Ja Morant was so good against No. 5-seed Marquette on Thursday afternoon that he has really smart people seriously saying they would take him over Zion Williamson at No. 1 in the draft in June. That, of course, is an overreaction by those who probably have not seen Morant before, but it’s not entirely unwarranted.
That’s because the 6-foot-3 Morant put up one of the most dominant performances that I can remember in the NCAA tournament, scoring 17 points on just nine shots while handing out 16 assists, grabbing 11 boards and doing this to Joey Hauser:
I don’t think either of these teams wanted to win this game.
Auburn did everything they wanted to do for 34 minutes. They forced turnovers, they created offense from their defense, they hit threes, they played with a ton of energy. They were up 13 points with seven minutes left … when they forgot how to pass. Six turnovers and a few missed free throws down the stretch allowed NMSU right back in the game, setting up a wild final possession.
NMSU was down two, drove the lane, passed up a wide-open layup for a three, got fouled on said three, missed two of the three free throws, got the ball back out of bounds with 1.1 seconds left down by two points, got a good look at a three from the corner and missed it by ten feet.
I did not think that Minnesota was all that good heading into the tournament, so of course, they went out and smacked around Louisville in the first round.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada finished the season 29-4. Were they the most disappointing 29-4 team ever? My column.
THREE MORE THINGS TO KNOW
1. PHIL COFER’S DAD DIED
Phil Cofer found out after Florida State’s win over Vermont that his father had died. Cofer did not play in the game due to an injury, and the death was not necessarily a surprise — his father had dealt with a “long illness” — but that is still a nightmare situation.
2. NO P.J.
Kentucky’s star forward P.J. Washington did not play in the team’s win over Abilene Christian on Thursday evening. He was wearing a hardcast on his right foot/ankle. Calipari’s statements after the game made it seem awfully unlikely that Washington will play on Saturday, which then puts his status for the rest of the tournament in doubt.
3. WILL WADE ISN’T TELLING THE TRUTH
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva spoke to Stadium in Jacksonville, and he made it clear that he was not happy with the way that Wade had handled the situation.
“I don’t know how deep this goes,” Alleva told Stadium. “That’s the problem, and Will’s refused to talk to us. That’s the hardest part for me. … I wish he’d come in and just tell the truth. Just tell me what went on. I can handle the truth even if it’s bad.”
Wade has been suspended from the LSU team after a report from Yahoo Sports that he was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment for freshman Javonte Smart.
Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Friday’s NCAA tournament games
At noon the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.
Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.
12:15 p.m.: No. 7 CINCINNATI vs. No. 10 IOWA, CBS
LINE: Cincinnati (-3)
IMPLIED SCORE: Cincinnati 70.25, Iowa 67.25
KENPOM: Cincinnati 71, Iowa 70
My analysis of this game really isn’t that complicated: I do not think that Iowa is a very good or very tough basketball team. I think that Cincinnati is a pretty good basketball team that beat the hell out of Houston in the AAC title game and that is, definitively, as tough as a three dollar steak.
PICK: Give me the Bearcats.
12:40 p.m.: No. 8 OLE MISS vs. No. 9 OKLAHOMA, TruTV
LINE: Ole Miss (-1)
IMPLIED SCORE: Ole Miss 71.5, Oklahoma 70.5
KENPOM: Oklahoma 72, Ole Miss 71
I don’t trust Oklahoma this year. That’s really what this comes down to. The Sooners went 7-11 in Big 12 play and all of the impressive wins they picked up in the non-conference look significantly less impressive now than they did at the time. Ole Miss isn’t exactly full of world-beaters, but I do think that Breein Tyree and Terence Davis are dudes.
PICK: I want to invest my money on the side that has the guards that are game-changers. If I bet this, it will be with Ole Miss.
On the surface, I love Texas Tech here simply because I think that the Red Raiders are closer to being one of the five or six best teams in college basketball than a No. 3 seed. The problem is that the way the Red Raiders defend — by icing ball-screens — is going to leave Northern Kentucky’s best player, Drew McDonald, free for pick-and-pop threes the entire afternoon.
PICK: Personally, I will likely be staying away from this line, but I do think that Texas Tech is the side that you want to be on.
