Thursday Night College Hoops: Back the Under in Lubbock

The college basketball season continues to march on as many teams across the country continue to kick off their conference schedule with many other teams starting to end their non-conference slates.  

The Thursday Night college hoops slate looks to be the lightest schedule of a loaded week of games, but despite the smaller slate of action, there are still enticing games to jump in on. 

Here are the plays I am backing tonight, including a pick from tonight’s Big 12 heavyweight matchup between 5th ranked Kansas and 14th ranked Texas Tech.

#5 Kansas at #14 Texas Tech

Spread: Texas Tech -3.5
Total: O/U 135.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN

The game of the evening takes us to Lubbock, Texas where 5th ranked Kansas meets 14th ranked Texas Tech in the Big 12 conference opener for both schools.  Each team enters tonight’s contest with matching 6-1 records, with the Jayhawks playing the tougher schedule to date.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk has rattled off six straight wins after their opening loss to #1 Gonzaga, headlined by victories over #9 Creighton and a Kentucky team still finding their way, while Texas Tech lost their lone test of the season 64-53 to then #17 Houston and has wins over teams with a combined 9-20 mark to begin the new year.

While each team enters tonight’s game boasting offenses averaging 75 points per contest, the two teams are likely to play at a much slower pace tonight and defense will almost surely be the focal point of each team. 

Texas Tech enters tonight’s Big 12 opener with the best defensive unit in the country, and Chris Beard’s crew has landed in the Top 10 for defensive efficiency in each of his four seasons in Lubbock.  Their defensive numbers are downright beautiful through the first seven games of the schedule, as the Red Raiders are forcing turnovers on 30% of their opponent’s possessions and are holding teams to just 25% shooting from downtown.

The Jayhawks are not lacking for defense either.  So far this season they stake claim to the 6th overall defensive unit in college basketball and have held their opponents to just 29% shooting from three-point range.

This has all the makings of an all-out slugfest tonight and what else would you expect from two of the best teams in college basketball?

Kansas Players to Know

While Kansas lost a lot of talent when it watched Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike leave for the NBA, Bill Self has once again restocked his cupboard of talent this time with highly-touted freshman Jalen Wilson.

Wilson leads the Jayhawks in scoring with 15.3 points per contest and is shooting the three-ball at a 38 percent clip.  Junior Ochai Agbaji (14.1 ppg, 46% 3PM) and Christian Braun (11.9 ppg, 44.4% 3PM) give Self even more range from outside, while 6-10 junior David McCormack is Kansas’ best rim protector and fourth Kansas starter currently averaging double digits in scoring at just over 10 points per game.

The most important player this evening, however, is likely to be that of senior Marcus Garrett.  While Garrett is not the most dangerous scoring threat on the floor (8.6 ppg), he is Self’s best perimeter defender and a complete pest for the opposition to deal with. 

Why will he be so important?  Well, that’s a wonderful segue into the next section!

Texas Tech Players to Know

The Red Raiders’ best player of the young season has been that of former Georgetown product Mac McClung (14.1 ppg, 33.3% 3PM).  McClung is the catalyst for the entire Texas Tech offensive attack, and how he’s able to handle the relentless defense from Marcus Garrett will tell us a lot of how this matchup figures to go.

If Garrett can lock down McClung in the same manner he’s locked down many other guards across college basketball, the onus to score will fall on the shoulders of sophomore Terrance Shannon (11.8 ppg) and junior Kyler Edwards (11.3 ppg, 38% 3PM). 

Edwards is currently the teams’ most consistent shooter from long range, but collectively Texas Tech is a very poor outside shooting team (35% 3PM, 104th overall).  And they’ve been poor against teams that they are noticeably far inferior to the talent Beard has on the floor. 

The Red Raiders are also a smaller team, with no one in Texas Tech’s regular rotation being taller than 6-8 (Beard has a 7-1 freshman center who has only seen action in garbage time), but Kansas also has a roster comprised mostly of smaller players so their disadvantage in the frontcourt will not be as pronounced in this matchup as it could be further down the road.

Kansas-Texas Tech Prediction & Best Bet

With Baylor looking like the clear favorite to win the Big 12, this matchup will go a long way towards figuring out who the second-best team in the conference is.  Both Kansas and Texas Tech should reside in the Top 15 of the polls for the majority of the season, and each team will once again be a very difficult out in March.

Tonight, however, is a total toss-up in terms of who will come out victorious.  If I had to pick a winner I would lean with the oddsmakers here and take Texas Tech as home favorites, but I feel like the temperature of this game screams “under” as Texas Tech’s smothering defense should slow down the Jayhawks bevy of outside shooters, while Kansas’ tough perimeter defense will make offense for the Red Raiders hard to come by.

I will be taking the under and looking for windows to bet the game live.  If you love defensive basketball, this will be the matchup for you.

Prediction: Texas Tech 68, Kansas 64
Best Bet: UNDER 135.5  

#9 Creighton at St. John’s

Spread: Creighton -6.5
Total: O/U 157.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, FS1

If two Big 12 teams shooting sub 40% percent on the evening isn’t your thing, the Big East has a game for you.

9th ranked Creighton (4-2 overall, 0-1 Big East) looks to bounce back from an 89-84 home loss to Marquette when it pays a visit to conference foe St. John’s (5-3 overall, 0-2 Big East) tonight.

The Red Storm are also looking to bounce back from a recent skid, as they have dropped their first two conference games of the season, most recently a 97-94 OT loss to Georgetown this past Sunday. 

