Five role players that will make or break their teams.

Stars in college basketball will get the headlines. In college basketball the game is more about a team concept.  Rarely do you have a team that is star drive go win the whole thing. Virginia was loaded with key players that were all assets to their eventual championship.  I want to highlight the players people don’t talk about enough that could be the reason their team makes it deep into March Madness.  

*These players will be from power conference teams.

Quincy McKnight, Seton Hall

Most common college basketball fans know that Seton Hall is Myles Powells team.  When Powell is not on his game it is the senior point gaurd Qunicy McKnight that picks up the slack. McKnight is veteran that isn’t afaid of prime time competetion.  His ability to run the offense and create off the dribble will open up the floor for Myles Powell and Sandro (Not trying to spell last name). 

In the NCAA tournament McKnight will have to force the defense to pay attention to him, his 84% free throw shooting will also be a huge advantage for the Pirates.  He will be the guy forced to take the ball against top defensive teams that will not allow the ball into Powell’s hands.  

Marcus Garrett, Kansas

Who doesn’t know Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike.  The unsung hero of KU is Junior Guard Marcus Garrett.  Garrett is a solid two way player that has shown up in the big moments of the season. Garrett showed his potential this weekend taking over the game agaisnt Oklahoma after Kansas got off to a slow start.  Garrett’s defense has alwasy been his trademark but it was his ability to shoot the three that shocked most fans, knocking down nine of them.  

If Garrett can provide the outside shot to go along with his defense he will be the difference maker for Kansas in the tourney.

Chris Clarke, Texas Tech

The popular sleeper team in college basketball is Texas Tech.  They have flashy scorers in Jahmi’us Ramsey, Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards steal the headlines. It’s the Virgnia Tech transfer Chris Clarke that provides the grit work for the Red Raiders. Texas Tech has the skilled players to compete with anyone.  What they lack is the power on the inside to compete with the big boys of college basketball. Clarke’s toughness is a necessity for last year’s runner up to the national title. His perfromances against K-State, Louisville and Kentucky all carried the team to victories or near victories (Kentucky).  

Toughness and experience are what seems to be lacking from Texas Tech.  His ability to help run the offense and help thems stay up tempo will be important downt he stretch. 

Daryl Morsell, Maryland Terrapins

Maryland has issues. Their ridiculous talent can overshadow their ineffeciencies. Daryl Morsell is a player that has become a key player in their big matchups.  Wins over Illinois and Rutgers showed off the potential stat stuffing ability of Morsell. Morsell is currently shooting 36% from three, which is a huge improvement over last season 28%.  The Terrapins have issues shooting the ball, if Morsell can provide the threat from distance it will make their ridiulously athletic point guard Anthony Cowan even tougher to defend.  

Morsell is the third leading scorer on Maryland behind the aforementioned Cowan and NBA prospect Jalen Smith.   Morsell will be the player that gets the open looks and if he hits this team has final four written all over them.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was a highly rated recruit, the freshman forward has lived up to the rating.  Averaging 10 points and nearly 9 boards a game is nice but his ability to play the five in an uptempo Villanova offense has allowed them to play at a faster rate.  

Robinson-Earl is matchup nightmare for traditional bigs and has the ability to post up opposing players that match his size.  Colin Gillespie and Saddiq Bey are the guys that catch the headlines but Robinson Earl is the guy that allows them to before by cleaning up the glass.  If you question the freshman at all check his game logs against higher level competition. His play will determine where this team goes.

CBB pick ATS Jan. 21

Florida Gators at LSU Tigers -2.5

Florida’s had a disappointing start 2019-2020 campaign.  Their loss to Missouri on January 11th was not only bad, it was downright embarrassing.  Florida has bounced back with two straight victories and covers versus Ole Miss and Auburn.  The Florida defense has been outstanding all season and they were able to shut down Auburn the entire game holding the undefeated Auburn Tigers to just 47 points.  

LSU is currently on a six game win streak, currently being undefeated in the SEC.  The Tigers will face their stiffest competition within the league. 

Florida’s offense has not been great most of the season but they have seemed to find it in SEC play averaging 80 points per game in their five games.  Florida will be able to cause problems for the LSU offense with Kerry Blackshear and 6-10 freshman Omar Payne both controlling the paint. Florida has found their mojo as they have begun to play well as all the new pieces are beginning to fit together.  Mike White has found the right mix that works. The Gators were a top ten team to begin the season and they will begin their climb back up the NCAA rankings.  

