Grand Canyon landed an impact transfer on Tuesday as the school announced the addition of former TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher.
A starter for the Horned Frogs, the 6-foot-2 Fisher is a former top-100 prospect who has battled knee injuries the past two seasons. Playing only 17 games as a sophomore in 2017-18 and limited to nine games in 2018-19, Fisher’s health will be something to monitor during his time at Grand Canyon.
But, when healthy, Fisher is a double-figure scorer and noted perimeter threat who can really play. The Antelopes are adding a key piece here as Fisher could quickly become one of the league’s best players. Averaging 12.1 points and 2.7 assists last season, Fisher shot 44 percent from three-point range before a season-ending injury and transfer.
Fisher will seek a waiver to immediately play this season as he’s hoping to get back on the court after missing time with injury. If Grand Canyon is able to have the point guard right away then it’ll be a major addition for the upcoming season as they return double-figure scorers Alessandro Lever and Carlos Johnson from last season. Head coach Dan Majerle has done well recruiting former high-major transfers as the program seeks its first NCAA tournament appearance.
Big 12 offseason reset: The Streak broken, will Kansas get back on top?
The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.
That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.
Today, we are talking Big 12.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
How will Kansas react with The Streak snapped?: You’d have to go back to John Wooden’s UCLA teams to find a program as dominant in a major league as Kansas has been under Bill Self. The Jayhawks won 14-straight Big 12 regular season championships, winning a national title and going to three Final Fours over that time, too. It all came to an end last year, though, as a roster that first failed to live up to expectations and then crumbled with injuries and off-court issues as that 14-year run – known around the conference simple as ‘The Streak’ – was halted by Kansas State and eventual national runner-up Texas Tech.
The Jayhawks, however, have retooled and are going to be the favorite to win the league again. Things change, but they stay the same, too, ya know?
Kansas will have one of the best frontcourts in the country with Udoka Azubuike back from injury and Silvio De Sousa surprising ruled eligible by the NCAA after sitting out last season. Quentin Grimes transferred to Houston, but the other half of the 2018 five-star backcourt is back with Devon Dotson seemingly turning a corner late in the season. Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss provides some athleticism and outside shooting.
That’s a strong foundation for getting back on top of what’s been the best league top-to-bottom in recent years. If Kansas can get contributions from Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji or the freshmen, they could separate themselves from the conference.
Can Texas Tech reload?: The Red Raiders sustained major losses from last year’s national finalist, including a lottery pick in Jarrett Culver along with stalwarts Matt Mooney, Brandone Francis, Tariq Owens, Khavon Moore and Norense Odiase, but we said that after their 2018 Elite 8 appearance and we saw how that turned out, right?
Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke, who was suspended by the Hokies last season for off-court issues, is sure to figure in largely in this retooling effort, as does Stephen F. Austin transfer T.J. Holyfield. So the cupboard does have some talent for Chris Beard to work with, and Beard has shown in his three years in Lubbock what he can get out of rosters, especially on the defensive end. We’ve got the Red Raiders ranked in our preseason top-10, so we’re betting Beard has it figured out.
After “miserable” season, will Bob Huggins and West Virginia regain their footing?: ‘Press Virginia’ helped Huggins and the Mountaineers make the transition to the Big 12 after a rocky start, then got them to four-straight NCAA tournaments with three Sweet 16s. It all fell apart last season, with West Virginia stacking losses and Huggins admitting to just how horrible all of that losing was with a team that just could never get going until it was already well too late with a 4-14, last-place Big 12 campaign.
There looked to be some signs of progress late after a number of players were sent packing, with the Mountaineers beating Iowa State at home and then two games in the Big 12 tournament, leading to questions of addition by subtraction. Can that continue on to this season or will things continue to be the kind of slog that wears on Huggins, who wears his emotions on his sleeve?
What will Iowa State be?: Steve Prohm’s team was one of the most difficult to figure out in all the country last year with the Cyclones sometimes looking like the class of the Big 12 and a Final Four contender and then at others looking like a mess. That team, which won the conference tournament but bowed out in the first round of the NCAAs, won’t much resemble this season’s squad with Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker all gone, the last two to early entry decisions.
Prohm isn’t without talent, though, as Tyrese Haliburton is back with NBA buzz while the frontcourt could be interesting with Michael Jacobson, Solomon Young and George Conditt all proven Big 12 players to varying degrees. Prentiss Nixon, a transfer from Colorado State, is expected to be a major contributor, as is Rasir Bolton, who hopes to get a waiver to play immediately after a standout freshman season at Penn State. The Cyclones have considerable upside, but plenty of questions, too.