The scoreboard should light up all evening as St. John’s plays at a blistering pace (14th overall tempo in the country per KenPom) under coach Mike Anderson, while Creighton has the 5th most efficient offense in college basketball, shoots nearly 60 percent from the floor and is averaging 85 points per game.

Neither team figures to play much defense tonight, hence why the total is pushing the 160 range, but that should keep the game entertaining, to say the least.

Creighton Players to Know

As we’ve discussed at length in recent pieces highlighting Creighton, the Bluejays have a treasure trove of three-point shooters that they unleash on their opposition seemingly from start to finish.

Greg McDermott’s Bluejays have five players averaging double-figures in scoring and all five players can shoot the three, each shooting better than 34% from distance.  The catalyst of their offensive attack falls on the shoulders of senior guards Denzel Mahoney (16.2 ppg, 42.1% 3PM) and Mitch Ballock (10.7 ppg, 38.6 3PM).  Marcus Zegarowski is the teams’ best distributor and is also a sniper from long range (13.8 ppg, 34.1% 3PM), and Christian Bishop is a 6-7 forward that is shooting the three-ball at a 50 percent clip.

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the team that has a roster of outside shooters is not exactly a team that also believes in relentless defense.  The Bluejays enter tonight’s game with the 249th overall three-point defense and are outside of the top 160 in forced turnover percentage and offensive rebounding. 

Teams also average about 17 seconds a possession when going against the Creighton defense (265th overall in college basketball), indicating that an open shot is not hard to come by when playing against the boys from Omaha.

St. John’s Players to Know

Mike Anderson is slowly rebuilding the Johnnies after the disastrous Chris Mullin regime, and while they struggle shooting the three (231st overall in NCAA), they have a stable of athletes that can shine in Anderson’s torrid style of basketball.

The main component of the Red Storm attack is sophomore guard and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Julian Champagnie.  Champagnie is averaging nearly 21 points a game with eight rebounds chipped in, and he’s been especially dependable from the free-throw line where he’s converted on nearly 87 percent of his free throws.

Junior tandem Vince Cole (12.5 ppg, 35.5% 3PM) and Greg Williams Jr. (12.1 ppg, 36.8% 3PM) give the Johnnies their best role players and threats from outside, while 6-10 junior Isaih Moore (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is Anderson’s most dependable rim protector down low.

As could be expected with Anderson’s frenetic style of basketball, St. John’s is downright miserable on defense when they are unable to force a turnover.  While the ’40 minutes of hell’ mantra does have St. John’s forcing turnovers on 25% of their opposition’s possessions (28th overall in NCAA), and the 8th best steal rate in the nation, when they do not force a turnover it typically ends in an easy bucket for the other side.

St. John’s boasts the 250th ranked three-point shooting defense and gives up a basket on 56% of their opponent’s possessions (285th in NCAA).  That could post a great number of challenges for a team that happens to be facing one of the best offensive teams in the country.  

Creighton – St. John’s Prediction & Best Bet

Everything about this matchup screams a prime bounce-back spot for the Bluejays.  Despite the two recent setbacks to Missouri and Marquette, Creighton still very much remains as one of the most dangerous teams in all of college basketball. 

St. John’s is gradually improving under Mike Anderson, but this is just a bad matchup for them all around.  I am taking Creighton to cover the spread and also sprinkling some on the over as, despite the eye-popping 157.5 number, I think that’s kind of low for these two teams.

Prediction: Creighton 87, St. John’s 78
Best Bet: Creighton -6.5; OVER 157.5

Omaha at Wyoming

Spread: Wyoming -10.5
Total: O/U 146.5
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET, N/A

For our final game on the Thursday betting card, we’re going a little off the beaten path for some quality Summit League vs. Mountain West action. 

Omaha (2-6 overall) plays its sixth-consecutive road game, and second game in as many nights, when they visit Wyoming (5-1 overall) in Laramie.

The Mavericks are coming off of a 91-49 blowout at the hands of Colorado last night and have dropped five of their last six games with their lone victory being a two-point win over SIU Edwardsville (331st overall KenPom). 

Meanwhile, Wyoming has been a pleasant surprise to date with a 5-1 record, but they have played the 306th overall schedule so that record is likely a bit misleading at this point in the season.  Nonetheless, they do get another favorable draw tonight with an Omaha team that doesn’t do much of anything well.

Omaha Players to Know

The Mavericks’ best player and leading scorer through the first eight games of the season are that of bench player Marlon Ruffin (11.8 ppg), with starters Matt Pile (9.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and Wanjang Tut (8.1 ppg) being Omaha’s best secondary players.  It’s rare to see the talent flipped to where their best bench player is outperforming every starter, but this is the Summit League and there are no rules here.

Wyoming Players to Know

Through the first six games of the season, the Cowboys boast a Top 50 program in both three-point shooting (46th overall) and shots inside the three-point stripe (48th overall), and they’ve shown a great ability to limit turnovers with the 18th best turnover rate in college basketball.

While Wyoming has certainly played a schedule full of cupcakes, they’ve made the most of it and are quietly one of the most efficient scoring units in all of college basketball, at least in these games against the bottom feeders of the college basketball world.

Wyoming is led by their trio of guards: Marcus Williams (18.3 ppg), Kenny Foster (15.8 ppg, 67% 3PM), and Hunter Maldonado (15.5 ppg).  Collectively, the Cowboys as a whole love to create open looks from the outside, with three key contributors shooting the ball from the perimeter at better than a 40 percent rate from downtown.

