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Best Bets: Previewing your college hoops weekend

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The Vegas lines for these games were not released at the time of this publishing. Score projections from KenPomTorvik and Haslametrics were used in their stead. 

No. 16 WEST VIRGINIA at No. 3 KANSAS, Sat. 4:00 (ESPN+)

  • KENPOM: Kansas 75, West Virginia 65
  • TORVIK: Kansas 76, West Virginia 65
  • HASLAMETRICS: Kansas 76, West Virginia 61

Assuming this line opens with West Virginia getting double digits, then I think that we have to be on the Mountaineers here.

For starters, they actually have the size inside to be able to matchup with Kansas. Udoka Azubuike is a monster, and while I don’t think that Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver are going to do enough to stop him, I do think that they will make life really difficult for the big fella. They are second nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage and 15th nationally in two-point field goal percentage defense.

Another reason that they are so good defensively is the fact that they can force turnovers. They’re not quite at the Press Virginia level because they don’t play that way anymore, but they to turn opponents over on 21 percent of their possessions. Kansas has had turnover issues this season.

The mitigating factor here is that Kansas not only has the size to be able to matchup with a two-big look from West Virginia, but they can also go small and pull Culver away from the bucket, where he can be foul prone. I’m also somewhat worried about foul issues. It’s not exactly a secret that Kansas is going to get a friendly whistle in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and we just saw the Mountaineers get whistled for roughly 689 fouls in their win against Ohio State.

BEST BET: All that said, if the line opens up at (+10) or higher, then I think we have to be on West Virginia. They are too good to be getting 10 points against anyone. I’m also intrigued by the under here, especially if it is 140 or above. These are two top ten defenses facing off, although the foul issues could create problems in that regard.

*UPDATE: The line opened at Kansas (-9) and is now Kansas (-9.5) or (-10). That’s just too many points. I think the play here is West Virginia. The total has also moved a point, going up to 141 from 140. I still lean the under, but I don’t feel great about it.

No. 12 MICHIGAN at No. 14 MICHIGAN STATE, Sun. 1:30 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 77, Michigan 70
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 77, Michigan 70
  • HASLAMETRICS: Michigan State 76, Michigan 69

All three metrics have Michigan State favored by seven in this one, but I don’t think the number is going to open that high in Vegas. I do, however, love the Michigan State side in this one, and the truth is that it’s not really anything to do with the matchups, or where the game is being player, or the players on the floor.

The Spartans feel like they have turned a corner. They’ve won their last six games after getting smoked by Duke at home. Five of those six wins were by double-digits. The last three have been absolute blowouts, including Thursday night’s win over Illinois. At (+7), I think I’ll probably stay away and at (+8.8) I think the value might actually be on Michigan, but I don’t expect the line to open quite that high.

The x-factor here is going to be Isaiah Livers. He missed the last game with a groin injury that he suffered against Presbyterian. If he is out, that is a major blow for the Wolverines.

BEST BET: I love Michigan State at anything (-6.5) and below.

No. 18 FLORIDA STATE at No. 7 LOUISVILLE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM: Louisville 70, Florida State 62
  • TORVIK: Louisville 70, Florida State 61
  • HASLAMETRICS: Louisville 70, Florida State 61

All three projections have essentially the same score, which leads me to believe that this line is going to open right around Florida State (+8.5). I think there is value on the Seminoles there. Now, betting on Leonard Hamilton in a road environment against a team that is top five in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency is less than ideal, I think the matchup favors Florida State.

We know Louisville can struggle offensively when dealing with a defense that provides pressure at the point of attack and forces turnovers. That’s precisely what Florida State does. They also have enough big, athletic wings to consistently throw bodies at Jordan Nwora, who has struggled against elite defenses this season.

BEST BET: I’ll take Florida State at anything (+7.5) and below.

*UPDATE: The line opened at Louisville (-7) and was bet down to Louisville (-5.5) in some spots. At that number, I think I lean towards Louisville, but I wouldn’t feel great about it

No. 10 VILLANOVA at MARQUETTE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM: Marquette 77, Villanova 75
  • TORVIK: Villanova 77, Marquette 76
  • HASLAMETRICS: Marquette 79, Villanova 76

I’ve always said that I have betting on Marquette because you are basically betting on whether or not you think Markus Howard is going to go off.