2:00 p.m.: No. 4 KANSAS STATE vs. No. 13 UC IRVINE, TBS
LINE: Kansas State (-4.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas State 61.5, UC Irvine 57
KENPOM: Kansas State 62, UC Irvine 56
This changes if Dean Wade plays, but since he is currently listed as doubtful for this matchup, Kansas State is a team that is going to rely on penetration and the ability of their guards to get into the paint. The problem with that is that UC Irvine is a really good defensive team that actually leads the nation in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have a couple of big uglies in the paint that can make things difficult for a Kansas State team that will be without their best shooter and one of their best passers.
Beyond just the matchup, the Anteaters are really, really good and might be underseeded as a No. 13. With the Wildcats banged up, this is a matchup that Russell Turner can get the best of.
PICK: I really like the Irvine side here, but the money line right now is just +170, so I’ll probably take the points.
2:45 p.m.: No. 2 TENNESSEE vs. No. 15 COLGATE, CBS
LINE: Tennessee (-17.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 82.5, Colgate 65
KENPOM: Tennessee 83, Colgate 68
I will be staying away fro this game. As good as Tennessee is, there have been too many times the season where we have see the Vols play a team that was objectively worse than them closer than they should. I also have no desire to bet a No. 2 seed projected to scored 83 points not to cover. I’ll pass.
3:10 p.m.: No. 1 VIRGINIA vs. No. 16 GARDNER-WEBB, TruTV
LINE: Virginia (-22.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 76.5, Gardner-Webb 54
KENPOM: Virginia 77, Gardner-Webb 55
I think Virginia is going to come out with a point to prove. The Cavaliers have heard about how they lost to a No. 16 seed for a full year now. They are coming off of a loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals that reignited the “Can Virginia win in March?” debate. They are as talented as they have ever been under Tony Bennett, and I fully expect them to absolutely bury Gardner-Webb.
PICK: Not only will I be betting Virginia (-22.5) here, but I think that I am also going to be on the under. I think an angry Virginia team is going to hold GW under 50 points.
I really like Buffalo here. The Bulls are a tough, veteran team that is going to get out and pressure Arizona State and try to force them to turn the ball over. Where the Sun Devils are inconsistent, Buffalo churned out a 30-win season that included going into West Virginia and Syracuse and getting Ws. Arizona State lost by 16 at Vanderbilt.
PICK: I’m taking the tougher team to win here even if it means betting against the more talented underdog. I just can’t see C.J. Massinburg letting the Bulls lose.
4:30 p.m.: No. 5 WISCONSIN vs. No. 12 OREGON, TBS
LINE: Wisconsin (-3)
IMPLIED SCORE: Wisconsin 59.75, Oregon 56.75
KENPOM: Wisconsin 61, Oregon 56
There may not be a hotter team in the country right now than Oregon, who rolled through the end of the Pac-12 season before winning the Pac-12 tournament, beating Washington in impressive fashion twice in the process. The question is going to be how Wisconsin goes about breaking down the zone Oregon will run, and while I do think that Ethan Happ can really pick it apart, it is important to note that the Ducks will be running out Kenny Wooten. He is as good of a defender as there is in the paint, and I would not be surprised to see him slow Happ down.
Also worth noting: The line is this game has moved from Wisconsin (-4) to Wisconsin (-1), then it bounced back up to Wisconsin (-3).
PICK: I’ll lean Oregon here, and I’ll probably wait to see just how high this line will climb. If I can get Oregon (+4.5) I’ll be ecstatic.
6:50 p.m.: No. 8 UTAH STATE vs. No. 9 WASHINGTON, TNT
LINE: Utah State (-3)
IMPLIED SCORE: Utah State 69, Washington 66
KENPOM: Utah State 68, Washington 65
This goes along with the thinking that you should fade the Pac-12 in March. Think about this: The only reason that Washington has a win over an NCAA tournament team this season is because they lost to Oregon in the final of the Pac-12 tournament, giving the Ducks an automatic bid to the dance. Washington beat Oregon in January.
PICK: Utah State has one of the most underappreciated players in the country on their roster in Sam Merrill. Craig Smith is a magnificent coach that will be at a bigger program soon. Take the Aggies.
