Best Bets: Previewing the Champions Classic

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No. 3 KANSAS vs. No. 4 DUKE, 7:00 p.m.
  • SPREAD: Kansas (-1)
  • TOTAL: 152.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 76.75, Duke 75.75
  • KENPOM: Duke 78, Kansas 74

When this line opened, Duke was favored by 2.5 points. Since then, it has continued to move towards Kansas, and as of this posting the Jayhawks are favored by a point. I think that it will continue to move that direction; I make the line at Kansas (-3) and I would probably need six or seven points before I really considered betting on Duke.

The reasoning is pretty simple at its core: Duke is young and their veterans will be asked to play much bigger roles than they have ever played while Kansas could end up with their top seven scorers being returnees. Early in the season, I tend to bet on the teams with vets when they play against a team with a lot of newcomers. This qualifies.

But it’s more than just the fact that Duke is young and Kansas is not quite as young.

I’m on record saying that Udoka Azubuike is going to be one of the best and most unstoppable forces in college basketball this season. I called him the fourth-best player in the sport just last week. The reason I said that is because there is no better low post force in the country than the big fellas, and there is no coach in the country better at scheming ways to get his post players in a spot where they can turn and dunk than Bill Self.

And on Tuesday night, Azubuike will be going up against a Duke frontline that consists of freshman Vernon Carey, freshman Matthew Hurt and senior Javin DeLaurier. Neither Carey nor Hurt are known for their ability to defend. DeLaurier weighs a good 35 pounds less than Azubuike. He should be able to do anything he wants in the paint. The way to exploit a player like Azubuike is to force him to defend on the perimeter, either with a perimeter-oriented center – think Villanova’s Omari Spellman in the 2018 Final Four – or by putting him into ball-screen actions.

But Duke doesn’t really have the personnel for that. Carey is a low-post banger, DeLaurier is 1-for-10 from three in his college career and playing Hurt at the five might end up being a net-negative given the struggles he has guarding in the post.

And as much as I love Tre Jones, I need to see him prove that he can be a shooter before I believe that he is a shooter. Until then, I’m just going to assume that he will never need to be guarded beyond the three-point line.

PICK: Kansas (-1)

No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE  vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 9:30 p.m.

  • SPREAD: Michigan State (-3)
  • TOTAL: 139.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 71.25, Kentucky 68.25
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 72, Kentucky 70

This is a weird matchup.

On paper, it is precisely the kind of game where you want to bet on the team with the veterans, one of whom is a senior point guard, a returning first-team All-American and the best player in college basketball. For the uneducated, that would be Michigan State and Cassius Winston.

But when you look deeper at Michigan State, the team they have right now is not as deep or as experienced as you might imagine. As it stands, with Josh Langford out, just three of their healthy rotation pieces are upperclassmen, and one of those three – Kyle Ahrens – is banged up. They’re going to be counting on a promising and talented sophomore class to play major minutes and produce.

Whether it is Thomas Kithier or Marcus Bingham Jr. at the four, or Gabe Brown playing extended minutes on the wing, or one of Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts getting minutes in the backcourt, there are going to be quite a few guys asked to play new and expanded roles. That may take some time.

Now, the mitigating factor here is that Winston is awesome, that he makes everyone around him better, but if he does have a weakness, it is athletic guards that can force him into turning the ball over. It was not as much of an issue last season (Winston lit up Michigan and Zavier Simpson three times and put 20 points and 10 assists on Tre Jones and Duke in the Elite Eight) but he had nine turnovers in a loss at Illinois and struggled in the Final Four against Texas Tech. Kentucky’s backcourt of Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey has the kind of size, athleticism and defensive prowess that can give Winston some trouble.

Up front, you’d think that a Michigan State team that features Tillman and a bunch of young guys would be at a disadvantage against Kentucky, but with Nick Richards hurt, the Wildcats frontline is E.J. Montgomery, Nate Sestina and no one else. I actually think Tillman will be the best big man on the floor, and Kentucky being forced to play small may actually be sub-optimal – I think the Spartans will be at their best when they embrace Aaron Henry at the four.

So I don’t have conviction either way here.

I think I tend to lean towards the Spartans simply because I trust the team with the senior All-American at the point. But I don’t feel great about it, and if the money-line for Kentucky gets up towards (+150) or (+160), I would have a tough time staying away.

I also don’t feel great about the total. On the one hand, this has the makings of an ugly game. On the other hand, Tom Izzo likes to run as much as any coach, and I think that Kentucky’s optimal way to play is to pressure, try to force turnovers and get out in transition.

PICK: If I was forced to bet I would take Michigan State (-3), but I will personally be staying away.

OTHER GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-7) at MIAMI, 6:30 p.m.

Taking road favorites is not the way that I want to kick off the college basketball season. I love Louisville this year, but I think that Miami and Chris Lykes have the horses to keep this thing close. Throw in the fact that the Cardinals are dealing with injuries to two potentials starters, and I’ll personally be staying away. If forced to bet, I’d take Miami (+7).

No. 20 SAINT MARY’S (-3) vs. WISCONSIN, 9:00 p.m. (Sioux Falls)

It’s going to be a new era in Wisconsin, as the Badgers will be replacing All-American Ethan Happ. I think the Badges have some sneaky tournament potential this year, but I’m all in on the Gaels. They are a top 15 team in America and they have arguably the best point guard in the mid-major ranks in Jordan Ford. I like Saint Mary’s (-3), but I think the under is much more interesting. But the bet I like the most here is under 129.5. Greg Gard has never ranked higher than 331st in tempo. Randy Bennett has not ranked higher than 341st in tempo since 2014. This is going to be a slow, slow basketball game.

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

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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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
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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

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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

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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

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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.