We got our first huge college basketball slate of the year!! The first week of college basketball has already brought us some joy. Turner media did not wait until March to acknowledge college basketball exists! Two primetime games against USC and Kansas State, and Oregon and Georgia highlighted opening night. We saw a thriller in the Pentagon where Baylor had an electrifying comeback win against Auburn.
We actually get to talk about some major college basketball games on Friday. We have top tier non-conference matchups on campus sites. We are going to break down all of them. We have Arizona traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium, Tennessee at Wisconsin, Texas A&M at Ohio State, Virginia at Florida. In addition, we are going to break down some mid-major games that have some betting value.
Thankfully, DraftKings gives us the earliest lines in the betting world, and remember you can bet $5 on any game and get $200 in bonus bets instantly with our friends at DraftKings when use the code "TORRES."
Now, to the picks!
College of Charleston vs. Duquesne- Veteran’s Classic Annapolis, Maryland (CBS Sports Network)
I’m extremely excited to watch this matchup as a mid-major basketball junkie. Most college basketball fans are familiar with Charleston; who made waves last season-accumulating the nation's longest winning streak at 20, they won 31 total games and nearly upset eventual runner up San Diego State in the first round of the tournament.
Duquesne surprised everyone in A-10 circles last year, tripling their win total from six to 20 games. They return their top two scorers and are a true dark horse to win the A-10. Charleston and Duqusne have good guards, play with pace, and have a ton of depth. Each team played in nail bitters during their season debuts. Charleston survived a 71-69 home win against Iona, while Duquesne’s bench contributed 38 points allowing the Dukes to squeeze by Cleveland State 81-79 on Tuesday.
Who has the edge in this matchup?
Coach Pat Kelsey lost a lot of talent from last year. Only three contributors from last year’s team returned. He brought in two Division II studs in Bryce Butler and Kobe Walters. I don’t think they are going to be used to the type of athleticism Duquesne back court brings.
Dae Dae Grant and Jimmy “Tre” Clark III, are a deadly guard tandem on the wings. Grant was a second team all A-10 selection who averaged 15.3 points per game and shot 40 percent from three last year. Clark is a fifth-year senior who averaged 12 points and led the conference in steals and steal rate. The Dukes brought in the Drama twins from Pittsburgh and played crucial minutes during Saint Peter’s Elite 8 run the year before that.
They have the toughness to handle Frankie Policelli and Brzovic inside. I’m going to roll with the Dukes in the early game on CBS Sports Network.
The pick: Duquesne -1 or better
Arizona at Duke (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Spread: Duke -4.5
Now that I got my mid-major fascination out of the way, let’s talk about the biggest game of the slate. Big time programs playing at each other’s campuses early in the season is amazing for the sport. We get a big-time game in one of the best environments, between two teams who could end the season in Phoenix when it’s all said and done. Duke comes in with heavy expectations in Jon Scheyer second year. Duke is ranked 2nd in the first AP Top 25 poll. They have the best balance of NBA talent and returning experience in the sport. They have three first round picks coming back to their roster in Tyrese Proctor, Kyle Filipowski, and Mark Mitchell. Unlike most blue-chip prospects who come in as freshmen, these guys have a year of seasoning under their belts.
Arizona comes in with a talented roster too. They lost All-Pac 12 big man Azuolas Tubelis, but bring back reliable wing Pelle Larson, big man Oumar Ballo, and point guard Kylan Boswell. Tommy Lloyd brought in electric transfer guard Caleb Love from UNC, Jaden Bradley (Alabama), and Keshad Johnson from SDSU. Johnson and Love will be key having experience playing in March.
As for the game on Friday, it’s a tough task to get these guys on the same page in a high-profile matchup on the road. Love will have revenge in mind playing against Duke. An aggressive Love can spell disaster for Arizona. To be fair, he can single handedly will a team to victory. I don’t know how much responsibility Love will have on his new team. If things start slipping away we have seen Love try to force the issue. Does Lloyd remove that characteristic out of his charismatic guard? We will see.
We have to ask, is Love going to defend? He didn’t do much of that at Carolina. I don’t think Arizona’s guards are going to have an answer for Proctor. Arizona’s size won’t bother Duke here. I’m going to take Duke in what is going to be an insane environment. I think they are unquestionably the best team in the country, they will prove that Friday night.
The pick: Duke -4.5
Texas A&M at Ohio State (7 p.m. ET, Peacock)
Spread: Ohio State (-1.5)
We have another big-time campus non-conference matchup. The line in this game is too good to be true. Outside of a surprising Big Ten tournament run, last season was a disaster for Ohio State. The Buckeyes went 5-15 in Big Ten play and went winless from early January to mid-February. To add to the dismay, Chris Holtman lost five of his top contributors. Jamison Battle transfers from Minnesota, but outside of him- Holtman is relying on a talented yet unproven sophomore class to get his program back on track.