Can Texas finally get going?: Shaka Smart arrived in Austin with huge expectations after his game-changing stint at VCU, but after four years, the Longhorns have yet to win an NCAA tournament game in just two appearances. Their best finish in the Big 12 is fourth while they finished dead last once. That’s despite a parade of first-round NBA Draft picks coming through the roster. Texas cares a lot more about what Tom Herman is doing over with the football program, but at what point do the Longhorns get impatient?
Texas’ roster is fine, but it doesn’t look strong enough to compete at the highest level in the Big 12. Given the resources the program has – with a new arena forthcoming – and Smart’s current salary, is that enough?
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: The Lubbock native played his way into the lottery with a sensational sophomore season, and he’ll be hard to replace.
Dedric Lawson, Kansas: The Memphis transfer went pro after a productive individual season in Lawrence in which he was the most consistent Jayhawk in a difficult season.
Quentin Grimes, Kansas: There were serious expectations for Grimes in Lawrence, but he never lived up to them. He’s at Houston now after toying with going pro.
Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State: The Cyclones knew they were losing NWB and Shayok and presumed Wigginton would go pro, but Horton-Tucker’s decision was one they hadn’t anticipated until late in the winter. If either he or Wigginton had returned, the Cyclones would have been formidable. Instead, they’re a bit of a question mark.
Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade, Kansas State: It’s the end of an era in Manhattan with these three accomplished players moving on.
Jaxson Hayes, Texas: Hayes’ rise to first-round NBA Draft pick was a surprising one, but Texas has been churning out NBA big men under Smart
Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski, Texas: Two all-league caliber players who Texas will be hard-pressed to replace.
Christian James, Oklahoma: James gave the Sooners much of their scoring punch, and they’ll be in need of scoring on the perimeter.
Alex Robinson and Kouat Noi, TCU: Robinson was an assist machine and a steady hand on the offense while Noi was a major matchup problem. Robinson graduated while the Australia-native Noi is pursuing a pro career overseas after pulling out of the draft.
Devon Dotson, Silvio De Sousa and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks have no shortage of talent, and their frontcourt is going to be a major problem for the rest of the leagu.
Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State: The former- three-star recruit blossomed into an pro prospect last year, and he’ll be given the reins of the Cyclone offense this year.
Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: The Italian guard was a huge part of Texas Tech’s national title-game run last year, and he’ll have the chance to step into a bigger role.
Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra, Kansas State: Sneed flirted with going pro while Diarra battled injury last year. Both could be primed for huge seasons.
Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler and Mark Vital: Baylor: Clark’s return from a knee injury is huge for the league while Kegler and Vital are major pieces.
Matt Coleman, Jericho Sims and Jason Febres, Texas: Coleman is solid at point while Sims, expected to be a breakout performer last year, played second-fiddle to Jaxson Hayes and Febres is consistent from outside. This doesn’t even take into account Andrew Jones, who continues to work his way back from a battle with leukemia.
Brady Manek, Oklahoma: Trae Young’s one-time sidekick is going to have to run the show for the Sooners.
Desmond Bane, TCU: The guard is one of the country’s best 3-point shooters, converting at 42.5 percent last year.
Lindy Waters and Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have mostly overachieved in Mike Boynton’s two years in charge, and if it’s going to be three, these two will be a huge part of it.
Derek Culver, West Virginia: The second-team all-Big 12 pick was one of the few bright spots last year for West Virginia.
Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia: The top-30 recruit could help anchor the defense at the center position for Bob Huggins.
Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, Baylor: Scott Drew will rely heavily on this transfer pair as the Bears look to return to the NCAA tournament – and maybe push toward the top of the league.
Chris Clarke, TJ Holyfield and Jahmius Ramsey, Texas Tech: Chris Beard restocks with high-level transfers and a top-rated recruit.
De’Vion Harmon and Austin Reaves, Oklahoma: Lon Kruger welcomes in a top recruit and a transfer from Wichita State who fires away from 3.
Will Baker, Kai Jones and Donovan Williams, Texas: Shaka Smart gets reinforcements with a trio of top-75 recruits.
Prentis Nixon, Iowa State: The 6-foot-1 guard filled it up at Colorado State, but will be Iowa State’ defensive stopper on the perimeter.
Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, Kansas: Moss brings experience and shooting while WIlson and Enaruna are highly-ranked recruits.
P.J. Fuller, TCU: The top-75 recruit will help Jamie Dixon on the perimeter.
