It may seem at times that it would take 10 defenders to corral Duke star Zion Williamson. It took something close to that to sideline him Saturday.
Williamson missed the second half of No. 1 Dukes 80-78 win over No. 13 Florida State after experiencing double vision following being poked in the eye, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
“I’m not saying it was intentional,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, per the News & Observer, regarding FSU’s Trent Forrest catching Williamson in the face. “But he got poked right in the eye. He’s better now. So hopefully he’ll be able to play on Monday. But that’s a big loss. It’s a big loss. For this game? Are you kidding? Especially with the athleticism we were facing.”
The Blue Devils were able to survive Williamson’s absence thanks to Cam Reddish delivering a game-winning 3-pointer with under 1 second remaining, but spent much of the second half with Williamson on the bench eyeing a second loss.
The good news for the Blue Devils and WIlliamson is that he did not experience headaches after the incident and already had clear vision following the game, according to the News & Observer. That would seem to be a good indication that Williamson will be back on the court sooner rather than later, but Duke has a quick turnaround with a home game Monday against Syracuse. Williamson entered the game Saturday averaging 20.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Perhaps more notably, the Blue Devils have a home date with No. 4 Virginia next Saturday. It’s a loss for college basketball if Williamson can’t go for that one.
If Williamson is sidelined for any length of time, that hurts Duke, which will have to soldier through with just three five-star freshmen and likely first-round picks. It’s nice to have backup plans.
Best Bets: Eight top ten teams on the road, which underdogs have a chance to win?
The No. 1 team in the country is heading down to Tallahassee to take on a top 15 team, and they are one of eight top ten teams that will be playing on the road this weekend.
One of those games is a rivalry game. Two of them involve elite mid-major teams visiting the second-best team in their league. Two elite Big 12 defenses face-off while Kansas takes another road trip in the league. Indiana tests themselves at Maryland. Myles Powell vs. Markus Howard. And, surprisingly enough, a battle between two Mississippi schools that carries quite a bit of weight.
But the game of the weekend is the features a pair of teams that reached last year’s Elite Eight, one of whom has an entirely new roster and the other who returned basically everyone from a season ago.
As always, this column is running on Friday morning. The official Vegas lines will not come out until Friday night or Saturday morning, so we will be using projections from KenPom and Haslametrics. KenPom is typically better for projecting what the lines will be, while Haslametrics tends to be more useful to gauge if I’m on the right side of the bet or not.
No. 1 DUKE at No. 13 FLORIDA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 81, Florida State 73
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 85, Florida State 71
This game is projected to be quite high scoring, as Duke plays at the ninth-fastest pace nationally while Florida State averages better than 70 possessions per game, and it’s worth noting that the only two losses that Florida State has taken on this season have come in their two slowest games — Villanova on a neutral and at Virginia.
There aren’t a lot of teams that want to run with Duke, but my guess is that the Seminoles will be one of those teams — they are in the 63rd percentile nationally in points-per-possession in halfcourt offense, and average 0.15 PPP more in transition than they do in a halfcourt setting. There are two reasons for this: They do not have good point guard play and they are not a good three-point shooting team. If they have to go up against a set defense, one that can clean the defensive glass, they are in trouble. (They were down 65-36 to Virginia, which is all the evidence you need.)
Duke is not Virginia in the halfcourt, but what they are is a top 30 team nationally in steal percentage playing a Florida State team that turns the ball over on 20.6 percent of their possessions. In fact, they actually rank second in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric as of today, while Virginia ranks third.
So this is how I see this game playing out: Tre Jones overwhelms whoever is trying to initiate offense for the Seminoles. Duke gets their quota of “pick-six” dunks and layups off of live-ball turnovers, and Florida State’s press struggles to slow down a team that starts four players that can bring the ball up the floor. The only real concern that I have here is that Duke will be playing on the road against a good team for the first time this season, and I don’t love taking heavy favorites on the road.
PICKS: This matchup favors Duke, and if the line ends up close to what KenPom is projecting, I would probably take the Blue Devils and the over. I can’t see the game not getting into the 80s, and I don’t think that Duke will smother the Seminoles like Virginia did. Their defense isn’t about suffocating teams, it’s about turning steals and rebounds into easy buckets.