Pick: FloridaGators +2.5 

Texas Tech Red Raiders at TCU Horned Frogs +3

Texas Tech has the best player on the court in guard Jahim’us Ramsey.  Ramsey will have trouble tonight versus Jamie Dixon’s TCU defense. Known for their tight man to man coverage should be a problem for Ramsey but the Red Raiders have more to offer on the offensive end than just their freshman guard.  Kyler Edwards, Davide Moretti and Chris Clarke are all offensive options that can be a problem for the Horned Frogs. 

The Red Raiders have been streaky all season but have wins over Louisville, Iowa State and Kansas State were all wins that show the potential they have to take over the Big12.  Texas Tech will have the advantage on the offensive end, the key will be to keep TCU off of the boards. TCU is just 4-7 ATS the spread at home in 2019-2020, Texas Tech is also 5-0-1 in their last six versus the Horned Frogs.

Texas Tech is in need of another signature win and their ability to utilize multiple players on the offensive end should be enough to cover.

Picks: Texas Tech Red Raiders -3

Two Wildcats cover- NCAAB Picks ATS Jan. 4

Missouri Tigers at Kentucky Wildcats -8

The Missouri Tigers are coming off of a route of Chicago State.  Not exactly a good warmup for the #17 team in the country coming off of their biggest win of the season over rival Louisville.  The Wildcats come into this with a clear size advantage, Missouri’s leading rebounder is guard Mark Smith averaging just 4.9 per game. They are going to be at a serious disadvantage on the boards.  Kentucky can bring multiple bigs at the Missouri defense including Nick Richards and EJ Montegomery. Missouri will not get many, if any second chance opportunities while the Wildcats should be wild on the offensive boards.  

This game will feature the 25th (Missouri) and 26th (Kentucky) adjusted defenses according to Kenpom.  While they are both great on defense Mizzou ranks 117th in adjusted offense. Even if Mizzou is able to slow the game down, they are at such a huge disadvantage in size that is should be an easy win and cover for Kentucky.

Pick: Kentucky -8

Villanova Wildcats at Marquette Golden Eagles +1

I want to start by saying I love Markus Howard. One of my favorite players in the nation to watch.  Problem is that his team doesn’t always show up the way he does. They have to face off against a Villanova team that is as hot as they come currently in college basketball.  Winners of six straight including two wins over Xavier and Kansas. Villanova’s two loses came on the road against top ten teams Baylor and Ohio State. This game will be on the road but against a very different kind of opponent.  Both of the aforementioned losses were against much stiffer defensive competition ranking 4th (Ohio State) and 12th (Baylor) in Kenpom’s defensive rankings.  

Marquette is coming off of a loss to Creighton where they surrendered 92 points.  They have to bring more intensity on the defensive end to stand a chance. Marquette will keep this one close but they have not shown the ability to finish higher level competition with their best wins coming against Kansas State, Purdue and USC, none bring the potential firepower Villanova does.  

I like Villanova to establish themselves as the class of the tough Big East.  Should be fun but this is a day for Wildcats. 

Picks: Villanova -1

Three things we learned about Duke last night.

Alex O’Connell has improved.

AOC could always shoot. That was what he was useful for in his first two seasons.  Last night AOC was not connecting at a high percentage but was still able to make an impact.  With four rebounds, three steals and two assists AOC was able to put together an impressive stat line that was more than just coming in and chucking shots all over the floor.  

The most notable play from last night was in the first half when he stormed towards the rim and finished a thunderous (for O’Connell) put back dunk.  That was a play that you would have never seen from AOC over the last few seasons.  The junior  has taken the next step in development and will be a key piece off the bench for Duke this season. 

Cassius Stanley is a spark plug.

Duke obviously lost its offensive spark plugs in Zion and RJ Barrett.  At a time in the second half when the Blue Devils were showing their youth and lack off firepower, Cassius Stanley was the guy that ignited the rally. Two thunderous dunks off of Kansas turnovers inspired the team.  

With just 2:29 left in the game it was Stanley hat was able to drive to the hoop and lay it in while being fouled.  After he sunk the free throw Duke took a one-point lead, one they would never relinquish.  Stanley had 11 of his 13 points in the second half, showing where the ball may be going in a time of need for Duke.  

This defense is very good. 

Tre Jones is widely considered the best on ball defender in all of college basketball.  His intensity showed in his teammates.  Kansas turned the ball over at an alarming rate, finishing the game with 28 turnovers.  While Duke cannot rely on a lack of ball security at that rate, they can rely on the effort from all five positions.