Jonathan Laurent, Oklahoma State: Former Minuteman shot 46.7 percent from 3-point range last year.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG 12 TEAM
Udoka Azubuike, KANSAS (BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
Tyrese Haliburton, IOWA STATE
Devon Dotson, KANSAS
Chris Clarke, TEXAS TECH
Derek Culver, WEST VIRGINIA
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. KANSAS: The Jayhawks were knocked from their perch last year, but it took quite the sequence of events – along with one of the country’s best teams (Texas Tech) and one of it’s most experienced (Kansas State) – to finally make it happen after 14 years. If Bill Self and Co. can avoid the turmoil, this team should be good enough to reclaim the crown they were so hesitant to give up. Udoka Azubuike is a throwback big whom the league will have few answers for while the backcourt should improve from last season.
2. TEXAS TECH: This time last year, we were wondering how Chris Beard would try to replace Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith well enough to get back to the NCAA tournament. The task is similar this year, but the expectations are raised. What we know is that Beard is going to get this team to defend, and if they can squeeze some offense out, the Red Raiders can follow the same blueprint they’ve ridden to so much success the last two seasons.
3. BAYLOR: The Bears overachieved last year, and with Clark back in the fold plus strong transfer reinforcements, Baylor is going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. Scott Drew has gone from everyone’s favorite joke to make to being a coach you can count on to get the most out of his teams.
4. IOWA STATE: This is probably a best-case scenario for the Cyclones, who will be replacing a lot from last year’s team but have a solid core returning. Steve Prohm’s team could play big this season with two bigs, and that will put considerable pressure on the backcourt of Tyrese Haliburton and Prentiss Nixon to produce. The key could be whether or not Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton gets a transfer waiver. He’s got the scoring skills the Cyclones sorely need.
5. TEXAS: A little bit of shooting would go a long way for the Longhorns, but Texas’ season will likely hinge largely on just getting its returners to take a leap forward. If that doesn’t happen, the Longhorns are probably on the outside looking in on the NCAA tournament and questions about Smart’s job status will get louder – especially with all the success happening out in Lubbock.
6. KANSAS STATE: Bruce Weber has a lot of production to replace, but Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra are nice building blocks from which to start.
7. OKLAHOMA: Losing Christian James is going to put pressure on Brady Manek to step up offensively while Kristian Doolittle should take a step in his development as well. Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves’ ability to stretch defenses will be huge.
8. TCU: Jamie Dixon seemingly nearly left for his native Southern California and the UCLA job, but instead returns to his alma mater in Fort Worth with the roster not in as strong a position as it has been the last two years. Looks like rebuilding for the Horned Frogs.
9. OKLAHOMA STATE: Mike Boynton has done an admirable job with a tough situation in Stillwater. Isaac Likekele is drawing strong reviews with Team USA’s U19 squad and both Lindy Waters and Cam McGriff are proven Big 12 players, but there are too many question marks here to feel strongly about the Cowboys breaking through.
10. WEST VIRGINIA: It’s not particularly hard to see this ranking prove to be considerably off given what we’ve seen Bob Huggins transform some rosters into, but last year was such a debacle that it’s difficult to peg the Mountaineers making a major move up the standings.
There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.
But we’re doing it anyway!
A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them.
So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.
1. MICHIGAN STATE
WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
“Nike schools pay, too,” video wiretap catches former adidas and Nike employee Merl Code saying, according to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. “In some form or fashion, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Kentucky and all of those schools are doing something to help their kids.”
It was another embarrassing day for the sport, whose underbelly continues to exposed for what it was so long thought to have been – dirty – with each passing day.
“It’s a mess,” Code said on a wiretap, “because there’s so much money involved.”
Williamson, the presumptive No. 1 pick in June’s draft and college basketball’s biggest star after his stellar freshman season at Duke, was the topic of discussion on a wiretap between Clemson assistant Steve Smith with Christian Dawkins and Marty Blazer, both of whom have been at the center of the government’s case, and an undercover FBI agent, according to Norlander.
“Duke is gonna have their resources. UNC is UNC. Kentucky is gonna have their resources,” Dawkins said on the recording. Blazer testified he understood Dawkins’ comments to be in reference to Williamson’s family receiving money to attend those schools.
Another former Blue Devil, Bagley, also was at the center of testimony Thursday. The government showed video of a Las Vegas suite in 2017 in which assistants Tony Bland of USC, Preston Murphy of Creighton and Corey Barker of TCU were shown accepting cash. Bland discussed his efforts to bring Bagley to USC in the video, according to Norlander.
“Tony (Bland) needed money to get to Marvin (Bagley),” Blazer, a cooperating government witness, testified. “Tony was confident he had Marvin Bagley locked in at USC. When Marvin Bagley signs with USC, I need you guys on campus the moment he signs, be ready to get it to him ASAP.”
Bagley ultimately reclassified to the 2017 class and signed with Duke before going on to be the No. 2 pick in last year’s NBA draft.
While there may have been no shocking revelations in testimony Thursday, it was yet another day spent in which college basketball insiders exposed how the game outside the game is seemingly played by many. Who knows how much more we’ll learn tomorrow. Or any subsequent day.
Monday Overreactions: Recapping first weekend; looking ahead to Final Four
Oregon’s point guard was the best player on the floor for the Ducks in both of their games as the Pac-12 tournament champions became the only team seeded lower than fifth to get to the second weekend of the tournament. In wins over Wisconsin and UC Irvine, Pritchard averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.5 boards while also sparking late runs that turned close games into blowouts.
And frankly, Pritchard has been terrific for a month at this point. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists over his last five games and has looked like one of the best point guards in all of college basketball as Oregon has reeled off a ten game winning streak, eight of which have come on the road or on neutral courts.
ALL-FIRST WEEKEND TEAM
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: After putting up 26 points for the Boilermakers in the first round of the tournament, Edwards followed that up with 42 point explosion against Villanova in the second round, the most points scored in an NCAA tournament game since 2004. In total, Purdue has scored 148 points in two games in this even, and Edwards and 68 of them.
NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina: Little averaged 19.5 points in the first two games of his first (and only?) NCAA tournament. We wrote a column yesterday on why that is so important for the Tar Heels.
ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke: Williamson was, as you might expect, the best player for Duke over the course of the first weekend. He finished with 25 points and three boards in the opening round win over North Dakota State and followed that up with 32 points, 11 boards and four assists in the win over UCF.
BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga: Clarke didn’t do much in Gonzaga’s first round win over Fairleigh Dickinson because he didn’t need to do much. But in a second round date with a Baylor team that actually showed up and gave the Zags a fight, Clarke put together one of the best performances in the tournament this season: 36 points, eight boards, five blocks, three assists and two steals.
MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State: How many teams can say that their best player comes off of the bench? That’s the case for Florida State and Kabengele, who was simply terrific in two wins this weekend. He had 21 points and 10 boards against UVM and followed that up with 22 points, seven boards and three blocks in a blowout win over Ja Morant and Murray State.
MOST IMPRESSIVE TEAM: Texas Tech
Every one of the top two seeds got pushed at some point in the first weekend of the tournament. Virginia and North Carolina trailed at the half of their first round games. Duke came a couple of inches away from losing to UCF. Gonzaga was pushed by Baylor in the second round. Tennessee nearly blew not one, but two huge leads. Kentucky was in a dogfight with Wofford. Michigan State nearly lost to Bradley while Florida made it difficult for Michigan to get to the Sweet 16.
Texas Tech, however, didn’t really have those problems. Northern Kentucky kept it close for 15 minutes before Jarrett Culver went nuts and the Red Raiders ran away with it. Buffalo had one run late in the first half that seemed like it was going to make the most intriguing matchup of Sunday’s second round action worth watching, but that only last about five minutes.
This Texas Tech team has a real shot to make a run through Anaheim to get to Minneapolis. They are the nation’s best defensive team, but with the way they have been shooting the rock of late, they are also a threat to put up 90 points on any given opponent. On a weekend where every other title contender was pushed, Tech cruised, and that should tell you something.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The Big East
So it turns out the Big East was pretty bad after all.
Their run in the NCAA tournament ended on Saturday evening, with Carsen Edwards dropping 42 points in a rout that saw Purdue lead 59-24 at one point. It was an embarrassment, really, but one that we all probably should have seen coming.
Villanova won the Big East regular season title, but it never felt like they actually were trying to win. They lost five of their last eight regular season games and only managed to take home the league title because Marquette, the only other team in the league that we thought was any good, lost their last four games. That same Marquette team was run out of the first round by Murray State, who looked every bit the part of a mid-major in their loss to Florida State on Saturday.
Villanova beat Seton Hall in the Big East tournament title game, and the Pirates got drubbed by 16 points by Wofford in the first round. The only other Big East team to get into the tournament was St. John’s, and they got smoked in a play-in game by an Arizona State team that proceeded to lose to Buffalo by 17.
The league should be better with the amount of talent that they have coming back.
And they’re going to need to be.
Because this was not the kind of season that the conference will want to be known for.
FIVE OVERREACTIONS MOVING FORWARD
1. A DISMAL FIRST WEEKEND SETS US UP FOR THE PERFECT FINISH TO THE TOURNAMENT
That first weekend sucked.
