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

Tuesday College Hoops Best Bets: Back the Illini to Rebound

Well, Monday wasn’t the best way to kick off the college basketball betting week, as yours truly went 0-2 last evening thanks to Marquette shooting the ball like the entire team was on fire like a game of NBA Jam.

Fortunately, the college basketball gods have blessed us with another jam-packed schedule!  Here are the three games I’m eyeing the most this evening.   

#24 Clemson at Virginia Tech

Spread: VA Tech -2
Total: O/U 126.5
Time/TV: 6:30 PM ET, ACC Network

While Clemson faithful may be slightly more attentive to their football team, the basketball side of things has gone tremendously well to open up the 2020 season.  The Tigers currently sit at #24 in the AP Top 25 and have opened the season with a 5-0 record, covering in all five games of the early season.  Their most recent victory was a 64-56 defeat of Alabama, and the Tigers already have notched wins over the likes of Mississippi State, Purdue, and Maryland, giving Clemson a strong non-conference schedule before they jump feet first into ACC play.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech soared up to #15 in the AP Top 25 thanks in large part to their 81-73 overtime win over #3 Villanova back on November 28th, but last Tuesday they were devoured 75-55 by a rebuilding Penn State team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  They’ve since fallen completely out of the rankings and have spent the last week stewing over their poor performance.

Clemson Players to Watch

Unlike their football team, the Clemson basketball team is largely devoid of any star talent.  However, the Tigers present one of the deeper units in the ACC and boast the 2nd best defensive efficiency in all of college basketball.

Clemson is led by the team’s leading scorer, senior big man Aamir Simms (11.6 ppg, 20% 3PM).  No other Clemson player averages double-digits in scoring, but coach Brad Brownell loves to rotate players as a means to keep the defense coming in waves.  The Tigers feature eleven players in total that have logged 10 minutes or more in their first five games, and the team as a whole is holding their opponents to just over 51 points per game on sub 35% shooting. 

If the Hokies had issues with Penn State’s slow tempo and defensive approach, they could be in for a frustrating evening against one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball.  

Virginia Tech Players to Watch

Unlike their opponents tonight, the Hokies have a trio of players they lean on for most of their offensive production, and while Mike Young’s team will go to their bench, they’re nowhere near as deep as Clemson as a whole. 

However, thanks to the likes of Keve Aluma (15.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 42.9% 3PM) and the backcourt tandem of Tyrece Radford (11.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Nahiem Alleyne (11.0 ppg), the Hokies still have plenty of firepower to give any defense trouble, including one as proficient as Clemson’s.  

Clemson-VA Tech Prediction

Following a disappointing showing a week ago, the Hokies hope to bounce back on their home floor against a Clemson team they are 7-1 against in their last eight matchups in Blacksburg.  There’s been another constant in this series and that’s the under.  In the last five games played between Clemson and VA Tech in Blacksburg, the total has gone under in all five matchups.

The Hokies enter tonight’s game with the 343rd overall tempo in the nation.  They play a slow, methodical brand of basketball and when they are not creating easy buckets from their defensive play, they can struggle mightily to put points on the scoreboard.  We got another reminder of this a week ago when the Hokies labored to a 55-point evening.

Conversely, Clemson also plays at a slow pace (312th overall) and defends like nobody else in the ACC outside of Virginia.  This has all the makings of another grind it out, defensive game and I could see either team coming out of this game with the win.  If I were to bet on a side to win, I would slightly favor Clemson, but I believe the under is a much better play tonight so I will go with that.

Prediction: Clemson 60, VA Tech 58
Best Bet:
UNDER 126.5

Minnesota at #13 Illinois

Spread: Illinois -8
Total: O/U 146.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2

Undefeated Minnesota faces its biggest test of the young season when they visit 13th ranked Illinois to kick off the Big Ten Conference schedule for both schools.

The Illini enter tonight’s game with a 4-2 record, with losses coming in the past two weeks to #2 Baylor and a surprising 81-78 upset at the hands of Missouri on Saturday.  Despite their recent setback, however, they remain as one of the bigger contenders in the supremely loaded Big Ten Conference.

Illinois’ opponent for their conference opener is none other than the 6-0 Minnesota Golden Gophers, but before you gravitate over to their sterling record know that Richard Pitino’s team has played such a cupcake schedule it should be sponsored by Betty Crocker. 

The Gophers have played the 258th strongest schedule to date this season and two of their six victories came at the expense of Loyola Marymount.  Minnesota’s best win to date was an 85-80 victory over ACC basement dweller Boston College, and their other victories came against Green Bay, North Dakota, and UMKC.  They’re not exactly entering tonight’s game with the most decorated resume.

Tonight will answer a lot of questions as to what team Pitino has at his disposal in what could be his make or break season with the Gophers.

Minnesota Players to Watch

The unquestioned leader of the Golden Gophers is that of junior guard Marcus Carr, and through the first six games of the season, Carr has looked terrific.  Carr is averaging just under 24 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range.  If the Gophers are to pull the upset tonight, Carr will be a big reason why.

Joining Carr in the backcourt is fellow junior sharpshooter Both Gach (15.3 ppg, 40% 3PM), and 7-footer Liam Robbins gives the Gophers an imposing rim protector down low.   Jamal Mashburn Jr. is the most notable freshman on the roster, but mainly because of his namesake and not for his play thus far.  

While the Gophers aren’t the most talented team in the conference, they certainly have enough to give the elite teams in the conference a run for their money. 

Illinois Players to Watch

The Illini feature one of the best inside-outside duos in the entire country thanks in large part to future NBA’er and Wooden Award candidate Ayo Dosunmu (24.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 41% 3PM) and big man Kofi Cockburn (14.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg).  They will be the focal point for Brad Underwood’s attack every night the Illini take the floor, and tonight’s matchup between Dosunmu and Marcus Carr is worth the price of admission on its own (though, thanks to COVID-19 the price of admission is a moot point).

Freshman guard Andre Curbelo is the Illini’s best option off the bench, while freshman Adam Miller is Brad Underwood’s second-best threat from outside as he’s connected on 38% of his three-point shots to start the new season.

Minnesota-Illinois Prediction

While the Gophers are indeed a perfect 6-0 on the season and have covered in all six games, they have feasted on the minnows of the college basketball pond.  Illinois is infinitely better than any of the teams Minnesota has faced to date, and they’re coming off of a frustrating loss to an inferior Missouri opponent just three days ago.

In recent history, Minnesota has struggled against NCAA Tournament caliber competition.  In their last nine games against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or higher, Minnesota is a paltry 1-6-2 ATS.

Marcus Carr will put some points on the scoreboard, but not enough to overcome one of the best duos in all of college basketball.  I like Illinois to bounce back with a double-digit victory and notch their first Big Ten win of the season.

Prediction: Illinois 80, Minnesota 67
Best Bet: Illinois -8

Kansas State at Iowa State

Spread: Iowa State -7.5
Total: O/U 136.5
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU

It wasn’t that long ago that Kansas State and Iowa State were among the consistent contenders for the Big 12 throne. 

Those days are very clearly in the past this season, however, as Kansas State looks to be one of the worst Power 5 basketball teams in the country, and Iowa State is not incredibly far behind them either.

Kansas State enters tonight’s Big 12 opener with a 2-4 record after they narrowly defeated UW-Milwaukee 76-75 on Friday, but they are 0-5 against the spread and managed to lose by 13 points at home to NAIA member Fort Hays State.

Meanwhile, Iowa State has only played three games to date this season, their most recent showing was a 105-77 thumping at the hands of #3 Iowa on Friday.  Their lone victory of the early season was an 80-63 defeat of Arkansas Pine Bluff (Ranked 350th overall by Ken Pomeroy), with their other loss coming at the hands of South Dakota State on their home floor.

Kansas State Players to Watch

Honestly, Kansas State is so bad we suggest probably just … not watching them.  But if you want a guy to look out for, Wildcats’ leading scorer Mike McGuirl (14.5 ppg, 42.9 3PM) is probably your best bet. 

Iowa State Players to Watch

Steve Prohm is very much on the hot season this season after posting sub 15-win campaigns in two of the last three Iowa State seasons.  The Cyclones were faced with the daunting task of replacing NBA lottery pick Tyrese Haliburton in the lineup and Prohm elected to hit the transfer portal particularly heavily to retool the roster.

With just three games under their belt, one of which coming against a legitimate National Championship contender, the talent has yet to truly gel.  Prohm has also already shown he will not be dipping too deep into his bench, as only two reserves average more than 10 minutes a game (George Conditt IV and Darlinstone Dunbar).

The Cyclones are paced by former Illinois and DePaul product Jalen Coleman-Lands (15.3 ppg, 41.7% 3PM) and former Troy product Javan Johnson (13.7 ppg), while 2019 Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton logs 35 minutes a game while averaging 14.7 points per contest.

Iowa State simply just needs more game action for their talent to come together.  A game against Kansas State could be just the tune-up the Cyclones need to get their season on track for the rest of the conference slate that’s forthcoming.

Kansas State-Iowa State Prediction

Kansas State is one of the worst teams in the country and while Iowa State will likely be at the bottom of the standings with them when the season draws to a close, the talent gaps between even the Cyclones and Wildcats are immense.

Bruce Weber is in for one long season, as Kansas State is only projected to win six games this season by Ken Pomeroy.  One of those six wins is not coming tonight.  Look for the Cyclones to cruise for most of the game before clinging on to the cover late.

Prediction: Iowa State 81, Kansas State 71
Best Bet: Iowa State -7.5

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)

Friday Night College Hoops: Back Creighton and Iowa in Rivalry Matchups

As the 2020 college football season draws to a close, the new college basketball season begins to take our attention on Friday nights. Tonight’s slate is once again juiced with several of the best teams from across the country taking the floor.

From rivalry games to the Big East opener, we have you covered with your Best Bets of the evening. We even threw in an extra bonus bet because it’s the holiday season.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the best college hoops bets on this Friday in December.

Nebraska at #8 Creighton

Spread: Creighton -14
Total: O/U 155
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network

8th ranked Creighton looks to put a heartbreaking one-point loss to #5 Kansas behind them when they return home this evening to take on in-state rival Nebraska.

Calling this match-up a “rivalry” in recent seasons may be kind to the Huskers.  Nebraska has struggled mightily in this spot against their fellow Cornhusker State brethren, going 2-8 straight up and ATS in their last ten matchups against the Bluejays.  They face an immense challenge to buck that trend tonight.

Creighton boasts one of the best shooting units in all of college basketball, though to start the season they’re lagging behind their production from a season ago, particularly from three-point range as the Jays presently have the 154th best long-distance shooting team in the country. 

This is a far cry from last season’s efforts that had the Jays finishing 6th overall in three-point efficiency but good news could be on the horizon for Creighton tonight as Nebraska will give them ample opportunity to find their usual stroke from the perimeter. 

The Huskers have been sound defensively at the start of the season, but have yet to play on the road and have had a Charmin soft start to their non-conference schedule.  A season ago, the Huskers were one of the worst defensive teams in all of college basketball (266th overall per KenPom) and would routinely get punished on the glass as they surrendered an offensive rebound on a third of their opponents’ possessions (335th overall in the country in 2019/20).

Neither of those tendencies bode well for tonight.  Creighton features a dynamic quartet of players with their backcourt of Marcus Zegarowski (13.3 ppg) and Denzel Mahoney (13.3 ppg) pairing up with forwards Christian Bishop (14.5 ppg) and Damien Jefferson (10.8 ppg) to give the team a balanced scoring attack with any of the four Bluejays capable of carrying the offense in any given situation. 

While the three-point shooting as a team is collectively down so far through the first five games of the new season, Creighton presently features three starters that shoot the three at better than a 40% clip.  If the three-point shot is on tonight, this game can get out of hand in a hurry.

Nebraska enters season two under Fred Hoiberg and the former Mayor of Ames is still in the middle of what figures to be a long rebuild to return the Huskers to prominence in the Big Ten.  The Huskers are a very young team who have struggled mightily on the road as evidenced by their current 19-game road losing streak.  Good things are coming to Lincoln, they’re just not going to come with much frequency this season and that includes tonight.

Look for Creighton to bounce back after their disappointing loss against Kansas with another comfortable beat down of their in-state rival.

Prediction: Creighton 85, Nebraska 65
Best Bet: Creighton -14

#9 Villanova at Georgetown

Spread: Villanova -11.5
O/U 143
7:00 PM ET, FS1

#9 Villanova and Georgetown rekindle their long Big East rivalry when the two schools tip-off the 2020/21 Big East conference slate tonight from the nation’s capital.

Jay Wright’s Wildcats come into tonight’s contest looking to build off a hard-fought 68-64 victory over then #17 Texas on Sunday, with his stable of shooting guards starting to come to life after a hit and miss performance in ‘Bubbleville’ at the Mohegan Sun Arena. 

Despite the lulls in the offense through the first five games, Nova still boasts the 4th most efficient offense in the country.  While the team still gets its shooting back into form, they’ve been especially good at limiting turnovers as they have committed a turnover on only 13 percent of their possessions, good for the 10th best unit in college basketball to begin the new season.

That comes in direct conflict with how the Hoyas have played basketball to start the season.  While Georgetown is coming off of an 80-48 thumping of Coppin State, they have dropped games to Navy and West Virginia and have been especially careless with the basketball with a turnover rate outside of the top 250. 

Georgetown has turned the ball over one out of every four possessions to start the season and is even worse at forcing their opponents into mistakes, as they force a turnover on 14% of their opposition’s possessions.

When considering how stingy the Villanova offense is at wasting possessions, that may spell out a longer evening for the Hoyas than they’d prefer to endure. 

For Georgetown to be competitive in their conference home opener, they will need a massive night from seniors Jahvon Blair (20.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Jamorko Pickett (14.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg).  The senior duo may not be enough to overtake the swath of talent Jay Wright has assembled in Philadelphia this season, however, as Wright has four starters averaging double-digits and they’ve yet to play anywhere near to their actual potential.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (16.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg), Collin Gillespie (14.6 ppg, 37% 3PM), and Justin Moore (14.2 ppg, 36.7% 3PM) will be the catalysts for the Nova attack this evening, and with the Hoyas being particularly light in the frontcourt with only two players logging significant minutes being taller than 6-9, Robinson-Earl can be in for another big night.  If Nova’s three-point shot travels with them, that makes this matchup that much harder for Ewing’s Hoyas.

Nova enters tonight’s conference opener featuring a sparkling 10-2-1 ATS record in their last 13 road games, while the Hoyas are just 1-6 ATS following a win and 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games on a Friday night. 

This is a spot where a quality Georgetown team is getting a lot of points on their home floor, but I believe Villanova has yet to put together a complete game.  Jay Wright’s crew gets it done tonight behind a dominant performance from Robinson-Earl and the ‘Cats outside shooting coming back to life.

Prediction: Villanova 84, Georgetown 70
Best Bet: Villanova -11.5  

Iowa State at #3 Iowa

Spread: Iowa -12
O/U 158.5
9:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network

Life is pretty good if you’re a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes right about now.  The Hawks are flying high to start the new season with the 3rd overall ranking in the country and the runaway favorite to bring home the 2021 Wooden Award in Iowa scoring machine Luka Garza (29.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 55.6% 3PM). 

Iowa has scored 90 points or more in all four of their victories to start the new season, including a 93-80 win over #16 North Carolina on Tuesday.  They look like they will not only be a threat to win the Big Ten but to go on a deep run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

On the other hand, their in-state rival Iowa State has seen better days.  Steve Prohm enters his sixth year in Ames and is coming off of a disastrous 12-20 campaign a season ago, giving the former Murray State coach his second poor season in the last three seasons (13-18 overall in 2017/18).  That has left Prohm’s seat getting noticeably warmer, and tonight’s opponent is likely not going to feel a whole lot of remorse for Prohm’s potential future on the Iowa State sidelines.

The Cyclones to date have only played in two games, splitting an 80-63 win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff with a 71-68 loss to South Dakota State on December 2nd.  It’s difficult to fully gauge the scope of what this season’s Cyclone team will present, but they face a massive uphill climb in replacing star guard Tyrese Haliburton who departed for the NBA Draft after one season in Ames. 

If the first two games are any indicator of tonight, Iowa State is probably in for a long night.  The Cyclones have shot just 29-percent from three-point range in the first two games, their most recent showing being a 4-for-23 night in their loss to SDSU.  If they repeat that shooting performance tonight, Iowa will run them out of the gym. 

There’s something possibly to be made out of a rivalry game featuring a coach that is very much coaching for his job this season, but Iowa State simply does not have the athletes to stay on the floor with this Iowa team. 

Garza alone is a matchup nightmare that few teams in the nation can account for, and Iowa State is not that team.  In their first two games, the Cyclones surrendered a cozy 51.4% shooting percentage from two-point range, and last season teams shot at a 50.6% clip from inside the perimeter (223rd overall defensive ranking per KenPom).  Iowa State was even friendlier in surrendering three-point shots as they fielded a perimeter defense that ranked outside the top 300 a season ago.  That’s where Garza feasts.  That’s where Iowa feasts.

The only fear you would have tonight is if Iowa flat out overlooks their in-state rival tonight, but they seem like a team on a mission and should easily handle their foes from the Big 12 with another lopsided victory in Iowa City.

Prediction: Iowa 90, Iowa State 73
Best Bet: Iowa -12

Bonus Play: UW-Milwaukee at Kansas State

Spread: Kansas State -10.5
O/U 132
8:00 PM ET, ESPN+

Any other season, this game probably wouldn’t register a blip on your radar, but Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats’ are having quite the difficult start to their season.