7:10 p.m.: No. 1 DUKE vs. No. 16 NORTH DAKOTA STATE, CBS
LINE: Duke (-27)
IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 87.75, NDSU 60.75
KENPOM: Duke 87, NDSU 63
This spread is just so monstrous. I don’t think I really want to bet it, but if I do, it will be the Duke side. The Bison are one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament, and asking them to try and slow down Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and the rest of the Dukies is going to be a big, big ask.
Georgia State is always going to be a dangerous mid-major because of the way they run and the talent they have, but I just have too much faith in this Houston team. They aren’t the best or most talented team in the country, but I do think that they are disciplined, well-coached and good enough defensively that they are not going to beat themselves.
PICK: I’ll take the Cougars (-11.5), but I won’t feel all that comfortable about it.
7:27 p.m.: No. 5 MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 12 LIBERTY, 7:27 p.m. TruTV
LINE: Mississippi State (-6.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Mississippi State 70, Liberty 63.5
KENPOM: Mississippi State 71, Liberty 65
This is a tough game to get a feel for. For starters, Liberty was the second-best team in the Atlantic Sun this season, even if they did pick up a couple of wins against Lipscomb. They also run the Pack-Line defense, which is the kind of thing that can give the Bulldogs, who are without Nick Weatherspoon, some issues.
The problem here is that Mississippi State got dudes. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Reggie Perry, Aric Holman, Lamar Peters. These are guys that, which someone inconsistent, can absolutely take a game over, especially against a mid-major program.
PICK: I’d lean Mississippi State here, especially at just (-6.5), but I also think that the under is in play.
9:20 p.m.: No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA vs. No. 16 IONA, 9:20 p.m. TNT
LINE: North Carolina (-23.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: North Carolina 94.75, Iona 71.25
KENPOM: North Carolina 95, Iowa 70
I think that I am going to stay away from the line here. If I do bet it, I would be betting on the Tar Heels, mainly because this is a team that can put up 100 on anyone but also because I just don’t think that Iona has the horses to be able to keep up with UNC this year. I also think that I like the under. 166 is a huge number, and while Iona has the reputation for being a team that wants to run, run, run and push, push, push, they are not as breakneck offensively as they have been in the past.
PICK: I don’t love either bet here, but if I am going to have action on this game, it will be UNC (-23.5) and the under.
9:40 p.m.: No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF, 9:40 p.m. CBS
LINE: VCU (-0.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: VCU 63.5, UCF 63
KENPOM: VCU 63, UCF 62
This best is simple for me: UCF is a great defensive team that has an elite shot-blocker in the paint and wants to funnel drivers into the lane. VCU cannot shoot threes very well, they want to drive and their best player — Marcus Evans — will, at the very least, be banged up for this one.
PICK: I like the UCF ML the play here if VCU is going to be favored. I also tend to lean towards the under. Both of these teams really, really defend, and while VCU is still going to try and force turnovers, they aren’t pressing as much as they have in the past.
9:50 p.m.: No. 6 IOWA STATE vs. No. 11 OHIO STATE, 9:50 p.m. TBS
LINE: Iowa State (-5.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa State 73, Ohio State 67.5
KENPOM: Iowa State 72, Ohio State 68
This line actually appears to be coming down. It opened at Iowa State (-6) and now sits at (-5.5), which is a dream come true for someone like me, that has the Cyclones in the Elite 8 despite decidedly not being back on the Iowa State bandwagon.
Here’s the truth: Chris Holtmann is one of the top ten coaches in all of college basketball, but given the talent disparity between these two teams, if Iowa State shows up to play, they should be able to cover that spread regardless of how Holtmann decides to build his game-plan. The problem is that we can never really quite be sure if Iowa State is going to show up. The Cyclones looked like a top ten team in their run to the Big 12 tournament title. They looked like an NIT team when they lost six of their last eight games during the regular season.
PICK: I think Iowa State has this figured out. I think they win with ease on Friday night.