No. 3 TENNESSEE at FLORIDA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 67, Florida 65
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 67, Florida 65
I just do not see it with Florida this year. This is a young group whose two best returners — Jalen Hudson and Kevaughn Allen — have seemingly forgotten how to score the ball. They are 9-5 on the season. Their three best wins came against West Virginia, Arkansas and Butler, none of whom were in our more recent bracket update. Only Butler was close, and the Bulldogs split with the Gators.
Should I mention that Florida lost at home to South Carolina?
PICKS: I will say this about Florida: They are terrific defensively. They grind teams down and force a bunch of turnovers, although I’m not sure that will have too much of an effect on a Tennessee team that protects the ball. I love Tennessee and I think the computers are overvaluing Florida at this point in the season, but the fact that both KenPom ad Haslametrics are projecting the same score is worrisome. I like the Tennessee side better, but I’ll probably stay away.
No. 4 VIRGINIA at CLEMSON, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ACCNET)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 65, Clemson 58
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Virginia 67, Clemson 54
Virginia has played two ACC games this season and both of them were essentially 30-point blowouts. Clemson has played two ACC games this season and gotten rocked by Duke and Syracuse, both on the road. Coming back home will help, but the Tigers are a team that struggles with turnovers and can’t shoot it from the perimeter, which is what you have to be able to do to beat the Pack-Line.
PICKS: Clemson has struggled this season adjusting to a lineup where they have to play three forwards instead of three guards, and struggling is not something that works against a team as ruthless as Virginia. I expect this line to be around (-8), and I love Virginia there.
No. 5 GONZAGA at SAN FRANCISCO, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Gonzaga 80, San Francisco 73
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Gonzaga 83, San Francisco 73
Don’t sleep on San Francisco. The Dons already own wins over Stanford, Cal (on the road) and Saint Mary’s. The knock on Gonzaga is on the defensive end of the floor, and while they’ve rocketed up from sub-70 to top 35 in adjusted defensive efficiency, they’ve done so by steamrolling six horrible teams. The Zags have struggled to stop good teams this year, and USF is the second-best team in the WCC.
PICKS: My concern here is that USF doesn’t have the dudes to really take advantage of Gonzaga’s weaknesses. Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. can be exploited in plus-matchups, and it’s hardly a secret that talented forwards can attack Rui Hachimura, a freak athlete that is still figuring it out defensively. I do, however, have plenty of respect for the Dons defensively, and I think they’ll be able to handle Gonzaga’s ball-screens action. Where the line opens will be interesting. If it gets to double-digit, I’ll be all over USF, but I don’t expect it to open higher than around (-8).
No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE at PENN STATE, Sun. 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Penn State 67
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 81, Penn State 64
Penn State has had a brutal start to Big Ten play, and it doesn’t get any easier with Michigan State coming to town. The Nittany Lions are a 7-9 team on the verge of starting 0-4 in Big Ten play. Their backs are against the wall, and unfortunately, the Spartans are hitting their stride.
PICKS: I’m not really interested in this game from a betting perspective. I’m still trying to figure out what Michigan State is, and Penn State always has at least one shocking win in them per season. If I do bet this game, it will probably be just a small moneyline bet on the Nittany Lions.
No. 7 KANSAS at BAYLOR, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 70, Baylor 66
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas 69, Baylor 66
Kansas is cratering in KenPom. They’re all the way down to 10th after losing two of their last five games, and I still don’t think we truly know that this team is without Udoka Azubuike. Baylor, who plays a tricky zone, will certainly make it difficult for the young Jayhawks and will definitely make a team that can’t really shoot prove they can hit threes.
PICKS: I like the Baylor side here. Playing Scott Drew’s zone — which is somewhere between a 1-1-3, a 1-3-1 and a 2-3 — is always weird, and without knockdown perimeter shooters or their best offensive rebounder, I can see Bill Self’s team getting into some trouble. Iowa State has a similar makeup to what Kansas is right now, and they lost in Waco on Tuesday.
Texas Tech has the nation’s No. 1 defense, according to KenPom, and ranks outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Texas is 11th defensively and 73rd offensively. This will not be pretty basketball.
