There is no replacement for actually watching the games. My name is Matty D. I am a college basketball junkie. And, although I respect big data stat gurus like kenpom.com, this website is the antithesis of that. Talk hoops with me and tell me what you've actually seen. What players step up in clutch situations? Which coaches make the right adjustments? Who disappears when the lights get bright? The "college basketball eye test" is a chat dedicated to storylines bubbling below the surface before they become national trends. Check the first-ever article I wrote on this website. I listed UCONN as one of 5 underdogs I could see winning the NCAA title. They did. Last season Darren Rovell tweeted visual proof of how I predicted upset victories for UAB and Georgia State together. Watch the games and join the conversation. Tweet @CBBEyeTest and have your observations added to the mix!
College basketball odds and picks for Saturday, January 23rd 2021
This is the time of year when good programs can produce tournament teams. It’s been a difficult year for everyone. And so coaches who can teach through adversity are at a premium. I think of coach Ed Cooley with the Providence Friars at the top of that list. Despite losing some key pieces from an obvious 2019-2020 tournament team, this Friars bunch is still showing grit. They went into Omaha and beat a perennial top 10 team in Creighton. They have an NBA pro in David Duke. There will be a surprise team making the NCAA Tournament from a power 5 conference. There always is. Right now in Ed Cooley’s locker-room, you have to imagine he is hyping up his players to believe they can be that squad. And seriously, why not? Give me Providence to cover the 11 points today at Villanova, especially to cover the 5.5 first half line while riding some momentum. Villanova proved it can withstand adversity with its dramatic win against upstart Seton Hall in the closing moments (after a long hiatus for Villanova). So I am watching this game closely as a barometer on where the Big East Conference is at. Meanwhile, UCONN remains without James Bouknight, and so I expect Creighton to rebound from its Providence loss. Below are the rest of my picks for this Saturday and in other conferences.
Below is an archive of tweets with predictions for the 2020-2021 season:
College Basketball Futures Values Available Midseason
Especially this year, the sports books are currently loaded with people (either in person or online) focused on the NFL Playoffs. This was a historic year where the Super Wildcard Weekend was rolled out for the NFL. It resulted in wall-to-wall football. There were two bonus games this season and fans got their fix. As more casinos slowly welcome more betters to the books for football, the college basketball landscape is quickly coming together. “Bubble teams” are digging bigger holes for themselves. Underdogs for a tournament bid are solidifying their unexpected resumes to get into the dance. And that’s where you can find some amazing values right now while few people are paying attention to these lines.
College basketball betting on a budget
I am your average fan. I own a small business. I am not a high roller throwing around large sums of money at these bets. I am a value player. I enjoy “investing” in the futures preseason and rooting for those teams to make the tournament. By that standard, $100 goes a long way for me. At the start of the season, I broke a hundred bucks into a few teams with a rule of winning at least a thousand dollars. If and when those teams make the tournament, I would re-invest again on their odds to reach a final four. This way, I am set up for the best case scenario (4 of my teams reach the final 4). Also, I can wager a small amount on the worst-case-scenario, and recoup some of my money if I am historically bad.
3 midseason college basketball values to invest in
At the start of the season, I took a flyer on Colorado, West Virginia, Houston, Seton Hall, Rutgers and North Texas. Colorado remains the one great value that I see. The Buffs have been spotted in January at anywhere from 75-1 to 175-1. Senior point guard McKinley Wright IV is the most underrated player in America. He should absolutely be on the midseason Wooden Watch for the best player, but is not. Watch how Wright closes games. I love a veteran point guard headed into the tournament with a chip on his shoulder.
The second team I am watching as a possible value is Minnesota. I lament not jumping on them early on. Marcus Carr is one of the country’s best closers. His step back jumper is un-guardable. And in an era where the face of many rosters changes from year to year with one-and-dones, the face of the Gophers has changed with stellar transfer players. Utah transfer Both Gach and Drake big man Liam Robbins are really great compliments to an already talented roster. The Gophers will take their lumps in a historically great Big 10 season. However, I look for them to be a very dangerous value hitting the tournament somewhere in the 25-1 to 40-1 territory. That would break down to a 6-1 or 10-1 futures bet to reach the Final 4. That would be attractive. It would be even more interesting if they end up as a 6 seed, a slot that hasn’t reached the Final 4 since the early 1990s with the Fab Five.
