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.
Armed with one of the deeper backcourt rotations in the Mountain West, led by preseason Player of the Year Marvelle Harris, Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry has enough options to provide flexibility within his lineups. That includes being able to go “small” at times, with a front court led by junior Karachi Edo being entrusted with the task of defending the paint and controlling the boards.
Fresno State’s available front court options have done well enough in the preseason to allow Terry to take the step of redshirting freshman forward Nate Grimes, with the decision being announced just before the Bulldogs’ 77-55 exhibition victory over Dominican College Friday night.
The 6-foot-8 Grimes, who spent his final season of high school basketball at Quality Education Academy in North Carolina, received numerous offers from Mountain West and Pac-12 programs before deciding to commit to Fresno State. He’ll be able to benefit from competing with Edo, sophomore Terrell Carter II and junior college transfers Torren Jones and Cullen Russo in practices this season, with an eye towards being a contributor in 2016-17.
Fresno State, picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West preseason media poll, returns their top five scorers from last season.
Slowly but surely college basketball programs are releasing their full non-conference schedules. And in the case of the 11 members of the Mountain West, they now know their possible path to a regular season conference title.
Wednesday the conference released its full league schedule, with four games on December 30 marking the start of conference play. Each team will play eight opponents both home and away, with single games (one home, one away) against the other two teams to reach a total of 18 conference games.
Of the four conference games to be played December 30, Fresno State’s trip to UNLV could be the most intriguing matchup. While the Runnin’ Rebels add one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to help account for the loss of four starters, most notably Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn, Fresno State returns its top five scorers from a season ago led by senior guard Marvelle Harris.
Also on the schedule December 30 are Wyoming visiting preseason favorite San Diego State in a rematch of last year’s Mountain West tournament title game, Nevada visiting New Mexico and Utah State visiting San Jose State. The Mountain West will look to increase the number of NCAA tournament bids from last season’s total of three, which could have been even lower had the Cowboys not earned the conference’s automatic bid.
Below are the single-game matchups for each of the teams in the Mountain West. In larger conferences with unbalanced schedules, those single games can have a significant impact on the title race if head-to-head tiebreakers are needed to determine a champion.
Air Force: vs. Boise State, at San Diego State Boise State: vs. Fresno State, at Air Force Colorado State: vs. New Mexico, at Fresno State Fresno State: vs. Colorado State, at Boise State Nevada: vs. San Diego State, at San Jose State New Mexico: vs. Wyoming, at Colorado State San Diego State: vs. Air Force, at Nevada San Jose State: vs. Nevada, at UNLV UNLV: vs. San Jose State, at Utah State Utah State: vs. UNLV, at Wyoming Wyoming: vs. Utah State, at New Mexico
With four guards entering their final season of eligibility, Fresno State needed to add some bodies to its backcourt for the future. Head coach Rodney Terry and his staff took a step in that direction Wednesday, as former Colorado guard Jaron Hopkins has decided to transfer to the Mountain West program.
In two seasons at Colorado, Hopkins averaged 5.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 19.5 minutes of action per game. As a sophomore the Arizona native made 17 starts, shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. Hopkins will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2015-16 season at Fresno State, where he reunites with former grassroots (Compton Magic) teammate Paul Watson.
Fresno State, which finished 15-17 last season (10-8 Mountain West), returns its top four scorers but three of those players are guards who will be seniors in 2015-16. Marvelle Harris, who averaged 16.4 points per game last season, is a senior as are Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis.
With those three, and reserve Darnell Taylor, due to move on there will be opportunities for Hopkins to be a key contributor when he’s eligible to compete in 2016-17. While Hopkins sits three other newcomers will be able to play next season for the Bulldogs: Washington transfer guard Jahmel Taylor (eligible mid-year), junior college transfer Cullen Russo and freshman Nate Grimes.
Fresno State transfer to enroll at Seton Hall, eligible immediately
Fresno State transfer Braeden Anderson has committed to Seton Hall on Friday night, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.
The 6-foot-9 Anderson has two years of eligibility left, beginning this upcoming season as he is not required to sit out the 2015-16 season. He was granted his release from the Fresno State program in February so he could focus on getting into law school.
Anderson also drew interest from Alabama, Arizona State, Buffalo, Washington and Washington State.
As a redshirt sophomore, Anderson averaged 1.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in only 10 minutes per game. It was his first year back after missing the entire 2013-14 season due to preseason car accident which left him with a displacement of his C-5 through C-6 vertebrae.
Seton Hall brings back its top two scorers, Sterling Gibbs and Isaiah Whitehead. Anderson joins forwards Myles Carter and Amarveer Singh to surround Big East Rookie of the Year Angel Delgado on the interior.