Kansas had a clear advantage with their size on the interior.  The Duke team defensive plan was to double the bigs as soon as possible. They did it to perfection.  The bigs doubled and while the guards were able to rotate and take away the outlet passes. The fact that Kansas got zero points from back to the basket posts and just four points on passes out of the double teams is a huge reason for them pulling out the victory.

The Right Choice for Michigan

The legacy of the Fab Five lives on in college basketball history.  Any time there is a vaunted recruiting class they are compared to the greatness of the 1991 Michigan rookie class.  Three notable future NBA players Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard highlighted a group that was able to reach two national championship games. Despite not winning either their impact on the game and their style of play was a look into the future of college basketball.

The Fab Five’s greatness was tarnished after leaving Michigan, allegations of paying players forced the university to take down banners that were earned from the sweat and hard work of 19-year-olds.  Whether or not you find the allegations right or wrong in the landscape of college basketball, I will never agree with a university ultimately punishing is student athletes by trying to take away the history they built in their time there. 

Michigan basketball has quietly been one of the most consistent programs in college hoops, since 2013 they have been in the national title game twice, reaching the sweet sixteen twice and the elite eight twice.  Only in 2015 did Michigan not make the NCAA tournament.  Add in one Big10 regular season title and two tournament title and you can see why the loss of longtime coach John Beilein was a punch in the gut to the program.  The loss of Beilein accompanied by the loss of last season top three scorers, Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Mathews and Jordan Poole, all have announced they’ll being entering the draft and signing with agents temporarily left Michigan with a lot of questions heading into next season.  But with the quick acquisition of Howard as Head Coach things are looking positive for the future of the program.

Howard will have a tough test in his first season.  Returning team leaders Zavier Simpson, Jr., Guard and Jon Teske, Jr., Center will be the cornerstones of the rebuilding process.  While Howard brings a lot of name recognition and NBA star endorsements he is still going to be starting from behind in recruiting.  While eventually this will be a projected strength Howard has spent all of his coaching career within the NBA ranks and will most likely have to rely on his staff for current recruiting efforts.  Still based on the recent success of NBA stars to college coaches the turnaround of talent in the program shouldn’t be a multi-year problem. 

I believe that Juwan Howard will be a great college coach but most importantly Michigan made a choice that is great for the school and allows the alumni to remember a great time in their sports history.  Jalen Rose recently spoke about the hiring of Howard squashing the beef between the Fab Five and the university.  With Rose on board and Howard at the helm the next step will be to bring back Chris Webber and finally end this unfortunate saga.

Kudos to Michigan on getting a great coaching and reigniting a legacy that shouldn’t have been forgotten.

The Return of Tre Jones

There was no player that took the loss to Michigan State harder than freshman point guard Tre Jones.  He was tasked with stopping Cassius Winston thus stopping the surging Michigan State Spartans.  On the last play Winston was able to escape the tenacious defense of Jones, forcing the young guard to watch as his man stole away a championship that seemed like destiny for the talented Blue Devils.  Jones officially announced that he is returning for his sophomore season.  The #29 ranked NBA prospect

Jones’s impact on next year’ Duke team could very well change the landscape of recruiting for not only 2019 but also 2020.  Reports that five-star recruit RJ Hampton is considering reclassification for the 2019 season so he can team up with Tre Jones can reshape the look of a team that will be filling major holes next season. When you lose 3 of your 5 starters and pretty much all of your offense it will be a transition to say the least.

If RJ Hampton does not reclassify and Mathew Hurt decides to play elsewhere Duke will still have a formidable starting lineup.

PG: Tre Jones

SG: Alex O’Connell

SF: Wendell Moore

PF: Javin Delaurier

C: Vernon Carey Jr.

With a bench that consists of Boogie Ellis, Marques Bolden, Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire and Jack White the Blue Devils will have a mixture of young players and veterans.  Jones’s will need to develop his offensive game next season for Duke to be successful. He must improve on his 26% 3-point shooting but his command of the offense will be much more present next season with the losses of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett.  Both of the latter were ball centric players that need it to be successful. Jones will now be tasked with running the Blue Devils.

The minutes of O’Connell will help the shooting percentages of the team, but I am excited to see the overall numbers increase that Jones will have with more time with the ball.  Jones will not be forced to just sit on the outside and wait for a kickout from Zion.  He will be the penetrator and the kicker.  Jones will find himself in a new role wear his skill will be able to accompany his already existing leadership skills.