Lastly, a team that I love the value for is UCONN. Barring a total collapse, they have already punched their NCAA Basketball Tournament ticket with the legwork done in (their return to) a mediocre Big East. The Huskies came roaring back from an 18 point deficit at Marquette this winter. They then handled business against Butler and Depaul. The USC win from earlier this season gets better-and-better, as the Trojans are putting together a respectable resume themselves. As of mid-January, UCONN’s only loss was by two points to top 10 team Creighton. Unbelievably, they were spotted at a sports book at 150-1 to win the title.
Movers and shakers in the college basketball futures market
Setting my personal picks aside, there are some interesting lines in the college basketball futures arena. According to Vegas Insider, Drake is 25-1 to win it all. That’s some high level respect for the Missouri Valley Conference team. Let’s see if that’s a misprint. At the same number is Kentucky. The Wildcats are probably the most volatile bet you can make, considering their unreal skid to start the season. A recent performance against the Florida Gators had Kentucky looking like, Kentucky again. They’re 25-1 to win it all as of writing this. Richmond was an early season darling because of its veteran starting 5. They sit at 60-1 if you still like that team after they’ve left the top 25. Oklahoma State has the consensus first overall pick in the NBA draft (Cade Cunningham) and is 100-1. That’s never a bad combo. Gonzaga remains the house favorite at around 3-1 with its challengers like Iowa, Baylor, Villanova, Creighton and Wisconsin all flirting with the single digits (ie 7-1 or 9-1).
In a “normal year,” this would be the time of the season where college basketball teams are just now getting into conference play. However, there have already been some critical in-conference games that have been played by January 5, 2021. San Francisco already had its crack at blemishing Gonzaga’s perfect record, Texas embarrassed KU in Lawrence, and Northwestern has made itself a tournament team with strong play at the start of the Big 10 schedule.
Here are some of my observations from the last month or so of play.
Gonzaga poised to runaway with NCAA Championship
Right now Gonzaga looks like the Dream Team. And I am not exaggerating. Look at the recent games they played against Iowa and Virginia. A 20+ point loss looks respectable from Virginia. (They are like the Croatia in this metaphor). And Iowa was beat wire-to-wire by Gonzaga. Their 11 point loss on paper is different from what we saw on TV. Gonzaga has something they have not had, perhaps ever. Jalen Suggs has the type of swagger of a top 5 NBA pick. He is great. And he knows it. You’d have to think back to Adam Morrison to envision the type of game-changer that Suggs can be. And, Suggs is just a freshman surrounded by all time great Gonzaga players such as Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, and Joel Ayayi. The fact that Gonzaga landed stud transfer Andrew Nembhard is just evidence that the rich get richer. Sure, Baylor could give Gonzaga a great game if/when they play in a NCAA Championship game. I don’t believe that regular season game will be rescheduled, because there is far too much hype to build on for that to be the title game all broadcasts “tease ahead” to. Alas, Gonzaga is laughable at this moment as a 3 1/2 -to- 1 favorite to win the title. Would you take a bet on the USA Dream Team at 3 to 1? Because that’s what we are starting to watch from Gonzaga. Their WAC conference schedule wins may be taken for granted in January and February, but don’t forget what they looked like against Kansas, Iowa, and Virginia when it comes to March.
Midseason departures shake up College Basketball’s Top 10
In my preseason prediction video, I picked West Virginia and Houston among a shortlist of great value bets. Each team has slowly progressed into the top 10. However, each team has also lost a star player here midseason. Houston’s Caleb Mills has stepped away this past week from the team, citing personal reasons. His status for returning is uncertain. Mills was the pre-season pick as player of the year among American Athletic Conference beat writers. However, most recently in the team’s loss against Tulsa, Mills was coming off the bench. The Cougars rebounded well in a win on the road against a feisty SMU squad. However, it will be tough to replace Mills’s ability to create a basket late in games. Houston has no shortage of wing scorers, but Mills is not the type of offensive firepower you want to lose when you have championship aspirations. The hope, of course, is that his personal situation is not too serious and that the team culture can rally in his absence.