Having said that, this does feel like a bounce back spot for the Golden Eagles after losing to Creighton on Wednesday night. They’re coming home and taking on the team that most believe is the favorite to win the Big East this season. The one mitigating factor here is that I think Villanova has enough versatility to cause problems for Marquette.

BEST BET: If forced to bet, I would lean towards Marquette (-2), but personally, I will be staying away from this one.

*UPDATE: The line opened at Marquette (-2) and is now Marquette (-1) in some spots. Like I said, I lean the Golden Eagles here, but I will not be betting it myself.

No. 23 IOWA vs. No. 21 PENN STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (BTN)

  • KENPOM: Penn State 77, Iowa 76
  • TORVIK: Penn State 78, Iowa 77
  • HASLAMETRICS: Penn State 78, Iowa 76

How are both of these teams ranked? That is one of the wilder story lines of the season.

Either way, I think that the obvious play here is the over. Iowa can’t really stop anyone, and there aren’t really any teams that have been able to stop Iowa this season.

One thing to note is that this game is going to be played in a neutral site that isn’t all that neutral: It’s a league game that is being played at the Palestra in Philly as a Penn State home game.

BEST BET: I’ll take the over on anything (154) and below.

*UPDATE: The total opened at 154.5 and is down to 154, so I’ll be on the over here.

No. 13 SAN DIEGO STATE at UTAH STATE, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • KENPOM: San Diego State 66, Utah State 65
  • TORVIK: San Diego State 66, Utah State 62
  • HASLAMETRICS: San Diego State 65, Utah State 58

This is the proving ground for the Aztecs. They are undefeated on the season and have taken over the role of the favorite in the Mountain West, and on Saturday evening they will be heading to Logan to face off with the team that was picked as the preseason favorite in the league.

This is the statement game. We’ve seen SDSU blowout Creighton, beat Iowa and win at BYU. We know they’re good. This is probably the toughest game they have left on their schedule, and I think they will be up for it.

The x-factor here is Neemias Queta, who has been dealing with knee issues all season long. If he is out there, he will make a difference, but I doubt we’ll get anything close to an answer about that until we see who is warming up for the Aggies.

BEST BET: So much of this is going to depend on the line. If it opens at SDSU (-1), as KenPom suggests, then that’s one thing. If it opens up at SDSU (-7), it’s a much different conversation. Utah State is coming off of a loss in their Mountain West opener, and if they lose to the Aztecs, they’ll be two games behind them in the MWC standings. That might end up being insurmountable.

Playing at elevation on national television in front of what should be a raucous crown with a season title potentially on the line, I think the Aggies win this game.

*UPDATE: So the line here opened with Utah State favored and has moved up to Utah State (-2.5), which is a sharp line. At that number, I think the value is actually on the San Diego State side. The problem with that is I believe the Aggies are going to win. So I probably will not be betting this game. If I do, it will be on Utah State.

No. 4 OREGON at UTAH, Sat. 5:00 p.m. (Pac-12)

  • KENPOM: Oregon 75, Utah 69
  • TORVIK: Oregon 74, Utah 72
  • HASLAMETRICS: Oregon 76, Utah 68

This is a tough spot. Oregon has never lost at Utah. They’ve also never played Utah on the second leg of the Mountain road trip. They’ve also never won the second leg of the Mountain road trip, having been beaten all four times they played at Colorado.

The Ducks also lost at Colorado last night, and this Utah team seems to have turned a corner. This feels like a bounce back spot to me, but you should always be wary of betting against Utah and Colorado at home in league play.

BEST BET: I like Oregon at anything (-4.5) and below, but I will not be betting it myself.

*UPDATE: The line opened at Oregon (-6) and has been bet down to Oregon (-4.5) in some spots. I like Oregon at that number, but I’ll stay away at (-5) and above.