We got a thriller with Duke and UCF on Sunday, Maryland played a couple of barn-burners against Belmont and LSU and Tennessee’s inability to protect a lead made for a couple of interesting games, but there wasn’t a true buzzer-beater in the first 52 games of the NCAA tournament. All of the Cinderellas have seen their carriages turn into pumpkins unless, of course, you consider No. 12-seed Oregon — who was a top 15 team in the preseason, reached the 2017 Final Four and is currently in their third Sweet 16 in the last four years — a Cinderella.
What we have right now is a tournament that still features all four No. 1 seeds, all four No. 2 seeds and all four No. 3 seeds. One of the two No. 4 seeds that was knocked out get sent home by a No. 5 seed. This has only happened once before in the NCAA tournament, in 2009, and that was the year that Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina cruised to the national title.
So yeah, the first weekend of the tournament sucked.
But what that means is that the final 15 games of this event are set up to be absolutely magical.
Think about it like this: The only two teams in the Sweet 16 that weren’t considered top 16 teams by the selection committee on Selection Sunday were both preseason top 15 teams. If you were going to build the perfect 16 team tournament from scratch, the only change that anyone would make is dropping Oregon for someone, but I’m not sure that the Ducks, given the way that they have been playing of late, aren’t actually a top 16 team in college basketball right now.
I’ve always said the ideal NCAA tournament has upsets early and chalk late. We didn’t have the upsets this year, but we do have the chalk.
So be ready. Every game from here on out is going to be a heavy-weight fight.
2. THE UCF PERFORMANCE SAID MORE ABOUT THE MATCHUP THEN IT DID DUKE
UCF was the perfect matchup for this Duke team. They are traditionally a really good defensive team that has big, athletic wings to guard Duke’s lottery picks and one of the world’s 40 largest humans to stand at the rim and make it difficult for R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson to finish. They also have a bunch of shot-makers on their perimeter, and all they needed to do to keep this thing close was for one of Aubrey Dawkins or B.J. Taylor to get into a rhythm while Tacko Fall stayed out of foul trouble.
Dawkins went off.
Fall stayed out of foul trouble for the most part.
And the end result was that Duke should have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament.
They are incredibly lucky to still be alive in this event, and I don’t think that they are going to face a team that will be able to challenge them the way that UCF did until the Final Four.
Look, we’ve known what the key to beating Duke is all season long. You need to pack in your defense, you need size at the rim and you need to be willing to let Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire shoot as many threes as they want to shoot. There aren’t many team that actually have the players to execute that game-plan as well as UCF did.
Duke certainly isn’t unbeatable, but this was the bullet they needed to dodge.
And they did.
3. THE BEST SPOT TO BE NEXT WEEKEND IS …
KANSAS CITY: The North Carolina-Auburn matchup has a chance to be one of the most entertaining games in the history of college basketball — if you like run-and-gun hoops, this is for you — while a Sunday evening matchup between UNC and Kentucky is very much in the cards.
ANAHEIM: This is the most unpredictable region left in the field. Texas Tech and Michigan might be the two best defensive teams left in the tournament, and they will be battling it out for a spot in the Elite 8 in what might as well be a street fight. On the other side of the bracket, we get a rematch from last year’s Sweet 16, when Florida State upset Gonzaga. Is this the revenge game?
WASHINGTON D.C.: I have a sneaking suspicion that Duke is going to have a pretty easy time making their way through this region, but remember: Virginia Tech has already beaten the Blue Devils this season, and they did it without Justin Robinson. On the other side of the bracket, LSU has somehow morphed into a team of destiny, and they will face off with Michigan State in a battle between two of the best point guards in the country in Cassius Winston and Tremont Waters.
LOUISVILLE: Virginia-Oregon is a battle between two really good teams, but there’s a real chance that game goes under the total of 118.5. On the other side of the bracket is Purdue-Tennessee, and as good as both of those teams are, that matchup just doesn’t have the pop of some of the others. That said, should this turn into a Virginia-Tennessee Elite 8 matchup, there’s a chance that ends up being the weekend’s best game.
The fact that Louisville is fourth on this list should tell you all you need to know about just how good the games are this weekend.
4. AN ALL-ACC FINAL FOUR CAN STILL HAPPEN
We’ll dive into this more during the week, but the chance of getting a Final Four that features Duke (or Virginia Tech), Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State is a very real possibility. The biggest reason for that is that three of the No. 1 seeds are from the conference. They’re obviously, then, the favorites to get to the final weekend out of their region.
But the other part of this is that Florida State seems like a good bet to knock off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
I’ll have a full breakdown on why later in the week.
5. AND YOUR FINAL FOUR IS …
My Final Four is still alive! Duke vs. Texas Tech and Virginia vs. North Carolina.
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.