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Best Bets: Where is the value in college basketball this weekend?

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Friday night’s lines have been released, but Saturday’s have not yet been put out by the fine folks running sportsbooks. Until they are, we will be using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to analyze Saturday’s games.

FRIDAY

No. 13 DAYTON (-7) at SAINT LOUIS, 137.5 (7:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Dayton 73, Saint Louis 65
  • TORVIK: Dayton 73, Saint Louis 64
  • HASLAM: Dayton 76, Saint Louis 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Dayton 72.25, Saint Louis 65.25

I love this Dayton team. They are so efficient and so hard to guard on the offensive end of the floor because of their spacing, they number of quality perimeter weapons that they have and the fact that Anthony Grant has implemented a pro-style offense with a roster of upperclassmen.

Oh, and they happen to have this guy, Obi Toppin, who just so happens to be a perfect fit at the five for what they want to run.

But I think I lean Saint Louis here. Chaifetz Arena is always a tough place to play, and the Billikens have been playing well of late. They have talent, too, and they have traditionally been one of the better defensive teams in the Atlantic 10 under Travis Ford. They also happen to have Hasahn French on the roster, and he is about as good of a matchup as you can ask for with Toppin. They can play small, and they actually do have some high-level talent on the roster — Jordan Goodwin is a first-team all-Atlantic 10 player.

BEST BET: Here’s the catch: Saint Louis (+7) feels like a very sharp line. At (+6.5), I think there’s an argument to be made that the value is on Dayton. So I’ll probably stay away unless it gets to (+7.5) or, ideally, (+8).

WISCONSIN at No. 15 MICHIGAN STATE (-9.5), 130.5 (7:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 62
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 68, Wisconsin 62
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 61
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 70, Wisconsin 60.5

Michigan State is the play for me here. They’re in a perfect spot. Wisconsin has won two games in a row and six of their last seven, they are coming off of a somewhat fluky win over Maryland at home on Tuesday night and now have to turn around and head on the road to take on the best team in the league.

The Spartans?

They were just humiliated at Purdue, losing by 29 points in Mackey Arena, before having a full week off to prep for the Badgers.

BEST BET: I liked this line significantly more when it opened at Michigan State (-8), but I think the Spartans run away with this so I will be on Sparty (-9.5), as well.

No. 19 MICHIGAN at IOWA (-4.5), 149.5 (9:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Iowa 76, Michigan 72
  • TORVIK: Iowa 76, Michigan 72
  • HASLAM: Iowa 76, Michigan 71
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa 77, Michigan 72.5

The last time these two teams got together, Iowa beat Michigan 103-91 in a game where the Hawkeyes got 44 points from Luka Garza. After that game, the Hawkeyes ranked 175th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

Since that game, Iowa has ranked 28th nationally in AdjDE. The under has hit in seven of their last eight games. The total in this game opened at 148, spiked at 151 and has come down to 149.5.

Should I mention that Isaiah Livers, Michigan’s leading scorer and most talented player, is not going to be available?

BEST BET: I like Iowa (-4.5). I love under 149.5. I would probably take the under all the way down to 147, which is the lowest total among any of the projections I use.

SATURDAY

No. 3 DUKE at No. 11 LOUISVILLE, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Duke 72, Louisville 64
  • TORVIK: Duke 71, Louisville 64
  • HASLAM: Duke 76, Louisville 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The biggest game of the weekend feels like a prime bounceback spot for Duke.

The Blue Devils are coming off of a loss at Clemson on Tuesday night where their perimeter defense was exposed. The Tigers played four guards and a perimeter-oriented five in Aamir Simms that pulled Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt away from the paint and made them guard in space. It did not go well.

Louisville is playing their third-straight road game, and the first two were not exactly statement wins. The Cardinals blew a double-digit lead at Notre Dame in a 67-64 win and they needed overtime (and this controversial call) to beat Pitt.

The kicker here is that Louisville cannot spread the floor the way that Miami can — they typically always have one low-post banger on the court in Steve Enoch and Malik Williams — and their questionable point guard play has been an issue in every game they’re lost. Tre Jones is as good of a defender at the point of attack as anyone.

BEST BET: We’ll see where the line opens, but if you can get Duke (-8.5) or lower, that seems pretty tasty.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Duke opened at (-7) and is still available at (-7.5) for me. This is my favorite bet of the day.

No. 10 KENTUCKY at ARKANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arkansas 69, Kentucky 66
  • TORVIK: Arkansas 69, Kentucky 65
  • HASLAM: Arkansas 73, Kentucky 65
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is the toughest game on Saturday’s slate to get a good feel for. Kentucky is coming off of a loss at South Carolina where they held a big lead early in the second half and choked it away on a banked-in, buzzer-beating three.

Arkansas, on the other hand, is 14-2 on the season and their two losses have come on the road at LSU by two and at Western Kentucky in overtime (before WKU’s best player hurt his knee).

The Razorbacks basically run everything through Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones offensively, and I do think that Kentucky has the perimeter defenders to be able to deal with them, but I think it’s worth noting that Arkansas is the best in the country at running opponents off of the three-point line and Kentucky has been shooting the three at a 41.4 percent clip in SEC play, which leads the league.

BEST BET: I lean Arkansas (-3) here, and I will take a gander at the under if it gets to 139 or higher. If you want to bet on Kentucky, take the ML.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The total here opened at 137.5, so I will be on the under.

