s not surprising that Emmert and his execs are well compensated, but it’s always worth pointing out that finances in college athletics – from administrative and coaching salaries to facilities to travel – are all inflated because athletes are prohibited from taking part in the profit-taking.

With news coming that athletes could be in line to profit off their name and likeness sometime in the near future and the NBA signaling the end of the one-and-done era, there is progress in player compensation, but during that time, there are a lot of checks getting cashed without players’ names on them.

Seven returning collegians among Team USA U19 invites

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USA Basketball is welcoming seven sophomores among its 34 total invitees to training camp next month ahead of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece.

Incoming freshmen and Class of 2020 will vie for 12 roster spots with Kansas State coach Bruce Weber helming the team and being assisted by Washington’s Mike Hopkins and North Carolina Central’s LaVelle Moton.

The returning college players garnering invites are Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine), Tyrse Haliburton (Iowa State), Kira Lewis (Alabama), Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State), Trevion Williams (Purdue) and Bryce Willis (Stanford), along with Jayden Scrubb from the junior college ranks.

“The committee is excited at the level of talent that will be at training camp for the USA U19 World Cup team, and we expect to have a difficult decision trying to narrow down the group to 12 team members,” Matt Painter, Purdue coach and cahr of the junior national team committee, said in a statement.

R.J. Hampton, Samuell Williamson, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs are some of the headliners from the group of players without college experience.

Sophomores

Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine/Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)

Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State/Oshkosh, Wis.)

Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama/Meridianville, Ala.)

Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State/Mansfield, Texas)

Jayden Scrubb (John A. Logan College/Louisville, Ky.)

Trevion Williams (Purdue/Chicago, Ill.)

Bryce Wills (Stanford/White Plains, N.Y.).

Incoming freshmen

Eric Dixon (Abington H.S./William Grove, Pa.)

Dajuan Gordon (Curie H.S./Chicago, Ill.)

R.J. Hampton (Little Elm H.S./Little Elm, Texas)

Justin Moore(DeMatha Catholic H.S./Accokeek, Md.)

Casey Morsell (St. John’s College H.S./Washington, D.C.)

Zeke Nnaji (Hopkins H.S./Hopkins, Minn.)

Isaac Okoro (McEachern H.S./Powder Springs, Ga.)

Onyeka Okongwu (Chino Hills H.S./Chino, Calif.)

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (IMG Academy, FL/Overland Park, Kan.)

Isaiah Stewart (La Lumiere School, IN/Rochester, N.Y.)

Anton Watson (Gonzaga Prep/Spokane, Wash.)

Mark Watts Jr. (SPIRE Institute/Pontiac, Mich.)

Romeo Weems (New Haven H.S./Chesterfield, Mich.)

Samuell Williamson (Rockwall H.S./Rockwall, Texas).

Class of 2020

Scottie Barnes (University School/West Palm Beach, Fla.)

Nimari Burnett (Prolific Prep, Calif./Chicago, Ill.)

Joshua Christopher (Mayfair H.S./Lakewood, Calif.)

Sharife Cooper (McEachern H.S./Powder Springs, Ga.)

Cade Cunningham (Montverde Academy, Fla./Arlington, Texas)

Hunter Dickinson (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md./Alexandria, Va.)

Jalen Green(Prolific Prep/Fresno, Calif.)

Walker Kessler (Woodward Academy/Newnan, Ga.)

Caleb Love (Christian Brothers College H.S./St. Louis, Mo.)

Evan Mobley (Rancho Christian School/Temecula, Calif.)

Ethan Morton (Butler H.S./Butler, Pa.)

Jalen Suggs (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.)

Ziaire Williams (Notre Dame H.S./Sherman Oaks, Calif.).

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: Transferring players need ‘deterrent’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The NCAA is granting too many waivers allowing players who transfer to compete immediately, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Wednesday, calling the requirement that players sit out a year a useful “deterrent” to players switching schools.

Brey made his comments at a meeting of the Knight Commission, a nonprofit that pushes for reform in college sports. While the commission has not taken a position on transfer waivers, it often advocates for players being given more freedom to pursue their professional ambitions.

“As coaches we’re concerned about the number of waivers, to the point where the NCAA has given too much of a blueprint on how to get a waiver,” Brey said. “Kids feel they can go and, you know, bring up enough of a case to get eligible right away. So they’re more apt to want to go.”

In April 2018, the NCAA relaxed its waiver requirements, allowing a transferring player to suit up immediately if there are “documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, 79 men’s basketball players requested waivers and 44 were granted, a 56% success rate, according to NCAA data. Men’s basketball accounted for 33% of all waiver requests, the NCAA said.

Commission co-chairman Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, declined to comment on waivers but lauded the “transparency” of the NCAA’s transfer portal, in which players submit their names if they want to switch schools.

Brey said he believes players should be free to transfer and that it’s up to coaches to make their players want to stay, but he said sitting out a year can be beneficial and prevents players from transferring for immature or capricious reasons.

“It’s a bit of a deterrent for a kid. The year in residency saves kids from themselves sometimes,” Brey said. “I’ve seen some kids then come back, stick it out, and now they’re in the lineup and they come back five years later and go, ‘I was an idiot.’ Because every kid thinks about (transferring) when he’s not playing.”

ROADBLOCKS TO REFORM

Brey’s comments were one of a few examples from Wednesday’s meeting of the basketball establishment pushing back against reforms that would give players more autonomy or promote transparency about the way schools profit from college athletics.

The Knight Commission is pushing the NCAA to release to the public the financial details of contracts between athletic departments and shoe and apparel companies, a proposal that has not gained much traction. In the past, the commission has persuaded the NCAA to release graduation rates and other financial data, including compensation for coaches.

“The shoe companies, there has to be agreement across the board, that there has to be willingness and openness to share all those records. Candidly, I think more work needs to be done,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I governance. “We don’t control all the third parties and their ability to cooperate with us. More conversation needs to continue to occur within the NCAA and between the NCAA and the third parties if we want to move the ball.”

Two NBA executives told the commission the league is in talks with the players’ union about lowering the NBA’s minimum age to 18, prompted largely by a recommendation by the Commission on College Basketball to rid the sport of the “one-and-done rule.”

But even that proposal is meeting some resistance in the NBA. David Krichavsky, the league’s senior vice president and head of youth basketball development, said some in the league would rather raise the age limit than lower it.

“Many teams and general managers would still be in favor of going to 20, given the additional scouting information you receive on players, seeing them compete at the NCAA level for two years after high school,” Krichavsky said, “but at the same time we recognize that the world has changed and will continue to change.”

COACHES BEHAVING BADLY

Brey, the president of the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said he’d like to see coaches reach a consensus about how to police their own behavior.

An ongoing federal investigation into illicit payments made to players during the recruiting process led Louisville to fire longtime coach Rick Pitino, but some other coaches implicated in the probe have held onto their jobs. Brey said schools ought to move more aggressively to fire coaches for cause when they violate NCAA rules.

“We all have clauses in our contracts about NCAA rules and behavior, all of us. If those are violated, doesn’t that start on the campuses?” Brey said. “And no question the NABC could make a stronger stand. We have not maybe been as vocal about some of the things that have gone on.”