The Wildcats were projected to be entering a rebuilding season that would have them finishing at the bottom of the conference, but no one quite expected K-State to struggle like this.  The Wildcats have begun the season with a dismal 1-4 record with their lone win of the season being a 62-58 victory over WAC member Missouri-Kansas City (ranked 290th overall by KenPom).  Their last game was an 81-68 home loss to Division II member Fort Hays State.

Simply put, this team stinks worse than the morning after a late-night Taco Bell binge.

Horizon League member UW-Milwaukee has yet to play a game this season, so we have no idea what’s in store from them tonight. The Panthers finished the 2019/20 season with a 12-19 record giving them their fourth straight season with a losing record, however, they return three starters and add transfer, Vin Baker Jr., from college basketball powerhouse Boston College, so at the least, they have the talent that rivals a D-II school, and that is evidently all you need to beat Kansas State this season.

Until they show a reason not to automatically fade them, I’m going to automatically fade them. Take the Panthers and the points.

Prediction: You will want to watch something else on TV
Best Bet: UW-Milwaukee +10.5

ACC/Big Ten Challenge Best Bets: Look For a ‘B1G’ Tuesday

The college basketball schedule has been littered with captivating matchups out of the gate to begin the season.  While we have lost many games due to the ongoing pandemic, Tuesday night’s slate should be the best college basketball slate of the young season and that’s because the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge officially tips off with a delicious menu of non-conference college basketball goodness.

As we knock on wood to ensure as many of these games as possible can still proceed (we already lost Louisville-Wisconsin and Michigan-NC State), let’s hone in on the Best Bets of the evening in three of the biggest matchups of the week.

#16 North Carolina at #3 Iowa 

Spread: Iowa -3
Total: O/U 155.5
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

The Iowa Hawkeyes couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season.  

Iowa is ranked 3rd in the country, their highest ranking since 2016, and a perfect 3-0 to start the season winning by an average of 33 points per game.  Wooden Award favorite Luka Garza has been utterly ridiculous out of the gates as he is averaging 34 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 76% from the floor and 62.5% (!!) from three-point range.  Have we mentioned the man is nearly 7-feet tall?!

Garza is not a one-man army for Fran McCaffrey’s Hawkeyes either.  Iowa’s trio of Joe Wieskamp, Patrick McCaffery, and Jack Nunge has given the Hawks additional firepower and senior Jordan Bohannon gives Iowa a steady hand at point guard to run the show.     

The Hawkeyes, however, have certainly been feeding off the minnows in college basketball’s ocean of teams.  The likes of NC Central, Southern, and Western Illinois aren’t exactly Final Four sleepers in the making.  Tonight’s contest will be their first true test of the season when the much-improved North Carolina Tar Heels make the rare road trip to Iowa City.

The Heels are off to a 3-1 start to the season, their most recent outing being their lone loss of the season in the Maui Invitational Final to #13 Texas.  The fate of tonight could rest on the ankle of senior center Garrison Brooks, as no one else on the Carolina roster is equipped to handle Garza.  The preseason ACC player of the year has not been cleared to play as of Monday evening, and will likely be a game-time decision for Roy Williams’ bunch.

North Carolina would certainly prefer to have their senior leader on the floor, but if they do not improve upon their grisly shooting numbers of 45.2% from the floor (220th overall by KenPom) and 27.1% from three-point range (237th overall by KenPom), Brooks presence may not mean a whole lot when matching up against the 3rd most efficient offense in the country.  

Fortunately for the Heels, Iowa isn’t exactly known for their defensive prowess.  While they have glowing statistics in every defensive category to start the 2020 season, they will almost surely regress to the mean when they are playing better competition.  A season ago, the Hawkeyes checked in as the 171st most efficient defense in the country and allowed their opponents to shoot nearly 50% from the floor.  North Carolina should have their opportunities to improve their shooting tonight.  

Ultimately this will be one of the more entertaining non-conference games of the season. If Garrison Brooks were 100-percent healthy I would feel a little more comfortable backing the Heels on the road, but Garza is going to be too much to handle. I like the Hawkeyes to cover the 3-point spread if Brooks plays, and I like it even more if he doesn’t.

Prediction: Iowa 80, North Carolina 72
Best Bet: Iowa -3

#6 Illinois at #10 Duke 

Spread: Duke -4
Total: O/U 147.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN

The last time these two schools met came back in 2007 when Duke would beat Illinois by the score of 79-66.  To say a few things have changed in the 13 years since would be a slight understatement.  

The one constant in those 13 years would be Duke’s basketball program continually being one of the best in the country, but there are quite a few questions about this season’s Blue Devils, the largest being how they will fare in an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

The results thus far have been mixed.  Duke does enter tonight’s game with a 2-1 record but did lose in their lone test of the early 2020 campaign when they fell 75-69 to now #4 Michigan State.  In their most recent action, the Blue Devils never trailed in a 76-54 victory over Atlantic Sun member Bellarmine as Matthew Hurt chipped in 24 points and went 6-for-8 from distance. 

The competition will see a dramatic boost this evening when 6th ranked Illinois comes to town.  The Illini were last in action six days ago when they would fall to #2 Baylor 82-69 in the Jimmy V Classic.  The Bears’ combination of outside shooting and smothering defense was too much to overcome for Brad Underwood’s team in the second half after the Illini went into the halftime break trailing by just a point.

The Illini are paced by their dynamic duo of Ayo Dosunmu (23.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.3 apg) and Kofi Cockburn (13.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and feature the 11th best three-point shooting team in the country.  The Illini are not only snipers from outside, they are also a terror on the glass and boast the 2nd best offensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom’s analytic ratings.  That could ultimately be the difference in tonight’s game.  

In Duke’s loss to Michigan State, the Blue Devils struggled against the Spartans’ physicality.  Duke was outrebounded and shot a paltry 32% from the floor.  Without the screaming student body to propel them, the team had a hard time ending the Spartans surge in the second half and the teams’ inexperience began to appear.  While Duke has played another game since the same issues that haunted them in their loss to Michigan State may haunt them once more tonight.

It’s hard to envision Duke being 0-2 on their home floor against a pair of Top 10 opponents, but the 2020 season will be full of surprises with this being the most chaotic season in history.  The young Blue Devils will gel soon enough, but tonight the experienced Illini will use the same blueprint their conference foes used against them last week to land a big road victory.

Prediction: Illinois 79, Duke 74
Best Bet: Illinois +4 (Would also sprinkle some on Illinois ML)

Syracuse at #21 Rutgers 

Spread: Rutgers -3.5
Total: O/U 140.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN2

While this matchup doesn’t feature a blue blood program like North Carolina or Duke, this could be one of the better games of the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge when it’s all said and done.

Syracuse enters tonight’s contest with a perfect 3-0 record on the season, their latest victory being a 35-point drubbing of MAAC member Rider.  Jim Boeheim’s Orange entered the season with expectations that they would be a three-point chucking machine, and they’ve been every bit as advertised.  In their 87-52 win over Rider, ‘Cuse shot 15-of-30 from distance, by far their best showing to date in the young season.

The Orange have been led in large part by the frontcourt tandem of Alan Griffin (16.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), and Quincy Guerrier (16.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg).  The team did get back shooting specialist, and coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim for their victory over Rider, but he will be missing in action this evening as he is quarantining after being deemed that he was close in contact with a walk-on player that tested positive for COVID-19.  Freshman Kadary Richmond will fill in as Boeheim sits, and while he’s not the shooter that Boeheim is, he has shown to be a very capable defender and feels like a natural fit in Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. 

Meanwhile, Rutgers was on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991 when last season abruptly ended, and several questions swirled over the team entering this season in regards to whether or not they’d be able to replicate last season’s success all over again.

So far, so good for the Scarlet Knights.  Rutgers was one of the stronger home teams in the country a season ago and they’re a perfect 3-0 at the RAC to kick off the new campaign.  The Scarlet Knights have been led by their trio of guards with Ron Harper Jr. (21.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Jacob Young (15.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), and Montez Mathis (15.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) all picking up where they left off last season.   

Where there could be some concern, however, comes with the fact Rutgers has not played in 10 days.  Additionally, while their guard play is among the strongest in the Big Ten, they’re not an outside shooting team whatsoever.  A season ago, Rutgers had the 295th ranked three-point shooting team in the country, this season that’s up to 202nd, but the Scarlet Knight’s first three opponents have been softer than a new roll of Charmin.  They still can’t shoot from outside.

Rutgers is also a woeful team at the free-throw line, shooting it 55% from the charity stripe to begin the season after fielding the 333rd rated free-throw shooting team a season ago.  

Where Rutgers earns their milk money comes on the defensive end of the floor and by attacking the paint.  Rutgers boasted the 6th most efficient defense in college basketball a season ago per KenPom and currently sits at 12th overall after the first few weeks of action.  They will force the Orange into a lot of contested shots and they will attack the Cuse zone on the glass.  

This game just screams like a hard-fought defensive battle with a lot of shots clanging off the rim.  I don’t have a strong feel for a side in this matchup but I love the under and look for a game in which each opponent struggles to hit 70 points. 

Prediction: Rutgers 68, Syracuse 65
Best Bet: UNDER 140.5

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Thursday NCAAB Best Bets: Back the Huskies to get past Trojans

After a Wednesday evening college basketball slate that brought us Gonzaga-West Virginia and Illinois-Baylor amongst a whole host of matchups, the Thursday college hoops slate has its fair share of goodies as well.

Let’s jump right into the games I have circled for tonight’s action.

UConn vs. USC

Game to be played at Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, CT)

Spread: UConn -1.5
O/U 136.5
7:00 PM ET, ESPN

The Mohegan Sun Arena is only about 30 miles away from the UConn campus, leaving Dan Hurley’s UConn Huskies with the short trip into ‘Bubbleville’ as UConn (2-0) prepares to face USC (3-0) in the semifinals of the Roman Legends Classic.

These two teams were set to square off yesterday from inside the Mohegan Sun bubble, but Vanderbilt had to withdraw from the preseason tournament due to, you guessed it, COVID-19 cases within their team, leaving UConn to get the winner of yesterday’s BYU/USC game instead.

USC would prevail in that contest by the score of 79-53, and the Trojans dominated the Cougars in the paint as brothers Evan and Isaiah Mobley each chipped in a double-double in yesterday’s blowout victory.

Meanwhile, UConn hasn’t been in action since a 69-57 victory over Hartford on Black Friday, leaving open the possibility that they may enter tonight’s contest with a bit of rust.  Additionally, USC is already familiar with the layout of the Mohegan Sun Arena during the bubble setup, while UConn is not, again potentially giving USC a slight edge in an otherwise neutral setting.

That’s not to say the Huskies won’t come ready to play, however.  Despite struggling to manufacture points in last Friday’s victory, UConn could still pose a lot of problems to USC’s backcourt with the scoring tandem of sophomore James Bouknight (19.0 ppg) and former Howard star RJ Cole (13.5 ppg), and forward Isaiah Whaley (8.5 rpg) will be tasked with the difficult assignment of controlling one of the Mobley brothers on the glass.

USC has shot the lights out to start the season, shooting a scorching-hot 53.5% from the floor in their first three games.  Can they continue that hot shooting in a tough back-to-back situation against the best team they’ve seen all season?  I’m not so sure.

Look for the Trojans to start out of the gates quickly considering they’re more accustomed to the neutral court than their opponents, but also look for UConn to close the gap quickly once they get their bearings straight.

I am going to lean on the team that should be a little more rested for this matchup and take Dan Hurley’s Huskies to escape with a narrow victory.  However, I will take them on the moneyline to avoid a possible 1-point margin of victory for UConn.

Prediction: UConn 73, USC 70
Best Bet: UConn ML (-115)

Marshall at Wright State

Spread: Marshall -1
Total: O/U 153
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN+

This second matchup on the card could be a lot of fun.

Free-scoring Marshall hits the road to meet two-time defending Horizon League champion Wright State in a non-conference battle.

Honestly, I don’t care about who comes out on top in this one.  I don’t even have a side I’ll be rooting for. 

So why on Earth is this on my card for the night?

One word: Scoring.

Marshall enters tonight’s game riding a 70-56 victory over Arkansas State in their season opener, while this is the season opener for Scott Nagy’s Wright State Raiders.

While Marshall’s first game isn’t exactly the best evidence to take the over with a total in the 150’s, when you dissect the style of tempo Arkansas State plays at, you see how their slow and methodical approach when paired with a roster of players that can’t shoot the ball would drive a game total to be in the 120’s.

Wright State does not like to play at a slow pace as evidenced by their 31st overall KenPom adjusted tempo ranking.  They love to run up and down the floor and defense is sometimes optional.

Funny enough, that’s exactly how you can describe the Thundering Herd as well.  Marshall played all of last season as the team with the 3rd quickest tempo in the country.  They’re projected to be in the Top 5 for playing tempo again this season, and when you pair that against another team that likes to boogie up and down the floor, you tend to get higher scoring affairs.

If there’s any pause on this bet, it’s the fact this is Wright State’s first game of the season, but I’m going to roll the dice all the same and take the over in this one.  Don’t let me down Raiders.

Prediction: Wright State 80, Marshall 77
Best Bet: OVER 153

Florida vs. Boston College

Game to be played at Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, CT)

Spread: Florida -6
Total: O/U 141.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN

The second matchup from ‘Bubbleville’ at the Mohegan Sun Arena will see Florida (1-0) taking on Boston College (1-2).

Florida officially began their 2020-21 season from the bubble on Wednesday with a 76-69 win over Army that had the Gators looking like a team that had yet to play a game this year, as they trailed by 8 at the half before waking up in the second half to eventually take control of the game.

Boston College, meanwhile, is set to play their fourth game of the season, all of which have been played at Mohegan Sun Arena, so if there is a team that has familiarity with the temporary digs, it’s the Eagles.

The Gators should at least come into today’s game with a lot less rust to deal with than they experienced during their win over Army yesterday.  While Boston College’s tandem of Wynston Tabbs and Jay Heath are averaging over 30 points per game combined to open up the season, Mike White’s Florida Gators are routinely one of the best defensive teams in the country.

The Gators’ defense will be put to the test tonight, however, as Florida has had multiple disruptions to the start of their season, as they had to back out of initially being in the Mohegan Sun Arena bubble due to COVID-19 cases within their roster and did not know they were even participating in this tournament until Sunday.

That could leave Florida’s perimeter defense more vulnerable than usual, and when paired with the fact that Boston College is already quite familiar playing in this setting, that could have this matchup be closer than it would be otherwise.

The Gators will return to their old ways soon enough, but tonight I see Boston College giving them a tough game and maybe even winning outright.  I’ll take a swing at Boston College and the points.

Prediction: Florida 74, Boston College 70
Best Bet: Boston College +6

Champions Classic Best Bets: Ride the Dukies and Rock Chalk to Victory

Arguably the best preseason college basketball event returns this evening, albeit in a slightly different setting than we’re accustomed to seeing thanks to the pandemic, when the Champions Classic tips off with a pair of matchups between Michigan State and Duke, and Kansas and Kentucky.

Typically, we’ve seen this showcase be the informal start of the new college basketball season with these four bluebloods meeting on a neutral court to test out their early preseason rankings.  This season, only Kansas and Kentucky will be playing on a neutral floor in Indianapolis with Michigan State meeting Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium with no fans or media in attendance.  That will make tonight’s matchups all the more interesting.

Speaking of those matchups, let’s dive right into tonight’s action and kick off the month of December with a pair of Best Bets for tonight’s Champions Classic. 

(8) Michigan State at (6) Duke

Game to be played without fans in attendance

Spread: Duke -3.5
Total: O/U 149.5
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

In the first matchup of the evening, 8th ranked Michigan State (2-0) travels to a Cameron Indoor Stadium to meet 6th ranked Duke (1-0).

The Spartans are coming off of an impressive 80-70 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate, as they at one point in the second half would lead by 22 points thanks to a 26-0 run that closed out the first half and spilled into the second half.  

The Spartans defense would lock down the Fighting Irish, keeping them scoreless for over nine minutes of game action.  They looked noticeably sharper in their second game of the season, following their season-opening victory over Eastern Michigan.

The same could not be said for the new-look Blue Devils in their season-opening tune-up against Coppin State.  While Duke did open the season with a 10-point victory, they were favored by 39.5-points and seemed to struggle on the defensive end of the floor, particularly in defending the perimeter where Coppin State would hit 10 three-point shots on the night. 

After leading by 17 at the break, the Devils would be outscored in the second half 43-36.  Not exactly what you’d like to see against a team that went 11-20 playing out of the MEAC a season ago.

Considering the very unorthodox offseason college basketball has experienced, however, a rusty start out of the gates in the season opener is not the worst thing in the world, nor was it a shock to see.  It goes without saying though that Duke will need to play significantly better this evening to avoid a rare home loss.

That unorthodox offseason will spill into the regular season, however, and we get our first real taste of that this evening when this game is played without any fans or media in attendance.  In a non-pandemic setting, this game would be on a neutral floor with two rowdy fan bases trading cheers and jeers, and if Michigan State ever came to Cameron Indoor for a basketball game, the energy from the crowd would be at a different level.

We’re not going to get that tonight, and we will see for the first time this season how well Duke can adjust to not having a boisterous crowd behind them to fuel their momentum. 