That does not bode well for an Omaha team that has been away from home for a while and does not defend the three-ball whatsoever.

Omaha – Wyoming Prediction & Best Bet

Typically, I would be hard-pressed to lay a double-digit line on a team that went 7-23 in the regular season a year ago, no matter who they may be playing.  But Omaha is in a very tough spot playing in their second game in as many nights in a place that’s hard enough to get a road win under normal circumstances, much less in the middle of a season being held during a pandemic.

Omaha only has one more non-conference game after this and then they can return to the comfort of playing Summit League teams at home.  Tonight, however, they will endure yet another blowout.  I will take Wyoming to cover the 10.5-point spread.

Prediction: Wyoming 84, Omaha 69
Best Bet: Wyoming -10.5

Wednesday Night College Hoops: Back ‘Nova in Big East Opener

The college basketball week rolls on with another jam-packed slate as several teams from across the country begin their conference schedule.  Last evening was a nice bounce-back night for yours truly as well, as I went 2-1 on my Best Bets last night with the lone blemish being that I believed Iowa State wasn’t as terrible at basketball as Kansas State.

Spoiler alert:  They are.

Doesn’t matter though, we’re going to take a winning night and move forward!  Here are two of the games that will likely get a lot of attention from bettors tonight, and the bets I like in each.

Butler at #7 Villanova

Spread: Villanova -13.5
Total: O/U 132.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, FS1

The Butler Bulldogs head to Philadelphia to begin Big East Conference play when they meet 7th ranked Villanova.

For the Bulldogs, it will be just their second game of the new season, as the team has not played since the day before Thanksgiving due to a COVID-19 pause within their program.  Their lone game of the season was a 66-62 victory over Western Michigan, but considering Butler was set to be in a rebuilding season regardless of any pandemic schedule shuffling, it’s difficult to read a whole lot into their lone performance of the year.

Since their opening loss to Butler, Western Michigan has gone on to lose three of their last four including a 79-61 blowout at the hands of #8 Michigan State and a pair of home losses to Detroit Mercy and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who are ranked 201st and 254th respectively in the latest batch of rankings from Ken Pomeroy. 

In other words, Butler’s only win of the season was a four-point home win over a 1-4 team from the MAC that figures to finish towards the bottom of the conference.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Villanova, on the other hand, has a bigger sample of games to work off of, and outside of their early overtime loss to Virginia Tech, they’ve been every bit as advertised heading into the new season.

Jay Wright’s team is the most balanced team in the Big East Conference, and their offensive efficiency is a sight to behold when everything is clicking.

Considering Butler hasn’t stepped on the floor in 21 days, LaVall Jordan’s squad is in for one difficult opponent to face fresh off a long layoff.  

Butler Players to Watch

Butler enters tonight’s game looking like an entirely different group than we saw take the floor last season when the Bulldogs found themselves ranked in the Top 10 of the country.  The Bulldogs lost nearly 63 percent of their scoring from a season ago, including three of their top four scorers headlined by seniors Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott.  Replacing that production will be an ongoing challenge for LaVall Jordan all season.

Fortunately for Butler, the cupboard wasn’t left entirely bare.   Jordan returns three seniors to the team with guard Aaron Thompson expected to make the biggest leap in comparison to his play from a season ago.  Thompson passed his first test by contributing 21 points and four assists in their win over Western Michigan, but he will face much stiffer competition this evening when he meets a stingy Villanova defense.

Bryce Nze (9.0 ppg) and Jair Bolden (15.0 ppg) are the other seniors on this team and the other players to pay close attention to this evening, though Nze may miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury.  Freshmen Myles Tate and Chuck Harris also figure to be key contributors for Jordan’s team but had quiet debuts in the game against Western Michigan.

The Bulldogs are not an especially deep team, as they used only nine players in their season-opening victory, so this could also be of some importance in the event foul trouble occurs or Butler is flat out rusty in their first action in three weeks.

Villanova Players to Watch

While there are still a lot of questions swirling around the Butler side of things, Villanova’s roster is much easier to answer questions about. 

The catalyst for the Villanova attack is that of the team’s leading scorer, senior point guard Collin Gillespie (15.2 ppg, 44.1% 3PM) along with budding star sophomore Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (15.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg).  The inside-outside tandem was named to the Top 50 Wooden Award watch list at the start of the season and each player could find themselves lacing up their sneakers in the NBA before too long.

As is typically the case with a Jay Wright coached Villanova team, the ‘Cats have a bevy of dangerous shooters from the outside.  Gillespie shoots the three-ball at a blistering 44 percent clip, but guard Caleb Daniels (12.7 ppg) shoots it even better at nearly a 47 percent rate from distance, with Cole Swider (37.9% 3PM) and Justin Moore (34.6% 3PM) giving Wright four shooters hitting the perimeter shot at about 35 percent or better.

To make matters more difficult for their opponent tonight, Villanova plays a very clean style of basketball.  They have the 4th most efficient offense in all of college basketball and only turn the ball over on less than 13 percent of their possessions (9th best in NCAA).

If the three-ball is dropping, few teams in the country can hang with Villanova.  If they’re cold from the outside, however, that opens the door for opponents to control the glass and get quick run-outs on long misses to convert into easier buckets.  This is the recipe Virginia Tech used (along with red hot shooting from the outside) to score their earlier upset of Villanova, and it’s the one Butler will try its best at replicating tonight.