West Virginia lost Oscar Tshiebwe and he’s not coming back. The Karl Malone watch list candidate (i.e. best power forward candidate) left the team after a shockingly lower-than-expected productivity in the first half of the season. West Virginia quickly transitioned to a smaller team that put up more three point attempts. As this transition took place in real time, West Virginia lost its first game without Tshiebwe to Oklahoma. On TV there were moments where this game looked like a 3-point-shooting contest. The Mountaineers lost. Afterwards, they played another tough road contest against a soon-to-be-bubble-team: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were leading heavily heading into the 2nd half and throughout the 3rd quarter. Then something clicked. The shots started going in. In March, it will be interesting to see if the perimeter shooters like Sean McNeil, Miles McBride, and Taz Sherman meet the moment. Emmitt Matthews Jr. also had a great game on defense and in transition during this pivotal Oklahoma State win. It will be interesting to see if he becomes an X-Factor for their success.
The Big 10 is the best basketball conference ever
I am not a “hot takes” writer. I don’t like making bold predictions in order to get clicks. But if you watch college basketball, you realize that this Big 10 is the best college basketball conference ever. In a season where conference league play will look more like an intra-team scrimmage (as COVID-19 took away offseason, preseason, and all traditional dress rehearsals), Big 10 teams will hit March Madness as dangerous as ever. Just look at the landscape. Michigan is undefeated and blossoming with young talent and transfers to fill what little gaps remained from 2019-2020. Northwestern is winning big games. Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin came into the season as championship hopefuls and remain that. Rutgers has carried on its success from 2019-2020. The Scarlet Knights have basically the same roster as the one that shocked national onlookers last season. Indiana is playing for a bid. And Michigan State is fighting for its life to stay in the top 25 while (Survivor style) battling its allies in each challenge. The big men remain a mainstay of this conference. Marcus Carr looks like a closer who can win clutch games for a Final 4 team (at Minnesota). I didn’t even mention Purdue, which has two giants who play consecutive sessions at center. The ACC has had some great years with double digit teams making the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. But have we ever seriously had this many legitimate Final 4 contenders from one conference? And the irony is that none of these teams will snag a 1 seed, which is a crime. The conference is canabalizing itself. Joe Lunardi’s bracketology on January 5th shows all four 2 seeds as Big 10 teams!
The blood lines of former NBA players has strong ties to the current college basketball landscape. From NBA players who filled out the final spot of a 12 man roster, to the stars of the 1990s, college basketball has plenty of second generation representation.
Let’s start with the college hoops players who are having an impact of this NCAA season and undoubtedly making their NBA dads proud.
Ron Harper senior played for one of the best NBA teams ever, the 1996-1997 72 win champion Chicago Bulls. This midseason, Ron Harper Jr. emerged as his own special talent. His Rutger Scarlet Knights were a likely tournament team in the lost 2019-2020 season. This year, they are a mainstay in the top 25. And Harper Jr.’s play is a major reason why. He was even named ESPN’s Player of the Week in late December.
The Big 10 has another second generation player who is part of what could be a special season. Illinois basketball fans will remember Frank Williams Senior. The point guard went on to play for the New York Knicks, among other teams. Today, his son Da’Monte Williams is quietly steadying a Illini ship that could easily sail into a Sweet 16. The younger Williams doesn’t get a lot of national hype as his backcourt mate Ayo Dosunmo gets national publicity and NBA Draft hype. Yet, Williams is a solid starter who always plays major minutes, is a tough defender, and contributes in a variety of ways. The Duke win in the early season shows the traditional story. Williams contributed a stat line of 10 points, 3 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals with no turnovers. Final Four teams have players like Da’Monte Williams.
Below are some other sons of NBA players you might spot in the college game.