Fortunately for Duke, Coach K will once again have a loaded stable of freshmen to lean on not only tonight but throughout the season.  Five-star recruit Jalen Johnson appears to be the best of the bunch and may begin to emerge as the leader of the team, and DJ Steward could become the best sixth man in the country (24 points, 9 boards against Coppin State).  Sophomores Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt are the elder statesmen of the starting five and will be counted on tonight to help the young freshmen in the scoring column.

Michigan State, on the other hand, boasts a very experienced group and looks to resume their standing as a Top 10 defensive unit, and their recent matchup against Notre Dame reiterated this even further. 

The Spartans starting five is equal parts talented and experienced.  Three juniors and one senior make up Izzo’s starting unit, with Marquette transfer Joey Hauser already off to a fast start with a pair of double-doubles to start his Michigan State career.  Joshua Langford and Aaron Henry give the Spartans a pair of dynamic scoring threats, and sophomore Rocket Watts looks to be the next great Tom Izzo point guard in the making.

This will be a phenomenal matchup and one where we will certainly miss the atmosphere from the Cameron Crazies.  Michigan State will once again be a strong contender in the Big Ten, but I believe Duke bounces back tonight and plays with a much sharper focus.  We’ve seen how teams start slow out of the gates across every sport making its return from the pandemic and I think Duke is not much different. 

Oddsmakers have this line sitting anywhere between 3 and 3.5 points tonight and I think that prediction is dead on.  I’m taking the Dukies to cover narrowly and to pass their first true test of the season.  I also like the over a lot tonight as well.

Prediction: Duke 78, Michigan State 74
Best Bet: Duke -3.5; OVER 149.5

(7) Kansas vs. (20) Kentucky

Game to be played at neutral court (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN)

Spread: Kansas -4.5
Total: O/U 143.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN

There probably isn’t a tougher team to play to open the season, especially a season with the dark clouds of a pandemic hanging above it, than #1 Gonzaga, but that’s exactly the fate that Kansas endured when they suffered a 102-90 loss at the hands of the top-ranked team in the country on Thanksgiving Day.

Kansas did rebound nicely the following day with a 94-72 blowout victory over St. Joseph’s with sophomore Christian Braun chipping in a 30-point, eight-rebound day for Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

Now the Jayhawks prepare for a date with 20th ranked Kentucky, coming off of their first loss of the season when they fell 76-64 to a dangerous Richmond team full of experience.

This isn’t a different script than we are accustomed to seeing from Kentucky, however.  Once again, John Calipari has a roster stacked to the brim with freshmen talent, and once again that young team is going through some early growing pains in the beginning stages of the season.  Remember, this is a Kentucky team that lost by 3 at home to Evansville early last season, so it does take a bit of time for Calipari’s teams to get their footing and for their young talent to gel as a cohesive unit.

That steep learning curve the young ‘Cats are on presently is not likely to remedy itself tonight.  Against the Spiders, Cal’s ‘Cats didn’t make a single three-point shot (0 for 10) and are back to struggling at the free-throw line, shooting just 62% from the charity stripe to begin the year.

While Kentucky does boast one of the best freshmen in college basketball, and a possible #1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft in BJ Boston (17.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), the Wildcats roster is still extremely young and trying to figure out who they are right now.

Kansas, on the other hand, already has a better idea of the type of team they can be thanks in large part to that brutal season opener.  Gonzaga is every bit as good as advertised and Kansas, to their credit, played very hard and erased an early double-digit deficit before simply tiring out down the stretch.  Kentucky is not Gonzaga, and Kansas should reap the benefits of a young team still growing on the fly.

Look for the Jayhawks to win, and to win a little comfortably tonight.  They defend better, they shoot better and are just overall the better team at this point in the season.

Don’t fret too much about Kentucky if they do lose tonight, however, as they will be their usual dangerous self as the season goes on.

Prediction: Kansas 81, Kentucky 70
Best Bet: Kansas -4.5

Mid-Majors College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

The 2020/21 college basketball season is nearly a week into play, and I’ve saved the best college basketball preview for last – the mid-majors.

At the end of the day, most college basketball fans know that the team who will eventually be crowned the National Champion for that given season will almost assuredly come from one of the seven main conferences in the sport.

But college basketball also offers fans from throughout the country the opportunity to see their alma mater, or just favorite school in general, get to the 68-team NCAA Tournament for a shot at a national title.  It’s truly the only sport in the United States that gives every college and university an equal shot at competing for a championship.

While there are 350 college basketball programs that make up Division I college basketball, there are only a select few from every conference that has a chance to take their swings at Goliath.  Here’s a quick capsule of the off-the-radar teams you should keep an eye on throughout the season.

The Elite

#1 Gonzaga (31-2, 15-1 WCC)

While we still technically categorize Gonzaga as a “mid-major”, the truth of the matter is that Gonzaga hasn’t been a mid-major program in quite some time.  Yes, they play in the West Coast Conference and not a Power 5 Conference, but year in and year out Mark Few’s Bulldogs are a perennial Top 5 program in the country.  This season is no different, as the Zags were the preseason #1 and odds-on favorite to win the first National Championship in school history.

Gonzaga has already started off the new season about as well as could be expected.  In their season opener against 6th ranked Kansas, the Zags high-octane attack put up triple-digits on Bill Self’s Jayhawks in a 102-90 win that was never really as close as the final score indicated.  They’d follow up that victory with a 90-67 blowout of rebuilding Auburn, and now have dates with #11 West Virginia and #2 Baylor in the second week of their season.

Essentially, the Zags aren’t only one of the best teams in college basketball, they’re one of the most fearless teams as well.  They will play anybody, anywhere.  In large part because the West Coast Conference is collectively a very weak conference outside of a handful of teams at the top, but also because Gonzaga is just that confident that they’re as good as advertised.

This could be the deepest team Mark Few has had yet, and that’s saying something considering the Bulldogs are typically one of the most balanced units in the country. 

The crown jewel of Few’s recruiting class is that of five-star phenom Jalen Suggs (ESPN 100 #5 overall recruit), Suggs is a likely NBA lottery pick in the making and won’t be in Spokane for long, and joins Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris in Few’s best recruiting class to date.

While Gonzaga did lose top senior Killian Tillie to graduation and Filip Petrusev left to play professionally, they still return plenty of experience with senior Corey Kispert (13.9 ppg) and junior Joel Ayayi (10.6 ppg) coming back to play this season in Spokane.  Southern Illinois grad-transfer Aaron Cook (15.0 ppg in 2019/20) figures to be the primary ball-handling option off the bench and could provide Few with a big scoring lift as well.  Sophomore Drew Timme (9.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) also looks to play a big role on this Bulldogs team, as he looks to build off of a strong freshman season and provide Gonzaga with a formidable rim-protector.

All the pieces are in place for Gonzaga to stake claim to another #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and make the push for the school’s first-ever National Championship.  This is no longer a “Cinderella” team living a fun story, they’re a legitimate power program in college basketball and should be treated as such for the foreseeable future.

The Dangerous Dark Horses

Richmond (24-7, 14-4 A10)

Perhaps I should have penned this piece before the opening weekend because I could have warned John Calipari ahead of time that the Richmond Spiders have some (forgive the arachnid pun about to come your way) bite to them, but Kentucky found that out the hard way with a 76-64 loss at Rupp Arena on November 29, giving Richmond their first-ever road victory over a team ranked in the Top 10.

The upset wouldn’t have been as big of a surprise had you paid close attention to the makeup of this year’s Spiders team, however.

Richmond boasts one of the most experienced units in all of college basketball, as they return their top seven players in minutes-per-game from a season ago, and were poised to return their entire starting lineup from a year ago before guard Nick Sherod (12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) had the horrible luck of suffering a preseason knee injury that ended his season.

Fortunately, the Spiders have enough experience and overall talent to where they should be able to absorb the injury to Sherod and still be an NCAA Tournament caliber team.  The Spiders’ success is driven by their small, but explosive, senior-laden backcourt with 5’9” Jacob Gilyard (12.7 ppg) and 6’0” Blake Francis (17.7 ppg), and 5th-year senior Grant Golden gives Richmond a formidable presence in the paint (13.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) making Richmond one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The A-10 may be the deepest non-power conference in all of college basketball this season and Richmond will be one of the biggest reasons why.  While they’re not at the level of a Gonzaga, they’re still dangerous enough to play into the second weekend in the tournament. 

Northern Iowa (25-6, 14-4 MVC)

Northern Iowa was on their way to a high seeding in the NIT when COVID-19 came thundering down to take away college basketball from us. 

The Panthers weren’t happy with that NIT placement, but that’s where they were headed after a shocking 21-point first-round upset at the hands of Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament just eight months ago.

Fortunately, with the 2019/20 season now relegated to being cited as the first sport to be entirely canceled from the pandemic, Northern Iowa gets another crack to get back into the NCAA Tournament with one of the deepest rosters Ben Jacobson has ever got to coach in his 15 seasons with the school.

The Panthers will be led by junior sharpshooter and reigning MVC Player of the Year A.J. Green (19.7 ppg, 91 3PM, 39% from three-point range), guard Trae Berhow (12.5 ppg, 45% from three-point range), and senior big man Austin Phyfe (11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg).

In addition to their trio of stars, the Panthers have a ton of depth highlighted by returning sophomores Noah Carter and Antwan Kimmons, along with the signings of freshmen Bowen Born (Mr. Basketball in Iowa in 2020), Nate Heise, and Cole Henry.  

Northern Iowa did lose reigning MVC Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Brown, so we’d be remiss not to mention that loss to their team as Jacobson doesn’t really have another lockdown defender on his team that could fill those shoes entirely, but the Panthers have more than enough talent to work past that loss and will contend once again for the Missouri Valley Conference title.

If they can avoid another quick exit in the conference tournament, this is a team that no Power 5 team is going to want to face in the NCAA Tournament. Don’t be overly concerned by the team’s 0-3 record to start the season.

San Diego State (30-2, 17-1 Mountain West)

San Diego State was in the midst of the best season in school history, and a very real shot at landing a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament when COVID-19 came down and canceled the entire season.

For much of the 2019/20 season, the question wasn’t if San Diego State could land a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it was whether or not they’d be undefeated when they entered that tournament. 

That riddle would eventually have its answer when San Diego State suffered their first loss of the season on February 22 in a 66-63 home defeat at the hands of rival UNLV.  The loss ended the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak to start the season, with San Diego State eventually suffering their second loss of the year in the Mountain West Conference Tournament final (59-56 to Utah State).

San Diego State was poised to enter the NCAA Tournament with a 30-2 record.  Instead, their season ended that fateful Vegas afternoon.

Now the Aztecs are forced to move on and try to not think about the season that could have been, and they get to do all of that without their best player, and Wooden Award Finalist, Malachi Flynn.  Flynn departed the Aztecs to enter the NBA Draft after three years with the program.

Despite the massive loss of losing Flynn, the Aztecs remain in very good shape for the 2020/21 season, though it would be a huge shock if they finished the season with only two losses again.

Like Richmond and Northern Iowa before them, San Diego State boasts a senior-laden lineup with the right mix of young talent and key transfers.  In Flynn’s absence, senior Matt Mitchell (12.2 ppg) figures to step into the leadership role on the team.  Mitchell is your prototypical Aztec wing that is relentlessly annoying on the defensive end of the floor and a steady enough shooter to keep defenses honest.

To try to offset the loss of Flynn, Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher was able to lure Cal-State Northridge graduate transfer, Terrell Gomez, over to the 619.  All Gomez did a season ago was lead the Big West Conference in scoring, field goals, three-point field goals, and free-throw percentage while landing 1st Team Big West All-Conference honors in the process.  Gomez figures to be the glue before the reins are handed over to Dutcher’s top recruit Lamont Butler. 

Once again, however, San Diego State has all the pieces in place to dominate the Mountain West and to emerge as a legitimate threat to play deep into the second weekend of the tournament.  They won’t be 30-2 again, but they’ll be a very dangerous group all the same.

Loyola-Chicago (21-11, 13-5 MVC)

If you couldn’t get enough of the Ramblers’ Final Four run three years ago, you’re in luck because Sister Jean’s favorite team is back in the spotlight and ready to make another run in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Porter Moser’s Ramblers’ stole the hearts of sports fans nationwide when they would go on a storied run to the Final Four in 2018.  Freshman big man Cameron Krutwig was among the great stories to come from that run, and the big lefty is now the focal point (15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg) of a senior-laden lineup that returns literally everybody from the team that finished as the runners-up in the Missouri Valley Conference just eight months ago. 

Lucas Williamson was also a part of that Final Four run, now he’s considered the odds-on favorite to take home the MVC Defensive Player of the Year award.  Seniors Keith Clemons (10.4 ppg, 45.7% three-point shooting) and Tate Hall (12.7 ppg, 42.6% three-point shooting) give Loyola a pair of assassins from outside, with sophomores Cooper Kaifes (46.5% 3PM), Paxson Wojcik (42.1% 3PM), and Marquise Kennedy (38% 3PM) giving Moser even more shooters from outside.

If there’s a bugaboo to follow with this team, they tend to struggle at the charity stripe, which seems odd considering how well they shoot the ball from outside.  As a team, the Ramblers shot 63% from the stripe, making them the worst free-throw shooting team in the MVP by a significant margin (Indiana State was the next closest at 71%).  This is obviously not ideal for close-game situations and will need to improve if the Ramblers are to go on another run in March. 

The race between them and Northern Iowa for Missouri Valley Conference supremacy will be one of the best races in all of college basketball this season.  The MVC may very well send both schools to the dance, and each of them is very capable of doing a lot of damage in the tournament.  

Saint Louis (23-8, 12-6 A10)

In a similar manner to Loyola-Chicago, Saint Louis also returns practically everyone from last season with the Billikens top-eight scorers from the 2019/20 campaign all returning to play for coach Travis Ford.

The Billikens seemed to be finding their rhythm late last season as they finished the year on a tear, winning six of their last seven games to close out the season and gave Obi Toppin and the A10 Champion Dayton Flyers all they could handle, losing both matchups by a combined eight points.

As of this writing, the Billies began the new season a perfect 2-0 including a victory over LSU on November 28.  Perhaps the most exciting development from those two opening victories to the new season is that they shot the ball noticeably better in each affair, including a blistering 55% from the floor against the aforementioned LSU Tigers.

Last season, shooting was a strain for Ford’s squad until late in the season.  Not surprisingly, as soon as Saint Louis’ shooting improved, the wins started coming much easier.

The Billikens have long prided themselves on playing a ‘bully ball’ style of basketball dating back to the Rick Majerus days.  While they still hope to defend the ever-living life out of A-10 opponents this season, they also do not want to be such a black hole on the offensive end of the floor either.

Scoring threats Javonte Perkins (15.0 ppg), Jordan Goodwin (15.5 ppg), and Gibson Jimerson (10.8 ppg) should help alleviate those concerns, with UNC Wilmington transfer Marten Linssen (10.5 ppg) also providing another scoring threat for Ford’s deep roster.

Unlike other foes in the A-10, while the Billikens have continuity it’s mostly in relation to freshmen becoming sophomores, but that doesn’t mean Saint Louis isn’t a legitimate threat to come out of a deep Atlantic 10 Conference either. 

Keep an eye on Saint Louis to make a lot of noise out of the A-10 this season.  

Projected Mid-Major Conference Winners 2020/21

Atlantic Sun Conference – Liberty
America East Conference – Vermont
Atlantic 10 Conference – Richmond
Big Sky Conference – Montana
Big South Conference – Winthrop
Big West Conference – UC Irvine
Colonial – Hofstra
Conference USA – Western Kentucky
Horizon League – Wright State
Ivy League – N/A (Will not play in 2020/21)
MAAC – Iona
Mid-American Conference – Bowling Green
MEAC – Norfolk State
Missouri Valley Conference – Northern Iowa
Mountain West Conference – San Diego State
Northeast Conference – Fairleigh Dickenson
Ohio Valley Conference – Murray State
Patriot League – Colgate
Southern Conference – Furman
Southland Conference – Stephen F. Austin
SWAC – Texas Southern
Summit League – South Dakota State
Sun Belt Conference – Georgia State
West Coast Conference – Gonzaga
Western Athletic Conference – New Mexico State

Saturday College Hoops Best Bets: Look at a Texas Two-Step

The 2020/21 college basketball season officially tipped off Wednesday night, and this is our first college hoops Saturday of the season! 

For those of you somewhat new to betting on college basketball, the Saturday slate is usually stacked with well over 100 games throughout the season, today’s slate is not quite at that size just yet (thanks COVID-19), but there are still a lot of juicy options to choose from.

I’ve pared the board down to three for you, including a bonus play if your book has odds on it.   Let’s dive right on in.

North Texas at Arkansas (-8/143)

Eric Musselman’s 2020/21 season debut couldn’t have gone much better, as the Razorbacks squeezed by with a 142-62 win over Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday.  They’ll get a much bigger test today when they face North Texas, who also happens to be coming off of a 116-62 beatdown of that same Mississippi Valley State team.

The Razorbacks could be one of the deeper sleepers in all of college basketball this season, as Eric Musselman has a roster loaded with fresh talent thanks to six impactful transfers joining the program and the 7th best-recruiting class in the country.

Arkansas is still going through the early stages of getting all the new faces to gel on the roster, but they are still deeply talented at every position.  However, their opponent today in the North Texas Mean Green are no slouches in their own right.

Considered to be one of the favorites in Conference USA this season, UNT returns a starting lineup that boasts four seniors including that of reigning conference player of the year Javion Hamlet.  The former JUCO product was a revelation last season for the Mean Green and he led the conference in free-throw shooting while hitting over 43-percent of his baskets from deep. 