Butler – Villanova Prediction

The Butler Bulldogs have quietly been one of the steadier college basketball programs of the past decade, even since Brad Stevens departed the program several years ago to leap into the NBA.  This season marks their first true rebuilding test in quite some time, but as stated previously, their cupboard is not entirely bare and as the season goes on you will likely see a much improved Bulldogs team.

Unfortunately for Butler backers, this is about the worst conference opponent you could have drawn when returning to play basketball for the first time in three weeks with a roster full of new faces.  I like Butler to keep the game close for a half, maybe even taking the lead into the break, before ‘Nova will find its outside shot and put the game far out of reach.

Look for the ‘Cats to win their conference opener and cover the spread in the process.

Prediction: Villanova 80, Butler 64
Best Bet: Villanova -13.5

#20 Ohio State at Purdue

Spread: Purdue -5.5
Total: O/U 133
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network

The 20th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes put their perfect 5-0 record on the line when they open up conference play tonight against the Purdue Boilermakers, but they will need to do so tonight without their leading scorer E.J. Liddell, who will miss the game with mono.

While Ohio State enters tonight’s game with a perfect record, they’ve skated by with the 254th overall non-conference schedule.  In their most recent action, the Buckeyes narrowly escaped an upset bid by Cleveland State with a 67-61 victory in a game they were favored by 23 in. 

Ohio State did defeat Notre Dame 90-85 last Tuesday, by far their most impressive win of the young season, but they’ve yet to truly face a test this year.  

Meanwhile, the Boilers are in a similar situation as their opponent tonight.  While Purdue has performed well in games against better competition, they did fail each test with losses to Clemson and Miami, FL sandwiched in between wins over lesser competition.  Purdue sits at 4-2 on the season with their most impressive win being a 77-64 victory at the hands of Liberty in the season opener.

Ohio State Players to Watch

Barring a last-minute change, the Buckeyes leading scorer E.J. Liddell will miss tonight’s action leaving Chris Holtmann to rely on his trio of formidable secondary players – Duane Washington (14.8 ppg, 38.2% 3PM), Justice Sueing (14.0 ppg, 40% 3PM), and CJ Walker (13.2 ppg).

Should Liddell miss tonight’s game, 6-8 frosh Zed Key is most likely to receive his minutes in the lineup, as the young forward chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes in their win over Cleveland State.  When you take a look at the Purdue roster, you’ll quickly see why Key is (no pun intended) a major key to the Buckeyes scoring a big road win to kick off the conference slate.

As far as tempo goes, Ohio State plays at a very methodical pace.  They won’t be confused for the Ohio State football team, they like to take their time running through their offense.  They will attack the offensive glass (average one offensive rebound on 36% of their possessions) and are great at limiting mistakes (10th best NCAA).  If there is an Achilles’ heel to be found that Purdue (and almost every other Buckeyes opponent) will try to exploit it’s their abysmal defense from three-point range, as teams are shooting at an eye-popping 40 percent clip from downtown (279th overall in NCAA), with a lot of those looks being uncontested. 

Purdue Players to Watch

Remember when we mentioned that Ohio State’s Zed Key would be very important to tonight’s game? 

Well, that’s because Matt Painter’s Boilermakers once again feature two imposing bigs on their frontcourt, and everything Purdue hopes to accomplish runs right through them. 

Junior Trevion Williams is Purdue’s leading scorer (13.3 ppg) and rebounder (10.3) and is coming off of a dominant 30-point, 11 rebound night in the Boilers 80-68 win over Indiana State. 

He’s joined in the frontcourt by one of the biggest Canadians you’ll ever see – 7-foot-4 freshman Zach Edey.  The long-armed Edey is also averaging 13.3 points per contest while shooting a ridiculous 75 percent from the floor.  It’s not that Edey is especially skilled, it’s just that he’s usually the tallest man on the floor by several inches.

If there’s a bugaboo in Edey’s game, however, it’s that he’s still figuring out how to play defense at the collegiate level.  While Edey does average roughly one block per contest thus far, he’s had an especially difficult time staying out of foul trouble.  As a result, Edey sees the floor for about 15 minutes per game.  If he gets into foul trouble once again, that puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of their star forward Trevion Williams.

Where Ohio State could feel extra pressure comes from Purdue’s sharpshooting duo of Sasha Stefanovic (12.0 ppg) and Brandon Newman (9.2 ppg), as Stefanovic shoots a ridiculous 53 percent from three-point range while Newman chips in 41 percent three-point shooting.  Considering the Buckeyes treat the perimeter like it’s coated in lava, this could be a major obstacle to the Bucks’ chances of success this evening.

Ohio State – Purdue Prediction

As of this writing, all indications are that Ohio State will once again be without leading scorer E.J. Liddell, but the Buckeyes still have plenty of firepower to light up the scoreboard.

On paper, this matchup looks to favor a Purdue side that’s played much better at home than away from East Lafayette, though that too will be put to the test in a fanless Mackey Arena.

I think the Boilermakers have the mismatches in their favor and ultimately eke out a close cover, but I believe the much safer play tonight is the over. 

Prediction: Purdue 79, Ohio State 72
Best Bet:
OVER 133

Monday College Basketball Best Bets: Ride the Jays & Terps to Victory

The new college basketball season enters its third week of play, and we are starting to gradually ease into the conference portion of the schedule. Tonight features a relatively light slate of action headlined by the Big Ten Conference opener between Rutgers and Maryland, followed by the Big East Conference opener between Marquette and Creighton.