9:57 p.m.: No. 4 VIRGINIA TECH vs. No. 13 SAINT LOUIS, 9:57 p.m. TruTV
LINE: Virginia Tech (-10.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia Tech 68, Saint Louis 57.5
KENPOM: Virginia Tech 69, Saint Louis 58
The key to betting this game is going to be how healthy you think Justin Robinson is. He is not their most talented player but he is their most important player. The Hokies were a top ten team with him healthy and went just 7-5 after he was injured on Jan. 30th. He matters because Saint Louis is a really, really talented and tough team that can absolutely lock up defensively. They have the athletes to be able to matchup with Virginia Tech’s four-out, one-in scheme and while they have not been great offensively this year, I do think that they have the talent — Hasahn French, Jordan Goodwin, Javon Bess, Tramaine Isabell — to be able to makes plays when they need to.
PICK: I will not be picking Saint Louis to win this game in my bracket, but at (+10.5), I do think they will cover. That is a big number for a good defensive team against a Virginia Tech that wants to play slow.
2019 NCAA Tournament: Saturday second round tip times, announcer pairings
If it’s possible, Nevada just finished off a 29-4 season that was nothing less than a massive disappointment.
And the way it ended is fitting, really.
It took 30 minutes and a 51-33 deficit for Nevada to finally show up against No. 10-seed Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and by the time they did, the deficit to overcome was too great and their ability to actually make the shots they take too little for it to matter.
They entered the season as a team many believed was a top five team nationally. They will be heading back to Reno on Thursday with a 70-61 loss and nothing more than the memory of what could have been.
Caleb Martin, who entered the season as Nevada’s all-american candidate, finished with 19 points but shot 5-for-22 from the floor to get there while turning the ball over six times. Jordan Caroline, who had played like Nevada’s all-american this season, was 2-for-11 from the floor with just seven points. Cody Martin came to play, but the rest of the roster mustered all of 10 shots from the floor.
Eric Musselman played a risky game all season long. He bet on the fact that his studs — both of the Martin twins and Caroline — were good enough to win their matchup by making enough of the tough shots they take to win. That was not the case on Thursday, and it’s worth noting that in Nevada’s four losses this season, Caleb Martin and Caroline combined to shoot 8-for-47 from the floor.
But that happens.
Living and dying with tough shots coming out of isolation is inherently risky. There are going to be some nights where the shots just don’t fall.
The bigger story, to me, is that Nevada never looked like they were fully engaged this season. It never felt like they had everyone on the roster pulling in the same direction. Musselman was coaching with one eye on his next job. The Martins and Caroline returned to school after declaring for the draft, and it’s fair to wonder just how badly they wanted to be back at Nevada. Jordan Brown is McDonald’s All-American freshman and the only thing he checked in the box score on Thursday was a foul. Transfers Corey Henson and Nisre Zouzoua were big time scorers at Wagner and Bryant, respectively, and they combined to average 18 minutes this season. Neither played in the NCAA tournament.
For a team that has 13 scholarship players that are probably good enough to play in someone’s rotation in the Mountain West, having a rotation reduced to roughly six guys by the end of the season is not easy.
And when you start off the season by running off two players that had committed to the program, it doesn’t exactly set a precedent of loyalty.
We talked about this back in October.
It’s the risk that Musselman ran by bringing in so many transfers and talented recruits.
Last year, it paid off in a Sweet 16.
This season, the result was that Nevada never felt more relevant than in the preseason poll.
Best Bets: Bettor’s guide to Thursday’s NCAA tournament games
At 9 p.m. the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.
Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.
12:15 p.m.: No. 7 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 10 MINNESOTA, CBS
LINE: Louisville (-5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Louisville 70.5, Minnesota 65.5
KENPOM: Louisville 71, Minnesota 66
The Pitino Bowl!!!
For those that don’t get it, Louisville fired Rick Pitino 18 months ago. His son, Richard, is the head coach at Minnesota. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be the case that Rick will be flying home from Greece to be at the game, which does take away some of the revenge factor if you like to take a ride down Narrative Street.
There are two problems here for Minnesota. For starters, they do not shoot the ball all that well. Just 28.8 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc (346th nationally) and they shoot it at just 32.1 percent from three. Louisville runs the Pack-Line, which is a defense designed to cut off penetration and force perimeter jumpers. The other problem that then arises is that Minnesota’s point guard situation is a mess. Isaiah Washington hasn’t really panned out, so Amir Coffey and Dupree MacBrayer are running the show. That’s sub-optimal.
Jordan Murphy is an absolute monster in the paint, and Daniel Oturu is quite promising, but this seems like the kind of matchup and the likes of Malik Williams will be up for and one of those two will have to guard either Sutton or Jordan Nwora.