Shaq and Penny have kids in college hoops
There is no Blue Chips type of drama with where Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway sons are going to school. The young pups are following in pop’s path. Shaquille’s son Shareef O’Neal is rocking a jersey in the thirties with his father’s alma mater. Penny’s son quite literally followed his father to Memphis, as it’s now a father-son, coach-player arrangement. Jayden Hardaway even wears the number one.
Thinking of the mid-1990s Orlando Magic might remind you of the Eastern Conference Playoffs against the Bulls. Check out a box score from their infamous 1995 series. About half of the players have had sons who played Division 1 basketball. There’s of course Michael Jordan, whose son Marcus played at UCF. Horace Grant and Steve Kerr also have kids who have already passed through the NCAA.
Then, there’s another star’s son currently playing: Scotty Pippen Jr.
Dennis Rodman has a kid in college basketball
DJ Rodman is playing for the Washington State Cougars. His stat-line rarely accumulates as many rebounds as his father, but he definitely scores more points with further range than pops.
This compilation has become a throwback to the mid-nineties basketball. And whether you’re a college basketball fan or an NBA fan, you’ll remember NCAA Champion (with Kentucky) Jamal Mashburn. His son, Jamal Mashburn Jr., is getting some playing time as a freshman at likely tourney team Minnesota.
As you are reading, there are multiple tournament-worthy teams with “second generation” talent stemming from NBA roots. Another example is Colorado. The Buffs have a bouncy forward who comes off the bench with energy and skill. He is the son of former Maverick and Laker, Samaki Walker. Ten games into the season, Jabari Walker was averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds with just 12 minutes of playing time on average. When you watch, many of those stats are scored with hustle plays. As a freshmen, not many offensive sets are drawn up for him. But the Buffs have a more Sweet 16 appearance to them when you see this type of talent coming off the bench.
Before he was Meta World Peace, he was apparently Ron Artest, the second. That’s because Ron Artest has a son playing college basketball right now, named Ron Artest III.
Former NBA bench players with kids in college basketball
If you collected basketball cards in the early nineties, you likely had a lot of duplicate Adam Keefe cards piling up in your collection. Now his son James is piling up the wins with Stanford basketball. Stanford started its season with quality out of conference play, including a win against Alabama, a tight one against UNC, and a loss to Indiana.
Meanwhile, also in the 1990s, UCLA basketball stamping its legendary brand on a new era of basketball. The O’Bannon twins, Ed and Charles, were leaders on a star-studded roster that won the 1995 NCAA Basketball Championship. Toby Bailey was a stud freshman who went on to lead UCLA for years. Tyus Edney perhaps went on to log the most NBA minutes from that team. But Charles and Ed O’Bannon were the big dogs on that roster. Ed was drafted 9th overall in the NBA draft. Charles was selected in the second round. Today, Charles Jr., known as Chuck, plays for TCU.
Scottie Pippen isn’t the only former NBA Champion with a son currently in college hoops.
WEST VIRGINIA 28-1 As the season begins, there are a handful of teams hovering around the 10/1 mark to win a national championship, according to https://www.vegasinsider.com/nfl/odds/futures/. Those chalky teams were Gonzaga, Villanova, Iowa, Baylor and Virginia. One team is notably missing from the sub 20/1 category. And that’s the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia. When assessing a college basketball team, I like to look first at the point guard. Like a quarterback in football and a starting pitcher in baseball, the point guard should normally dictate the betting line. With West Virginia, although I don’t have a huge sample size to get familiar with one point guard per se, the depth of this roster is overwhelming on paper. And the factor that is overwhelming to the eyes is the mountainous combination in the post. The team’s blog went as far as referring to Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe as twin towers. Although I wouldn’t go as far as harkoning images of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, I would say that Oscar Tshiebwe compares favorably to a young Karl Malone (and is understandably on that watch list). The size, strength and quickness is there. Also I’ve heard multiple interviews this preseason with coach Huggins and players where a national championship is obviously spoken about as a realistic goal. And Huggy Bear isn’t exactly the type of personality to hype up bold predictions. He went as far as to describe to Jon Rothstein on his college basketball podcast…how amazing it would be to travel from small town to small town across West Virginia to let fans touch the championship trophy. Talk about “Country roads, take me home to the place I belong!”