Who has the edge in each matchup and who should you look to take tonight? Let’s dive into tonight’s doubleheader action.

#19 Rutgers at Maryland

Spread: Maryland -2
Total: O/U 137.5
Time/TV: 6:05 PM ET, Big Ten Network

The best conference in all of college basketball is back with the headline game of the evening when Maryland plays host to #19 Rutgers in the Big Ten conference opener for each school.

The two teams contrast each other in a manner that makes this matchup quite intriguing.  Maryland enters tonight’s game with a 4-1 record but is coming off a disappointing 67-51 loss to Clemson in their one true test of the season thus far.  The 51 points scored in their defeat at the hands of the Tigers was their sixth-lowest offensive output since Mark Turgeon took over as Maryland coach back in 2011.

Even with their clunker of a performance against Clemson, Maryland still features one of the more efficient offensive units in all of college basketball.  In the most recent rankings from college hoops analytics guru Ken Pomeroy, the Terps feature the 9th most efficient offense in the country highlighted by their blistering 60.2% shooting percentage from inside the perimeter (14th overall in the country), and near 41 percent shooting percentage from three-point range.  The numbers, however, could be slightly boosted by their weaker non-conference schedule that saw Maryland earn victories over Old Dominion, Navy, Mount St. Mary’s, and Saint Peter’s – all of whom rank outside the KenPom top 100.  

Rutgers, on the other hand, has continued their strong play from a season ago with a 4-0 start to their season headlined by a 79-69 win over Syracuse last Tuesday night.  Where Maryland is an offensively driven team, Rutgers is the direct opposite, looking to bully teams, clean up the glass and defend opponents up and down the floor on the way to easy buckets.  

While the Terps are decent enough on defense to give teams issues from time to time, Rutgers is one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball.  A season ago they ranked 6th in defensive efficiency, this season they check-in as the 13th best defensive unit putting them at roughly the same pace as they were a season ago.

Rutgers Players to Watch

The Scarlet Knights returned several key contributors from last season’s team that was poised to end a 30-year NCAA Tournament drought, but none are more important than Rutgers’ trio of talented guards Ron Harper Jr. (22.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Montez Mathis (16.3 ppg), and Jacob Young (16.0 ppg). 

The straw that stirs Rutgers’ drink is that of Ron Harper Jr., who you might have guessed from the name is the son of former NBA Champion Ron Harper.  The 6-6 tweener is the lifeblood of Rutgers’ entire roster and the team usually goes how he goes.  Through the first four games of the season, Harper has already shown improvement on his outside shot as he has tallied 11 three-point shots on the season already when he only made 68 threes the previous two seasons combined. 

Harper’s outside shooting gives Rutgers a much-needed threat from outside, as a season ago Rutgers was amongst the worst shooting teams in all of college basketball as they ranked 295th in the nation in three-point shooting.  This season that number has improved substantially up to 175th, but outside of Harper they are still not a good shooting team from the perimeter as only three other players have connected from distance this season.  

The Scarlet Knights are also downright abysmal from the free-throw line, which is a gambler’s worst nightmare in a close game with an even tighter point spread.  As a team, Rutgers shoots under 60% from the stripe, good for the 290th overall ranking in college basketball.  Gross. Gross. Gross.

Maryland Players to Watch

No one in the Big Ten lost more from the sudden cancelation of the 2019/20 college basketball season than the Maryland Terrapins.  Not only was Maryland on the verge of potentially making a run at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they also lost two of the program’s biggest contributors since Turgeon took over some ten years ago when Anthony Cowan graduated from the school and star big man Jalen Smith departed for the NBA.

As a result of those two big departures, last season’s role players had to step into the new shoes of being a leader on this team.  Through the first five games of the season, juniors Eric Ayala (13.4 ppg, 40% 3PM) and Aaron Wiggins (9.8 ppg) have done just that.  The veteran leadership on the roster has allowed for younger talent like Hakim Hart (12.2 ppg) and Donta Scott (11.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg) to step up and immediately contribute.

Rutgers – Maryland Prediction

While the Terrapins 4-1 start to a season that expected to be a soft rebuild of sorts for Turgeon is certainly promising, there were a lot of concerns that surfaced when Maryland finally played against some competition with a pulse.  Clemson harassed the Maryland backcourt all game and smothered a Terrapin offense into just 40 percent shooting and 15 turnovers.  That may not bode well considering Rutgers plays a very similar style that Clemson does.

Conversely, a season ago, Rutgers was an entirely different team when they left the friendly confines of the RAC.  At home, Rutgers finished the season with a perfect 18-0 record.  When they left Piscataway though, especially in conference play, they went a meager 2-8.

There will not be any fans in attendance for this evening’s game, so perhaps that mitigates some of the road struggles that Rutgers faced a season ago, but until Rutgers proves they can win on the road in the Big Ten, I will side with the slight home fav and look for them to bounce back following their worst performance of the young season.

Prediction: Maryland 74, Rutgers 70
Best Bet:
Maryland -2

Marquette at #9 Creighton

Spread: Creighton -7.5
Total: O/U 151
Time/TV: 9:05 PM ET, FS1

Marquette and Creighton will kick off the start of their respective Big East Conference schedules when the two sides tangle from Omaha tonight.