ARIZONA STATE at No. 25 ARIZONA, Sat. 9:30 p.m. (Pac-12)

  • KENPOM: Arizona 80, Arizona State 68
  • TORVIK: Arizona 79, Arizona State 68
  • HASLAMETRICS: Arizona 79, Arizona State 63

This should be a fun, late-night rivalry game in the McKale Center. Both teams like to play an uptempo brand of basketball, but here’s the catch: Arizona State has had trouble scoring the rock this season. They don’t shoot it well from distance, and Arizona is top five in the country is defensive two-point field goal percentage thanks to the Pack-Line defense they play.

My guess is that the total in this game is going to get bet up. A rivalry game played as the opener of league play feels like a good place to fade the steam.

BEST BET: The under, and hope you can get it at (150).

*UPDATE: So the line opened at Arizona (-10), which wasn’t unexpected, but the opened at 146.5 and has held firm there. I will not be betting this game at those numbers.

Illinois’ Alan Griffin ejected for stepping on Purdue player

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Alan Griffin stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic and was ejected on Tuesday night. With Illinois on the road in a crucial Big Ten road game, Griffin was lost for the game midway through the first half.

Griffin turned to run back on defense and clearly stepped on Stefanovic while he was on the ground. Attacking the basket and not getting a call, Stefanovic was on the ground when Griffin stepped on his chest.

Griffin finished scoreless before his ejection.

A 6-foot-5 sophomore, Griffin is a key reserve during Illinois’ resurgent season. Playing 17.9 minutes per game, Griffin is an adequate three-pointer shooter and good rebounder from the wing.

Potentially facing a suspension for his actions, Griffin’s potential absence is something to monitor.

Walter McCarty dismissed as Evansville head coach

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Walter McCarty was fired as Evansville’s head coach on Tuesday night.

The school officially announced the decision after additional reports of alleged misconduct. On administrative leave since Dec. 26, McCarty was under investigation for Title IX violations.

Bennie Seltzer will remain interim head coach.

“While the investigation of potential Title IX violations will continue under University policies, UE has decided that, based on the facts uncovered thus far, it is necessary to terminate Mr. McCarty’s employment immediately,” the release said.

“There is no place at UE for any behavior by any University employee or student that jeopardizes the safety and security of others,”

The statement also said McCarty received “warnings last year regarding inappropriate off-court behavior with members of the campus community.”

The 45-year-old McCarty was in his second season with the Purple Aces. After an 11-21 finish in the first season, Evansville had a promising 9-4 start. Evansville made national news when the beat No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena earlier this season.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Powell vs. Pritchard vs. Howard vs. Toppin

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At this point, I do feel like we have reached a point where there is finally a top tier in the College Basketball Player of the Year race.

Myles Powell. Payton Pritchard. Markus Howard. Obi Toppin. That’s the order that I have it in, but there is a strong and legitimate argument for all four to be No. 1 on this list. I wouldn’t call any of them wrong.

This doesn’t mean that the players from outside those ranks cannot win the award — it is so wide open this year, anyone with a couple of big weeks will be in the mix — but as of this moment in time, those are the likely favorites.

Anyway, here is the definitive Player of the Year power rankings:

1. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

Stats: 22.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 34.9 3PT%

Powell had his best week of the season last week, averaging 29.0 points — including 21.0 points in the second half — as he led the Pirates to a pair of come-from-behind wins at Butler and at Saint John’s. It took Powell a while to get to this point, as he dealt with an ankle injury and a concussion, but there is no questioning the fact that he is the leader and the go-to guy for a Seton Hall team that is currently sitting at No. 10 in the AP poll and in sole possession of first place in the Big East.

And here’s the ironic part in all of this: It took a Powell injury for Seton Hall to really find themselves as a team. They made their leap on Dec. 19th, when the Pirates beat Maryland at home without Powell in the lineup. That’s when the supporting cast found their confidence. That’s when Seton Hall became a team, not just a bunch of guys playing next to Myles Powell.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg, 41.2 3PT%

No one in college basketball has had more, or bigger, moments this season. He scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and overtime, including 15 in the final five minutes, in a win at Michigan. He had 16 points and six assists in a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He hit a number of big shots late as Oregon knocked off Memphis in November, the only game against a quality opponent that James Wiseman played. Then there was Saturday’s game at Washington, when Pritchard hit a 30-footer to tie the game and force overtime then made a pair of big shots in the extra frame, including this ridiculous game-winner:

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He has carried the Ducks this season. He’s the reason this team is a top ten team.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Stats: 28.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 43.1% 3PT, 9.8 3PAs

The numbers themselves are ridiculous.