If this matchup occurred a month from now when Arkansas would have had time to get more games under their belt with a practically entire new team, we’d be all over the Hogs here, but this is a spot that could favor the more experienced Mean Green who will have the best player on the floor.

I’ll side with the team that’s played together longer and take the points, though I’m torn here because Arkansas is one of my favorite teams this season.

Best Bet: North Texas +8

South Carolina vs. Liberty (+7.5/137.5)

Played on Neutral Court (Kansas City, MO)

One of the victims of college basketball’s 2019/20 season being abruptly canceled thanks to the pandemic was the Liberty Flames.  Liberty was in the middle of the best season in their program’s brief Division I history, going 30-4 on the season and winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament.

The bad news for Ritchie McKay’s Flames is that the bulk of that 30-win team has now moved on from the program.  The good news is he has added enough talent to this season’s roster to still be a very feisty opponent.  Liberty hit 19 threes, including seven from leading scorer Darius McGhee, in an 84-73 victory over Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Day.

That young talent will be put to the test immediately, however, against Frank Martin’s smothering 2-3 matchup zone.

South Carolina plays their first game of the season today, and it will be the first time we see prized transfer Seventh Woods in the lineup for the Gamecocks. He will be joined by the top scorers on the team from a season ago in A.J. Lawson and Jermaine Couisnard and considering Martin’s penchant for having his team play a quick tempo game, I can see this being a higher scoring game than what oddsmakers are calling for today.

Liberty plays at the second slowest pace in the country, trailing only that of the methodical Virginia Cavaliers, but Martin’s Gamecocks pushed the floor to the tune of the 11th quickest pace in the country. 

Look for South Carolina to force turnovers that lead to easy buckets for the Gamecocks, but also to give up a lot of open outside looks to Liberty’s bevy of perimeter jumpers and for the total to sail over the 137.5 mark.  I do also like Liberty to cover the 7.5-point number, and wouldn’t even rule out the idea of sprinkling a little bit on the moneyline, but for now, I’ll stick with the points.

Best Bet: OVER 137.5
If You’re Feeling Dangerous:  Liberty +7.5, Liberty ML (+275)

Louisiana at Baylor (-20.5/149.5)

Played on Neutral Court (Las Vegas, NV)

The Baylor Bears were well on their way to a 1-seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament when everything came crashing down.  Today marks Baylor’s season debut and first crack at picking up where they left off a season ago.

The bulk of last season’s team is back for the Bears, including their top three scorers in Wooden Award candidate Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell.  Baylor’s calling card a season ago was their imposing defense, and Scott Drew will also return Naismith Defensive Player of Year finalist Mark Vital to lock down the paint.

Today the Bears play a Louisiana side that is expected to finish towards the bottom of the Sun Belt after being a middle of the road team in the conference a season ago.  One thing to keep in mind with the Ragin’ Cajuns is they also like to play at a quick pace (32nd overall tempo per KenPom), but they’re downright awful in transition defense as they ranked 316th in that category a year ago.  They also got punished on the boards by most of their opponents, and no one in the country compares to how Baylor attacks the glass.

This has all the makings of a bad matchup for the young Cajuns.  Look for Baylor to get a comfortable blowout from Las Vegas.

Best Bet: Baylor -20.5

Bonus Play: Mississippi Valley State at Wyoming (-31.5/159.5)

Normally I would never consider laying 31.5-points with a team coming off of a 9-24 season, but as we already touched upon earlier in this article, Mississippi Valley State is a special kind of awful.  To date this season they have lost their first two contests by 80 and 54 respectively.  Mississippi Valley State is an auto-fade at this point until they give some reason not to be.   

Bonus Bet: Wyoming -31.5

SEC College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

The premier college football conference in the country is also quite the formidable conference when it comes to college basketball, but last season the SEC was in a down year that would eventually be wiped away from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The SEC was likely looking at a max of four bids in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, a far cry from the previous season that saw the conference send seven teams to the dance.  The 2020-21 season figures to be just as top-heavy as the conference was a season ago, but the contenders in this conference are amongst the best teams in all of college basketball, giving the SEC a very realistic shot of seeing one of their schools land in the 2021 Final Four.

How does the conference as a whole shake out?  Let’s take a look at the SEC.

The Contenders

#10 Kentucky (+120 to Win SEC)

This will surprise absolutely nobody who follows the sport of college basketball, but guess what?  John Calipari landed the #1 recruiting class in the country again! 

Once again Coach Cal’s ‘Cats are poised for a roster reboot as his next class of phenom freshmen finds their way to Lexington.  Seven freshmen in all will decorate the Kentucky roster, most notably of the combo of BJ Boston (7th overall ranked recruit) and Terrence Clarke (10th overall ranked recruit).

The freshmen wing tandem is, naturally, extremely athletic and talented and will give SEC defenses fits in their likely lone season playing for Big Blue Nation.  The tandem is already projected to be drafted in the lottery of next season’s NBA Draft, with Boston being in the mix to potentially go #1 overall. 

This season, however, Calipari adds a new wrinkle by adding two key senior transfers in former Wake Forest big Olivier Sarr (13.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and former Creighton shooting threat Davion Mintz (9.7 ppg in 2018/19).

Kentucky is once again absolutely loaded with talent, and once again it’s a roster that will get better as the season goes on.  The Wildcats are considered the odds-on favorite to win the SEC for a reason, they should be considered the team to beat in this conference and have a very real shot to play at Lucas Oil Stadium in early April.

#12 Tennessee (+350 to Win SEC)

If there’s a team capable of ruining Kentucky’s jaunt to the top of the SEC standings, look no further than Rick Barnes’ Tennessee Volunteers.  The Vols enter the new season as the preseason #1 team in the conference, yet a lot of people are not aware of how good this team can be.

The Vols in fact could be one of the biggest sleepers in the country. 

This is a team that does not have any apparent weaknesses.  It returns four of the top scorers from a season ago, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year in senior Yves Pons (10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg), and the 3rd best-recruiting class in the nation led by potential NBA lottery pick Jaden Springer.

That doesn’t even mention the addition of Sacred Heart grad-transfer E.J. Anosike (15.7 ppg, 11.6 rpg) or the return of senior forward John Fulkerson (13.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg).

The 2019/20 season was a rebuilding season of sorts for the Vols after they watched as Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone, and Kyle Alexander all departed the program either through graduation or going pro.  The season was made even more challenging when Barnes lost star Lamonte Turner for the season just 11-games into the year.

This season should see the Vols bouncing back in a big way, however, and Tennessee is not only a viable contender to unseat Kentucky at the top, but they’re also a dark horse for a deep run in March.  This team has it all and will be worth your attention all season.  

The Dangerous Dark Horses

LSU (+500 to Win SEC)

While a lot of attention this season will be on Kentucky and Tennessee, don’t forget about Will Wade’s LSU Tigers as a potentially dangerous sleeper in the conference.

The Tigers boast one of the deeper rosters in the country and return sophomore standout Trendon Watford (13.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) along with the junior tandem of Ja’vonte Smart (12.5 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Darius Days (11.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg).  Mix in a top-10 recruiting class headlined by sharpshooting guard Cameron Thomas, sprinkle in a couple of transfers like Shareef O’Neal (UCLA), Bryan Penn-Johnson (Washington), and Josh LeBlanc (Georgetown) and LSU has a potentially lethal offensive group once again.

LSU’s bugaboo a season ago came on the defensive side of the floor, however, as the Tigers were social distancing before it was cool.  Time and time again the Tigers would see big leads evaporate as LSU just could not clamp down on the defensive end of the floor.  Wade should get a boost from his two big transfers in O’Neal and Penn-Johnson, but ultimately how well they defend will determine how far they go this season.

One thing’s for certain, however, and that is the fact that LSU will be one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch again.  Look for the Tigers to be involved in a lot of high-scoring thrillers throughout the season.

Florida (+900 to Win SEC)

The Florida Gators enter the 2020/21 season hoping to erase a disappointing 2019/20 campaign that saw the Gators vastly underperform to their preseason expectations.

Mike White’s Gators were tabbed as the #6 overall team when the first rankings came out a season ago, but the Gators played anything like the sixth-best team in the nation on their way to a 19-12 season with an 11-7 record in the SEC.

While that’s certainly not the worst season in the world, it still fell far short of Florida’s aspirations for the season to contend for a conference title and make a deep run in the tournament.

The Gators may not be down for too long, however, as they return the bulk of last season’s team including All-SEC wing player Keyontae Johnson (14.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and rising-star sophomore Scottie Lewis (8.5 ppg), and bolster their bench by adding two key transfers in former Cleveland State guard Tyree Appleby (17.2 ppg, 5.6 apg) and former Louisiana Tech forward Anthony Duruji (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg).

Florida did lose Virginia Tech grad-transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. to graduation and standout point guard Andrew Nembhard (11.2 ppg, 5.6 apg) transferred to Gonzaga, but there should be enough talent on the roster to mitigate those losses.

Once again, the Gators look like a dangerous team on paper but it remains to be seen how that will translate to the floor.  If they can play closer to their potential this season, the Gators are a legitimate threat to make a lot of noise in the SEC.

Arkansas (+1200 to Win SEC)

Rarely can a team stomach the loss of six of your top seven scorers and come back and be projected to be even better in the following season, but that’s what’s on tap for Eric Musselman’s Arkansas Razorbacks in year two of his coaching tenure.

The Hogs do not return a single starter from a season ago as free-shooting Isaiah Joe (16.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and first-team All-SEC guard Mason Jones each departed for the NBA, but they do add six impactful transfers and inked the 7th best-recruiting class in the land to quickly reload the roster, leaving Musselman’s team loaded with talent at every position.

Notable transfers to keep an eye on for the Hogs include Northern Kentucky grad-transfer Jalen Tate (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and New Mexico grad-transfer Vance Jackson (11.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg). They will likely join Indiana transfer Justin Smith (10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) in the Razorbacks’ starting five and should immediately contribute in Musselman’s free-flowing offense.

The biggest question circling this team entering the season is whether or not Musselman may actually have too much talent.  Hammering out the rotations and getting the right chemistry will ultimately determine the fate of a team that’s so dependent on the influx of new talent.  If the talent comes together as expected and the team gels, this is a dark horse to make a run in March.  But if the chemistry just never comes together, we’ve seen many teams that have unraveled with the heavy transfer approach.

The Middle of the Pack

Alabama (+1600 to Win SEC)

While Alabama’s basketball season doesn’t officially start for many Tide boosters until Nick Saban’s playoff run concludes, Bama faithful may have a lot to look forward to from their basketball team this season.

Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats enters his second season in Tuscaloosa with an arsenal of offensive weapons, most notably the backcourt combination of Jaden Shackelford (15.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and John Petty (14.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg).  Oats will also have the services of Villanova point guard Jahvon Quinerly and Yale grad-transfer Jordan Bruner (10.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg), and the Crimson Tide’s starting five looks as good as any in the conference.

Alabama will miss star guard Kira Lewis, who was drafted 13th overall by the Pelicans, but they get back four-star talent Juwan Gary and top-five JUCO product James Rojas who were both lost for the season a year ago with ACL tears suffered in practice.

That potentially gives Oats a roster deep in talent, but if the Tide are to contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament this season and a possible top-four standing in the conference they will need to tighten up a defense that gave up nearly 80 points a contest a season ago.

South Carolina (+1600 to Win SEC)

Frank Martin’s Gamecocks overachieved a season ago as they finished above .500 in conference play at 10-8 and went 18-13 overall on the season after being projected to finish 10th in the SEC before the season began.

South Carolina enters the new season with heightened expectations as they return all but two players from a season ago and have one of the more experienced teams in the entire conference.

Unlike LSU and Alabama, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks defend the hell out of opponents and this has been his calling card since his Kansas State days.  Last season South Carolina had the 16th best scoring defense and 19th best three-point shooting defense according to KenPom and this season should not be much different.  Martin’s group has been incredibly consistent dating all the way back to South Carolina’s random run to the Final Four and have ranked in the Top 50 for defensive efficiency in four of the past five seasons.

Offensively is where South Carolina tends to sputter, however.  Per KenPom rankings, South Carolina’s best offensive team came back in 2017 when they were the 91st overall ranked unit, and a season ago they were ranked 122nd in the country.  Essentially they are a bit of a mess in the half-court and generate a lot of their best offense from their tenacious 2-3 matchup defense.  The Gamecocks will lock teams down, but will also endure long scoring droughts of their own.  It’s just a stable of Frank Martin’s team.

The best scoring threats on the roster come in the Carolina backcourt with leading scorer A.J. Lawson (13.4 ppg) returning for his junior season and redshirt sophomore Jermaine Couisnard (12.1 ppg) playing alongside him at point guard. 

Ultimately, the fate of South Carolina’s season lies in improving an offense that can flat out disappear for long periods.  If they can match their strong defensive play with a consistent scoring attack, the Gamecocks have sleeper potential to crack the top-six of the conference.  In all likelihood, though they will be very similar to last season’s team and trade upsets with losses to teams they shouldn’t lose to.

The Long Shots

Auburn (+4000 to Win SEC)
Missouri (+5000 to Win SEC)
Ole Miss (+6000 to Win SEC)
Georgia (+10000 to Win SEC)
Mississippi State (+10000 to Win SEC)
Texas A&M (+10000 to Win SEC)
Vanderbilt (+10000 to Win SEC)

Out of all the power conferences in the country, the SEC is by far the most top-heavy.  The ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ are very easy to spot in the SEC this season.  Here’s a quick look at the long shots to win the conference.

Auburn lost all five starters from a season ago, including NBA lottery pick Issac Okoro, leaving Bruce Pearl to have a 2020/21 transitional season of sorts.  Pearl did land one of the biggest recruits in the country in Sharife Cooper (20th overall recruit), but Cooper’s eligibility still remains in question and as of this writing he is not cleared to play.  Couple that with Auburn self-imposing a postseason ban for the 2020/21 season, and we do not expect much from Pearl’s Tigers this season.

Missouri returns eight players that started a game for the Tigers a season ago but are still expected to finish towards the bottom of the conference as the eight players returning aren’t exactly the 2014/15 Kentucky Wildcats.  Cuanzo Martin does get back the guard tandem of Xavier Pinson (11.1 ppg) and Mark Smith (10.0 ppg), however, after injury-riddled seasons plagued each of Martin’s two best players. 

Ole Miss enters season three under former Mid Tennessee State head coach Kermit Davis and is coming off of a disappointing 15-17 season that saw the Rebels go a miserable 1-10 when they went on the road.  Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic shrunken crowds will help Ole Miss cure their road woes?  The team does add three key grad transfers in former CS-Bakersfield guard Jarkell Joiner (15.6 ppg), former Rider wing Dimencio Vaughn (14.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg), and former Arizona State rim protector Romello White (10.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg).  The Rebels are unlikely to contend for an SEC crown, but if everything comes together they could very well be in the mix for a postseason bid.

Georgia loses #1 overall draft pick Anthony Edwards and four of the team’s top six scorers from a season ago, leaving Tom Crean faced with the task of retooling a roster on the fly.  Georgia will have eight new players in all, with Sahvir Wheeler (9.0 ppg, 4.5 apg) being the best returning Bulldog.  Crean also welcomes in three transfers including that of former Stony Brook product Andrew Garcia (13.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and former Virginia Tech forward P.J. Horne (7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg), but the cupboard will need another season to restock.

Mississippi State is down three starters from a season ago, including the 2020 co-SEC player of the year Reggie Perry.  Ben Howland has also watched four other players leave the program via the transfer portal, leaving the Bulldogs in a full-blown rebuilding season for 2020/21.  Howland should turn it around and get the Bulldogs back to the middle of the conference in the coming seasons, but this year will be one where they figure to take several lumps from their conference foes.  Four-star freshman Deivon Smith will be a fun player to pay attention to for Howland’s ‘Dogs, however.

Texas A&M enters season two under coach Buzz Williams and while the Aggies program is slowly turning back around, it’s not quite there yet.  Seniors Savion Flagg (10.4 ppg), Quenton Jackson (8.8 ppg), and Quinnipiac grad-transfer Kevin Marfo (10.2 ppg, 13.3 rpg) will be the catalyst’s for Williams team this season, but TAMU figures to still be at least a year or two away from seriously contending in the conference. 

Vanderbilt is just bad.  They will be the SEC’s whipping boy for the third-consecutive season. 

SEC Projected Order of Finish:

  1. Tennessee
  2. Kentucky
  3. LSU
  4. Arkansas
  5. Florida
  6. Alabama
  7. South Carolina
  8. Ole Miss
  9. Texas A&M
  10. Mississippi State
  11. Auburn
  12. Missouri
  13. Georgia
  14. Vanderbilt

Pac-12 College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

After a disastrous 2018/19 season that saw the conference land just three teams in the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-12 rebounded in a big way for the 2019/20 season and were on the verge of sending six teams to the dance with the outside opportunity for a seventh team had someone gone on a run in the conference tournament.

Instead, COVID-19 happened, and the Pac-12 redemption tour was put on ice for another year.

The 2020/21 season figures to be the wonkiest college basketball season to date, but the Pac-12 find themselves once again in the position of being one of the deeper conferences in the country.  The conference hasn’t fielded a National Champion since 1997, the longest drought of any of the power conferences.  Will that change this season?  Let’s dive into the Pac-12.

The Contenders

#18 Arizona State (+230 to Win Pac-12)

“Hurley ball” enters season number six in Tempe, and this could be the most exciting team yet.