PICKS: This total is going to open in the low 120s. Take the under. This will be my heaviest bet of the day. I also expect the Red Raiders to win, and fully expect this to end up in the 50s.
No. 10 NEVADA at FRESNO STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 73, Fresno State 70
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Nevada 71, Fresno State 69
Is it safe to believe in Nevada again? They bounced back from an ugly loss at New Mexico by absolutely running San Jose State out of California. But Fresno State on the road will be the toughest game that Nevada has played to date.
PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens up. If I had to guess, I think it will open around (-3) and get bet up a few points once the public sees a top ten team in what’s perceived as a weak league only giving three. I think I’d probably lean towards Fresno State here, but I will wait and see where the line moves before I bet on it.
No. 25 TCU at No. 23 OKLAHOMA, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
KENPOM PROJECTION: Oklahoma 75, TCU 70
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Oklahoma 75, TCU 71
The key here is entirely Jaylen Fisher. If he doesn’t play, then I really like Oklahoma if the line ends up around (-4). This is a really, really good defensive team, and Fisher means so much to the Horned Frogs offensively.
No. 22 INDIANA at MARYLAND, Fri. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Maryland 74, Indiana 69
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 75, Indiana 68
Another injury to keep an eye on here. If Indiana point guard Robert Phinisee is out, I would lean towards taking Maryland, but I don’t really love this spot. I’m not quite buying the Terps the way that the computers are at this point, and while Indiana’s three losses are on the road, two of them were at Duke and at Michigan and the third was a game they probably should have won at Arkansas. They tend to play teams tight, so if this ends up around (-7), it would be tough not to take the points.
Again, a lot of that thinking revolves around Phinisee.
SETON HALL at No. 21 MARQUETTE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Marquette 78, Seton Hall 72
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Marquette 76, Seton Hall 72
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do not like betting on Marquette because you’re betting on whether or not you think Markus Howard will go bonkers. I do think Seton Hall’s Myles Cale will be able to disrupt Howard — the key to slowing him down is length, but there really is no “key” to slowing Howard down because he could put 35 on a Monstar if he gets into a rhythm — but again, I don’t like betting Marquette.
PICKS: If I’m going to bet this game, I’ll probably just take the over, assuming it’s in the high 140s. I also like the idea of taking prop bets on points scored by Howard and/or Myles Powell. Always take the over with them.
OLE MISS at No. 14 MISSISSIPPI STATE, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Mississippi State 78, Ole Miss 72
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Mississippi State 79, Ole Miss 72
This is quietly a huge gauge game in the SEC. Ole Miss has won a bunch of games but didn’t beat anyone until they took down Auburn at home. Mississippi State has won a bunch of games and does have some solid Ws, but they also just lost to South Carolina.
PICKS: To be frank, I have no feel for Ole Miss and how good they are, but if we don’t know whether or not a team is good by mid-January, I think we can bet on the idea they aren’t that good. If Mississippi State is (-5) or lower at home in the Egg Bowl, I’d feel comfortable taking them.
Best Bets: Home underdogs in ranked matchups will make us rich
The first weekend of conference play kicks off, which means that this is the first time that we have a full slate of college basketball games for our viewing pleasure.
REMINDER: The official Vegas lines for the Saturday and Sunday games have not been released, so we will be using the projections from analytic sites KenPom and Haslametrics to talk through what the spreads and totals are.
Let’s dive into this weekend’s games:
No. 9 FLORIDA STATE at No. 4 VIRGINIA, Sat. 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 70, Florida State 61
HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Virginia 71, Florida State 57
This is a really interesting matchup for the simple fact that it is going to be our first real chance to get a taste of just how good Florida State truly is.
I’m firmly on board with the idea that Virginia is awesome yet again this season. They are just as good as ever on the defensive end of the floor but the presence of De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome has made them dangerous offensively. And I think that it is Hunter that makes this such a difficult matchup for Florida State, because the way that the Seminoles want to play is to spread out the floor and create mismatches. They have bigs that can play on the perimeter and wings that can thrive at the four, and Virginia is no longer as susceptible to those mismatches with Hunter at the four and Kihei Clark at the point.