Howard is leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points. He’s shooting better than 43 percent from three on nearly 10 threes attempted per game. He’s doing it while posting a significantly higher offensive rating than Myles Powell and a significantly higher usage rate than Payton Pritchard.

To put his season into context, there is one other high-major player since 1992 that has made better than 42 percent of his threes while shooting more than nine threes per game: J.J. Redick during his college basketball Player of the Year season in 2005-06. Stephen Curry did the same during the 2007-08 season, when he led Davidson to within one shot of the Final Four.

Markus Howard has been the most lethal offensive weapon in college basketball, and if Marquette was a title contender this season, he’s easily be No. 1 on this list.

4. OBI TOPPIN, Dayton

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 35.3% 3PT

What Obi Toppin provides for Dayton cannot be overstated. He’s putting up massive numbers this season, and he’s doing it while being the piece that makes everything Anthony Grant wants to run work so well. The breakdown below explains it all:

The thing that’s tough about placing Toppin on this list is that he is not the go-to guy for Dayton. Jalen Crutcher is going to be the player that takes and makes all of the big shots. See: Kansas, when he forced overtime, and Saint Louis, when he won the game in overtime.

But the reason Dayton is in a position to do things like take Kansas to overtime, get ranked in the top ten and have a shot at winning a national title is because of what Toppin opens up for them every possession other than the final one.

He may not have the moments we all remember, but Dayton is as good as they because of him. That matters.

5. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Garza has been relentless this season, and he is absolutely one of the most improved players in the country. The reason that he’s just outside the top four, for me, is because of the defensive side of the ball. I talk through that more in this piece.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Stats: 18.1 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.4 rpg

Winston has been really, really good this year. He has not been quite as good as expected — he was the consensus preseason college basketball player of the year — and neither has Michigan State, which hurts him a bit. I think he’ll be back in the mix by the time the season ends, particularly if the Spartans play their way back into being one of the nation’s elite teams.

7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

Stats: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 38.1% 3PT

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the sophomore point guard is the best player on the best team in college basketball. That’s worth something in the Player of the Year race.

8. JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 42.7% 3PT

On the plus side, Louisville once again looks like a team that can win the ACC, get to a Final Four and win a national title now that David Johnson has taken the point guard reins, and Nwora is unquestionably the best player on the roster. On the down side, he really hasn’t shown up in Louisville’s biggest games. That’s a delicate balance.

9. VERNON CAREY, Duke

Stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Carey looked like a much bigger player in this race before Duke lost two games last week in large part due to the ability to Miami and Louisville to expose Carey on the defensive end of the floor. Coach K has fixed issues like this before. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve this year.

10. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

Stats: 16.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 40.4% 3PT

Malachi Flynn is the best player, the leader, of the only team in college basketball that remains undefeated. And the reason they are still undefeated is because of him: It was his three that allowed the Aztecs to avoid defeat at the hands of San Jose State back in December.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.

Chris Mack: David Johnson’s shoulder ‘is fine’

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The biggest concern coming out of Louisville’s win at Duke on Saturday evening was the status of David Johnson’s shoulder.

Johnson was the best player on the floor for Louisville, finishing with 19 points, seven assists, four boards, three steals and two blocks as the Cardinals landed a much-needed win in Cameron. But with three minutes left in the game, he landed on his surgically-repaired left shoulder and had to leave the game. He returned to the bench, but he did not return to the game.

Head coach Chris Mack did not seem overly concerned about the injury after the game, and he confirmed as much in a conference call on Monday.

“The shoulder is fine,” Mack said. “He’s just a little sore, but he’ll practice the next couple of days and we fully expect him to play on Wednesday.”