On the other side, this is Buzz Williams most experienced and talented team he has ever coached. He brings back four starters and eight rotational pieces from a team that won 25 games and finished 2nd in the SEC. Wade Taylor and Tyrece Radford are arguably a top 10 two-way guard duo in the country. Texas A&M ranked top 15 in defensive efficiency last season and 5th nationally in offensive rebounds. Ohio State was extremely soft last year. The Buckeyes showed nothing in their exhibition against Dayton or their close win against Oakland to suggest that will be different this year.
The Buckeyes have the home court advantage, but that is about it. I’m going to ride with the more physical, experienced, and talented roster on the road.
The pick: Texas A&M +1.5 (7:00 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
Florida vs Virginia (Charlotte)
Spread: Virginia -1
These are two storied basketball programs trying to rise back to dominance. Coach Bennett’s national title gives him major leeway with his fanbase. Florida coach Todd Golden is trying to prove to Gator nation he is the guy. Florida went a mediocre 16-17 last season and lost in the first round of the NIT.
Both program’s return their star guards. Reece Beekman comes back for his senior year. Beekman was an All ACC Defensive first team player and is projected to be drafted in the first round next year. Florida returns Riley Kugel, an All-SEC freshman returner who averaged 12.6 points per game. The Kugel-Beekman matchup should be extremely intriguing.
Still, let’s break down this matchup further.
If you are betting on Virginia, you are banking on Tony Bennett’s coaching. Frankly, the talent isn’t there. Virginia lost a ton off of a roster that underperformed. Kihei Clark, Jayden Gardner, Armaan Franklin, Ben Vanderplas, and Kadin Shedrick are all gone. Virginia lost its trusty point guard, best one on scorer, two elite rebounders/rim protectors, and one of their best shooters. Virginia’s next best returner is Isaac McKneely who averaged 6.7 ppg as a freshman and shot nearly 40 percent from three. Bennett added some talented mid-major transfers, 6-foot-6-inch guard Andrew Rhodes from St.Thomas, and 6-foot-8-inch forward Jordan Minor (Merrimack) averaged 17.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in the NEC. Both guys can score and are long, they seem like a fit in Bennett’s system. This team is going to need some patience, with all the new faces- it’s going to take time to get acclimated. Beekman has to be a star on both sides of the floor for Virginia to win early.
Florida has some similar issues. Florida loses starters Colin Castleton, Myreon Jones, Kyle Lofton, and Kuwacie Reeves. Outside of replacing Castleton, Golden significantly upgraded his talent in the portal. Walter Clayton comes in from Iona where he averaged 16.8 points and shot 43 percent from three. Clayton gives Florida a dangerous offensive option on the perimeter, and he is a great perimeter defender. He can take away anyone’s number one option. Forward Tyrese Samuel comes from Seton Hall and MitchHandlogten comes from Marshall. Those guys provide major toughness, rim protection and rebounding.
Virginia played four guards in their first game against Tarleton. They aren’t going to be able to do that in this one. Florida is too athletic and versatile to play small against. Betting against Tony Bennett as a small dog seems stupid- Florida has the better talent. This game is more important for Todd Golden than it is for Bennett. You are going to see Florida win this game.
The pick: Florida +1
Tennessee at Wisconsin (9:00 p.m. ET, Peacock)
Spread: Tennessee (-2.5)
Wisconsin and Tennessee play identical styles. In the past, this game would be a guaranteed rock fight, but both Tennessee and Wisconsin showed offensive explosiveness in their season debut. Wisconsin scored 105 points in their season opener against Arkansas State. I’ll let you fact check me, cause that last sentence was unbelievable. Wisconsin scoring over 100 in a college basketball game, inflation is skyrocketing everything across the country. That’s the only answer.
In reality, the Badgers return three out of their top five scorers. The transfer from St.Johns, AJ Storr had 15 points and we saw guard Max Klesmitt take a big leap in the NIT tournament last year. Chucky Hepburn is poised for a breakout year after scoring 20 in the opener. Wisconsin returns 10-year veterans Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl (that's slight hyperbole).
For Tennessee, the hype is all around Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht. Knecht averaged 20.2 points per game and 7.2 rebounds at Northern Colorado. Knecht showed how impactful he can be displaying unreal dunks in the charity exhibition game against Michigan State. Knecht led the 80-42 onslaught in the Volunteer’s opener against Tennessee Tech, scoring 17 points in 25 minutes of action. Santago Vescovi, Zakai Zeigler, and Josiah Jordan James are all back. Tennessee has finished in top 5 in defensive efficiency per Ken Pom, in three consecutive seasons. I don’t expect that to change. They should have more offensive power with Knecht coming in and freshman Cameron Carr will make an impact as well. There is a huge reason why the Vols are trendy preseason Final Four picks.
In this matchup, I’m taking the Badgers at home here. Tennessee has the more talented roster but they aren’t going to bully Wisconsin. Crowl and Wahl provide valuable experience in the front court. Wisconsin has more reliable shooting with Klemsmitt on the perimeter. Wisconsin takes care of the basketball, (3rd least offensive turnovers in the country, and they rebound the basketball. It’s going to be hard for the Vols to score on the road. Wisconsin gets a major win early in the season.