BYU at NO. 1 GONZAGA, 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 82, BYU 73
  • TORVIK: Gonzaga 81, BYU 73
  • HASLAM: Gonzaga 87, BYU 73
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

I felt like I needed to mention this game because BYU is probably the second-best team in the Mountain West and, when they have a healthy Yoeli Childs, might be a top 25 team nationally.

The problem is that they don’t have a healthy Yoeli Childs, and that creates a bit of a problem when projecting this line.

I do think that BYU has the horses to run with Gonzaga even without him, and their ability to shoot and space the floor could give a bigger Gonzaga team some issues. The Cougars have also had some success playing at Gonzaga in past seasons — they won in the Kennel in 2015, 2016 and 2017. So I’m not necessarily going to get scared of by the opponent here.

BEST BET: It’s impossible to say without knowing where the line is going to open, so check back on Saturday morning when we have that info.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: BYU (+13) is not going to feel comfortable, but I think we have to take the points here.

No. 20 COLORADO at ARIZONA, 2:30 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arizona 73, Colorado 68
  • TORVIK: Arizona 71, Colorado 67
  • HASLAM: Arizona 70, Colorado 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Both Colorado and Arizona played late on Thursday night, meaning that there will be a 36-hour turnaround between games, which makes me lean towards the home team.

I also think it’s worth noting that these two teams have been trending in opposite directions. Prior to beating Utah on Thursday night, Arizona has lost four of their last five and five of their last seven and were coming off of a sweep at the Oregon schools. Colorado, on the other hand, is currently sitting in second place in the Pac-12 race.

BEST BET: Assuming this line opens at Arizona (-4.5), I think the value is on the Wildcats. Playing two road games in three days is never easy, and you know the McKale Center is going to be rocking with a ranked team coming to town.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: At Arizona (-6), I am going to stay away. If you have to bet this, I like the Arizona side more.

PURDUE at No. 17 MARYLAND, 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 62, Purdue 58
  • TORVIK: Maryland 59, Purdue 58
  • HASLAM: Maryland 59, Purdue 56
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a perfect spot play.

Maryland has lost their last two games on the road, the latter of which was an L because of a fluky turnover with 12 seconds left in a game the Terps were leading. Purdue, on the other hand, is riding high after they beat Michigan State by 29 points at home.

The Boilermakers are 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten this season and also lost at Marquette. Maryland is 0-4 on the road but they have not lost at home this season.

BEST BET: If the line is Maryland (-4), I love it. If the line is lower than that, I love it even more.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Maryland opened at (-5) and has moved to (-5.5). The Terps are my second-favorite bet of the day.

Race and Sports in America: Steph Curry, Charles Barkley on impact of George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter

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Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley were among the athletes that say down and spoke with NBC about the intersection of sports and race in America.

The Black Lives Matter movement reached a crescendo in late May, when a police officer knelt on the neck of a Minneapolis man named George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating him while knowingly being recorded. The murder, which followed the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbary, set off weeks of riots and has led to two months of protest across the country and around the world.

Race and Sports in America: Conversations is a one-hour show with two segments that debuts on NBCSN on Monday, July 13 at 8 pm ET.

It will be simulcast on Golf Channel, Olympic Channel, and the regional sports networks. Along with Curry and Barkley, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, San Diego Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, golfer Troy Mullins, tennis player James Blake, former Saint Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis participated in the discussions.

Below, you can find an excerpt of Barkley and Curry discussing the way they are treated by white America as famous, Black athletes.


DAMON HACK:  It’s interesting.  You guys have all played at the highest level.  You’ve had people that would cheer for you when you were in uniform.  But if you were walking down the street and not wearing your uniform and you had a hoodie on, they might look at you a little bit different.

How do you navigate that?

CHARLES BARKLEY:  The notion that rich and famous Black people are treated like regular Black people, that’s not right.  We get treated great.  But I always worry about how we treat poor Black people.

You know, there’s a great thing  and Spike Lee, who I really admire and respect  in that movie, “Do The Right Thing,” that’s a perfect illustration what Ozzie is talking about, what I’m talking about, when the guy says, you know, you hate Black people.  He says, yeah, I hate Black people.  He says, who is your favorite entertainer.  He says Michael Jackson.  He says, who is your favorite jock.  He says, Michael Jordan.  He’s says, they’re Black.  And he said, well, they’re not “Black.”

And that’s the disadvantage that us four we’re at a disadvantage because White people treat us great.  And, like I say, I’m not worried about how they treat us because it really comes down to economics, too, at some point, because rich Black people aren’t treated like poor Black people.  And that’s the thing we’ve got to really engage conversation.

How can we get more Black people and poor White people also, but they’re in the same boat, give them economic opportunity.  That’s what America’s really got to grapple with.

STEPH CURRY:  I think one thing you said, too, is the preconceived notions of how they view rich, successful Black people as anomalies and our intelligence and our well spokenness, that’s always the first thing you hear.  If somebody knows how to be articulate, if they know how to

ALL:  So well spoken.

STEPH CURRY:  Come into a room  that’s the subtle racism and prejudice that kind of starts to add on itself.  And if another White person hears that comment, they’re going to think the same thing.  And it’s not going to trickle down to anybody else, and be able to create opportunities for somebody else to get that in that room and prove their value, prove their worth.

It’s just shifting perspectives and, again, holding everybody accountable whether it’s a private conversation, whether it’s a tweet, whether it’s a video.  Whatever it is, to do the right thing, no pun intended, but to see everybody as equal and that’s all we’re asking for.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.