- Duke and Kentucky are the two odds-on favorites to win the national title this season. Here's why we're betting on the underdog Blue Devils to beat the Wildcats on Tuesday night.
It. Is. Here. College basketball season is finally upon us, and the first night of action starts off BLAZING, with 20 of the top 25 ranked teams playing their first non-exhibition games of the year.
Here are our three best gambling plays for Tuesday night in college hoops:
1. No. 4 Duke (+1.5) vs. No. 2 Kentucky
7:00 pm ET, ESPN
No. 2 vs No. 4. Coach Cal vs Coach K. These are the two odds-on favorites to win the national title facing off in the latest installment of the Champions Classic. Both of these teams, as they have for the last handful of years, had a high turnover rate from the previous season. The two have essentially swapped roles, however, with Kentucky having the nod in experienced players over Duke. Kentucky grad transfer Reid Travis, formerly of Stanford, is a legitimate SEC player of the year candidate, and will provide a combination of experience and skill that has been rare in Kentucky due to the one-and-done nature the program has adopted. Zion Williamson has been garnering the majority of the attention among incoming freshmen, with good reason—Williamson is a physical freak who can jump out of the gym and looks capable of running through multiple brick walls with zero issues—but R.J. Barrett just may be the best player in the country. And oh yeah, Duke’s Cam Reddish was the No. 3 recruit in the class of 2018 too, giving Duke the number one, two and three rated freshmen in the country.
The Wildcats’ recruiting class, however, was not too shabby itself. Keldon Johnson, E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley occupied four of the top 25 spots as well. It is rare that we are blessed with such an intriguing, competitive matchup at all before the NCAA tournament, let alone in the first game of the season. The winner of this matchup very well may end up being the team that is able to be more effective from beyond the arc. If this is the case, Kentucky is a team that struggled shooting the three ball so much (35.7%) last season that it only took 546 on the entire year—which was 327 out of 351 teams. Woof. Duke, on the other hand, was not scorching hot (37.2%) from the perimeter, but shot it more often from deep, and added Reddish, the winner of the McDonald’s All-American three-point contest, who projects to be an elite threat from three. While neither of these teams have been able to truly prove what they will be this season, the undeniable sheer athleticism, strength and talent Duke is bringing to the table will be a bit too much for Kentucky to handle.
Pick: Duke (+1.5)
2. No. 8 North Carolina (-10) at Wofford
7:00 pm ET, ESPN2
What if I told you UNC’s biggest grudge match of the season was not against cross-town rival Duke, but rather the Wofford Terriers. The last time these two teams met, Wofford stunned the defending champion and then-No. 5 ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 79–75. Wofford returns all five starters, most notably senior guard and 2017–18 Southern Conference player of the year Fletcher Magee, who scored 27 points in the upset, averaged 22.1 ppg on the season for the Terriers and is a legitimate NBA prospect. A huge factor in this matchup that gives UNC an advantage is the knowledge of its opponent. UNC has had the entire summer to prepare on how to neutralize Magee, and has the talent and athleticism to do just that. Though the Tar Heels lost the dominant long-time backcourt of Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, they added top-five prospect Nassir Little and returned Luke Maye, who is universally regarded as one of the nation’s most versatile and stable frontcourt players. UNC will prove to be too fast and too strong for the Terriers. Wofford’s roster carry-over combined with the upset from last year clearly contributed to UNC only getting 10 points against the Terriers (last year’s matchup had UNC favored by 25.5 points), but in the end this is still the University of North Carolina against Wofford. Add in the fact that UNC is looking for revenge and now has had a good deal of time to scout and prepare, and it becomes possibly the easiest lock of the night.
Pick: UNC (-10)
3. BYU at No. 7 Nevada (-13)
11:00 pm ET, CBS Sports
Nevada outperformed nearly everyone’s expectations last season, earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and continuing the run through the Sweet 16. The Wolf Pack return top-three scorers Jordan Caroline and brothers Caleb and Cody Martin, while also adding McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown, the school’s best recruit since JaVale McGee. Nevada went 15–2 at home last season, and has a realistic chance at going undefeated at home in this campaign. Thirteen is a hefty amount of points, but in averaging 82.6 ppg in 2017–18—good for 18th best in the country—Nevada proved it can score, and score a lot. The Wolf Pack ranked seventh in offensive efficiency as well, via KenPom. BYU, however, scored only 74.3 PPG, 160th in the country, and its offensive efficiency wasn't much better at 110th. What Nevada gained when the Martin twins and Caroline opted to return for their senior seasons, BYU lost when West Coast Conference leading scorer Elijah Bryant decided to depart to play professionally. A team that struggled to score losing its top scorer with no definitive replacement could be catastrophic. BYU’s TJ Haws (dubbed the Ginger Mamba ... seriously), is expected to have a productive season, but Jimmer Fredette is not walking through that door. Nevada’s overwhelming combination of talent, experience and offensive firepower is going to be enough to run BYU out of the gym Tuesday night.
Pick: Nevada (-13)