The pick: Wisconsin +2.5
Abilene Christian at NC State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Spread: Abilene Christian +10.5
I’m saving my favorite bet of the slate for the final game. ACU is coming off a win against Oklahoma State in their opener. Brett Tanner’s squad has a decent chance upsetting their second power 5 program this week.
Coach Kevin Keatts saved his job making it into the NCAA Tournament last year. He has an uphill battle trying to get there again. He loses his top two scorers in Jarkiel Joiner and Terquavion Smith, both of whom averaged 17 points per game last season. He replaced them in the transfer portal with ASU transfer DJ Horne, Jayden Taylor (Butler) and Micheal O’ Connell (Stanford). O’Connell and Taylor had histories of turning the ball over at their previous stops.
ACU has a lot of experience. Airon Simmons is a fifth senior who is a double-double machine inside. ACU is going to make everything hard on the Wolfpack. ACU is an underrated mid-major program who has a history of big upsets; most notably beating three seed Texas in the 2021 NCAA tournament. ACU is one of the deeper teams in the country. They are legitimately 10 deep, and nine guys scored at least one field goal in their win against Oklahoma State. ACU is undervalued in the market right now. Brett Tanner’s squad is coming off a middling campaign where they struggled with injuries throughout the year. It exposed a lot of their young guys to get early playing time. That experience is going to benefit them this season. Swedish international Ali Abdou Dibba, blossomed late last year, was the leading scorer in the Wildcats win against OSU. Ali Dibba is a do it all guard who can get down hill, plays above his 6-4 frame and doubles as an elite defender. He will be the most athletic guard
on the floor.
With so many big games on the docket, we will go with an upset special that is being laid under the radar.
ACU +10.5 and sprinkle a little on the moneyline.
The pick: ACU +10.5 (plus a small bet on the moneyline)
San Diego State at BYU (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
The Aztecs and Cougars are playing each other on their campus for the third straight season. Last season, SDSU trailed by double digits early, but forced a five-minute BYU drought in the second half allowing the Aztecs to rally to a four-point victory. This is SDSU’s first big game since their national title appearance. After losing Matt Bradley, Nathan Mensah, Adam Seiko, and Keshad Johnson- Jaedon LeDee seems to be the returner to step up. In SDSU’s 83-57 win against Cal State Fullerton, LeDee led the way with 27 points and 10 rebounds. The Aztecs also return Lamont Butler and added USC transfer Reese Dixon Waters. The Cougars are looking to make a good first impression for the Big 12. They return four starters from last season. They intend to shoot lots of trees. BYU forward Fousseyni Traore 12.9 PTS, 7.8 REB, and 60.9 FG, will need to lead the way for a Cougar’s upset.
Memphis at Missouri (9:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
These two schools just played a non-conference game in football, in St. Louis. Now we get to see a wildly entertaining non-conference game. Both teams have explosive offenses. Penny Hardaway built an insane roster throughout the transfer portal and HS recruiting. He brings his son Ashton Hardaway who was a top 50 recruit. He brings in Jahvon Quinerly (Alabama), Caleb Mills (FSU), David Jones (St. Johns), and Jordan Brown (Louisiana), among others. The talent is there, the biggest question is whether Penny can put it together.
For Mizzou, Dennis Gates wants to replicate last year’s success. He has continuity at the point guard position with Nick Honor and Sean East. He brings in Caleb Grill (Iowa State) to provide shooting off the bench, and John Tonje (Colorado State) will be another explosive guard in the back court. Long and tall 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover comes from Oral Roberts. Mizzou will have more offensive firepower than last year despite losing Kobe Brown to the NBA. With so much new talent on both sides, it’s impossible to pick a team here. I’m very interested in watching it. I expect an onslaught of pace and points.
Wake Forest at Georgia (SEC Network)
Give Mike White the credit he deserves, he is testing his young team early. Georgia could have easily padded its schedule with cupcakes to guarantee double digit wins by SEC play. Mike White scheduled two power 5 opponents to begin the season. Georgia is making its way back home after losing to Oregon in its opener. They showed some promise in a blowout loss. Talented wing Jabri Abdur-Rahim showed he can be a go scorer leading the team with 18 points. RJ Melendez had some timely offensive rebounds, scored 12 points and played well on the defensive end. Big man Russell Tchewa held his own against a formidable front court. A home game against Wake Forest is very winnable.
Wake Forest clobbered Elon. Junior Cameron Hildreth showed he is ready to make another leap after scoring 33 in the opener. Gonzaga transfer Hunter Sallis had 19 points. It will be interesting to see if Forbes can unlock Salis’s full potential. Forbes has coached several talented teams but he hasn’t been able to push Wake Forest into the NCAA tournament. This team has the talent to get there. Getting a win at Georgia could be the start the Deacons need.
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive