College Basketball Best Bets: Cougars Look to Get Off to Roaring Start

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The college basketball season is underway, and Three Man Weave is back with best bets on SI Gambling. Three Man Weave did best bets here last season as well, and make sure to check out their blog and Twitter account for plenty of college hoops insight.

Since it's a light slate on Thursday, there's just one pick for today. But let's venture to the Pacific Northwest. 

Seattle at Washington State

3MW Pick: Washington State -2.5

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this matchup, it’s worth taking a look back at the past two times these schools have met. In November 2017, Wazzu took down the Redhawks by 16 in Pullman two games prior to ripping off three straight wins against Saint Joseph’s, Saint Mary’s and San Diego State to capture the Wooden Legacy Tournament crown. The nation went into a frenzy, shouting from the rooftops the praises of a potential top-25 Cougar squad. Then Wazzu lost consecutive contests to UC Davis, Idaho and UTEP—everything good must come to an end.

Last season, a much-improved Seattle squad took advantage of a Robert Franks-less Washington State team, leading the Cougars nearly the entire game in a semi-neutral gym in Kent, Washington.

Speaking of Kent, that’s the main reason we’re writing about Wazzu this morning! After five lackluster years in which he amassed a paltry record of 58-98 (22-68 in Pac-12 play), head coach Ernie Kent was shown the door this offseason. In his place steps Kyle Smith, the former head honcho at Columbia and San Francisco. This coaching upgrade is massive in the eyes of the Weave—Smith built both of his prior programs to contenders in their respective conferences and looks poised to do the same with a plucky Cougar squad that features a burgeoning star in CJ Elleby and two massively impactful newcomers in Isaac Bonton and Jaylen Shead. Bonton is a top-60 JUCO recruit and Shead is a graduate transfer from Texas State, where he was the starting point guard for a very good Bobcats team last season. The pair are expected to start over incumbents Jervae Robinson and Marvin Cannon, which speaks volumes to how deep this Wazzu backcourt may actually be in 2019-20. Smith likes to space the floor, so his bounty of guards will have plenty of room to work around the centerpiece Elleby. Seattle has been a good defensive team under Jim Hayford the past two seasons and focuses on taking away the three ball—an area from which Wazzu will rely on to score—but it won’t have an answer for the 6’6” Elleby.

Make no mistake about it, this is not a typical Pac-12 vs. WAC matchup—Seattle is a good basketball team, and the spread reflects that. The Redhawks were expected to compete for a conference title last season before injuries affected nearly their entire roster. Seattle is mostly healthy now, but two key players will be missing from that victorious November 2018 squad: Matej Kavas, who scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Wazzu, took his talents to Nebraska this offseason, and Morgan Means, a three-year starter and Seattle’s leader in minutes last season, will presumably be on the shelf with an injury. Means is significant from a scoring perspective—outside of the terrific Terrell Brown, the Redhawks don’t have a bevy of proven scorers or playmakers, and Kyle Smith is sure to ramp up Wazzu’s defensive woes of years past. Seattle will want to ugly up this game, much as it did last year when it allowed the Cougars to shoot just 21/71 (29.6%) from the floor.

In the end, this bet is a bet on 1) Kyle Smith, 2) the incoming Washington State talent (I didn’t even mention former Colorado State forward Deion James, who should bolster a weak frontcourt), and 3) the (presumed) absence of Morgan Means, a player that should “mean” something for a team that doesn’t score the ball easily.

Season record: 0-0