HOUSTON: 50-1 It’s ironic that Houston’s college basketball team mimics the design of its pro basketball team. In fact, I take that back, the Cougars might have more size down low. But the Cougars definitely have an abundance of scoring and athleticism at the guard spot and wings. Once upon a time, Junior guard Quentin Grimes was college basketball’s top 10 recruit coming out of high school. His skills speak for themselves on tape. Add the speed, scoring and athleticism of numbers 0 through number 3, literally, as Macus Sasser, Jamal Shead, Caleb Mills, and Dejon Jarreau are all a nightmare to guard. This team won’t be 50-1 for long. In fact, I’ve seen them drop already in some books to 25 to 1.
At the time that this blog article is being published, the pirates are pausing basketball play due to COVID-19 concerns. First and foremost, we hope that the student athletes are safe, healthy, as well as coaches and staff.
Sandro Mamukelashvili headlines a returning class for Seton Hall that is way too far overlooked. If you look back to last season, you’ll remember the game that turned the pirates season around was against then 7th ranked Maryland without Myles Powell and without Sandro, compassionately referred to as “Mamu.”
Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale stepped up, among a core nucleus of other talented players. Shavar Reynolds is one of the most fun on-ball defending point guards to watch in college basketball. They add veteran point guard transfer Bryce Aiken from Harvard and retain 7+ footer Ike Obiagu. Sophomore Tyrese Samuel from Montreal also showed flashes last year as a somewhat raw but super athletic freshman. Watch for this nucleus to return with something to prove and a major chip on their shoulder given the low expectations.
I mean, look at the first preseason top 25 list from the associated press. You have to scroll down to the very bottom to see that they only got 2 votes! I guess two beat reporters have some idea of what’s going on and are actually watching the games.
The Seton Hall Pirates enter the 2020-2021 season as 100-1 underdogs to win a national championship.
Bradley beat the 7 seed in its conference to win the Missouri Valley Championship. While its win against Valpairaso was impressive, you could see the 7 seed ran out of gas in its third game in 3 days. Bradley senior Darrell Brown is the perfect point guard to run circles around you if you are on your heels. And junior forward Elijah Childs is a prolific finisher and ambidextrous. I just question if some of the athleticism they put on display during Arch Madness would look as impressive against a March Madness opponent.
East Tennessee State
Returning only 1 of 5 starters from last season, head coach Steve Forbes deserves all the credit in the world for returning ETSU to March Madness after a one year hiatus. Many people expected ETSU to be in the tourney in 2019. This version of the Buccaneers plays similarly to the other dangerous squads Forbes has overseen. They stretch the floor both by the perimeter and by the way of how they can penetrate. The Bucs shot 42% from 3PT to polish off Wofford in its championship game. But, when you watched, they also gave up some decent looks for Wofford around their perimeter. Luckily, Wofford only hit 6 of 25. The Bucs also lost the turnover battle, being victim to dig outs and surrendering 13. This is a team of runs. In its champ week win against Wofford, it came out hot leading 11-2, then got tied around half, before building a 5 or 6 possession lead early in the second half. In its most high profile game of the season, it suffered a 5:12 minute scoring drought against LSU in the first half. Then the Bucs went nuts. They finished the first half on a 16-7 run and built a 21 point cushion in the second half. (Editor’s note: LSU has been known to have defensive lapses from the perimeter itself this season). The Bucs are a team that can blow a high major team out of the gym. It’s also a team that can suffer from its streakiness. In its last lost, it jacked up 22 threes against Mercer, only hitting three in an otherwise close game (also shot 44% from FT). Buckle up for the Bucs, it will be interesting either way. Their pace of play won’t register high on analytics, in part because of its sound defensive metrics, but it can get hot and excite a neutral crowd.