Paced by the senior guard tandem of Remy Martin (19.1 ppg) and Alonzo Verge Jr. (14.6), Arizona State finds itself ranked in the Preseason Top 20, marking the first time since the 2008/09 season that the Sun Devils started the new season as a ranked team.

While each season in Tempe has seen gradual improvement from Hurley’s crew, this season could be the year it all finally comes together for the former Duke star.  In addition to his explosive senior-laden backcourt, Hurley was able to recruit two of the best players to ever commit to Arizona State with the addition of five-star dynamo Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley (the younger brother of former Duke one-and-done star Marvin Bagley III).

Mix in 6-1 Portland State transfer Holland Woods (17.7 ppg, 5.2 apg), and the Sun Devils could have one of the best stables of guards in the entire country.

If there’s anything that would concern Hurley this season, it would be the depth in the Sun Devils frontcourt and the lack of a dangerous three-point shooting assassin on the roster.  Arizona State watched as former Top 100 recruit Romello White (10.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg last season) elected to transfer to Ole Miss in the offseason, leaving the Sun Devils dangerously thin down low.

Sophomore Jalen Graham figures to now be the best forward on the team and will be tasked to try to fill the big void left by White’s departure.

If Arizona State can find a capable rim protector and can improve on their three-point shooting, this is your likely favorite to win the conference.  However, if the Sun Devils still are inconsistent from deep and are unable to find a reliable big man, it may be another trademark rollercoaster season in the desert.

#22 UCLA (+300 to Win Pac-12)

We’ve talked about the various teams that were impacted by the cancellation of the 2020 season the most at length already, but UCLA is another school you can throw into the “screwed by the ‘Rona” pile.

After starting the season with a dismal 8-9 record, Mick Cronin’s Bruins ended the season on a torrid 11-3 finish to finish the season at 19-12 overall and 12-6 in the conference.  That would have had UCLA set up as the 2-seed in the conference tournament, instead, we just got to rewatch old NCAA Tourney games on YouTube for a March fix.

Well, UCLA is back again and this time they’re hoping to start the season a little stronger to ensure they don’t need a frantic hot streak in February to get back into the NCAA Tournament.

Cronin returns the top five UCLA scorers from a season ago and adds Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang, along with four-star recruit Jaylen Clark to round out the Bruins’ roster.

The most important player returning to Westwood may be that of guard Chris Smith (13.1 ppg).  Smith flirted with the idea of going pro but ultimately decided to come back to school for one more season.

It took the first few months of the season to wash away the Steve Alford stink, but UCLA appears to have done just that.  Mick Cronin will get this team to defend and be relentless on the glass.  If the offense can provide just enough, UCLA should be in the mix for yet another conference title.

#20 Oregon (+450 to Win Pac-12)

The Oregon Ducks face the challenge of replacing four-year starter, and the general lifeblood of the team, Payton Pritchard after the decorated point guard graduated from the school and found himself drafted by the Boston Celtics.

However, if there’s anything Dana Altman has shown during his tenure in Eugene, it’s that he knows how to work the transfer portal to quickly reload his roster.

That’s exactly what the Ducks intend to do entering this season, as Altman welcomes in five new transfers, three of which will be eligible on day one. 

Headlining the class of transfers is that of former UNLV guard Amauri Hardy (14.5 ppg).  The senior guard comes to Eugene with fellow transfers Eric Williams Jr. (Duquesne), Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers), LJ Figueroa (St. John’s), and Aaron Estrada (St. Peter’s).

Figueroa and Estrada are still awaiting word from the NCAA regarding their transfer waivers and whether or not they will be eligible to play this season.  If Figueroa (14.5 ppg) is indeed cleared to play the Ducks would be adding St. John’s leading scorer from a season ago, giving them even more depth than they already had.

As Oregon’s new transfers get more acclimated to their new surroundings, Altman likely will rely on his returning guard tandem of Will Richardson (11.0 ppg) and senior Chris Duarte (12.9 ppg) for added production and leadership. 

The Ducks are a very dangerous team going forward this season, even with the loss of Payton Pritchard.  They should be considered one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 and given their history in March, don’t discount this team from a possible run in the NCAA Tournament.   

The Dangerous Dark Horses

Stanford (+550 to Win Pac-12)

It’s a likely make or break season for Stanford head coach Jerod Haase as he enters his fifth season in Palo Alto.  Of all the coaches in the conference that have been with their programs longer than a year, it’s only Haase that has yet to take his team to the NCAA Tournament.

That means if the giant trees aren’t able to dance this March, Haase is likely going to be departing the ‘Conference of Champions’ for other job opportunities.

Fortunately for a coach on the proverbial ‘hot seat’, Stanford happened to land one of the best recruits in the land with five-star recruit Ziaire Williams.  Williams was the 7th overall ranked recruit in the 2020 class per ESPN, making him the highest-ranked Stanford signee since 2007.

The 6-9 wing (and former HS teammate of Bronny James) is already a projected lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but Haase hopes his budding superstar can carry Stanford to the state of Indiana come March.

Outside of Williams, there’s not a great deal to write home about in regards to the Cardinal, however. Seniors Daejon Davis (8.8 ppg) and Oscar Da Silva (15.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) return to the team this season, but Da Silva is the only returning player that averaged double-digits in scoring a season ago.

Defensively the Cardinal are sound, as they ranked as the 7th best defensive team by KenPom a season ago.  If they’re able to get any other steady offensive production from someone other than Williams or Da Silva, Jerod Haase should be able to rest a little easier.  However, it’s NCAA Tournament or bust at this point for the Cardinal.

Colorado (+1100 to Win Pac-12)

After starting the 2019/20 season with a 10-4 record in conference play, it looked as though Tad Boyle’s Colorado Buffaloes might capture their first-ever Pac-12 regular-season championship.

Instead, the bottom completely fell out, and the Buffs would end the season with a five-game losing streak including terrible losses to Cal, Utah, and a first-round exit in the Pac-12 tournament at the hands of Washington State.

Colorado now enters the new season going through a mini-rebuild of sorts, as defensive demon Tyler Bey is now in the NBA and the team returns only one double-digit scorer in senior McKinley Wright IV (14.4 ppg).

While the Buffs starting five is a very experienced group with three seniors and two juniors, the Colorado bench is very green.  Five freshmen in all round out the Buffaloes bench, with senior Maddox Daniels being the “best” bench option averaging 3.2 ppg. 

In other words, outside of the starting five, the Buffs could be in some trouble.

Colorado’s odds to win the Pac-12 simply don’t reflect the current make-up of this roster, as they’re more likely to finish outside of the Top Six in the conference than they are at winning the thing, but if McKinley Wright IV can ascend into an elite college basketball player, the Buffs may be able to bully their way into an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Washington (+3500 to Win Pac-12)

If anyone wasn’t saddened to see the college basketball season suddenly go away, it might have been the Washington Huskies. 

The Huskies entered the 2019/20 season as one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 and for good reason.  They were coming off a fantastic 13-5 season in Mike Hopkins’ first year and had just signed two future one-and-done players in Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart.

Instead, the bottom dropped out.  The stingy 2-3 zone defense just didn’t work last season with the new cast of Huskies.  The offense was woeful.  Washington would reverse their 2018/19 record with a 5-13 showing last year. 

The cause of Washington’s angst could probably be traced back to the NCAA ruling Kentucky transfer Quade Green academically ineligible just two games into the Pac-12 season, but really the team was a shattered mess from the get-go.

This season could return the Dawgs back to their previous form, however. 

Green is now eligible to play and will take over at the point guard position, a huge upgrade over Jaden McDaniels who never seemed like the right fit on Hopkins’ roster. 

The one-and-done experiment also drew to a close, as Washington is one of the few teams in the country that doesn’t have a single freshman on the roster.  That should also go a long way towards restoring the Huskies to not be in the cellar of the conference.

If there’s an under-the-radar sleeper to be found in this conference, it could very well be Mike Hopkins’ Huskies.  Removing the two one-and-done kids from the team will dramatically improve Washington’s defense and getting Quade Green back is an enormous addition.  Considering the season figures to be utter chaos, Washington could very well slide back to the top of the conference standings.  

The Middle of the Pack

USC (+1100 to Win Pac-12)

For the fourth time in the last five seasons, USC ended the year with more than 20 wins and was on track to earn an at-large berth in the 2020 NCAA Tournament.

In large part, however, the Andy Enfield era (now in its eighth season) has been nothing more than mediocre.

The Trojans hope to change that this season and they’ll depend on a pair of brothers to get USC over the hump.  Five-star sensation Evan Mobley (#3 overall recruit) comes to Los Angeles to team up with his brother Isaiah to form the best frontcourt in the conference. 

While the Mobley brothers will certainly grab most of the attention in LA, the fate of the Trojans’ season likely comes down to whether or not sophomore Ethan Anderson can emerge as a capable starting point guard, and if transfers Noah Baumann (San Jose State) and Isaiah White (Utah Valley) can hit consistent outside shots to allow for their two big men to freely roam the floor.

I’m skeptical such a thing can happen, and while Evan Mobley will be must-see TV, this iteration of USC basketball looks very similar to Trojan teams of years past.  Enfield will get USC back near the 20-win mark, but the Trojans will live on the bubble most of the way.

Arizona (+1400 to Win Pac-12)

You have to wonder how long Sean Miller’s rope in Tucson is starting to become.

After getting into boiling hot water with a scandal that required an FBI investigation, Miller has somehow managed to stay alive, but the Arizona Wildcats have not been the imposing college basketball program they once were, and they haven’t been for quite some time.

If there’s a season where Arizona can finally play to their expectations, however, it could be this one.  Once again, Miller was able to ink a talented recruiting class and brought in several transfers that should make an immediate impact, namely Seattle grad-transfer Terrell Brown (20.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Georgetown transfer James Akinjo (13.4 ppg), and former four-star Nevada recruit Jordan Brown.

The three transfers will be heavily depended on, as Miller’s bench has seven freshmen and a single sophomore.  The freshmen are of course talented, particularly that of top-50 recruit Dalen Terry, but they’re still freshmen and will need time to grow during a very unorthodox college basketball season. 

The growing pains for Arizona will be real, it’s just a manner of seeing how long those growing pains last.  There’s certainly a lot of talent in Tucson, it just remains to be seen if Sean Miller can do anything with it.

If he cannot, there may be a new job opening in the desert come Spring 2021.

Utah (+2000 to Win Pac-12)

The 2019/20 college basketball season was expected to be a transitional season for Larry Krystkowiak’s Utah Utes, and it proved to be precisely that as Utah would have the usual ups and downs of a young team on their way to a 16-15 season that ended with a two-point loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament before ‘Rona eliminated every team from March Madness just a day later.

However, the Utes could be in line for somewhat of a bounce-back season in 2020/21.

Utah returns five of their six leading scorers from a season ago, the lone exception being that of Both Gach who transferred to Minnesota.   That usually bodes well for a roster that has just one senior on it coming into the new year.

The catalyst for the Utes attack will be that of junior combo guard Timmy Allen (17.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg).  Allen was Utah’s Mr. Everything a season ago, but he could never find the help needed to get Utah back on track.

Utah hopes that changes this season with sophomore Rylan Jones having one-year of playing experience under his belt.  Jones epitomizes everything we love about college basketball as the kid is not a future NBA lottery pick in the making, but he plays with a helluva lot of heart, grit, hustle, and any other superlative you want to use.

The Utes being listed at 20/1 to win the conference strikes me as a little too bullish, though they will be a very tough opponent to face in Salt Lake.  Look out for this team next season and beyond however when the freshmen and sophomores continue to gel.  

The Long Shots

Cal (+10000 to Win Pac-12)
Oregon State (+10000 to Win Pac-12)
Washington State (+10000 to Win Pac-12)

Needless to say, these are the “have nots” of the conference.

Cal was a pleasant surprise under new head coach Mark Fox in his first year with the team, going 7-11 in conference play.  The Golden Bears’ leading scorer Matt Bradley (17.4 ppg) returns this season, but there’s not much else here to write home about.  Fox’s rebuilding process will continue this season as Cal hopes to play the role of spoiler in conference play.

Oregon State finally saw Tres Tinkle graduate from the program after 25-years with the team (kidding, sort of), but now the Beavs have some big shoes to fill.  Guard Ethan Thompson returns for his senior season and will be the focal point of an Oregon State team that would consider a .500 record to be a major win this season.

Washington State lost all Pac-12 forward CJ Elleby to the NBA Draft and will lose a lot of games during the 2020/21 season.  Their biggest goal for the new year is finishing above the Pac-12 basement.  That will be a chore in itself.

Pac-12 Projected Order of Finish

  1. Oregon
  2. Arizona State
  3. UCLA
  4. Arizona
  5. Washington
  6. Stanford
  7. USC
  8. Utah
  9. Colorado
  10. Cal
  11. Oregon State
  12. Washington State

Big Ten College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

When COVID-19 swept over the United States, the Big Ten’s banner season was also unfortunately washed away.  We’ll never know what the conference would have done in the NCAA Tournament, but we do know the Big Ten was on the brink of sending at least 11 of the 14 members of the conference to the dance, with the outside possibility of a 12th team playing their way in with a strong showing in the conference tournament.

Fast forward eight months and the Big Ten is still as deep as ever, and should once again be the deepest conference in college basketball.

A record seven teams from the same conference appear in the preseason college basketball rankings, and this year looks just as promising as a season ago for the Big Ten to potentially send two teams to the Final Four.

How does this mammoth of a conference look heading into the new season?  Let’s take a look at each team in the conference and how they figure to fare in what is sure to be another chaotic season of college basketball.

The Contenders

#5 Iowa (+265 to Win Big Ten)

Two words can best summarize why Iowa is a legit contender this season.

Luka. Garza.

The 6-11 center had a junior season to remember before COVID-19 prevented Garza and the Hawkeyes from their appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Garza was selected as the Sporting News’ National Player of the Year and the Big Ten Conference player of the year in addition to being named as a consensus first-team All-American.  And in looking at Garza’s stats it’s not difficult to see why the big man brought home a lot of awards last season.  Luka averaged a practical double-double (23.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) while shooting 54% from the floor and nearly 36% from three-point range.  The 6-11 big man was the Hawkeyes’ best three-point shooter a season ago.

Iowa fans will be ecstatic to find out that most of last season’s team is back with the exception of two senior bench contributors (Ryan Kreiner and Bakari Evelyn), meaning the Hawkeyes are locked and loaded for a potentially deep run in March.

Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes will have senior point guard Jordan Bohannon (8.8 ppg, 3.3 apg) back in the lineup this season after he only played in 10 games a season ago, and will still have the services of the team’s second-leading scorer, Joe Wieskamp (14.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) along with sophomore guard CJ Fredrick (10.2 ppg, 2.8 apg).  This should provide the Hawkeyes with an explosive offensive unit that will play a quicker tempo than many of the schools in the conference.

If there’s a cause for concern with this Iowa team, however, it does come on the defensive end of the floor where Iowa is… passive to say the least.  Iowa’s guards can shoot the lights out, but their defense is subpar at best.  Luka Garza is a versatile weapon that few teams have an answer for offensively, but on the defensive end of the floor, he has shown a tendency to struggle in defending outside of the paint.

Additionally, the Hawkeyes’ reserves are extremely young with six freshmen, one sophomore, and a lone junior (Connor McCaffrey).  How much depth this team actually has won’t be known until several games into the season. 

If Bohannon can avoid injury and Iowa can find a gem or two on their bench, there’s no reason to believe Iowa won’t be a Top 10 team when it’s all said and done.  But if the bench doesn’t progress the way McCaffrey hopes it will, this could be a team that becomes extremely reliant on Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp once again.

At the very least, expect Iowa to be one of the more entertaining teams in the Big Ten this season, and a likely strong over team given their ability to light up a scoreboard.

#7 Wisconsin (+350 to Win Big Ten)

Before COVID-19 canceled conference tournaments around the country, and then subsequently the NCAA Tournament, the Wisconsin Badgers were in the middle of an eight-game winning streak to close out the season and take the Badgers from a middling 6-6 record in conference to clinching the top seed in the Big Ten tournament.

The bad news for Badger backers is that we didn’t get a chance to see one of the hottest teams in the country during March Madness, the good news for Badger backers is that no other team in the conference will have the experience Greg Gard will have at his disposal this season.

Wisconsin returns six seniors to their team including their entire starting lineup from a season ago.  The program’s only two losses entering the 2020/21 season are that of guards Brevin Pritzl (8.0 ppg) and Kobe King (midseason transfer to Nebraska).

The loss of King, one of the best recruits that Gard has brought to the program, stung initially especially when seeing him link up with a conference foe in Nebraska (though he has since departed the Nebraska program as well), but Gard did a masterful job of righting the ship after losing the team’s most talented player.

There’s a lot of reasons to be excited for this iteration of Wisconsin basketball.  We mentioned the talent they’re bringing back, but possibly the most exciting development to come with this basketball team is getting Micah Potter (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 45.1% 3PM) for a full season.  Of the Badgers’ ten losses a season ago, five of them came before Potter was eligible to play.  The moment the 6-10 transfer from Ohio State entered the lineup, Wisconsin was an entirely different team.  Potter provides Gard exactly what Wisconsin hopes to get from their big men – a long-player that can light it up from distance.  Potter was a 45% shooter from distance a season ago.

Three-point shooting will be a running theme with the Badgers all season, as Wisconsin shot 36.1% from three-point range in conference play, only trailing Ohio State (36.2%) in three-point shooting efficiency.  Gard has six players on his roster that shoot the three at a 35% clip or better.  If the three-ball is dropping, the Badgers are going to be a very difficult team to beat.  

Gard is one of the best coaches in the conference and given this senior-laden lineup, it’s hard not to envision the Badgers being a serious contender to the Big Ten crown once more. 

#8 Illinois (+355 to Win Big Ten)

The Illini are back in the Top 10 for the first time since 2012, and while they don’t have the barrage of offensive firepower that Iowa possesses or the experience that Wisconsin brings, they will still be one of the main contenders to win the conference.

Brad Underwood’s team gets Big Ten Conference Player of the Year Candidate Ayo Dosunmu (16.6 ppg) back for his junior season after the guard flirted with the idea of entering the NBA Draft, along with their sensational 7-foot sophomore Kofi Cockburn (13.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg). 

In addition to this terrific tandem, the Illini will count on senior guard Trent Frazier (9.1 ppg) and former Holy Cross guard Jacob Grandison (13.9 ppg in 2018/19) for additional offensive support. 

Underwood does lose the rangy shooting forward Alan Griffin (8.9 ppg, 41.6% 3PM) who transferred to Syracuse, but four-star recruit Adam Miller could immediately start for the Illini and fill that vacancy in the stat sheet.

The fate of the new Illini season in all likelihood rests on Underwood finding another shooting threat to alleviate the pressure on his two future NBA’ers.  If Frazier, Grandison, or Miller can become that dependable piece the Illini should play to the expectations of their preseason ranking.  If they are unable to find consistency outside of their best two players, however, the Big Ten is monstrous enough to send Illinois tumbling down the standings.

Either way, Brad Underwood’s team should still be playing in mid-March.  How far they will go remains to be seen.

#13 Michigan State (+360 to Win Big Ten)

Tom Izzo enters the new season looking to replace one of the best players to ever come through Izzo’s program in guard Cassius Winston.  Arguably no player meant more to their team, at least from a leadership level, than Winston meant to the Spartans.  Most college basketball fans (myself included) were saddened to see Winston’s career end in the sudden manner it did, but he has since graduated and the Spartans are now left to try to fill his absence.

Don’t feel too bad for Izzo’s Spartans, however, as they are poised to reload their roster and once again be a force in the Big Ten Conference.

Michigan State pulled in the 8th best recruiting class of 2020, but it’s Marquette transfer Joey Hauser that may excite Izzo the most.  Hauser is a 6-9 forward that can score inside and out (42.5% 3PM in 2018/19) and in true Izzo fashion look for the rangy sharpshooter to have a lot of pick-and-pop plays drawn up for him this season.

Playing alongside Hauser in the Spartans’ small-ball type of lineup will be guards Rocket Watts (9.0 ppg) and Aaron Henry (10.0 ppg), but the real X-factor to Sparty’s season is that of fifth-year senior Joshua Langford. 

Langford missed all of last season with a nagging foot injury and had his 2018/19 campaign cut short for the same reason, but when Langford was able to play he was a very potent scoring threat as he averaged 15.0 points per contest during his junior season.

If Langford can give the Spartans a full season, or close to it, Michigan State goes from a very good team to a legit contender. 

The Dangerous Dark Horses

#23 Ohio State (+1000 to Win Big Ten)

The Buckeyes 2019/20 season was almost like three separate seasons rolled into one.

Ohio State came out of the gates scorching hot with an 11-1 record and blowout wins over then #10 Villanova, #7 North Carolina, and a narrow 71-65 victory over #6 Kentucky in Las Vegas.

Ohio State would see their ranking soar up to #2 overall before they’d meet Bob Huggins’ #22 West Virginia team.  West Virginia would go on to hand Ohio State their second loss of the season, leading to a 1-6 spiral for the Buckeyes.

Sitting at 13-7 on the year and an ugly 3-6 in conference, Ohio State would find their earlier form and end the season winning nine of their last 12 games before COVID-19 would stop the season dead in its tracks.

Now Chris Holtmann’s team enters the new season with a lot of roster turnover, but still enough talent to at least put Ohio State on the likely path to another NCAA Tournament bid in 2021.

The Buckeyes lost Luther Muhammad, D.J. Carton, and Alonzo Gaffney to the transfer portal but have transfers Seth Towns (16.0 ppg with Harvard), Jimmy Sotos (11.5 ppg with Bucknell), and Justice Sueing (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg with Cal) ready to step right in.

Holtmann will not have the luxury of the Wesson twins this season, as Kaleb Wesson turned pro and Andre Wesson graduated, so the top returning player to Columbus this season figures to be that of junior guard Duane Washington Jr. (11.5 ppg).  

While it’s unlikely that Ohio State is a National Championship contending team, they can still make a lot of noise in a loaded Big Ten.  Holtmann will likely need a bit of time to get all of his new players to gel, but come February and March this may be a team that no one in the Big Ten wants any part of.  A Sweet 16 run is certainly not out of the question with this group.

#25 Michigan (+1100 to Win Big Ten)

Juwan Howard’s first season in Ann Arbor was met with mostly positive results.  The first-time collegiate head coach brought Michigan to a 19-12 record overall and a very respectable 10-10 in conference play. 

The Wolverines began the season a perfect 7-0 including wins over then 6th ranked North Carolina and a blowout win in the Maui Invitational Final over 8th ranked Gonzaga.

As the season would go on, we’d eventually discover the North Carolina win wasn’t as impressive as we first thought it was, but their win over Gonzaga would become more impressive with each passing week.

Once Michigan entered Big Ten Conference play, however, the limitations of Michigan’s roster began to emerge.  While Howard’s group was tenacious on the defensive end of the floor, they were a mixed bag offensively. 

After climbing up to #4 in the polls following their blowout over Gonzaga, the Wolverines would go on a 4-8 skid that left them sitting at 11-8 overall and 2-6 in conference play.  In a similar manner to Ohio State, Michigan seemed to rediscover the play they had to start the season and would rattle off eight wins in their last 12 games, putting the Wolverines comfortably in the field of 68. 

Now the Wolverines enter the new season as one of the more dangerous sleepers in not only the Big Ten but in all of college basketball.  The biggest question facing the team is if they will be able to find a point guard to run the offense.  Zavier Simpson graduated from the program and Simpson’s heir to the throne, David DeJulius, shocked the program when he transferred to Cincinnati this offseason.  That leaves Michigan potentially dangerously thin at the most important position on the floor.

Howard will now hope that either senior Eli Brooks or grad-transfer Mike Smith (22.8 ppg with Columbia in 2019/20) can fill the very large shoes left behind by Simpson.  If either guard is up to the task, Michigan is in great hands once again. 

Beyond their question marks at the point, Michigan returns top player Isaiah Livers (12.9 ppg) and 2019 standout frosh Franz Wagner (younger brother of former Michigan star Mo Wagner) to a very athletic and long Wolverines roster.

The floor for Michigan this season is likely where they ended the 2019/20 campaign, but the ceiling could be very high if they’re able to seamlessly replace their backcourt from a season ago.  Look out for this Wolverines team this season.

Indiana (+2000 to Win Big Ten)

This very likely will be a make or break year for Archie Miller in Bloomington. 

Since coming to Indiana in 2017, Miller has not made a single NCAA Tournament appearance and has a meager 55-43 record overall and a sub .500 record in conference play at 26-32.  COVID-19 may have even prolonged his coaching tenure with the Hoosiers a bit further as Indiana needed at least a couple of victories in the Big Ten Tournament (though they did have one under their belt before the cancellation) to safely get into the field of 68.

Fortunately for Archie Miller, this season’s Hoosiers team should fare better than last season’s, and the temperature of his seat should cool off as the season goes on.

The straw that stirs the Hoosiers drink is that of future NBA’er Trayce Jackson-Davis (13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg).  The 6-9 lefty is a fantastic defender and a tireless glass eater for Archie Miller’s squad.  Jackson-Davis will team up with senior Joey Brunk and junior Race Thompson to give Indiana one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten. 

While junior Rob Phinisee figures to start for Archie Miller to begin the season, five-star point guard Khristian Lander may eventually take that job by the time conference play begins.  Lander was widely considered as the best recruit to come out of Indiana and was the 27th overall recruit according to ESPN.  So Archie landing him is a pretty big deal for the Hoosiers.

The Hoosiers’ also recruited four-star talent Jordan Geronimo, giving them the 15th best-recruiting class in the country.  If Miller can get the talented freshmen on this team to gel with the talent already in place, Indiana’s NCAA Tournament drought should be coming to an end.   

#24 Rutgers (+3000 to Win Big Ten)

Add Rutgers to the growing pile of teams that were devastated by the cancellation of college basketball eight months ago.

The Scarlet Knights were in the middle of the best season they’ve had in a long time, winning 20 games in a season for the first time since 2004, and were almost surely headed for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.  Now Steve Pikiell is hoping to replicate last season’s success and officially end Rutgers’ 30-year tournament drought.

Replicating last season’s success should be made easier by the return of Rutgers’ two best players in forward Ron Harper Jr. (12.1 ppg) and guard Geo Baker (10.8 ppg), in addition to the signing of Pikiell’s best recruit ever in Cliff Omoruyi (6-10 center, ranked 49th overall).

The Scarlet Knights were ferocious defensively a season ago, ranking 6th in the country per KenPom.  That will need to continue this season if Rutgers is to meet their new expectations.  One cause of concern for Rutgers this season is their woeful 2-10 road record a year ago. 

However, their road woes may be greatly assisted by the fact that there will likely not be any fans for most Rutgers road basketball games this season.  Conversely, that can also work against the Scarlet Knights, as Pikiell’s group was a sensational 18-1 at home last year. 

I don’t believe Rutgers is a title contender or even a threat to win the Big Ten, but they have enough talent to get close to 20-wins once again and that would be a practical automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament given how stacked the Big Ten is this season.

Middle of the Pack

Purdue (+3000 to Win Big Ten)

Matt Painter faces a difficult road if he hopes to take Purdue back to the NCAA Tournament.

Weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic officially ended the Boilers season, Painter watched his two best players Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern transfer to BYU and Howard respectively, leaving Purdue with  Trevion Williams as their main threat in the low post – a position that holds greater importance in Painter’s system than with other members of the Big Ten.

However, this can also be seen as a blessing in disguise.  Haarms and Eastern both chewed into the playing time and touches for Williams (11.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), and now Williams will not have to deal with either of those issues as he becomes the focal point of the Purdue offense.

In addition to Williams, Painter will also have the services of junior guards Eric Hunter (10.6 ppg) and Sasha Stefanovic (9.1 ppg), so offensively the Boilers should remain quite the formidable group.  Where Painter will run into some potential issues comes on the defensive side of the floor, as Haarms and Eastern were both outstanding rim protectors. 

Purdue’s bench will be very young with five freshmen, so it remains to be seen how deep Painter’s rotations will be.  If any of the freshmen happen to pop and emerge as a capable depth piece, however, Purdue is likely going to be heading back to the NCAA Tournament. 

Maryland (+5000 to Win Big Ten)

Out of all the teams in the loaded Big Ten, no one lost more from the 2019/20 season than Mark Turgeon’s Maryland Terrapins.

The timing of the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have been worse for the Terps eight months ago, as Maryland was in the middle of their best season since their Juan Dixon National Championship team and had just captured a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown.  Maryland was likely in the mix for a 2 or 3 seed in the tournament, and who knows what kind of run they could have eventually gone on.

The holes on this roster are evident, as Turgeon is faced with the daunting task of replacing star guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and NBA’er Jalen Smith.  The Terps also had the worst recruiting class in the conference, not exactly what you hope to achieve in this gauntlet of a conference.

In a best-case scenario, the Terps greatly overachieve and get themselves in the mix of a possible bubble spot.  The more likely scenario is they fight off Minnesota and Purdue for 10th place in the conference.

The Long Shots

Minnesota (+15000 to Win Big Ten)
Penn State (+30000 to Win Big Ten)
Nebraska (+50000 to Win Big Ten)
Northwestern (+50000 to Win Big Ten)

If you dropped any of these four teams into a weaker conference, the outlook for their seasons would probably look much differently.  Unfortunately, though that’s not how college athletics work so these four teams are in for a tough slog in this behemoth of a basketball power conference.

Minnesota adds stand out transfers Liam Robbins (Drake), Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan), and Both Gach (Utah), but loses 2019 star Daniel Oturu in what is a make or break season for Richard Pitino.  Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur return to Minnesota’s backcourt and offer one of the most experienced guard tandems in the conference.  One name of note here is that of 2020 recruit Jamal Mashburn Jr.   Mashburn Jr. is of course the son of former NBA great Jamal Mashburn, so if you want to feel even older than you do after living during a global pandemic, be sure to catch a Gophers game if you can.

Penn State is in for a potentially rough season, as head coach Pat Chambers abruptly resigned in late October.  Former Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry has now become the team’s interim coach, but he will have his hands full after the Nittany Lions had already lost their two best players from a season ago in Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins.  Myreon Jones (13.4 ppg) is the name to look out for here, as he’s the best returning player to Happy Valley.

Nebraska enters year two of the Fred Hoiberg era hoping it goes a lot better than the 7-25 (2-18 Big Ten) showing the Huskers had in his debut season.  Good news for Husker fans is the talent is getting noticeably better, and they shouldn’t be nearly as bad as they were a season ago.  However, Nebraska has the unfortunate luck of their football program uprooting its basketball program into the strongest conference in the United States.  The Huskers will be a team to watch in 2021 and beyond, but this season expect more growing pains in Lincoln.

Northwestern at least has a good football team to cheer for this season.  They won’t have much else besides Mike Greenberg annoyingly reminding you that’s where he went to college.  

Big Ten Projected Order of Finish

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Iowa
  3. Michigan State
  4. Michigan
  5. Illinois
  6. Ohio State
  7. Indiana
  8. Rutgers
  9. Minnesota
  10. Purdue
  11. Maryland
  12. Nebraska
  13. Penn State
  14. Northwestern

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)

 – 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

Big 12 College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

Before the 2019/20 college basketball season was canceled and March Madness was called off, the Big 12 was in a position to potentially have two #1 seeds in Baylor and Kansas and were considered as the conference most likely to field the eventual National Champion.

The conference is possibly even better this season.

The Big 12 currently features a whopping five teams in the Kenpom Top 10, with Baylor and Kansas once again considered strong favorites at a run at a spot in the Final Four. 

Top to bottom, there may not be a better conference in college basketball this season.  Here’s how the Big 12 shakes out and what you need to know about each school before the season begins.   

The Contenders

#2 Baylor (+165 to Win Big 12)

Before the cancellation of the 2019/20 season, the Baylor Bears were flying high and breaking a multitude of school records including a 23-game winning streak to propel them to the first #1 overall ranking in school history.

The Bears started to show some chinks in the armor at the end of the season, however, as they would drop three of their last five games to end the season including road losses to TCU and West Virginia.

Fortunately for Baylor supporters, the bulk of last season’s team is back including the top three scorers on the team in Wooden Award candidate Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell.  The Bears also return Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist Mark Vital, giving the Bears one of the more balanced teams in the nation.

While last season’s team had the potential to be special, this could be Scott Drew’s best group yet.  You will be hard-pressed to find a team in the country, much less the Big 12, that can match Baylor’s talent, depth, and experience the Bears will have on the floor at any given time.  They will be a team to watch all season long and have a real chance to replicate the success they had a season ago.  

#6 Kansas (+170 to Win Big 12)

While Baylor was enjoying the best season in school history, we’d be remiss not to mention that heading into the fateful Selection Sunday that never happened, Kansas was in the middle of playing some of its best basketball of the Bill Self era and was considered the prohibitive favorite to cut the nets down in Atlanta this past spring.

Before COVID wiped away March Madness, Kansas had emerged from a chaotic regular season as the best team in college basketball.  This was in large part due to the phenomenal inside-outside game from Devin Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. 

Both of these players have since departed to the next chapter of their careers in the NBA and now Bill Self and the Jayhawks are put in the rare spot of having a mini-reboot to their roster.

Of course, Kansas rebooting is far different than the rebooting that most college basketball programs do, and they will still have a roster chock-full of talent, but there will be a setback until the Jayhawks can figure out how to replace the production they just lost.

One way the Jayhawks plan to reload this season will come by playing a three-guard lineup, and on occasion even going with four-guard lineups on the floor.  Senior Marcus Garrett and junior Ochai Agbaji will be the focal point of the Kansas offense with five-star recruit Bryce Thompson also likely to log a lot of playing time for Self’s Jayhawks.

Self will look to replace the vacancy of Azubuike with forwards Silvio de Sousa and David McCormack.  You may recall hearing Silvio de Sousa’s name when it looked like he may channel his inner WWE and hit someone with a stool during a brawl with rival Kansas State last season. While that’s certainly one way to enforce the paint, Self will likely try to get de Sousa to try a more conventional method this season.

All in all, Kansas is going to still be a dangerous opponent to deal with.  We will find out a lot about where the team currently is when they play their season opener against powerhouse Gonzaga on November 26, but assuming we have a 2021 NCAA Tournament this season, Kansas figures to be one of the top seeds in the dance when it’s all said and done.  

The Dangerous Dark Horses

#15 West Virginia (+525 to Win Big 12)

The Mountaineers began the 2019/20 season like they were shot out of a cannon as Bob Huggins’ squad opened the season with an 11-1 record capped off by a 67-59 win over then #2 ranked Ohio State.

Then conference play began.