Which brings me to another point — I don’t think Florida State’s press is going to work, not with Clark and Jerome both playing major minutes. Virginia is one of the nation’s very best at protecting the ball. They are also one of the nation’s best at clearing the defensive glass; Leonard Hamilton’s team will not be getting many extra possessions.
PICKS: Based on what KenPom and Haslametrics have as projections, I think that the spread in this game is going to end up being pretty big, and that’s not something that I really want a part of. Virginia plays such few possessions and Florida State is good enough that I can’t really see this becoming a blowout. Do you really want to sweat Virginia (-8) against a top ten team? I don’t.
No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE at No. 14 OHIO STATE, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 74, Ohio State 72
HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Ohio State 69
This is going to be a tricky spot for the Spartans, who are 2-1 in true road games this year. Michigan State is clearly the more talented team. I don’t think that’s really up for debate, but neither is the fact that Chris Holtmann has quickly become one of the very best coaches in college basketball. This is not going to be easy for the Spartans, not when the Buckeyes can defend as well as they do and not when Kaleb Wesson has the size inside to keep the Spartans from being able to pound the rock into Nick Ward all afternoon. Remember, in this matchup on this floor last season, Ohio State made a statement with a 16 point win.
PICKS: To me, that’s what this bet come down to. I am not totally sold on Michigan State. And I do think that Ohio State matches up really well them. If Ohio State is getting points, I love it. I’ll probably be on the Ohio State money line, especially if the spread ends up being closer to what Haslametrics is projecting than what KenPom is projecting.
No. 5 KANSAS at IOWA STATE, Sat. 5:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Iowa State 75, Kansas 74
HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Iowa State 77, Kansas 69
I am glad to see that both KenPom and Haslametric are projecting Iowa State to win this game. Given the powers of Hilton Magic, I tend to think that is how this game is going to end up playing out. The Jayhawks have lost their only true road game of the season — falling at Arizona State — while Iowa State’s computer numbers haven’t fully factored in the return of Lindell Wigginton from his foot injury.
The biggest question is going to be how the Cyclones deal with the Kansas low-post game. Udoka Azubuike has returned to the lineup and is capable of overpowering smaller defenders, and even when he was off the floor against a better defensive team in Oklahoma, the Jayhawks actually looked better running offense through Dedric Lawson at the five.
PICKS: I am very interested to see what this line is going to end up being. I will be on Iowa State as long as they aren’t favored by more than two or three points, and I will be all over the money line if they are getting points. I would also tend to lean towards the over, assuming the total will be somewhere around the high 140s. Both teams are willing to run, and I am not sure either team is really cut out for slowing the other down. It’s a bad matchup for both sides.
This is a tough spot for Indiana, especially if they are going to be asked to play without Rob Phinisee, who is dealing with a concussion. Not having a point guard to go up against a team that is as stout defensively as Michigan is will be a nightmare scenario for the Hoosiers, who have spent the last month finding a way to win ugly. That was on display on Thursday night, as they worked back from a deficit to knock off Illinois in Bloomington.
I do not expect this game to be high-scoring. Michigan will be able to control pace, and when combined with the fact that Indiana is going to struggle to score against a set defense makes this a game that is difficult to see getting into the 70s. That also means that it will be that much more difficult for Michigan to create separation.
PICKS: I’ll side with Michigan here, although I wouldn’t feel all that comfortable taking them at more than (-8). I’ll also lean towards taking the under here, assuming it is somewhere in the low 130s.
THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S NOTABLE GAMES AND BETS
No. 13 KENTUCKY (-3.5, 147.5) at ALABAMA, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN): The projections by both KenPom and Haslametrics are pretty similar here, which gives us a good jumping off point: Kentucky is coming off of a pair of really impressive wins away from Rupp Arena against two teams that are both better than Alabama. The Tide have landed four pretty nice wins in a row, but I’m not sure the models have fully accounted for how good Kentucky has been since Quade Green left. Throw in that Alabama fans will be probably already be pregaming for Monday night’s CFB title game, and I would be all over the Wildcats here at (-3.5), but I’m guessing the line will open closer to (-6).
CLEMSON at No. 1 DUKE, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: It is going to be interesting to see where this line opens up. KenPom is projecting Duke to win by 16. Haslemetrics has them winning by 24 points. I liked this Clemson group coming into the season because they had good guards and could really defend, but they’ve struggled adapting to a bigger lineup and their defense has taken a hit. Clemson’s best win is against Lipscomb at home. I’d probably lean Duke up to about (-15) here, but I’ll likely stay away myself.
No. 24 NEBRASKA at No. 25 IOWA, Sun. 5:30 p.m. (BTN): Another game where KenPom and Haslametrics differ pretty drastically — Nebraska (-2) for the former and (-10) for the latter. After a promising start to the season, Iowa’s defense has fallen off of a cliff, and Nebraska has the dudes to take advantage. I’d lean the Cornhuskers.
ST. JOHN’S at GEORGETOWN, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS): This is a really interesting matchup as the Johnnies are fairly unproved but coming off of a resounding win over Marquette while the Hoyas are a team no one trusts yet just smacked around Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Both sites are projecting St. John’s to win. I don’t trust the Red Storm on the road just yet, especially not in a silent Capital One Arena. Georgetown moneyline. Let’s get it.
CAL at UCLA, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (Pac-12): I will be very interested to see where this line opens up. UCLA looked like a team with three five-stars and a bunch of future pros against Stanford on Thursday night. Cal is terrible. Are the Bruins rejuvenated after Alford’s firing? Both sites have Cal losing by about 12 points, and I think I would probably hammer UCLA (-12).
No. 6 NEVADA at NEW MEXICO, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU): New Mexico wants to run and run and run. They don’t, however, have the talent to play that way. They also can’t guard, and Nevada has dudes that will kill you in transition and will expose players that can’t guard. KenPom has this at Nevada (-16) and Haslametrics has it at Nevada (-23). Both have the total right around 156. Give me Nevada and give me the over.
WEST VIRGINIA at TEXAS, Sat. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): West Virginia doesn’t really have any talent this year, not like they have in the last four years. Texas hasn’t been able to score since Shaka Smart arrived in Austin. Texas doesn’t want to play fast and doesn’t commit turnovers, which is what West Virginia’s defense is based on. Both teams are coming off hideous games that finished way under low totals. I’m hammering the under in this one, whatever it ends up being.
No. 23 OKLAHOMA at No. 5 KANSAS, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
LINE: Kansas -8.5, 151
VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 79.75, Oklahoma 71.25
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 78, Oklahoma 70
HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Kansas 74, Oklahoma 72
This is the chance for Oklahoma to prove a point this season. The Sooners have been one of the surprises in college hoops this year, and there’s not ‘Welcome to 2019’ moment quite like having to kick off Big 12 play in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
The way that Lon Kruger is winning this season is with a stout defense that attacks and scores in transition. They are nowhere near as dangerous offensively as they were with Trae Young, but the Sooners are a top ten defense entering the new year. Kansas will be happy to run with Oklahoma, but I’m not convinced this will turn into an up-and-down contest. League play tends to be slower-paced, and both of these teams are top ten defenses.
PICKS: This game is going to come down to whether or not Oklahoma can exploit Udoka Azubuike’s inability to defend on the perimeter. I don’t think that they will. I don’t think they can run Brady Manek at the five, I’m not convinced Jamuni McNeace will be able to hold his own in the paint and I need to see Matt Freeman make an impact in the Phog before I believe that he will.
Personally, I will be staying away from this game, but if I was forced to make a pick, it would be Kansas and the over.
UTAH STATE at No. 6 NEVADA, 11:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
LINE: Nevada -9.5, 148.5
VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Nevada 79, Utah State 69.5
KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 81, Utah State 69
HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Nevada 76, Utah State 71
This is an incredibly important game for a Utah State team that is much better than anyone realizes. The Aggies are a top 50 team, according to KenPom, that badly needs to get at least one win against Nevada to have a shot at an at-large bid this season. I don’t think that they’ll get it in Reno, but I do think that they have a real shot to cover. The reason is simple: I buy just how good Utah State can be defensively. Nevada is dangerous because they have a bevy of ridiculous shot-makers that don’t turn the ball over. The Aggies are top five nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage and they are second-nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.