For a second consecutive year, Hofstra held conference rival Northeastern’s (7th ranked in the nation) scorer Jordan Roland to 11 points in the title game. So there’s that. Hofstra plays like a street ball team. When someone gets hot, they ride the hot hand. They play four guards most of the time, and do thrive on one-on-one creation for shots. The Hofstra Pride can also get creative in the transition game. But heaven help Hofstra if Isaac Kante gets into foul trouble. The 6’7″ junior serves as their lone big man for the most part.
Liberty You will hear between now and the Thursday of March Madness dozens of times that Liberty beat Mississippi State last year as the 12 seed versus a 5 matchup. That Liberty team lost to a very good Virginia Tech squad. This year’s Liberty team is better. Caleb Homesley is a red-shirt senior who looks like the Atlantic Sun version of Tracy McGrady. He never looks like he is in a rush, but when he accelerates, it’s normally to finish with ease. Power forward Scottie James is an enforcer, Darius McGhee is a high jumper at point guard, and Elijah Cuffee is a shooting guard adding scoring contributions at the right time. This team looks like the 2005-2006 George Mason team. There will be a few of us that believe that, as an 11 or 12 seed, that this team could make a Final Four run. But those who do believe may be rewarded.
Photo courtesy: Liberty Flames Men’s Basketball/Twitter
Jalen Tate is the straw that stirs the drink for the Norse. He may qualify as their third guard, but he plays like a forward in the way he can get into the paint (then operate). Northern Kentucky, and its three guards, love to shoot the three. What they lack in efficiency, they make up for in shot attempts. Conversely, they have shown some defensive lapses in both guarding the three point line and defending deep post position. This is a team that can probably get embarrassed by a bigger team, but could also upset a smaller at-large if the Norse get hot from deep. ‘
It’s tough to balance the judgement of Robert Morris after an electric, athletic, energy-filled creciendo of their season with an emphatic conference championship win at home against St. Francis PA. The Colonials share the ball really well. It’s ironic they have two brothers from Akron on the squad, given the brotherly sharing. Robert Morris runs a lot of down screens around the elbow and free throw line, getting action and open shots on the perimeter. They shoot 36% from three, which is top 50 (43rd) in the country. Junior AJ Bramah is a double-double waiting to happen. He crashes the boards for a threat on the offensive glass. This team does not look like a 16 seed.
Utah State is a team that looked like it leaped over a hurdle in its win against San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament. Big man Neemias Queta, who missed the first month of the season, was too much for the Aztecs to handle in the closing stanza of this game. And that’s really what the tournament is about. Teams take their advantage and ram it down your throat. Utah State has no shortage of heady perimeter players. Queta is the perfect compliment and the key to a deep run. 23-year-old senior guard Sam Merrill played all 40 minutes, dropped 27 points, and hit the game winning three. And its was the presence of Queta that kept the Aztecs on its heels. This experience on the perimeter and high low combo could make Utah State very dangerous.
The best thing I can say about the Winthrop Eagles is that they can take a punch. Hampton had them down 22-9 in their house after one quarter of play in the Big South Championship game. D.J. Burns is a big with girth and left-handed banger who can produce in a traditional post game. But, at 6’9″, will that size translate on a national stage in the Big Dance? Winthrop’s top scorer is another left-handed shooter, combo guard Hunter Hale.
The College Basketball Eye Test blog went 65-53 against the spread in the 2018-2019 NCAA Basketball Season. Click here to see that season’s thread on Twitter.
The picks are made by me, Matty D, an avid college basketball fan with no ties to a specific team. I challenge my first-hand observations about teams by trying to beat the spread. Whether those picks are simply tweeted for pride, or cashed in at a sports book, it’s all in good fun. Below are my picks for an important mid-season Saturday.