West Virginia would start conference play with a 6-3 record before the wheels would come off in February as the Mountaineers would go 1-6 that month and put themselves back in the bubble conversation before handing then 4th ranked Baylor a 12-point loss in the last game of the season that would have likely sealed their at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Now Huggins is back at it again with a roster he has said is his best since the 2010 West Virginia Final Four team.  He may not be wrong in that assessment.

While there are legitimate concerns about the Mountaineers’ offense and whether or not they can put up enough points to make a long run in March, there are no such concerns about West Virginia’s defense.  The Mountaineers return the tandem of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, giving Huggins two of the best rim protectors in the entire country.

Offensively, Huggins’ Eers play about in the manner that you’d expect a Bob Huggins team to look – ugly.  WVU was atrocious shooting the ball a season ago, going 26% from three-point range and an abysmal 62.9% from the free-throw line.  Both ranked dead last in the conference.   

If West Virginia is to be a better offensive team this season it will likely depend on guard Miles McBride emerging amongst a log jam of guards on the roster.  The sophomore guard is the teams’ best shooter by a significant margin, and there just aren’t a whole lot of shooters on this team.  The WVU defense is the real deal, however, and they could very well propel the Mountaineers from a dangerous Top 15 caliber team to a legitimate Final Four contender if they just get a little better offensive output this season.

#14 Texas Tech (+600 to Win Big 12)

Kevin Beard has quietly turned Lubbock, Texas into a fervent college basketball community. 

Despite losing their top two scorers (Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti) from last season’s team, Texas Tech had a home run of an offseason as they added three of the best transfers available in the transfer portal with Mac McClung (Georgetown), Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU), and Jamarius Burton (Wichita State) all coming over to join the Red Raiders.

Beard also pulled in a pair of top-50 recruits in Nimari Burnett and Micah Peavy, giving Texas Tech one of the deepest rosters in the Big 12.

Among the players returning to Lubbock this season, Beard will likely lean on the services of junior guard Kyler Edwards (11.4 ppg) the most as he looks to repair the Red Raiders backcourt.

This is a team that could start out of the gates somewhat slow before really picking up momentum as conference play gets going.  On paper, they are as deep as any in the country, if Beard can get the talent to gel this is another sleeper candidate for the Final Four.

#19 Texas (+690 to Win Big 12)

While schools like Baylor were surely yelling profanity at the sky when COVID-19 swept over the United States and canceled the best season in school history, Shaka Smart’s job security got a much-needed boost when the entire college sports landscape drastically changed.  Suddenly the Longhorns couldn’t afford to pay a lofty buyout to Shaka Smart and they had to essentially run it back when it looked like Smart was running out of time just weeks before.

This is the make or break year in Austin for the Shaka Smart era, as the once highly coveted basketball coach has now gone five seasons without an NCAA Tournament victory, and has missed the tourney entirely in three of the last four seasons since Smart was named the Texas head coach in 2015.

Since taking over in Austin, Smart is a disappointing 90-81 overall.  Far from the expectations of competing for Big 12 championships year in and year out.  However, if there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the 43-year-old coach it’s that this could be the best Longhorns team Smart has had yet.

The Longhorns feature a very experienced backcourt with juniors Courtney Ramey (10.9 ppg), Andrew Jones (11.5 ppg), and senior Matt Coleman (12.7 ppg).   In the Texas frontcourt, Smart has the luxury of having five players above 6-9, including five-star recruit McDonald’s All-American Greg Brown (#9 overall). 

Brown’s addition could essentially save Shaka Smart’s job, as the highly touted recruit averaged a double-double during all four seasons in high school and is considered a future NBA lottery pick.  

Collectively, this roster is arguably the most talented in the conference, though you may hear from some residents in Lubbock who disagree. 

Nonetheless, this is it for Shaka Smart.  If he can’t get this team over the hump, he will likely be in the market for a new job next spring, but if he can get this team over the hump look out for the Longhorns.

Middle of the Pack

Oklahoma State (+2000 to Win Big 12)

Oklahoma State will draw a lot of attention if for no other reason than to watch Cade Cunningham, the presumptive #1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Cowboys will not be eligible for the 2021 NCAA Tournament after receiving a one-year postseason ban from the NCAA for their involvement in the Lamont Evans FBI saga, meaning we will not get to see the top recruit in the land play in March, but that doesn’t mean Oklahoma State can’t be a fun team to pay attention to throughout the regular season.

Joining Cunningham in the backcourt for the Cowboys will be junior Isaac Likekele (10.9 ppg) and Cal Baptist grad transfer Ferron Flavors Jr. (13.5 ppg).  Beyond these two guards, this is an extremely young Oklahoma State team with only one other upperclassman on the roster in junior walk-on Dee Mitchell.

If Oklahoma State’s appeal is successful and their postseason ban is overturned, the Cowboys merit paying close attention to, however, if the appeal is lost and they are indeed banned from the NCAA Tournament this is still a team that should finish in the top half of the conference and could have a lot of value as an underdog in the matchups against the Big 12 heavyweights.

Oklahoma (+2000 to Win Big 12)

Lon Kruger has led the Sooners to NCAA Tournament berths in six of the last seven seasons, not including the 2019-20 campaign in which Oklahoma was heading for another at-large spot in the dance.

The Sooners lose leading scorer Kristian Doolittle from last year’s team but return their second and third-leading scorers with seniors Austin Reaves (14.7 ppg) and Brady Manek (14.4 ppg).

This iteration of Oklahoma basketball will look different than it has in recent years when Buddy Hield and Trae Young were dropping 35-foot jumpers all over helpless Big 12 defenders, but they will be a dangerous foe for the top dogs to encounter and should once again be in the mix for another 20-win season and subsequent at-large bid.

The Long Shots

Iowa State (+8000 to Win Big 12)
TCU (+10000 to win Big 12)
Kansas State (+30000 to win Big 12)

Let’s just say each of these schools are in for a long season in this loaded conference.  There are very clear “haves” and “have nots” in the Big 12, and these are the have nots for the 2020/21 season. 

Iowa State was a very poor team a season ago and lost their best player Tyrese Haliburton to the NBA Draft. That doesn’t appear like it’s about to change, and Steve Prohm could be on his way out of Ames as a result.

TCU loses their best player Desmond Bane (graduation) and ushers in a new era under Jamie Dixon.  Expect there to be a lot of growing pains and for the Horned Frogs to be a non-factor for much of the season.

Kansas State loses Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra and returns no player that averaged more than seven points a game in 2019. Bruce Weber is another coach who can conceivably be on the ‘hot seat’ this season.

Outside of the occasional bet on one of these teams to cover a large point spread, just steer clear of these three schools as best as you can.

Big 12 Projected Order of Finish

  1. Baylor
  2. Texas Tech
  3. Kansas
  4. West Virginia
  5. Texas
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. TCU
  9. Iowa State
  10. Kansas State

ACC College Basketball 2020-21 Preview

The ACC was well on their way to having one of the most disappointing showings in conference history before the COVID-19 put an end to the college basketball season in the middle of March.

Despite the surprisingly down season from the conference, Duke was still sitting in the top-10, Florida State was emerging as a real threat to make a deep run in the tournament, Louisville was a dangerous team, and Virginia was playing some of its best basketball of the season.

The 2020/21 campaign should have the ACC returning more to the form we’re accustomed to seeing from the basketball power conference, though the league does not have a truly imposing team for all of the country to fear either.

Instead, the ACC is a very balanced conference this season that will have its familiar names at the top of the standings, but when it comes to the rest of the pecking order the conference has the potential to be very competitive and very exciting.

Here’s how the ACC shakes out for the upcoming season.

The Contenders

#4 Virginia Cavaliers (+215 to Win ACC)

Before the 2019/20 college basketball season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers were quietly playing their best basketball of the season.  They were on an eight-game winning streak and heading into the ACC Tournament before they would defend their title in March.

That of course never got the chance to happen, but Tony Bennett’s team is in perfect position this season to pick up where they left off in March and to be a very serious contender in cutting the nets down all over again. 

The Hoos are widely considered to be the favorite to win the ACC this season, both from pundits and oddsmakers alike and for good reason.  Tony Bennett has compiled quite the group for the 2020/21 campaign. 

A strong returning core became that much better when Bennett added Marquette grad transfer, Sam Hauser, to the team.  Hauser is the ideal stretch four and will dramatically improve the Virginia offense.  Once again the veteran Kihei Clark will run the point, and he is amongst the most efficient point guards in all of college basketball.

Bennett also has a solid incoming recruiting class, headlined by four-star recruit Jabril Abdur-Rahim.  If that name sounds somewhat familiar, it’s probably because he is the son of former NBA star Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Top to bottom, there is not a more complete team in the ACC than Virginia.  If there is a 1 seed to come out of the ACC this season, it will likely be Bennett’s Cavs that land it.

#9 Duke Blue Devils (+225 to Win ACC)

No one in the ACC has reaped the benefits of the one-and-done era more than Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils.  We’ve seen some of the most highly-decorated recruiting classes in college basketball come through Durham, North Carolina, but the 2020/21 iteration of Duke basketball will look differently than we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

Before Duke haters rejoice that Coach K doesn’t have a future #1 overall draft pick on his roster, it should be known that he does have a team riddled with five-star talent once again. 

Freshman guards Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward will fill the holes from Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley departing to the NBA, while the front-court will be aided by the additions of five-star forwards Jalen Johnson and Jaemyn Brakefield. 

Duke saw center Vernon Carey depart for the NBA Draft, but also added four-star center Mark Williams and grad transfer Patrick Tape (Columbia) to help fill that void.  In addition to that, the Blue Devils also get Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore back, so this is going to be a very deep team with no spectacular star that stands out. 

If there’s a potential x-factor to the upcoming season for Duke, however, it’s the fact that this season will be played with no fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  If there’s a school in college basketball that has an imposing home-court advantage, it’s Duke.  Does taking that away level the playing field now with other schools who have notoriously struggled playing in that hostile environment?  We’re about to find out.  

#21 Florida State Seminoles (+300 to Win ACC)

Thanks to the sudden stoppage of the 2019/20 season, the Florida State Seminoles are your reigning ACC champions.  Florida State will need to replace the losses of Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams, both of whom were lottery picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. 

Leonard Hamilton has quietly built quite the program in Tallahassee, however, and Florida State may just very well be a basketball school now the way their football program has struggled immensely over the last several seasons.

Hamilton’s program is now in the position to draw in top recruits and did just that when Scottie Barnes signed on to play at Florida State.  The 6’9” five-star prospect became the highest-rated recruit to ever play at Florida State and is a likely high draft pick in the making for the 2021 NBA Draft.  He was also tabbed as the preseason Freshman of the Year in the ACC by coaches and media alike. 

If Barnes plays to his potential, the ‘Noles could soar once more.  Florida State returns three starters including guards M.J. Walker and Anthony Polite.  Sophomore Balsa Koprivica also returns to the team after showing a lot of promise in his freshman season that was cut short with a back injury. 

The Dangerous Sleepers

#16 North Carolina Tar Heels (+650 to Win ACC)

If there was anyone in college basketball not terribly sad to see the season suddenly get canceled days before the bracket was to be announced, it was probably Roy Williams. 

North Carolina began the season ranked in the Top 10, with prized recruit Cole Anthony added to a roster that was expected to take another run at an ACC championship.  Instead, the Tar Heels would be mired by injury and have a disastrous 14-19 season while finishing in a three-way tie for last place in the conference with Pitt and Wake Forest.

Now UNC returns reloaded with the 2nd best-recruiting class in the country and the preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year in Garrison Brooks.  Media members seem to buy into the Tar Heels to bounce back as they’re ranked higher than Florida State in the preseason Top 25 poll.  If the loaded freshman class gels better than it did a year ago, North Carolina could be a potentially dangerous team come March.

Miami Hurricanes (+2000 to Win ACC)

After back-to-back losing seasons in South Beach, Jim Larranaga has quietly assembled a roster of talent that’s capable of giving the contenders in the conference a scare at the top of the standings and to send the Canes back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.

Miami boasts one of the best backcourts in the entire country with seniors Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty.  The Canes depth is where the backcourt gets really fun though as sophomores Isaiah Wong and Harland Beverly, along with standout recruit Earl Timberlake (no relation to Justin) round out Larranaga’s stable of talented guards.

The frontcourt also received a jolt of talent when Cincinnati transfer Nysier Brooks agreed to join the team, giving the Canes one of the best interior defenders in the country.  Brooks should help alleviate the loss of Sam Waardenburg, Miami’s leading rebounder from a year ago, who will miss the season with a foot injury.  

If the Canes can avoid any additional losses to their front-court, and Brooks can step in for Waardenburg, Miami has the potential to be a second-weekend team in the NCAA Tournament when it’s all said and done.

Middle of the Pack

Louisville Cardinals (+1200 to Win ACC)

Louisville is a team with futures odds that have not quite adjusted to the actual state of the team.  Oddsmakers have Chris Mack’s group at 12/1 to win the ACC, but we would consider that to be much too high at the moment.

The Cardinals were already going to face a significant challenge in replacing the talent they were losing, as Mack losing his team’s 4 top scorers from a year ago including the services of Jordan Nwora, who departed for the NBA Draft.

Chris Mack’s answer to fill those voids was to hit the transfer portal, as Charles Mineland (San Francisco) and Carlik Jones (Radford) both made their way over to Louisville in the offseason and to rely on their most experienced returning player, Malik Williams, to be the team anchor. 

Unfortunately for Mack, Mineland already suffered a knee injury and will not be available for at least six weeks and Williams will miss at least 12 weeks with a broken bone in his foot.  He will likely be lost for the season entirely.

That puts the load on the aforementioned Carlik Jones and sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson.  Williamson has freakish potential and could be a high draft pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but Louisville is dangerously thin everywhere else on the roster. 

Chris Mack is a great coach, but he will need an extra level of wizardry to get Louisville to the top of the conference standings once again.    

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (+3200 to Win ACC)

While North Carolina was the biggest surprise from the ACC a season ago for all the wrong reasons, Georgia Tech was the conference’s biggest surprise for all the right ones.

Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets were tabbed to finish 12th in the ACC a season ago by coaches and media alike, and Georgia Tech wound up overachieving en route to finishing 5th in the conference.  Had the season not been canceled, there’s a very good chance Pastner would have at least had his team in the NIT – a great achievement considering where the program was when he took over four years ago.

Now as Pastner enters his fifth season he hopes the experienced backcourt of Jose Alvarado (14.4 ppg) and Mike DeVoe (16.0 ppg, 42.7% 3PM) can get the Jackets back in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid. 

If there’s a glaring issue with the Yellow Jackets roster this season it’s the lack of a dependable rim protector, as James Banks graduated from the school.  Banks was an imposing presence down low for the Yellow Jackets and his rebounding and rim protection will be missed this year.  Pastner hopes that 7-footer freshman Saba Gigiberia can fill this void, but it’s a pretty big ask of the youngster.

With that said, Georgia Tech will give a lot of teams fits with their high-scoring backcourt and at least on a game-by-game basis should merit strong consideration in betting on them against the spread.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+4000 to Win ACC)

While Duke and North Carolina get the fortunate break of reloading with five-star talent whenever they see fit, Mike Brey and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have to go the old school route of building a team by recruiting talent that’s looking to stay with the team for at least three years, and ideally for four.

After a 14-win season in 2018, Mike Brey’s Irish finished with a very respectable 20-12 record including an opening-round victory in the ACC Tournament.

That would place this year’s version of the Fighting Irish right around year three of Mike Brey’s plan to get Notre Dame back into the NCAA Tournament, meaning the pressure to take that next step falls on the shoulders of juniors Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin.  The Irish guard tandem will be joined by Stanford transfer Cormac Ryan, giving the Irish a trio of scoring threats from the perimeter.

In the Notre Dame frontcourt, Juwan Durham will give the Irish one of the best rim protectors in the conference, and junior Nate Laszewski will be asked to fill the void left by John Mooney’s departure.  Beyond that, however, Notre Dame has a lot of questions defensively, and that figures to be the biggest issue they will deal with throughout the season.

If Notre Dame can tighten up the defense and their junior class continues to improve, the Irish could be in the bubble conversation, but they look more likely to be a higher scoring team that will have a hard time hanging with the bigger, more athletic teams in the conference.

Syracuse Orange (+5000 to Win ACC)

Jim Boeheim appears to already be 1-0 on the year after beating COVID-19, so that’s a good start to the season for the famed Syracuse coach.

On the actual basketball court, however, Syracuse may face a little more difficulty. 

Syracuse will be a fun team to watch play at least, as Boeheim has two guards that will be encouraged to launch it from three-point range in Joe Girard and Jim’s son Buddy Boeheim.  Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe also return to Cuse’s starting lineup, with their biggest responsibilities being to play the suffocating trademark 2-3 zone defense on ACC opponents.

Boeheim’s group, however, will be among the youngest in the conference as he will add seven freshmen in total to the team.  How good this Orange team can be will largely come down to how quickly those freshmen can pick up Boeheim’s 2-3 defense. 

NC State Wolf Pack (+8000 to Win ACC)

History tells us that one of the teams in the “middle of the pack” of the ACC will eventually emerge as an NCAA Tournament team.  This season that team could very well be that of Kevin Keatts NC State Wolf Pack.

While Keatts loses the services of dynamic guard Markell Johnson, he fields a team with a lot of experience including his trio of seniors in Devon Daniels, D.J. Funderburk, and Braxton Beverly.  NC State added four-star freshman Cameron Hayes as well as Nebraska transfer Thomas Allen as a means to replace Johnson, but this is a team that has more depth than most of the schools in the ACC and will play a high-tempo brand of basketball that could be very difficult to go against.