PICK: I think Louisville is the better team and I think that their style of play matches up really well with Minnesota. The only concern that I have is that Louisville has melted away so many covers because of what they do at the end of games. They’d be a top 10ish team if basketball games ended at the under four timeout. Will we see them collapse again in the tournament? That worry is probably enough to keep me away from this line.
12:40 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 YALE, TruTV
LINE: LSU (-7.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 82.25, Yale 74.75
KENPOM: LSU 85, Yale 76
I am all in on the Elis taking down the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.
The biggest reason for this is that LSU is playing without their head coach. Will Wade has been held out by LSU after he refused to speak with the administration following the reports that he was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing a payment for a player. That’s big, because Wade is a terrific coach that is terrific when it comes to make in-game adjustments, and I do think there is something to the idea of substitute teacher syndrome setting in.
But beyond that, I just believe in this Yale team. They got dudes. Miye Oni is going to be an NBA draft pick, potentially a first rounder, as a 6-foot-6 combo-guard. Jordan Bruner is a do-it-all, 6-foot-9 forward that should be playing in the SEC, not the Ivy League. Alex Copeland proved that he can take a game over at the point. I also think it’s important to note that LSU does a lot of their damage on the offensive glass, and while Yale is going to be physically outmatched against LSU, they are top 25 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.
There’s talent on Yale, they matchup well with LSU and the Tigers will be missing their coach. I like it when the dots connect.
PICK: I think I lean towards taking the money line instead of just Yale on the points, especially since we can still get it at (+260).
1:30 p.m.: No. 5 AUBURN vs. No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE, TNT
LINE: Auburn (-6)
IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 75.25, New Mexico State 69.25
KENPOM: Auburn 75, New Mexico State 69
I love New Mexico State in theory. They’re tough, they’re old, they play hard and they won 30 games behind a really, really good coach in Chris Jans. I don’t love this matchup, however. Auburn’s got dudes. Jared Harper is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, Bryce Brown can take over any game on any day and Chuma Okeke — who is a little nicked up — and Anfernee McLemore are both really useful pieces for the way Bruce Pearl wants to play.
They’re also absolutely rolling right now. In the last 12 days, they’ve beaten Tennessee twice, once by 20 points on a neutral floor.
PICK: I just don’t think NMSU has the horses to run with Auburn on Thursday, not when Pearl is going to have those kids ready to run through three brick walls.
2:00 p.m.: No. 4 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 13 VERMONT, TBS
LINE: Florida State (-9)
IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 71.25, Vermont 62.25
KENPOM: Florida State 72, Vermont 63
Before the bracket was released, Vermont was one of the mid-majors that I really wanted to pick to win. After the bracket was released, I cannot say the same thing. The Catamounts are not all that big or long or that athletic. Florida State is all of those things, and they go two-deep at every position with players that are all of those things. It’s just the worst possible matchup that Vermont could have drawn as a No. 13 seed.
PICK: I think Florida State wins by about 15 points, and this line is moving in the opposite direction. I’ll keep letting it move.
2:45 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 15 BRADLEY, CBS
LINE: Michigan State (-18.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 76, Bradley 57.5
KENPOM: Michigan State 78, Bradley 57
I want no part of betting this game. Michigan State has been banged up all season long. In the Big Ten tournament, Tom Izzo pulled his starters against Ohio State in the quarterfinals with three minutes left, and they promptly gave up a 12-0 run that blew an easy cover. If you guys want to sweat out Tom Izzo trying to steal a few extra minutes of rest for his point guard that has been an absolute workhorse this season, be my guest. I’ll be betting elsewhere.
3:10 p.m: No. 6 MARYLAND vs. No. 11 BELMONT, TruTV
LINE: Maryland (-4)
IMPLIED SCORE: Maryland 75.75, Belmont 71.75
KENPOM: Maryland 76, Belmont 72
I didn’t think that Belmont would be able to deal with the guards on Temple, and I feel the same way about the Bruins and Maryland. But I’m even more concerned about what Belmont will do with Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, who are first round picks that have just not gotten to the NBA yet. That line seems a little bit low as well, which is why I’m leaning towards Maryland here.
