Best Bets: Kentucky-Auburn, Texas Tech-Kansas and a weekend preview

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Saturday’s line 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.

No. 13 KENTUCKY at No. 17 AUBURN, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Auburn 72, Kentucky 69
  • TORVIK: Auburn 72, Kentucky 69
  • HASLAM: Auburn 74, Kentucky 69

For my money, there are two guys that are talented enough to be able to takeover a game for the Wildcats: Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey. Auburn has guys at both of those spots — Austin Wiley and Isaac Okoro — that will be able to slow them down.

Combine that with the fact that Auburn has been a much better team at home this season, and that makes me believe that the Tigers can win this won by multiple possessions.

BEST BET: I like Auburn up to (-4.5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The line opened at Auburn (-2.5) and is not at Auburn (-3). I’ll be on the Tigers.

TEXAS TECH at No. 3 KANSAS, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 70, Texas Tech 58
  • TORVIK: Kansas 71, Texas Tech 59
  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Texas Tech 55

I don’t think that I’ve gotten one Texas Tech game right this season, but we’re going right back to the well this weekend.

And if I’m going to be forced to bet a side here, I’m going to be on The Red Raiders, especially if that line opens above the (+12) that KenPom and Torvik are projecting. The reason for that has everything to do with the way that I expect the Red Raiders to defend. When Baylor beat Kansas in the Phog earlier this year, what they did was switch everything, slough off of weakside shooters, front the post and essentially double-team Udoka Azubuike before he even got a chance to touch the ball. Much of what Scott Drew did that day was taken from the Texas Tech playbook, and I don’t know if there is a coach in the country that is better at building a game-plan defensively than Chris Beard and his staff.

That said, I also think that Kansas is going to be able to slow the Red Raiders down. I don’t expect them to make 11 of their first 15 threes again, as they did against West Virginia because of what Kansas has been on the defensive side of the ball this season. They’ve been at their best playing small, switching 1-4, icing ball-screens and using Azubuike to zone up around the rim.

BEST BET: So I’m going to be back on the under here assuming the total opens above 127.5.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line is currently sitting at Kansas (-8.5), which seems too low. I like the Jayhawks here. The total is all the way up at 131.5, which means that the under is still my favorite play.

No. 14 MICHIGAN STATE at WISCONSIN, Sat. 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 66, Wisconsin 65
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 65, Wisconsin 63
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 66, Wisconsin 61

I’m really going to be fascinated to see where this line opens up. The projections that I trust the most — KenPom and Torvik — both have Michigan State as small favorites. Haslam has Michigan State (-5), and given the narrative surrounding the Wisconsin program this week, I think that the public will likely be fading the Badgers here.

Michigan State won their most recent road game. Wisconsin has lost three of their last four, with the only win coming at home against Nebraska. The Badgers will be down two starters. And I think it’s worth noting that the Badgers have lost seven straight games to the Spartans; their last win came on Jan. 17, 2016, when Denzel Valentine was in the middle of his Player of the Year season.

BEST BET: I get why everyone will be on the Spartans. If the line opens at Michigan State (-2), I’ll be on them as well. But I have a feeling this is going to be closer to Michigan State (-6) or so, and I’ll feel much less comfortable betting them at that number.

I can’t see myself betting Wisconsin at any reasonable number here, but I probably will stay away from the Spartans at anything (-5.5) and above.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The line is currently at Michigan State (-5.5). If forced to pick, I would bet on Michigan State, but I will not be betting on this game, personally.

UTAH STATE at No. 4 SAN DIEGO STATE, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: San Diego State 70, Utah State 59
  • TORVIK: San Diego State 69, Utah State 59
  • HASLAM: San Diego State 68, Utah State 56

The Aggies have been playing much better basketball of late. They’ve won three in a row and four of their last five, and the one loss during that stretch came in a game where they blew an 18 point lead in four minutes on the road.

Sam Merrill looks healthier. Neemias Queta is back at 100 percent. They look much more like the top 25 team that they were in the preseason, and at this point, this is a must-win game if the Aggies want a shot at getting an at-large bid. This is their last chance at an elite win this season.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Aggies here, particularly if the line gets as high as (+12). I like them all the way down to (+10).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Oddly enough, Utah State is only getting (+7.5). At this point, I think the value is probably on San Diego State, but I still like the Utah State side. That means it’s a stay-away for me.

No. 21 HOUSTON at CINCINNATI, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Cincinnati 69, Houston 68
  • TORVIK: Cincinnati 69, Houston 67
  • HASLAM: Cincinnati 67, Houston 65

Cincinnati has won three in a row and five of their last six games to move within a game of first place in the American. In those six games, Jarron Cumberland is averaging 18.3 points and 5.7 assists. With losses to Bowling Green, Colgate and Tulane on their resume, the Bearcats have a major hole to dig out of to get an at-large bid.

BEST BET: Here’s to hoping we can get Cincinnati at a pick-em. I like the Bearcats up to (-2.5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Cincinnati is at (-3) right now. If forced to pick, I’d take the Bearcats at home in a must-win scenario, but I will not be betting it myself.

No. 23 WICHITA STATE at TULSA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Tulsa 65, Wichita State 64
  • TORVIK: Wichita State 64, Tulsa 63
  • HASLAM: Wichita State 65, Tulsa 64

Wichita State has righted the ship after losing two straight earlier this month, but the key point to make here for me is that they have had a week off to prep for this game. The reason that Tulsa is so difficult to play against is because Frank Haith is running a 1-2-2 matchup zone that is difficult to run offense against and is unlike what you’re going to see most teams do.

Gregg Marshall and the Shockers have had a full week off to prep for this game. I trust that he’ll be able to figure something out for them.

BEST BET: I like Wichita State here. If they’re getting points I’ll be on the ML. If they’re giving points, I’ll bet them up to (-2.5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Wichita State is (-2), so I’ll be on the Shockers.

No. 19 ILLINOIS at No. 18 IOWA, Sun. 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Iowa 76, Illinois 71
  • TORVIK: Iowa 76, Illinois 71
  • HASLAM: Iowa 75, Illinois 70

The big question with this game is going to be whether or not you think Kofi Cockburn is going to be able to stay out of foul trouble. Luka Garza has drawn nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes this season — a number that jumps up to 8.0 in Big Ten play — and Cockburn has had some issues with fouling this season. But where he really struggles is when he is asked to defend away from the basket, whether it is against big men that are quicker than him or offenses that like to run ball-screens. That’s not really the case in this matchup.

If Cockburn can stay out of foul trouble, than it means that the one player that is bigger, stronger and more physical than Garza in the Big Ten will stay on the floor. It also means that the third-best offensive rebounder in the Big Ten will be able to attack the glass against a team that has played quite a bit of zone of late.

BEST BET: Assuming the line opens up at Iowa (-5), I think I lean the Hawkeyes. They are coming off of a road loss to Maryland and have not lost at home since Nov. 11th. Illinois has won seven in a row — five of which have been by single digits, and four by four points or less — and while they have won three straight road games, they do get Maryland and Michigan State at home next week.

So yes, I’ll buy low on the Hawkeyes playing in a potential lookahead spot for Illinois in a game where so much of it could hinge on whether or not the Big Ten Player of the Year gets a favorable whistle at home.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.