Ohio State -1 at Penn State:
Early in the season, I loved the Buckeyes at 55-to-1 to win it all. Coach Chris Holtman is a proven coach and he has a well constructed roster. However, his decisions and that roster are at a breaking point right now. After reaching a #1 overall ranking earlier this season, Ohio State has lost 4 of its first five Big 10 games. Sandwiched in that losing streak was the absence of hustle player forward Kyle Young (appendix surgery). Holtmann suspended two players in recent days for conduct detrimental to the team. (Updated status for 11 a.m. EST Saturday: https://twitter.com/CBBEyeTest/status/1218558064598700032). I think today’s game against a much improved Penn State program can quite literally be a playoff seeding game that dictates whether a team will be slated as a 3/4 seed or a 6-10 seed come March. A 6 seed hasn’t reached the Final Four since the Fab Five in 1992. You don’t want to slip into that 6-10 seed lottery. I don’t think Ohio State is the #1 overall team as it was ranked earlier this season. But I also don’t believe they’re a 6-10 seed. They’ll respond today with whichever players are ready for battle and stop the bleeding.
Seton Hall -5 at St. John’s
Seton Hall is on a serious rise right now. With star scoring guard Myles Powell missing much of December with multiple injuries, the rest of the roster responded. They beat then top 10 ranked Maryland with a skeleton crew. Now Seton Hall is at full strength and brings in two waves of 7-plus-footers at center. Most of their roster is constructed of tristate guys, so playing in front of a feverish New York City fan base shouldn’t phase them. Although St. John’s has perhaps overachieved this season in taking on coach Mike Anderson’s 40 minutes of hell mantra, I’m taking Myles Powell and his now proven supporting cast minus the five points at St. John’s.
Clemson +7 at NC State
How is Clemson getting 7 points on the heels of its dramatic and sound victory over #1 ranked Duke this week? That’s the definition of a suspect spread! I won’t be scared by it. These are both effectively bubble teams in a bizzarely down year for the ACC. In reality, I don’t think either team will make the tournament. But, while each does think it has a shot, I am predicted a close game here. Clemson is now playing with house money in the national playoff picture, so I would hammer the +7 with a little fade on the money line today.
Each year, I also publish a top 5 best future values for the season. Here are the teams I predicted would be good values in the first week of November:
College basketball’s “feast week” features special out-of-conference match-ups. There are a few factors that make these pairings special. For one, similar to the college basketball tournament itself, these holiday tournaments represent a cross-section of conferences big and small. Another special factor is that games are played on a truly neutral floor. This means that neither team has home court advantage. This very rarely happens during the college basketball regular season. In the case of Kansas playing in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, or Duke playing in New York’s Madison Square Garden, there are times that blue bloods are advertised as playing at a “neutral site,” but those places actually represent a hotbed of fan support for those respective programs. Third, the championship games (and even third place consolation games) often serve as a defacto playoff game. It may determine which teams survive the famed “bubble.” Because of the reasons mentioned above, committee members will be looking back to November’s rare match-ups to decipher which team has a resume worthy of a tournament invite. Lastly, there is the element of rawness to these tournaments. You’ll see a lot of rosters loaded with new talent, but still without ironing the roles within their team. That makes for an exciting watch!
Below are eye test analysis of games, a work-in-progress on 11/24
2K Empire Classic
The 2K Empire Classic’s invite list reads like a veiled excuse to have Georgetown battle Duke in a championship game. And that’s exactly what happened. Coach Patrick Ewing’s Hoya squad looked like a poised group. Its guards went on the offensive in the first half, and Georgetown actually led by about 10 points early. In the end, Duke’s talent (and therefore #1 national ranking at the time) took over. However, Georgetown’s electric play under the bright lights should be noted. Mainly, sophomore point guard James Akinjo accelerated for 19 points and 6 assists in 35 minutes of play. He made the audacious move of wearing #3 as a Georgetown point guard…mildly acceptable.
Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament
The Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament featured a team no one is talking about. Ironically, that team is the national champion. Virginia returns more talent than it gets credit for. Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite are names you’d recognize. But fans should be excited about Jay Huff this season with long-time center Jack Salt graduated. Huff brings more range and scoring pop. Jay Huff had some big points in a pivitol stretch again Vermont. This may be the marquee game worth taking a second look at come March 2020.
Battle for Atlantis
There are many layers of the onion to pull away here from the 2019 Battle for Atlantis. Four teams in the top 13 came to paradise to see whose sand castle would stand up to the rocky waters of stiff competition. UNC’s did not.
