Last week College Hoops got off to a fast start with the 2021 Champions Classic. Like a hot steaming appetizer for a delicious four-course meal we watched as games came down to the wire, and teams began to define themselves. After the appetizer of last week, it’s time to take a look at the menu and see what we are feeling as the season truly starts to kick into high gear.
PENN STATE -4.5 (-118) at UMASS +4.5 (-104) (7:00 p.m. EST)
College basketball is known for its Cinderella stories, and UMass was certainly a Cinderella at one point in their program’s history. John Calipari made a name for himself there taking a little-known university to a number one ranking in the polls, and reaching a final four in 1996. Now if you’re anything like me 1996 feels like about three years ago, but in reality, that’s an alarming 25 years ago. Yeah, you read that right, it’s been 25 years since UMass was in the Final Four, but that means the program has also had 25 years to continue building on that legacy that was started there by Calipari and Marcus Camby in 1996, making them a staple in college basketball conversation ever since.
UMass has always been a hub for good big men, and last year was no different. But after the loss of their top two bigs, (one via transfer and one via graduation) they are planning on approaching that by committee this year. One of these committee members is named Trent Buttrick, a senior transfer who is leading the team in scoring this year at 13.5 points per game. Buttrick is a 6’8” transfer from none other than Penn State. What do they call that again? That’s right, a Revenge Game.
I’m taking UMass at home with plus points 10 times out of 10. The Nittany Lions are a sputtering program still struggling to replace the cogs that made them a surprising top 25 team the last few years. Even if Penn State steals the win, Minutemen are covering 4.5.
Pick: UMass Minutemen +4.5 (-104 via Fanduel)
University of Illinois -7.5 at Marquette +7.5 (7:00 p.m. EST)
We all watched Illinois rise to the top of the college basketball polls and be primed to return to 2005 glory before falling to in-state foes Loyola-Chicago in last year’s NCAA tournament. In my judgment, they were the 2nd best team in the country last season behind Baylor, and this year they return four out of five of those starters. The problem with this is that the one guy they didn’t return, Ayo Dosunmu, was arguably the best player in the country. He was a floor general, defensive wizard, a sharpshooter in the midrange, and played with a swagger and toughness that defined last year’s team. How do you replace that? So far it hasn’t been tough, dismantling Jackson State and Arkansas State, but neither of those teams is remotely as good as Marquette.
Now Marquette has also had issues losing key players, namely Dawson Garcia packing his bags for Chapel Hill, North Carolina. But a program with a rich history that has been as consistent as Marquette has a pride factor playing at home in a big matchup against a top opponent. For that reason, along with the fact that Illinois will also still be without preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Kofi Cockburn, give me Marquette +7.5.
Pick: Marquette +7.5 (-112 Via FanDuel)
Bethune-Cookman +29.5 at Utah -29.5 (10:00 p.m. EST)
This is one of the most lop-sided spreads that I have seen all year or probably will see all year, and the reason is because Bethune-Cookman is arguably the worst Division I college basketball team in the continental United States. They have been beaten by at least 20 in both of their matchups this season, once by South Florida and once by MTSU, neither of which are nearly as good as Utah. Utah is ranked 82nd via KenPom, while Bethune-Cookman is ranked 355th. There are only 358 teams in DI college basketball. Just like you can argue the top of the list, you can argue any of the bottom teams should hold the crown for the worst team in the land.
This is an opportunity for a decent Utah team to pad their stats a little bit, and really help out at the end of the season when they see their numbers, point differentials, etc. They are playing at home, and want to put on a show. Unfortunately for Bethune-Cookman, they are the ones whose expense the show is going to be at. I’d probably take Utah -39.5, but thankfully the line is at a modest 29.5. Easy pick here, Utes roll at home in Salt Lake.