Final Four Picks ATS

Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Michigan State Spartans -3

The Texas Tech Red Raiders blew up most brackets with their upset of Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.  They also blew up the Big 12.  The preseason #7 ranked team in the Big 12 has spent an entire season shattering expectations.  Texas Tech was able to overcome different styles of teams on their run to the Final Four trouncing an offensive minded Buffalo team, grinding a win versus defensive minded Michigan and showing its full repertoire taking down the #1 team in offensive efficiency in the country the Gonzaga Bulldogs.  Texas Tech’s bread and butter is and will be on the defensive end.  Texas Tech garners takeaways on 23.1 percent of opponent possessions, 11th in the nation. Tech will look to keep this low scoring and dirty.

Michigan State has seemed to find itself on the offensive end by utilizing the fast break. The Spartans were able to overcome two teams that athletically were superior by not allowing them to set their defenses. If Cassius Winston can control the ball Michigan State should be to impose its will on the break with Xavier Tillman attacking the rim.  There will be a lot of pressure on Winston to run the offense efficiently out of half court sets.  We know Michigan will be looking to run but the grind it out style of Texas Tech will look to take that away.  Tech also brings the 28th nationally ranked offensively efficient team which means they will not turn the ball over enough to allow the new “running” Spartans to take off.

This game will be a matchup between a coach on the rise and a coach that is cementing his legacy.  Chris Beard has done a remarkable job bringing the Red Raiders to this point.  Jarrett Culver will have to find his shot earl, if he doesn’t it will be up to Matt Mooney to start the offense from the outside. This game will be a hard hitting affair, usually I would lean to the veteran coach in this situation but I am going with Chris Beard.  Texas Tech has bought into what Beard is selling.  They will have no fear of Michigan State. The Red Raiders are going to shut down Winston and the fast break and pull out the victory. I may lean ML on this game but if you can take the points why not be safe.

Pick: Texas Tech +3

Auburn Tigers vs. Virginia Cavaliers -5.5

The Auburn Tigers came into the tournament hot but no one saw this coming from Bruce Pearl’s squad.  Defeating three of the blue blood of college basketball on their way to the final four.  The injury to Chumu Okeke could have derailed any team going into their elite eight matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats but they rallied behind his injury.  This Auburn team reminds me of the UConn title team of 2014.  Playing the part of Shabazz Napier is senior Jerad Harper while the part of Ryan Boatright being played by Bryce Brown. The Tigers are a veteran led team that goes ten deep to make sure they can keep up their frantic pace. If Auburn can come out and play their pace and jump out to an early lead it will be a problem for the defensive minded Virginia Cavaliers.

Virginia seems like a team of destiny after the debacle of last season. Their last second game tying shot from Mamdi Diakite over Purdue was something that we only see in movies.  The Cavaliers are battle tested through the season but have a tendancy to have some slow starts. If Virginia doesn’t come out and set the pace they will be overcome by the constant attack of Auburn.  Unlike the other final four matchup the Cavaliers will have to contend with multiple scorers in order to be successful, this game will be a battle of different styles that should be a chess matchup of two great coaches. 

Pick: Auburn +5.5 (Virginia wins by 4)

Midwest Region Breakdown

  1. North Carolina
  2. Kentucky
  3. Houston
  4. Kansas

Sleeper team to win: Houston Cougars

Houston enters the Midwest region as the #3 seed but seems to be overlooked in a region full of bluebloods Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. Houston losing to Cincinnati in the American Conference Championship game is the last thought we have of the Cougars, but this team is legit.  Winning their conference regular season championship while also having non-conference victories over Utah State, LSU and Oregon (with Bol Bol).  Houston has a legit star in Corey Davis Jr. and a veteran coach in Kelvin Sampson.  They are also very deep, playing 9 players over 20 minutes per game.   A potential third round matchup with the offensive minded Iowa State and Kentucky will make their road difficult but being a upperclassman lead team will put them in great shape to make a run.

Potential first round upset: New Mexico State over Auburn

Auburn is riding high after their dominate victory over Tennessee in the SEC Championship game.  They now have to face a New Mexico State team that has quietly been playing some of the best basketball in the country. New Mexico State has not lost since January 3rd and ran through their conference tournament dominating Grand Canyon in the final 89-57. 

Auburn has great talent but they rely a lot on the three ball, they will also be traveling to Salt Lake City which will force them to deal with the elevation change. New Mexico State has experience playing in that atmosphere.  Bruce Pearl’s team cannot look past the Aggies, if they do they will be ripe for the upset.