You watched as the Tarheels started the tournament with a sleepy performance against the inferior Alabama team. They coughed up 20 turnovers and gave up a lot of easy baskets at the rim. The 38% shooting percentage for Alabama won’t tell the story about some of the lackadaisical plays that UNC allowed. Then they got crushed by Michigan. Finally, they won against Oregon (a team exhausted by two heavyweight battles: Seton Hall and Gonzaga contests decided by a total of 3 points).
Now, for that Michigan win. Wow. We saw that this was a team with all the right pieces. Jon Teske was awarded the tournament’s MVP as he shows a lot more skill down low than many people thought. Zavier Simpson is a veteran point guard who can orchestrate and defend. Isaiah Livers looks like a lot of Michigan wings of recent years. He can go inside, he can float out and cause matchup issues. It’s not easy to speed him up. His game looks some like D.J. Wilson, his predecessor at SF/PF who now plays in the NBA. Coach Juwan Howards looks really comfortable. When the broadcasts show his moments in the timeout, he is loose and sharing the huddle with his fellow coaches and players. He is a pro. Howards has incredible credentials as a professional coach. And, what better motivational speaker for a young Wolverine? This team passes the eye test with flying colors.
Next, you have Oregon and Gonzaga. The two Northwest schools couldn’t be more different. But they’re about equal. Oregon PG Peyton Pritchard is as advertised. Last year’s 16 Sixteen run he led was not a fluke. He is one of college basketball’s best competitors. And Dana Altman’s attitude of just making it work year-to-year with a motley crew of junior college transfers and highly touted recruits is incredible. This guy knows how to cultivate a winning culture on a deadline. On the flip side, Gonzaga has its renowned international basis and the versatility that comes with it. That said, Serbian Filip Petresev looks to be what makes this team go. This is going to sound crazy, but his game resembles a young Kevin Garnett. He is long, lean, crafty, can shoot the midrange jumper, and has a mean streak. Petresev thrives on the jump hook, and likes play with his back to the basket or off the offensive glass. Watch his activity and compare it to a rookie Timberwolf. All in all, both these Pacific Northwest teams could be playing in an Elite 8. I put the odds in Oregon’s favor given their strength at point guard. But the highlights of this game is worth a re-watch in early March as you’re prepping to fill that bracket.
Michigan State losing to Virginia Tech might be the headline of this entire week. We saw glimpses that Michigan State might not be the no-doubter #1 seed as it struggled against Kentucky’s athleticism in the first game of the season. And then Virginia Tech happened. The V-Tech Hokies won wire-to-wire against Michigan State by swinging the ball all around the horn and daring to hit 3’s all night. Spartans coach Tom Izzo sat Cassius Winston midway through the first half as he had 2 fouls. That ended up biting them in the Sparty. Winston committed his second foul at the 9:56 mark. They trailed 17-18 at that point. It looked like Virginia Tech seized all the momentum in the building for the next quarter, hitting two 3-pointers and taking a 32-28 lead into the locker-room. Virginia Tech now gets the luxury of playing the rest of the season with house money, with a 6-0 record at a top 5 win on a neutral floor already on its resume. If the Hokies played to a .500 record in the ACC, it would be hard to argue against them getting into the NCAA tournament. As the broadcasters said on the telecast, this team was put together with 3 players having to reclassify in order to make a roster (after the offseason departure of coach Buzz Williams). New coach Mike Young had made noise during his tenure at tiny Wofford. In this “Maui Wowie,” he proved his cinderella story isn’t done being written yet.
Myrtle Beach Invitational
The championship game from the Myrtle Beach Invitational was HUGE. The 17th ranked Villanova Wildcats took on the 24th ranked Baylor Bears. When you do the math, you can see how the winner may be rewarded with a 3 or 4 seed in the Big Dance, and the loser a 5 or 6 seed, if things remain mostly equal going forward. The winner was Baylor. And it seemed that the Bears learned from their disappointing loss to the Washington Huskies in another early season yet gigantic non-conference opportunity. Coach Scott Drew got more shooters into the game late and made defensive subs as needed. The Bears actually made it look easy in the final four minutes against a very young Villanova bunch.