The Bluejays enter tonight’s contest with a 4-1 record on the season and a Top 10 ranking in the recent polls.  Their lone loss of the season came in heartbreaking fashion a week ago when Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski missed the game-tying free throw in the waning moments of a 73-72 loss to 5th ranked Kansas last Tuesday.

Marquette meanwhile is 4-2 to start their young season with an impressive 67-65 win over #4 Wisconsin nestled in between losses to Oklahoma State and UCLA being the highlights of their young season thus far. 

Marquette Players to Watch

Steve Wojciechowski entered the new season with the daunting task of replacing Markus Howard, the best scorer in school history and one of the best scorers in the history of college basketball, but Howard’s departure has allowed Wojo to return to his roots and create a more balanced team going forward.

The Golden Eagles are led by the inside-outside attack from senior guard Koby McEwen (15.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and freshman big man Dawson Garcia (12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg).  Garcia is a slender 6-11, 230 pounds with outside range and could present a host of challenges for a Creighton side that likes to play small and rolls out a guard-heavy lineup.

Another name to keep an eye on this evening is that of Ohio State transfer D.J. Carton (10.3 ppg) who struggled out of the gates initially but just had his best performance of his young Marquette career with an 18-point night in their loss to UCLA.

Creighton Players to Watch

If you’ve never watched Creighton play basketball, do yourself a favor and tune-in tonight.  In all of college basketball, there may not be a team that plays a more entertaining brand of basketball than Greg McDermott’s Bluejays.

Creighton has a bevy of three-point snipers, including four starters shooting better than 38% from distance this season with star guard Marcus Zegarowski (15.0 ppg, 40.5% 3PM), Denzel Mahoney (15.0 ppg, 40% 3PM), Christian Bishop (13.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 50% 3PM), and Damien Jefferson (10.8 ppg, 38.5%) lighting up the scoreboard with great regularity from downtown.

All of this mentions the fact that last season’s best shooter, senior Mitch Ballock, is actually in a shooting slump to start the season and is only shooting 30% from distance in comparison to the scorching hot 43.5% three-point shooting percentage he posted a season ago.

Marquette – Creighton Prediction

If Creighton has a night where all of their shooters are on, they can beat anyone in the country and beat them quite decisively. 

For Marquette to have any realistic chance of pulling the road upset in their conference opener, they will need to continue their feisty defensive play and hope that Creighton is simply off the mark tonight.

Considering this is the second consecutive road trip for a Marquette team still trying to transition back to a team that isn’t so dependent on one guard’s scoring, I’m not sure this is the best time for Marquette to be running into Creighton.

I think Creighton is one of the most underrated teams in all of college basketball and they will remind us all of that tonight with a big home victory.

Prediction: Creighton 83, Marquette 73
Best Bet:
Creighton -7.5 (Like it as high as -9)

Big East College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

Prior to the sudden end of the 2019/20 college basketball season, the Big East Conference provided some of the best basketball in the country and featured a three-way tie for the regular-season crown between Creighton, Villanova, and Seton Hall, each of whom was ranked in the Top 15 heading into the Big East Conference Tournament.

One year later, the conference is going through a transition period.

The biggest story of the offseason is that of the return to the Big East from original conference member UConn.  UConn comes back to the Big East after seven seasons playing as a member of the American Athletic Conference, but the move never really felt right so seeing UConn back in the conference they belong is already a major win for the conference.

The Big East saw a lot of talent leave the conference between March and today, as NCAA leading scorer Markus Howard graduated from Marquette and the face of Seton Hall, Myles Powell, also departed the program after graduating.  Georgetown lost sharpshooting Mac McClung (transferred to Texas Tech), Creighton lost Ty-Shon Alexander (NBA Draft), and Butler lost practically their entire senior-laden team.

The landscape of the conference has changed, but one thing remains the same:  Villanova is going to be really good this season.

Here’s how the rest of the Big East shakes out.

The Contenders

#3 Villanova (-109 to Win Big East)

A mark of how talented this Villanova team is this season is looking at their odds to win the Big East. 

Outside of Gonzaga, no other school in the country is favored to win their conference with you risking more money than you’d win.  There’s a reason for these odds, as no other team in the Big East boasts the depth, experience, and shooting that Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats will during the 2020/21 season.

Villanova only loses one player from last season’s team in leading scorer Saddiq Bey (2020 NBA Draft) and is projected to start four players who averaged double-digits in scoring a season ago. 

The ‘Cats will be led by senior point guard Collin Gillespie (15.1 ppg, 4.5 apg) who made enormous strides last season as a player and is a legitimate candidate to bring home the Big East Conference Player of the Year Award.  Gillespie will be playing alongside sophomore three-point shooting specialist Justin Moore in the backcourt.  Moore is a former Top 50 recruit for Jay Wright and connected on 40% of his shots from distance a season ago. 

The weapons in Jay Wright’s arsenal are plenty, as Villanova will also have the services of Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels this season.  Daniels averaged nearly 17 points per game for the Green Wave before transferring to Villanova and figures to be the ‘Cats sixth man this season.

All of this and we haven’t even mentioned the reigning Big East Freshman of the Year in forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (10.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg).

Simply put, Villanova is stacked.  The Big East is down this season, but Villanova is not.  They may very well waltz to another league crown.  Don’t be afraid to bet on this team throughout the season and in whatever version of an NCAA Tournament that we get this year.