Who will win: Kentucky

A fully healthy Kentucky team has shown what they can do on the national scene. The Wildcats have a strong leader in Reid Travis and have seen great development from Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro. The potential matchup with North Carolina would be an epic battle between two teams that can easily see themselves winning it all.  The advantage I see for the Wildcats is their depth.  This bracket is the most competitive and will feature some great matchups.

Second Round Picks:

North Carolina

Utah State

New Mexico State

Kansas

Iowa State

Houston

Seton Hall

Kentuck

South Region Breakdown

  1. Virginia
  2. Tennessee
  3. Purdue
  4. Kansas St.

Sleeper team to win: Villanova

I am going to contradict myself by saying my sleeper is the same team that I think could be on upset alert.  The Villanova Wildcats had a rollercoaster season, ultimately though the ride was enjoyable for Jay Wrights crew as they took home the Big East regular season and tournament title.  Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are big time players that can carry the load for the Wildcats that lost literally their entire lineup to the NBA last season.  They will face off with upset minded St. Mary’s fresh off a destruction of heavily favored Gonzaga in the Mountain West Conference tournament.  St. Mary’s will have another upset on their mind in this matchup that currently seems like a toss- up according to most insiders.  If Jay Wrights crew does get by St. Marys they have a cast of unproven but solid teams in their way including a Purdue team that is basically a one man show and a Tennessee team that can be unfocused at times. 

Potential First Round Upset: Oregon over Wisconsin

This is popular.  Both teams play a slow and defensive game.  Oregon has caught fire at the right time though running through the Pac12 tournament and forcing their way on to the scene.  Louis King has emerged as a playmaker on the offensive end and they get great point guard play from Payton Prichard.  While I want to see Ethan Happ get a great run in the tournament his problems from the free throw line could lead to an early exit for the Badgers. 

Keep an eye on the health of Dean Wade.  If he cannot play another potential upset could be UC Irvine over Kansas State.  UC Irvine is very good at defending the rim. 

Who’s going to win it: Virginia

The Cavaliers will come into the 2019 tournament motivated.  Virginia lost three games during the season to Duke (2) and Florida State in the ACC tournament. They have their issues on the offensive end but the bracket breaks down well for them.  A potential third round matchup with Ole Miss or Oklahoma will be a walk in the park with only a potential matchup with K-State or Wisconsin whom doesn’t have the athletes to beat Virginia. Tennessee is the only team that realistically has the players to matchup with Virginia defense.

Second Round Picks:

Virginia

Ole Miss

Oregon

UC Irvine

Villanova

Purdue

Cincinnati

Tennessee 

East Region Breakdown

Top Seeds

  1. Duke
  2. Michigan State
  3. LSU
  4. Virginia Tech

Sleeper team to win: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech as a #4 seed probably isn’t considered a sleeper but they are being overlooked.  The return of Justin Robinson is going to help with the depth of the Hokies.  With Robinson being hurt Kerry Blackshear was able to develop into a star.  His size and ability to handle the ball if caught on the perimeter is a tough matchup for any team.  With a first-round matchup against an undersized SLU team and a potential matchup with an underwhelming Mississippi State team. Virginia Tech will not have an overwhelming matchup until they face the #1 overall seed Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16.

*Maryland has all the ability to steal this bracket if they can control the ball.  Can’t expect them to change their game though overnight.

Potential first round upset: Liberty and Yale

Yale has the size you don’t usually see in an Ivy League team. They also have potential NBA threat Miye Oni leading their offense.  LSU has all the talent to make a huge run in this tournament but you can’t ignore the distraction of losing your coach at this point in the season.

Liberty was able to overcome the favored Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun Championship game.  They get a matchup with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs have some high level talent in Quinndary Weatherspoon but have not shown the ability to win big games during the season.  Liberty will not back down in this matchup.

Who is going to win it: Duke

Michigan State got a tough draw for a team that should have been considered for a #1 seed. Instead they were put into a bracket with the number one overall seed, they SEC regular season champion LSU and a potential matchup with a veteran led Louisville team. The Spartans are finally healthy and playing at a high level.  They should be able to coast to the elite 8 to matchup with a Duke team that is going to be tested big time by a fully healthy Virginia Tech team. Duke/Michigan State will be a great game that will matchup veterans versus youth.  Cassius Winston will have a tough time with the defense of Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire.  The Blue Devils will lock down on defense and find themselves in the final four.

Second Round Picks

Duke

UCF

Liberty

UCF

Maryland

LSU

Lousiville

Michigan State