If the Pack can successfully find a new point guard to run the offense, this is a very dangerous team lurking in the middle of the conference.

Clemson Tigers (+20000 to Win ACC)

Clemson, believe it or not, actually plays basketball too!  And coach Brad Brownell may have the Tigers’ best recruiting class yet.  Well, in basketball anyway.

Brownell landed a trio of four-star recruits including guard P.J. Hall, forward Olivier Maxence-Prosper, and center Lynn Kidd.  Perhaps the best news of all came when forward Aamir Simms (13.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) returned to the team after lukewarm interest in the NBA Draft.

Couple all of that with the exciting growth of sophomores Al-Amir Dawes (9.0 ppg) and John Newman III (9.5 ppg) and the Tigers could be a potentially dangerous opponent throughout league play.

It’s unlikely that Clemson has the talent to contend for the ACC crown, but a few upset wins could place the Tigers in the thick of the race for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

The Long Shots

Virginia Tech Hokies (+10000 to Win ACC)

Mike Young’s first season at Virginia Tech after a very successful coaching career at Wofford got off to mixed reviews.  Young inherited a roster that lost a lot of talent from Buzz Williams’ last season with the Hokies and got the Hokies off to a 14-5 start to the season.

Virginia Tech would then go on to finish the year 2-11, and Young’s standout frosh Landers Nolley would transfer to Memphis shortly after the season ended.

That puts the Hokies in a precarious position for the 2020/21 year, and Virginia Tech is expected to finish at the bottom of the conference as a result. 

However, if there are positives to take into the new season for the Hokies it’s that the team returns his top three players in three-pointers made from a season ago, and Young was able to add grad transfers Cartier Diarra (Kansas State) and Cordell Pemsl (Iowa) into the mix.

Best case scenario for the season would be overachieving on the part of this young roster and a run at a possible NIT bid.  In all likelihood though, the Hokies will struggle to hit .500 and be one of the first teams eliminated in the ACC Tournament.

Pittsburgh Panthers (+10000 to Win ACC)

Jeff Capel has Pitt heading in the right direction, but the Panthers are still several pieces away from being a contender in the conference again.

Pitt does return a trio of talented players that showed flashes of playing really good basketball a season ago with Xavier Johnson (11.7 ppg), Justin Champagnie (12.7 ppg), and Au’Diese Toney (9.5 ppg).  Capel was hoping to also have the services of Miami (Ohio) transfer Nike Sibande, but he will not be immediately eligible to play after having his request denied by the NCAA.

If the trio of experienced players can outperform what they did a season ago, Pitt has the potential to at the least be a difficult team to face.  But the Panthers are likely in for another long season as they try to undo the horror that was the Kevin Stallings era.

Boston College Eagles (+30000 to Win ACC)

There’s really nothing to write home about here with Boston College, as in my opinion, they are your likely bet to finish dead last in the conference.

This is likely to be the last season of the Jim Christian coaching experience.  The Eagles will at least have a fun backcourt to pay attention to with Wynston Tabbs returning from injury to join Providence transfer Makai Ashton-Langford, but beyond that, this is a team that will struggle to win double-digit games this season.  They may be a fun team to fade against the spread, however.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (+50000 to Win ACC)

Wake Forest is going to be a team to reckon with, but probably not until the 2022 season at the earliest.  Danny Manning has been fired and the school made a phenomenal hire when they hired Steve Forbes from East Tennessee State.

Forbes will get the Deacs to play hard and win a few games they probably shouldn’t, but this team can’t be expected to do a whole lot this season, as they don’t return a single player that averaged more than eight points per game.

ACC Projected Order of Finish

  1. Virginia
  2. Duke
  3. Florida State
  4. North Carolina
  5. Miami
  6. Louisville
  7. NC State
  8. Georgia Tech
  9. Syracuse
  10. Clemson
  11. Notre Dame
  12. Virginia Tech
  13. Pittsburgh
  14. Wake Forest
  15. Boston College

American Athletic Conference College Basketball 2020-21 Preview

Had COVID-19 not hit just days before Selection Sunday back in March of this year, the American Athletic Conference was poised to land anywhere from 3-5 schools in the 68-team field depending on how the conference tournament played out.

Of course, we’re all very aware of what would happen in the days leading up to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament and any conference tournaments that had yet to play out, and we were left with the worst ending any college basketball fan could have hoped for.

However, that was then and this is now, and the start of a brand-new college basketball season is just a few days away.  For the members of the AAC, they hope it’s an opportunity to position themselves in the same manner they did back in March.

The American Athletic Conference enters the 2020/21 season playing as an 11-team conference instead of the 12-team conference we’ve grown accustomed to since Wichita State joined the conference in 2017.  That’s because UConn has formally left the conference to rejoin the Big East, and their loss could be fairly significant to the overall standing of the conference, as UConn would give the AAC a borderline blue blood basketball program to hang their hat on. 

While UConn’s departure certainly weakens the overall state of the American Athletic Conference, the AAC features at least four programs that figure to land in the field of 68, and all four teams could very well find themselves playing during the second week of the tournament.

Here’s how the American Athletic Conference shakes out for the 2020/21 season, including a prediction of who we like to win the conference.

The Contenders

#15 Houston Cougars (+125 to Win AAC)

The consensus selection to win the AAC this season, and the lone team from the conference to appear in the preseason Top 25 is none other than Kelvin Sampson’s Houston Cougars.

Houston was well on their way to staking claim to another share of the regular season AAC crown and another NCAA Tournament appearance before COVID-19 rained on the college basketball parade. 

The Cougars are ranked 15th in the country for a reason, they have a roster that is littered with talent.  Outside of Memphis, there is not another team in the conference that can match Houston’s depth. 

Houston’s backcourt is especially strong with Caleb Mills (13.2 ppg), Quentin Grimes (12.1 ppg), DeJon Jarreau (9.0 ppg), and Marcus Sasser (8.1 ppg) giving opposing teams fits game in and game out.  In games against a team like Memphis or SMU, Houston is even in a position to play small ball with their four-guard lineup.

If there is a concern for the Cougars, it would come in their frontcourt, as there just is not a great deal of size or experience with Houston’s bigs.  Sampson was able to land former Arkansas Razorbacks forward Reggie Chaney in the transfer portal, but they will still be dangerously thin against teams with a lot of size to deal with.

Nonetheless, the Houston roster is stacked with talent and should be another 25-win team in the making.  Look for Sampson’s group to once again contend for a conference title and to find themselves playing deep into March.

SMU Mustangs (+375 to Win AAC)

Head coach Tim Jankovich finally got to work with a full slate of recruits a season ago after the infractions brought to the program by Larry Brown finally expired. 

The result was a respectable 19-11 season that had SMU in the thick of the bubble race to land in the field of 68, however, the team did end the season on a rough 1-5 skid including a terrible 80-72 loss to Tulane.

The future of SMU basketball remains bright, however, and that’s in large part to a young nucleus of talent on the roster lead by the Mustangs explosive backcourt of Tyson Jolly and Kendric Davis.

SMU returns most of the team from a season ago, with the exception of the team’s second-leading scorer Isiaha Mike.  However, another year of playing together and in Jankovich’s system should result in more consistent play from the team this season. 

The Mustangs also jumped into the transfer portal foray by adding on former Oklahoma State big Yor Anei.  They should have one of the most balanced teams in the conference and figure to be in the mix for another Top 4 finish in 2020/21.   

Memphis Tigers (+400 to Win AAC)

The 2019/20 season was expected to go much differently for Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers.

Hardaway began the second year of his coaching career in Memphis by landing the top recruiting class in the country, headlined by top prospect James Wiseman.  Wiseman would go on to run into various issues regarding his eligibility and would barely see the floor before ultimately deciding to opt-out of playing college basketball to focus on the draft.

Everything else for Memphis seemed to unravel shortly thereafter.  Despite a roster littered with talent, the team never really seemed to gel and would flounder throughout the season.  Had the season not been stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Memphis very likely needed a deep run in the conference tournament just to get back on the bubble to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Fortunately for the Tigers, a bounce back 2020/21 season is not only a very distinct possibility, but it’s also a very likely occurrence.

Following the disappointing season, Penny Hardaway went back to what he knows best – recruiting.  Hardaway was able to lure Landers Nolley II away from Virginia Tech and also Deandre Williams away from Evansville.  Nolley is an elite scorer and disruptive wing presence while Williams is a very talented forward that was stuck playing on a middling Evansville team.  This paired with future one-and-done prospect Moussa Cisse, and Hardaway once again has a roster loaded with talent.

The biggest question now is can Hardaway coach these guys up.  His recruiting talents are unquestioned, but the coaching acumen has not been present yet.  If Memphis can transform from a group of AAU talent into an actual team, the sky is truly the limit for this group. 

Cincinnati Bearcats (+900 to Win AAC)

Cincinnati had a solid first season under new head coach John Brannen, who was hired from Northern Kentucky to run the team after Mick Cronin accepted the vacancy at UCLA.  Brannen continued the Cronin way of playing ferocious defense (held opponents to 39% shooting) and relying on 15-year Cincinnati player Jarron Cumberland for timely baskets.

We’re being facetious in how long Cumberland was a member of the Bearcats, but he was certainly the key player from this program the past several seasons.  Cumberland has since graduated from the school, so seniors Keith Williams (12.6 ppg) and Chris Vogt (11.0 ppg) will have to pick up the slack for Brannen’s ‘Cats.

Cincinnati also added, what could be, the biggest transfer of the offseason when they lured guard David DeJulius over to the Queen City away from Juwan Howard’s Michigan Wolverines.  DeJulius was primed for a big role on Howard’s team this season and should immediately step in and contribute in the Cincinnati backcourt.

The Bearcats were on the brink of their 10th straight NCAA Tournament bid before COVID-19 shut everything down, look for them to accomplish this feat in March and be very much in the mix for a conference championship.  This is a team that has never finished outside of the Top 3 in the AAC standings since joining the conference.

The Middle of the Pack

South Florida Bulls (+1100 to Win AAC)

After winning the 2019 CBI Tournament, excitement for the 2019/20 season in Tampa was at a fever pitch for an emerging South Florida Bulls team looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

Then star forward and former AAC Freshman of the Year Alexis Yetna injured his knee and would miss the entire season, and USF never got their season quite off the ground en route to a disappointing 14-17 record and 9th place finish in the American Athletic Conference.

If there’s a positive to take from last season, however, it’s that the Bulls bring back four starters from a season ago, including the hyper-talented Yetna.  USF also was able to sign four-star guard Caleb Murphy, in addition to landing Prince Oduro (Mississippi State), Russel Tchewa (Texas Tech), and Luke Anderson (Iowa State) in the transfer portal, so USF figures to have one of their deeper teams in recent memory.

If there’s a lurking sleeper to be found in the AAC, Brian Gregory’s USF Bulls could very well be that team this season.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (+1500 to Win AAC)

By far, the biggest story of the 2019/20 season in the American Athletic Conference was the surprising play from Tulsa. 

Frank Haith’s Golden Hurricane was tabbed by media and coaches alike to finish 10th in the conference a season ago.  They wound up claiming a share of the regular season AAC championship with Houston instead.

If Tulsa is to once again rise to the top of the AAC standings, they will once again need to depend on their smothering defense which was the catalyst for their surprising success a year ago. 

Haith loses two of his top three scorers from a year ago, so offense may be harder to come by this season for Tulsa.  Senior forward Brandon Rachal is the lone returning starter from a year ago that averaged double-digits in scoring, so Tulsa will need someone else to fill the void left by Martins Igbanu and Jeriah Horne.

If Tulsa can fill that offensive void, this is a team that can once again contend for a Top 4 standing in the conference, however it looks like the Golden Hurricane are more likely to regress to the mean than to repeat as regular-season champions.

Wichita State Shockers (+1500 to Win AAC)

It’s been an offseason to forget if you’re a Wichita State fan, alum, or booster.  After controversy swirled around some pretty serious allegations involving longtime head coach Gregg Marshall, the school ultimately decided to cut ties with the school’s all-time winningest coach.

While all of this was going on, the Shockers were losing players left and right.  In total six players in all departed the program before Marshall was finally let go.  Interim head coach Isaac Brown will be left to pick up the pieces and to try to get a team with nine new players to come together to play during a season currently set to run during a pandemic.

In other words:  Good luck Coach Brown.

Oddsmakers don’t reflect the tumultuous Wichita State offseason in their odds, however, as the Shockers are still getting a very respectable 15/1 price to win the conference.  However, if there’s a team that could go from the top of the conference to the bottom, it’s likely going to be this group.

The Long Shots

UCF Knights (+3000 to Win AAC)

It wasn’t very long ago that UCF nearly sent Coach K and the Fighting Zion Williamson’s packing from the NCAA Tournament.  The 2019/20 season, however, was a return to the middle of the pack for Johnny Dawkins’ Knights.

However, UCF may not be down for too long.  The Knights thought they would be losing lethal outside shooting guard Darin Green to the NBA, but he elected to return for his sophomore season instead.  Green’s return is especially large for the team as forward Collin Smith, UCF’s best player from a season ago, elected to sit out the final year of his collegiate career due to concerns about the COVID-19 virus.

Dawkins hopes the transfer portal can fill the void left by Smith, as UCF landed former Louisville talent Darius Perry along with former five-star recruit CJ Walker (Oregon).   With the additions of Walker and Perry into the UCF lineup, the Knights should improve upon a lethargic offense that failed to score 60 points or more in seven different conference games. 

East Carolina Pirates (+4000 to Win AAC)

The East Carolina Pirates enter the 2020/21 season fresh off an 11-20 campaign that saw them finish just one-game above last place Tulane, but despite that the Pirates showed quite a bit of improvement from the season prior when they finished with a nearly-identical record of 10-21.

That’s enough reason for coach Joe Dooley to have excitement for the possibility of yet another step forward for the basketball program looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993.

That next leap back into the field of 68 is not likely to happen this season, but the team is slowly improving and was competitive in more games than not a season ago.

There may not be a more important player to their team in all of the American Athletic Conference than what forward Jayden Gardner means to ECU.  Gardner is widely considered to be among the most underrated players in all of college basketball, as the junior nearly averaged a double-double in his sophomore season with 19.7 ppg and 9.2 boards per contest.

ECU figures to hover around 7-9 conference wins this season, but keep an eye on them as a sneaky underdog throughout the year.  If things break right for them, they could conceivably be this season’s version of Tulsa.  

Temple Owls (+5000 to Win AAC)

Former Philadelphia 76ers sixth man Aaron McKie returns to Temple for his second season as head coach and hopes to build off of a 14-17 2019/20 season, but will have enormous challenges along the way in hoping to replicate that feat.

The Owls enter the 2020/21 campaign losing four of their top five scorers from a season ago, so they will be fielding one of the youngest teams not only in the AAC but in all of college basketball.

McKie’s young freshmen class will have the challenge of filling the shoes left by the departed Quinton Rose, who led the team in scoring and was one of the best players to play at the school in at least the past decade. 

The Owls recruiting class has a lot of promise (look out for Jake Forrester and JP Moorman), but this is a team we’ll be talking more about a few years from now.  There will be quite a bit of growing pains from this group, and while they could give some of the contenders in the conference the occasional scare, look for the Owls to finish near the bottom of the American once again.  

Tulane Green Wave (+10000 to Win AAC)

To say Tulane had a difficult offseason would be a great disservice to the term “difficult”, as the team that was about to finish dead last in the American a season ago managed to lose what little talent they had coming into this season, the most notable loss being that of leading scorer Teshaun Hightower who was arrested and charged with murder back in April.

Tulane HC and former March Madness darling Ron Hunter has his work cut out for him this season as he looks to build on a 12-win season a year ago.  Hunter hopes transfers Jaylen Forbes (Alabama) and Kevin Cross (Nebraska) can bridge some of the gaps that are on this roster from a talent perspective, but the cupboards in NOLA are still looking quite barren, to say the least.

Look for the Green Wave to be on the other end of several blowout losses and to finish at the bottom of the conference again.  Finishing 10th or above would be considered a win for Tulane this season. 

American Athletic Conference Projected Order of Finish

  1. Houston
  2. Memphis
  3. Cincinnati
  4. SMU
  5. South Florida
  6. UCF
  7. Tulsa
  8. Wichita State
  9. East Carolina
  10. Temple
  11. Tulane

All Betting Odds Courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook as of November 23, 2020.

Hall Of Famer Patrick Ewing Tests Positive For COVID-19

Knicks Legend and current Georgetown Coach tests positive for Coronavirus

Yet another sports superstar is being directly impacted by the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic. Yesterday, Georgetown University’s Athletics Department released a statement saying Patrick Ewing has tested positive for COVID-19. Ewing decided he wanted to share his diagnosis publicly so that people understand the virus can affect anybody.

In the statement released by the university, Ewing had some important things to say about the Pandemic. He said, “I want to share that I have tested positive for COVID-19. This virus is serious and should not be taken lightly… I want to encourage everyone to stay safe and take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Now more than ever, I want to thank the healthcare workers and everyone on the front lines. I’ll be fine and we will all get through this.”

According to the school, Ewing is the only member of the Georgetown Men’s Basketball program to test positive for the virus. At this time, Ewing is currently being cared for at a local hospital in Washington DC where he remains in isolation.

Patrick Ewing played in the NBA from 1985 to 2002. He bounced around as an assistant coach for a few different teams after he retired from his playing career. Ewing has served as the head coach of the Georgetown Men’s Basketball team since 2017.