#11 Creighton (+350 to Win Big East)

If anyone can relate to the Baylor’s, Dayton’s, and San Diego State’s of the world, it would probably be the boys from Omaha, Nebraska.

The Creighton Blue Jays were fresh off securing a share of their first-ever Big East Conference championship and ranked as the 7th overall team in the country entering championship week.  A Big East conference tournament championship likely would have brought the Blue Jays their highest seeding in the NCAA Tournament ever, and they were a very real threat to make a deep run in March.

Then COVID-19 happened and the season was history. 

Now Greg McDermott is left to try again, this time without his best player Ty-Shon Alexander, but the Blue Jays are once again in a great position to finish high in the Big East standings and potentially make a March run.

Replacing Alexander will not be easy, but McDermott is not inheriting a bare cupboard this season either.  Junior guard Marcus Zegarowski (16.1 ppg, 5.0 apg) will be the team’s new leader and the Blue Jays should be in great hands as a result.  The talented point guard was an assassin from three-point range a season ago, shooting a blistering 45% from beyond the arc while chipping in five assists a night.  McDermott’s quick-tempo system that spreads the floor is tailor-made for Zegarowski’s skillset and he should fill some of the gaps from Alexander’s absence.

Joining Zegarowski in the Creighton backcourt is senior guard Mitchell Ballock, who like Zegarowski is also a demon from three-point range as he connected on nearly 44% of his 211 three-point attempts a season ago. 

While Creighton is loaded with guards that can shoot the lights out, they’re dangerously thin in the frontcourt with 6-11 Jacob Epperson being the team’s best option down low.  Epperson hasn’t played since the 2018-19 season, however, as he missed all of last season with an injury.  He’s also a very slender 6-11, so whether or not he can handle a skilled big remains to be seen.

Outside of Villanova, however, there is not another team in the conference that can light up the scoreboard in the manner Creighton can.  Expect McDermott’s team to push for another regular-season crown and look out for them when you’re filling out your bracket in March.

The Dangerous Dark Horses

UConn (+500 to Win Big East)

“FINALLY!  UCONN HAS COME BAAAAAAAAAAACK……. TO THE BIG EAST!”
 – Dwayne Johnson, probably.

2020 has brought us a whole myriad of awful crap to endure, but it did right at least one wrong by returning UConn to its rightful home – the Big East Conference.

Yes, UConn is back as a member of the conference and Dan Hurley has his best team at UConn yet.

The Huskies return emerging star sophomore James Bouknight (13.0 ppg) and added two high-volume scorers through the transfer portal in former Howard leading scorer RJ Cole (21.4 ppg) and former Rhode Island product Tyrese Martin (12.8 ppg, 7 rpg).

Each player should immediately contribute to a young Huskies team that has only three seniors on it, two of which start in the UConn frontcourt with bigs Tyler Polley (9.5 ppg) and Josh Carlton (7.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg).  

If RJ Cole can come in and give Dan Hurley a much needed three-point threat, UConn has a great chance to emerge from a crowded middle of the conference and get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 – which given their storied history, is hard to believe they’ve been away from the dance for this long.

Providence (+900 to Win Big East)

For the Providence Friars, the 2019/20 season could have easily doubled as a Jekyll & Hyde type performance.

The Friars began the season with high-expectations about being a live dog in the Big East and a team capable of contending for the regular-season crown, instead, they stumbled to a 7-6 start in the non-conference part of their schedule, losing games to the likes of Northwestern, Penn, Long Beach State, and Charleston. 

Then right around Valentine’s Day, the Friars sat at 13-12 overall and 6-6 in the conference. 

They wouldn’t lose again for the rest of the season.  They would rattle off six-straight conference wins including wins over Seton Hall, Marquette, and Villanova, and were going to safely be in the field of 68 before COVID-19 crushed all of our March Madness happiness.

Now Ed Cooley’s Providence Friars enter the new season looking to replace the team’s top scorer and captain in Alpha Diallo, and the team’s third-leading scorer in Luwane Pipkins.  It will be a challenging feat but the Friars appear to have the talent necessary to survive losing five players to graduation.

For Providence to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, they will need junior scoring threat David Duke (12.0 ppg) to fill the shoes of Alpha Diallo and make that next leap into stardom. 

Helping Duke get to that point will be former St. Joe’s point guard Jared Bynum (11.3 ppg, 4.5 apg in 2018/19) and junior guard A.J. Reeves (7.4 ppg).  Cooley will also have the services of former North Florida star Noah Horchler (16.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg) to bolster the Friars’ frontcourt, as he sat out last season while waiting to be eligible.

All in all, this is a team that may mimic a lot of what last season’s Friars team did, right down to the slow start and strong finish.  If Duke can grow into the talent Cooley thinks he is, Providence could be a very pesky foe in the Big East and beyond.

Seton Hall (+1000 to Win Big East)

Like Creighton, Seton Hall also had their best season in quite some time cut short by COVID-19.  The Pirates were off to their best season since the early ’90s and were in line to land a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, the Pirates got a share of the regular-season Big East crown and then got to watch the blood and soul of their team depart via graduation when Myles Powell’s career came to a close.

Now coach Kevin Willard is in the precarious position of not only replacing the loss of Powell, but also the team’s second-leading scorer in guard Quincy McKnight (11.9), and the team’s best rim protector center Romaro Gill (7.8 ppg, 3.2 bpg). 