PICK: Nick Muszynski looked really good against Temple. He’s going to have his work cut out for him against Maryland’s bigs, which is why I will be on Maryland (-4) here.
4:00 p.m.: No. 4 KANSAS vs. No. 13 NORTHEASTERN, TNT
LINE: Kansas (-6.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 74.5, Northeastern 68
KENPOM: Kansas 76, Northeastern 68
Kansas is not the Kansas we are used to seeing. They start four freshmen this year, and while two of them are five-star — one of whom has not exactly played like a five-star this year — the other two are the Jayhawks third-string center and a guy that was supposed to redshirt this season. I also think Kansas is overseeded relative to the team they have now based on some non-conference wins they earned with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick healthy.
Northeastern is a really, really well-coached team that doesn’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over, they shoot it well from three, they control tempo, they don’t give up second chance points and they have a couple of high-level shot-makers, namely Vasa Pusica. The Huskies are dangerous.
PICK: Clearly, I think Northeastern is the play, but again, the money line is +235. I like it better before the line moved, but it’s still good value.
IMPLIED SCORE: Marquette 76.75, Murray State 72.25
KENPOM: Marquette 76, Murray State 72
I just cannot seed the Racers getting this done against Marquette. For starters, I think that the Golden Eagles will be able to hide Markus Howard defensively on one of Murray State’s non-Ja Morant wings. Then, I think that Sacar Anim will be able to go a good enough job on Morant that it will keep him from having one of his 40 point nights. And finally, I think Theo John’s presence at the rim will help prevent Morant from having an absolute blow-up game.
And that’s just on the defensive end of the floor. I think that the Hauser twins are going to be able to get whatever they want against small Murray State defenders.
PICK: I didn’t necessarily envision myself going all-in on Marquette in the first round, but here we are. Marquette (-4) seems low for the matchup.
6:50 p.m.: No. 7 NEVADA vs. No. 10 FLORIDA, TNT
LINE: Nevada (-2)
IMPLIED SCORE: Nevada 67.25, Florida 65.25
KENPOM: Nevada 67, Florida 66
This bet is pretty easy for me. Nevada is old, they made a run in the NCAA tournament last year and their season has felt like they were coasting and waiting for the chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage again. Well, here we are.
The Wolf Pack — led by fifth-year seniors Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline — more or less run an offense that identifies matchups and allows their studs to go and try to win that matchup. Florida’s roster is made up of freshmen and inconsistent seniors. They also like to press a bit and that often leaves them cross-matched on the defensive end, with bigs guarding smalls and vice versa. Imagine a point guard trying to stop Jordan Caroline. Good luck.
PICK: Nevada (-2) is one of my favorite bets of the first weekend.
7:10 p.m.: No. 2 KENTUCKY vs. No. 15 ABILENE CHRISTIAN, CBS
LINE: Kentucky (-22.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 77.25, Abilene Christian 54.75
KENPOM: Kentucky 75, Abilene Christian 59
P.J. Washington has been in a walking boot since Sunday. For my money he is Kentucky’s best and most important player. Are we sure that he is actually healthy? Are we sure that Cal is going to play him a full compliment of minutes? Can Kentucky cover even if Washington doesn’t play or only sees the floor for a limited stretch?
Those are too many questions for me. I’ll fade this game.
7:20 p.m.: No. 6 VILLANOVA vs. No. 11 SAINT MARY’S, TBS
LINE: Villanova (-4.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Villanova 67.5, Saint Mary’s 63
KENPOM: Villanova 66, Saint Mary’s 65
This is the game that I have gone back and forth the most. The spread opened at six, which was an insanely high number considering that KenPom had this line at Villanova (-1). That makes me think Saint Mary’s. But the Gaels also run a lot of ball-screen stuff and get their shots within their offense, which is something that Villanova can take away with the way they switch. That makes me think Villanova.
This is the kicker, however: Villanova shoots 53.5 percent of their field goal attempts from three, which is the third-highest rate nationally. Saint Mary’s game-plans to run teams off of the three-point line, as just 31.4 percent of the field goal attempts against them are threes, which is the ninth-lowest number nationally, and teams have shot just 31.8 percent from three.
