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Best Bets: Previewing Michigan-Louisville and Michigan State-Duke


No. 4 MICHIGAN at No. 1 LOUISVILLE, 7:30 p.m. ET

  • SPREAD: Louisville (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 140
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Louisville 72.75, Michigan 67.25
  • KENPOM: Louisville 72, Michigan 64
  • TICKETS: Click here

Before we get into the actual basketball, we have to tackle the narratives.

Because there are quite a few.

For starters, this is a battle of top five teams in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but we all expected the top five show down to be the game that is being played later. So that’s fun, almost as fun as the new No. 1 team in the country – Louisville – taking on the team that was the trendy pick to receive that honor after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis – Michigan. And that is before you get into the stuff that doesn’t involve both teams: Like Chris Mack getting Louisville back to a No. 1 ranking in a year and a half, or Juwan Howard coaching the biggest game of his Wolverine tenure less than a month in.

This is what sports talk radio dreams of.

And then there is the actual matchup itself, which is even more interesting.

For me, the guy that nerds out about this stuff, the key to this game is going to come down to two things, and both involve Zavier Simpson.

Let’s start with the offensive side of the ball for Michigan, where Howard has really not changed all that much in terms of what Michigan does. He’s added some of his own wrinkles and flavor into the Michigan offense, but the truth is that the Wolverines are still one of the most ball-screen reliant teams in college basketball, and they are still running quite a few of the same sets that Beilein brought with him to Ann Arbor.

And they are great at this. I’ve mentioned it over and over again in the last week. Simpson and Jon Teske are both really good at what they are asked to do in ball-screens, and when you surround them with guys that are making 50 percent of their threes … good luck.

Where this gets interesting is that Chris Mack is, along with Tony Bennett and Sean Miller, one of the foremost proponents of the Pack-Line Defense in college basketball, and one of the tenets of the Pack-Line is hedging ball-screens hard. This is, in theory, the exact opposite of the way you want to defend someone like Simpson, whose shooting is not exactly a strength but who is an exceptional passer. We’ll see how that plays out.

On the other side of the ball, the biggest question mark for the Cardinals this season is and always has been the point guard spot. Freshman David Johnson is back, but he’s playing limited minutes, which means that it is still Darius Perry leading the way with Fresh Kimble working as his primary backup. None of that is ideal when going up against an on-ball defender like Simpson, especially when Michigan is one of the teams in the country that can match up with both Louisville’s size and athleticism.

Another key: The matchup at the four. Isaiah Livers is bigger, strong and more athletic than Jordan Nwora, but Nwora has beaten guys that are bigger, stronger and more athletic before.

But to be frank, at this point in the year, I think that a lot of that matchup stuff can be thrown out the window. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in college basketball and he has a staff that can tweak what they do to tailer it to a specific game-plan.

And while I think Michigan is the best team in the country, they did play three games in three days over the Thanksgiving holiday, and after flying home from the Bahamas have to turn around and fly into Louisville. That’s strenuous.

PICK: This line opened at Michigan (+7) and is already down to Michigan (+5.5) as of this writing. It will be interesting to see where it ends up closing. I would probably lean Michigan (+5.5).

No. 10 DUKE at No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE, 9:30 p.m. ET

  • SPREAD: Michigan State (-6)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 76.25, Duke 70.25
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 75, Duke 70
  • TICKETS: Click here

I think that Michigan State should be able to win pretty easily here, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

Michigan State runs a ton of ball-screens, and Duke has struggled to defend those actions this year, especially against Stephen F. Austin. Michigan State has the size inside to deal with Vernon Carey. Duke does not have the shooting to spread them out the way that Virginia Tech did.

But the biggest concern for Michigan State here is not how they matchup with Duke, it’s whether or not Tom Izzo will buy into the way they need to play if they want to be at their best. Duke is, at the very least, going to try and spread them out, and if Izzo insists on playing Thomas Kithier, Julian Marble and Marcus Bingham at the four, I think he’ll be playing a suboptimal lineup. For my money, Michigan State’s best five will have Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry on the floor with two of Rocket Watts, Kyle Ahrens and Gabe Brown.

We’ll see how often we see that group.

PICK: Michigan State has already gone from (-5) to (-6). Get it as quick as possible.

No. 3 Maryland rallies from 15 down, beats Illinois 59-58

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Anthony Cowan Jr. made a free throw with 2.1 seconds left and No. 3 Maryland erased a 15-point deficit in the second half to rally past Illinois 59-58 Saturday in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

The Terrapins (10-0, 1-0 Big Ten) didn’t lead after halftime until Cowan’s free throw but still matched their best start since winning 10 straight to open the 1998-99 season.

Cowan collected a steal in the closing seconds of a tie game and was fouled in a scrum by guard Andres Feliz. Cowan made the first free throw and missed the second. Illinois (6-3, 0-1) failed to get a shot off in the remaining time.

Cowan had 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Jalen Smith (14 points, 13 rebounds) recorded his sixth double-double of the season for Maryland.

Trent Frazier scored 13 points for Illinois, which nearly claimed its first road victory over a top-five team since 1989. The Fighting Illini have lost 15 consecutive road games against ranked teams and six straight conference openers.

Illinois led 39-25 at halftime and briefly pushed its lead to 15 in the second half, but Maryland gradually clawed back.

Donta Scott’s basket with 1:45 remaining got Maryland within 57-55, and Frazier split two free throws 2 seconds later. It remained a three-point game until Cowan hit a deep 3-pointer with 29.8 seconds remaining.

The 14-point halftime hole was the largest Maryland has erased since coming back from a 15-point deficit at the break in an 80-78 defeat of Bucknell on Nov. 18, 2017.


Illinois: After allowing Miami to shoot 59.3% while dropping an 81-79 decision Monday, the Illini were far sharper on defense. It wasn’t enough to avoid enduring a second consecutive one-possession loss.

Maryland: The Terps once again turned in a stellar second half to remain perfect on the season. Maryland has defeated Marquette, Notre Dame and Illinois in a seven-day span.


Maryland avoided joining No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Virginia and No. 7 North Carolina as highly ranked teams to stumble this week. The Terps will likely remain in the top three when the next poll is released Monday.


Illinois: The Illini host Michigan on Wednesday for their Big Ten home opener. Illinois has lost four in a row and 14 of 16 to the Wolverines.

Maryland: The Terrapins travel Tuesday to Penn State, where they have lost in each of the last three seasons.

No. 8 Kentucky rolls Fairleigh Dickinson, 600th win at Rupp

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — EJ Montgomery scored a career-high 25 points, forward Keion Brooks added 15 off the bench and No. 8 Kentucky dominated Fairleigh Dickinson 83-52 on Saturday for its 600th victory at Rupp Arena.

The 6-foot-10 Montgomery made 12 of 16 from the field, including several dunks to surpass his previous scoring best of 16 on Nov. 29 against UAB.

Forward Nick Richards, at 6-11, had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (7-1), whose 19-2 run over 6:11 in the first half built a 43-23 halftime lead. Kentucky shot 52% and held the Knights (2-6) to 33% shooting, outrebounded them 42-33 and owned nearly statistic for their fifth consecutive victory after a week off.

The Wildcats became the fastest school to reach 600 wins in an arena in NCAA history. Kentucky achieved the milestone at the 43-year-old building named after coach Adolph Rupp in 670 games, surpassing the pace of UCLA (689 games at Pauley Pavilion) and Kansas (699 at Allen Fieldhouse) .

Kaleb Bishop had 12 points for the Knights, who led only in the early minutes. The Northeast Conference school was coming off Tuesday’s 78-77 win over Quinnipiac that ended a five-game losing streak.


Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights couldn’t follow up their 50% shooting against Quinnipiac beyond the first couple of baskets as Kentucky’s defense disrupted their flow. They certainly were no match against the taller Wildcats inside, resulting in lopsided gaps in rebounding and paint scoring respectively.

Kentucky: The Wildcats emerged from the week-long break sharper and crisper, especially on defense. At times there were three players battling for rebounds, and they forced eight turnovers in the first half alone. Montgomery’s growing offensive confidence showed with several jumpers and aggression inside. Brooks, a freshman forward, took off in the second half for a career high as well.


This victory likely won’t change Kentucky’s position in the rankings.


Fairleigh Dickinson visits St. Peter’s on Wednesday.

Kentucky hosts Georgia Tech on Dec. 14 as it faces Power Five opponents for the remainder of the season.

No. 23 Villanova holds off St. Joseph’s run, wins 78-66

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PHILADELPHIA — Villanova nearly came undone completing an exhausting stretch of three games in six days against regional rivals.

Instead, the Wildcats found a final burst of energy, and that spoiled a frantic rally by their Main Line neighbors.

Saddiq Bey scored 22 points, Collin Gillespie had 20 and No. 23 Villanova held off a second-half comeback from Saint Joseph’s to win 78-66 Saturday.

Villanova (7-2) led 41-25 at halftime, but Saint Joseph’s Ryan Daly scored 22 of his 32 points after halftime to get the Hawks within 65-62 with 4:03 left. The Wildcats responded with a 13-4 run to end it.

“This will be good for us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve gone through a really tough stretch here, and we really haven’t had a chance to practice. Now, we’ll get a gap where we can work on some things. And it’s always good when you can work on it after a win.”

Justin Moore added 14 points and Jermaine Samuels had 12 for Villanova. The Wildcats have won 28 of 29 against Big 5 opponents since 2012.

The Hawks have lost seven straight overall and eight consecutive against Villanova since 2011. Daly was the only Saint Joseph’s player with more than eight points.

“I’d much rather not had the 32 points if we ended up winning the game,” Daly said. “That was the most important thing, and it didn’t happen.”

Saint Joseph’s got within three on two occasions in the second half, including after Daly’s two free throws with 4:08 left.

The Wildcats pulled away thanks to 8-for-8 shooting from the foul line in the last 2:11.

“We had a lot of tough games like this last year that helped us out,” Bey said. “These games help you mature.”


Villanova: After a 2-0 week and winning three straight over Big 5 opponents, Villanova will likely remain in the AP Top 25 somewhere around their current ranking. The team has two games — Saturday against Delaware in Newark, a Dec. 21 home game against Kansas — before starting Big East play on Dec. 30 against Xavier.

Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks — in their first season under coach Billy Lange — showed some signs of life despite poor shooting.

“There are no such things as moral victories,” Lange said. “However, I’ve kept a notebook that asks if we played hard that I fill out when I get into my car or on the bus after a game. And clearly, we did that today against a national championship program.”


Villanova: The Wildcats are off until next Saturday when they play Delaware in the Never Forget Tribute at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks travel to Temple on Tuesday night.

Wesson, No. 6 Ohio State unload on Penn State 106-74

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson scored 28 points and had 10 rebounds for his ninth career double-double, helping No. 6 Ohio State rout Penn State 106-74 on Saturday.

Ohio State scored 100 points against a Big Ten rival for the first time since 1991.

Four players hit double figures for the Buckeyes (9-0, 1-0 Big Ten), who shot 57.4 percent from the field. Andre Wesson scored 15, and sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad each had 14.

Izaiah Brockington scored 19 points and Seth Lundy added 10 for the Nittany Lions (7-2, 0-1), who lost for the second time in four games and gave up 100 points for the first time since 2017. Penn State managed just 25 rebounds, far below its average of 44.

Senior Lamar Stevens, Penn State’s leading scorer averaging 17.9 points, managed just 11 against the Buckeyes and fouled out after getting a technical with 13:26 left in the second half.

Ohio State started the first half 1 for 6 from beyond the arc, but started draining 3-pointers in the second half, hitting 14 of 26 for 53.8 percent for the game. The Buckeyes were led by Washington, who hit four straight and Kaleb Wesson who shot 4 for 6 from long range, including three straight in the second half. Ohio State now has back-to-back games with 10 or more 3-pointers.


Penn State: After showing early promise, Lions ran into Ohio State’s potent offense.

Ohio State: Solidified its standing as a Top 10 team, dominating every facet of the game and dispatching Penn State with ease.


Penn State: At Maryland Tuesday.

Ohio State: At Minnesota Dec. 15.

Balanced effort leads No. 24 Butler past Florida 76-62

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INDIANAPOLIS — Sean McDermott and Aaron Thompson each scored 16 points to lead No. 24 Butler to a 76-62 win over Florida on Saturday.

Thompson made 6 of 7 shots and delivered seven assists. McDermott contributed a team-high seven rebounds.

Jordan Tucker added 13 points off the bench for the Bulldogs (9-0). Kamar Baldwin, who was averaging a team-high 17.5 points for Butler, scored 12 points.

Baldwin picked up two fouls in the first 3-plus minutes of the game and was limited to 11 minutes in the first half. The senior guard finished with three fouls.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. led Florida (6-3) with 17 points. Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke each scored 11.

The Bulldogs shot 52% percent while holding the Gators to 44%. Butler made 9 of 20 3-pointers while Florida was 6 of 21. Each team had 10 turnovers.

The Gators, who trailed by nine at halftime, narrowed the deficit to six points twice before the Bulldogs pulled away. Butler’s largest lead was 19 points at 61-42 with 7:33 remaining.

Butler finished the first half with a 19-5 run to take a 35-26 lead at halftime. Trailing 21-16, the Bulldogs had an 11-0 run.

Butler owns the nation’s longest streak of consecutive non-conference home victories at 56.


Florida: After a solid start on the road, the Gators’ four-game winning streak end with a thud. Entering the game with a 30% average from 3-point range, Florida shot 23%.

Butler: The Bulldogs won their third meeting with an SEC opponent in the last four games, previously beating Missouri 63-52 in the Hall of Fame Classic on Nov. 24 and host Mississippi 67-58 Tuesday.


Florida: Home game against another Big East opponent Providence on Dec. 17.

Butler: Travels to No. 18 Baylor on Tuesday.