To offset these losses, Willard was able to bring in one of the most coveted grad-transfers in the transfer portal in Harvard’s Bryce Aiken.  Aiken was a former Top 100 recruit for, ironically enough, former Seton Hall and current Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker.

Powell’s departure may be easier to handle if Aiken can continue the strong play he showed at Harvard.  Seven times in his career, the 5-11 guard has topped 30 points in a game while shooting a very respectable 35% from distance and 85% at the line.  Aiken’s biggest issue has been durability, as he has yet to play a season without missing time due to injury.  Aiken’s health could ultimately make or break the Pirates’ season.

Outside of Aiken, the most impactful player on the Seton Hall roster is that of forward Sandro Mamukelashvili (try to say that one five times fast).  Mamu averaged 12 points per game and six rebounds a season ago and will be tasked to bolster the Pirates’ frontcourt and to try to fill the void left by the departed Gill.

Willard should have a veteran rotation at his disposal, but the Pirates will likely only go about three deep on their bench.  Their depth could become a concern should injuries occur.

This Seton Hall team doesn’t seem to be as well rounded a unit as last year’s team was, but the Pirates can still make a great deal of noise and be right in the thick of another at-large berth in the tournament.  

Middle of the Pack

Marquette (+1500 to Win Big East)

The temperature under the seat of Marquette HC Steve Wojciechowski is starting to feel a little toasty, and now Wojo is faced with the heavy challenge of replacing the all-time leading scorer in school history with Markus Howard’s graduation.

However, if you’re looking to save your job, Wojo’s approach to the offseason is not a bad blueprint to try and replicate.

Marquette pulled in the best recruiting class (ranked 18th overall by 247Sports) in the Big East, and won the DJ Carton (Ohio State) transfer sweepstakes, getting the added bonus of having the NCAA grant Carton (10.4 ppg) a waiver that makes him immediately eligible to play this season.

Losing Howard’s offense will be a big hurdle to overcome for the Golden Eagles, but the team may ultimately be better off in the long run, as all too often Marquette seemed to fall in love with Howard playing ISO ball and shooting the ball 20+ times a night.  Now Wojo hopes for more ball movement, fewer turnovers, and better defense with Howard no longer on the floor.   

If the Golden Eagles can replace Howard’s offensive production they could very well overachieve this season with the new-look roster.  Considering Wojo has fielded a Top 15 offensive team in three of the last four seasons, that could very well be the case this year.

However, if Marquette remains maddeningly inconsistent, that seat under Wojo’s cheeks is only going to get warmer and warmer…

Xavier (+3000 to Win Big East)

Like Marquette before them, Xavier is another team that has been aggravatingly inconsistent. 

A season ago, the Musketeers were projected to finish 3rd in the Big East, instead, they limped their way to a sub .500 8-10 record in conference play, and had COVID-19 not canceled the season, Xavier was likely going to be NIT bound.

If Xavier is to overachieve this season, they will need to navigate through the departures of Naji Marshall (NBA Draft) and Tyrique Jones.

However, coach Travis Steele may have already done just that as the Musketeers added on three highly-coveted transfers in Nate Johnson (Gardner-Webb), Adam Kunkel (Belmont), and Ben Stanley (Hampton).  

Johnson is a graduate transfer by way of Gardner-Webb and averaged 13.5 points per contest a season ago.  The 6-6 Stanley averaged 22 points per game with Hampton, while the 6-4 Kunkel chipped in nearly 17 a night at Belmont.  They will team up with returning starting point guard Paul Scruggs to formulate a quartet of dangerous offensive weapons.

If the new talent can gel with the returning players Steele has this season, Xavier can be a very difficult opponent come conference play and beyond.  If the talent doesn’t come together and Xavier underachieves yet again, Travis Steele could be the latest head coach in danger of losing his job.

The Long Shots

St. John’s (+5000 to Win Big East)
Butler (+10000 to Win Big East)
Georgetown (+10000 to Win Big East)
DePaul (+15000 to Win Big East)

Let’s face it, each of these teams has a lot of issues to address this season.

St. John’s hopes to improve on their 8th place finish from a season ago in Mike Anderson’s second season with the school, but there are not a lot of pieces currently on the roster that look like they can run Anderson’s relentless offense to its full potential.  Keep an eye out for the Johnnies in 2021/22, but for now, they will just be the team that occasionally sends a contender a scare.

Butler is going through a full-blown rebuild this season after losing six players including star Kamar Baldwin and second-leading scorer Sean McDermott.  If anyone can overachieve with an entirely new group it’s probably Butler, but they will endure quite a bit of growing pains this season and take their lumps towards the bottom of the conference.

Georgetown losing top scoring threat Mac McClung to Texas Tech is a massive blow to the hopes of their season.  Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas were the worst defensive team in the conference last season and likely will not improve much on that this season.  Adding grad transfers Jalen Harris (Arkansas) and Chudier Bile (Northwestern State) will help replace some losses, but this team simply does not have the overall talent to hang with the big dogs of the conference.  Would the Hoyas consider firing beloved Patrick Ewing if G’Town disappoints again?  It’s a possibility.

DePaul is showing signs of finally breaking out of their long period of losing but still found themselves at the bottom of the Big East a season ago.  The Demons will compete, they just won’t win very often in the conference.

Big East Projected Order of Finish

  1. Villanova
  2. Creighton
  3. UConn
  4. Providence
  5. Seton Hall
  6. Xavier
  7. Marquette
  8. Butler
  9. St. John’s
  10. Georgetown
  11. DePaul