PICK: As Saint Mary’s has gotten hot over the last six weeks, their defense has really kicked up a notch, culminating in holding Gonzaga to 47 points in the WCC tournament final last Tuesday. I think it’s also worth noting that both SMC and Nova play really, really slowly. So not only do I like the Gaels here, I think that the under is a solid play as well.
You can criticize Gonzaga for a lot of things, but one thing they have done pretty consistently is to blow the doors off of their overmatched opponents. Fairleigh Dickinson is overmatched. They are 207th in KenPom this season. Gonzaga has played nine games against sub-200 KenPom opponents, and they’ve won those nine games by an average of 37.2 points. That number jumps to 43.5 points against the six sub-200 teams they played in the non-conference.
Should I mention that Fairleigh Dickinson played on Tuesday and had to travel tonight from Dayton to Salt Lake City to play at elevation?
PICK: Gonzaga (-26.5) is the play.
9:20 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN vs. No. 15 MONTANA, TNT
LINE: Michigan (-15.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 72.75, Montana 57.25
KENPOM: Michigan 74, Montana 57
This line has been moving as much as any line in the first weekend. It’s down to Michigan (-15.5) at the time of this writing, and I don’t think that it is crazy to say that it is going to move another point. Michigan and Montana played in the first round of the tournament last season. It was ugly as hell, but Michigan found a way to win by 14. The score? 61-47.
PICK: That’s where I think the edge is in this matchup. I think Michigan uglies this game up again. The under seems like the play here.
9:40 p.m.: No. 7 WOFFORD vs. No. 10 SETON HALL, CBS
LINE: Wofford (-2.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Wofford 73, Seton Hall 70.5
KENPOM: Wofford 74, Seton Hall 69
It’s a battle of the heat-check all-stars, as Wofford’s Fletcher Magee goes up against Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. As a team, the Terriers are as three-point heavy as anyone. They shoot 41.6 percent from three and more than 40 percent of their points come from beyond the arc, 17th nationally. Seton Hall is not great when it comes to running opponents off of the three-point line, but they do have some long and athletic defenders on the roster. Quincy McKnight and Myles Cale will both get a shots at Fletcher Magee.
I also think it’s important to note that Wofford has more than just Magee. Cameron Jackson is a terrific mid-major big man that is going to have a chance to prove his mettle against a power conference for. Nathan Hoover was the star of Wofford’s two biggest wins — the win at South Carolina by 20 points and the SoCon title game — and Storm Murphy is named Storm.
PICK: The question you have to ask here is just how many points will it take for you to bet on the more athletic team? For me, I think it’s more than Seton Hall (+2.5). This line has already been moving towards Seton Hall, and I think I’m going to wait it out and see how low it will go before I bet on Wofford.
9:50 p.m.: No. 3 PURDUE vs. No. 14 OLD DOMINION, TBS
LINE: Purdue (-13)
IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70, Old Dominion 57
KENPOM: Purdue 72, Old Dominion 59
I think that Purdue is probably the play here, simply because I don’t think that Old Dominion is going to have an easy time scoring. The Monarchs are just a bad, bad team on the offensive end of the floor, and while Purdue isn’t great defensively, they should be good enough to make life hell for ODU. I do think that this game and this spread is going to come down to whether or not Purdue hits shots, and I think they will be able to get it going a little bit.
PICK: If I’m going to bet this game, I am going to bet the Purdue side. What worries me, however, is this has the feel of a game that is played in the high 50s or low 60s, and 13 points is a lot of points in a game that is that low scoring. The under might be the play, but with the total at 127, I think I’ll probably just fade this game.
9:57 p.m.: No. 8 SYRACUSE vs. No. 9 BAYLOR, TruTV
LINE: Syracuse (-2)
IMPLIED SCORE: Syracuse 67.5, Baylor 65.5
KENPOM: Syracuse 67, Baylor 66
Two teams that play zone, two teams that don’t shoot it all that well or run great offense, two teams with coaches that seem to find a way to make it work regardless of who is on their roster. Two things that are worth noting: Syracuse is really good at forcing turnovers while Baylor is pretty sloppy, but they are really bad at getting defensive rebounder and Baylor ranks second nationally is offensive rebounding percentage.
PICK: If I bet this, I’ll probably bet Syracuse simply because Jim Boeheim just finds a way to get it done in March seemingly every year this days.
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