In other words, they force as many misses as anyone in the sport and they don’t let you get a second chance.
PICKS: I’ll take Utah State to cover.
No. 24 NEBRASKA at MARYLAND, 6:30 p.m ET (BTN)
LINE: Nebraska -1.5, 137.5
VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Nebraska 69.5, Maryland 68
KENPOM PROJECTION: Maryland 71, Nebraska 70
HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Nebraska 71, Maryland 70
It’s hard to get a read on how good Maryland is this year. The Terps don’t have any statement wins yet this season, but they did play Virginia, Purdue and Seton Hall close in losses. They also beat Penn State.
Nebraska, on the other hand, has already landed some impressive wins. They beat Clemson on the road, they smacked Creighton at home and they knocked off Seton Hall and Oklahoma State. They were also in firm control at Minnesota for roughly 32 minutes before blowing a lead at the end.
PICKS: Nebraska has performed well on the road this year, winning at Clemson by two and outplaying Minnesota last month. But they also lost at Minnesota, and Maryland has been a tough out at home. I’ll probably stay away, but if I had to, I’d probably take Maryland plus the points.
No. 11 TEXAS TECH at WEST VIRGINIA, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
LINE: Texas Tech -4.5, 136
VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Texas Tech 70.25, West Virginia 65.75
KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 70, West Virginia 66
HASLAMETRIC PROJECTION: Texas Tech 73, West Virginia 63
I don’t think I can remember ever seeing a line move as much as this one has. The total opened at 150.5 in some places. It’s down to 136 or 137, which means the chance for you to get in on the obvious bet in this game is gone.
What we have now is not ideal. Texas Tech is a road favorite in league play, which is never a great situation, while West Virginia is, frankly, not all that good. They will also be without Sagaba Konate tonight, who is the presence in the paint that lets the Mountaineers gamble for steals.
PICKS: While the situation isn’t ideal, I do think that Texas Tech will be able to cover here. West Virginia is not forcing turnovers the way they have in the past, and no Konate means they will not have the rim protection they are used to. Combine that with the fact that the Red Raiders are literally the nation’s best defense and should be capable of keeping West Virginia off of the offensive glass, and it makes sense. I don’t know if Vegas as adjusted for just how good the Red Raiders are yet.
THE REST OF THE SLATE
SETON HALL at XAVIER (-3.5, 143), 6:30 p.m. ET (FS1): As much as I don’t like betting road underdogs, I have a hard time putting money on Xavier at this point in the season. Consider me thoroughly unimpressed with wins over DePaul and Illinois. If I bet this game, it will be Seton Hall (+3.5). KenPom and Haslametrics both agree.
HARVARD at No. 15 NORTH CAROLINA (-16.5, 152.5), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): The total in this game has already moved quite a bit — it opened at 158.5. The total is 4.5 points below what KenPom is projecting, and neither Seth Towns nor Bryce Aiken are expected back. I think UNC can control tempo, and I don’t think Harvard has the horses to run with them. Wait and take the over when the total is as low as it gets.
GEORGETOWN at BUTLER (-8.5, 151), 7:00 p.m.: Georgetown looks like it will be without Mac McClung in this one. I already think Butler is underrated, and with the Hoyas missing the guy that went for 38 last week, I’ll err on the side of KenPom and Haslametrics, who both have this game projected as a double-digit Butler win.
TULSA at No. 19 HOUSTON (-10.5, 135), 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3): This is a huge game for Houston, but bettors seem to think that Tulsa can put up a fight. The line has already move three points in Tulsa’s favor and the total has risen 3.5 points. I’ll stay away personally, but if you’re into fading the public, Houston and the under seem to fit that narrative.
NORTHWESTERN at No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE (-12.5, 138.5), 8:30 p.m. (BTN): Northwestern has been tough defensively this season, and while the Wildcats have not landed a marquee win yet, they’ve made it tough on some good teams — they lost to Michigan by two at home, lost by two at Indiana and took Oklahoma to overtime. I like the Wildcats to cover.
DEPAUL at VILLANOVA (-12, 140.5), 8:30 p.m. (FS1): I’m not on Xavier this year, and Xavier won at DePaul by nine. Villanova is coming off of a shellacking of UConn, should get Colin Gillespie back and, hopefully, will have used the last two weeks to work through the issues with their youngsters. Don’t make me regret it, Jay.
IOWA STATE (-4, 143) at OKLAHOMA STATE, 9:00 p.m. (ESPNN): The line is already moving in this one. The total has come down from 146.5 to 143 and Iowa State is down from a 4.5-point favorite. I love home dogs in league play.
TEXAS at KANSAS STATE (-2, 129.5), 9:00 p.m. (ESPNU): This game is going to be ugly. Two top ten defenses and sub-100 offenses? No Dean Wade? Gross. The total opened at 123 and shot all the way up to 129.5. KenPom has it at 123. Haslametrics has it even lower, at 115. Hammer the under.
College Basketball Best Bets: Where do you want to invest your money this weekend?
Let’s take a look at this weekend’s college basketball games from a betting perspective.
At the time this was published, the Vegas lines for the games have not yet been released, so we will be using KenPom’s projections, which are generally pretty close to what Vegas produces.
No. 16 KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
LINE: Kentucky (-1)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 74, Louisville 73
This is quite clearly the biggest game of the weekend in the college basketball world, and for good reason: Kentucky and Louisville is as fierce as any rivalry in American sports, and both teams are trending up this season and playing for a chance at landing a critical non-conference win on their resume.
Kentucky is coming off of their first dominant performance of the season, as they knocked off North Carolina last Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in a game here the Tar Heels never really looked to be threatening for the final 30 minutes. Louisville, on the other hand, was able to pick off Michigan State at home already this season and has also beaten Seton Hall on the road while losing one-possession games against Marquette on a neutral floor and Indiana in Bloomington.
It’s important to recognize here that this Louisville team is different than Louisville teams that we became accustomed to under Rick Pitino. This group is not the pressing type. They are not out there gambling for steals. They are not playing that hybrid man-zone defense that Rick Pitino teaches. Mack runs the Pack-Line defense, the same style of defense that is employed by Sean Miller, Archie Miller and, most notably, Tony Bennett at Virginia. The theory is simple: don’t gamble for steals, force opponents into contested jumpers and pounds the defensive glass.
This actually matches up fairly well with this Kentucky team. The Wildcats are one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams and, at times, their best offense has been a missed shot. It’s going to be hard to get a ton of second chance points against this Louisville team, and while Kentucky has shot the ball better from beyond the arc this year, they’re making 36.6 percent of their threes but taking just 30.5 percent of their field goal attempts fro beyond the arc; only 20 teams shoot fewer threes.
Where Kentucky is going to have their greatest advantage is in the backcourt, where Ashton Hagans has proven himself to be a game-changer defensively. It will be interesting to see how Mack schemes playmaking duties away from whoever Hagans is guarding. The reason that matters is that Kentucky has really struggled running opponents off of the three-point line this season. Louisville has shooters, but I’m worried about how those shooters are going to get themselves free if Hagans takes the Cardinals out of their stuff.
I think it’s also important to note here that both Kentucky and Louisville are among the very best in the country at drawing fouls, getting to the foul line and converting once there. No team in the country gets a higher percentage of their offense from the foul line than Louisville, and Kentucky is seventh. Conversly, Kentucky is one of the best in the country at avoiding fouling — their defensive free throw rate is top 25 nationally — while Louisville is middle of the road.
PICKS: The line on KenPom is (-1), and I would expect it to be a bit more skewed towards Kentucky when the lines are released late on Friday night or early Saturday morning. I think Kentucky ends up winning this game even though it is on the road. On paper, the Wildcats are clearly the better team, and as I discussed on the podcast above, Kentucky appears to have turned a corner. I also think that it is worth noting that Louisville was able to close out the win over Michigan State in November because Cassius Winston made a terrible decision that led to him fouling out with four minutes left, leaving a freshman to play the point because MSU’s back-up point guard was injured. I’d take Kentucky up to about (-4.5), depending on the odds I can get.
I do think that this will be a game that is played at a slower pace, but I would probably stay away from the under. Kentucky tends to run only when their opponents want to run, and Louisville is not going to want to run with UK. That said, the amount of fouls both of these teams draw combined with the fact that I’d expect referees to be fast and loose with the whistle in what will assuredly be a testy rivalry game makes me think we’ll be in the bonus early and spending plenty of time at the charity stripe. If you have to bet the total, I’d take the over, but I’m probably staying away.
ST. JOHN’S at SETON HALL, Sat. 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Seton Hall (-3)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Seton Hall 79, St. John’s 76
My analysis for this game is pretty simple, honestly: I think Seton Hall is good and I don’t think St. John’s is as good as their record. The Pirates have beaten Miami, Kentucky and Maryland on the road. The Johnnies have just one win against a top 100 KenPom opponent — No. 74 VCU — and that came in an overtime game where officials swallowed their whistles on a foul call at the overtime buzzer.
PICKS: I’ll be all over the Pirates at (-3).
BUTLER at FLORIDA, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
LINE: Florida (-4)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Florida 66, Butler 62
I’m probably going to be staying away from this game because I don’t really have a great feel for either of these teams. The guys I thought were the two best players on the Gators — Kevaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson — haven’t really done anything noteworthy this season even as this group has struggled to score. And while Butler has looked good in flashes, they’re 9-3 on the season and their only good win was … a 61-54 victory over Florida on a neutral court.
I did think this was important to mention here because both of these teams could really, really use the win on their tournament resume. They have lost seven games between them, but both are still top 30 teams on KenPom.
PICKS: If I’m betting anything here, it’s the under. I’ll let someone else try to figure out what these two teams are.
BELMONT at PURDUE, Sat. 4:30 p.m.
LINE: Purdue (-11)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Purdue 86, Belmont 75
Belmont is fresh off of a win at UCLA and sitting pretty with a 9-1 record that also includes a sweep of Lipscomb and home win over Western Kentucky. Winning at Purdue would certainly get them into the bubble conversation if they roll through an OVC schedule that only sees them face Murray State once.
I do not expect the line to be (-11). Purdue is 7-5 on the season, with all five losses coming to teams ranked in the top 55 on KenPom away from home. Their best home win on the season (Maryland) was by two points. If you can slow down Carsen Edwards, you can beat Purdue.
PICKS: I don’t think Belmont beats Purdue — although I could be talked into taking the Belmont money line if the odds are good enough. I do, however, think Belmont covers 11. If you can get that line, jump on it.
No. 6 NEVADA at UTAH, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
LINE: Nevada (-10)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 78, Utah 68
I think this is a dangerous spot for Nevada. They’re coming off of a holiday layoff and heading to play in one of the tougher gyms in the country to win in: The Huntsmann Center, at roughly a mile above sea level. The Wolf Pack have played with fire all season long, digging themselves massive holes they find a way to dig out of. This is a game that the Utes desperately need if they want any prater of getting into the NCAA tournament, and I think they show up.
PICKS: I think Nevada gets out of Salt Lake City with a win, but if you’re giving me 10 points I’m taking them. I would not be shocked to see that line creep higher as well.
No. 15 WISCONSIN at WESTERN KENTUCKY, Sat. 5:30 p.m.
LINE: Wisconsin (-8)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Wisconsin 71, Western Kentucky 63
I do not think that Western Kentucky has a shot of hanging with Wisconsin, not with the way Ethan Happ can dissect a defense and not when Rick Stansbury has to try and outcoach someone. I do, however, think it’s worth mentioning the game here simply because seeing Happ square off with Charles Bassey will be entertaining. My gut says that it is very clear by 7:30 p.m. on Saturday that Bassey is a freshman and Happ is a three-time All-American.
PICKS: Wisconsin (-8)
DAVIDSON at No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
LINE: North Carolina (-15)
KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Davidson 72
This game loses quite a bit of its appeal if Kellan Grady can’t play. He practiced on Friday, but he has missed the last three games.
LIBERTY at UCLA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
Liberty lost by nine at Vanderbilt, by 10 at Georgetown and by nine to Austin Peay on a neutral court. #FadeCLA is still in effect.