College Basketball Odds & Picks: 6 Games to Bet on Opening Night (Tuesday, Nov. 9)

College Basketball Odds & Picks: 6 Games to Bet on Opening Night (Tuesday, Nov. 9) article feature image

Lance King/Getty Images. Pictured: Wendell Moore Jr. (0) of the Duke Blue Devils.

2021 NCAA Basketball Season Tipoff

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Today, the 2021-22 college basketball season officially tips off at 3 p.m. ET with Alcorn State vs. Washington State and Manhattanville vs. Manhattan (yes, this is a real game — we promise).

The debut of a new college basketball season coincides with the swift return of autumn's bite: Evergreens stand stoically along the sidelines as leaves clutter the Earth's floor and the sun sinks lowly along the westward horizon line — a moment of perennial transition as sports fans and sports bettors turn their eyes once again … to the hardwood.

For 218 days, we've pined for college basketball's return, and rest assured that we are ready for it. More than that, we're grateful for it: As the poet Robert Frost famously penned, nothing gold can stay.

Nature's first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf's a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

In this spirit, we enthusiastically embrace today's college basketball slate. Not only will we have our daily staff best bets published on Tuesday afternoon, but furthermore our staff has also delivered full-game breakdowns for six of today's opening day matchups, spanning from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. ET.

Check out all six college basketball betting previews below, including our betting analysts' picks for each game.

The 6 College Basketball Games to Bet on Opening Day

4:30 p.m. ET
Under 134
6 p.m. ET
Under 145
7 p.m. ET
Michigan State +4
7 p.m. ET
Belmont -3.5
9 p.m. ET
Under 125
9:30 p.m. ET
Under 148.5
Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

Mount St. Mary's vs. Villanova

Tuesday, Nov. 9
4:30 p.m. ET
Under 134

By Kyle Remillard

After a 218-day drought, the college basketball season is finally upon us.

The season tips off with two teams that both made it to the NCAA Tournament last year as Villanova hosts Mount St. Mary’s.

Mount St. Mary’s won the NEC Tournament, defeating the top two seeds in Wagner and Bryant to make it to the Big Dance. The Mount lost to Texas Southern in the First Four of the tourney after being outscored, 40-22, in the second half.

Mount St. Mary’s played at the 356th-slowest tempo last season and relied on its physicality and size to grind through games. The program enters this season without point guard Damian Chong Qui, who was the heartbeat of the Mountaineers' offense.

Replacing his offensive production is a monumental challenge for this program.

That will be no easy feat, especially against a Villanova Wildcats team that is a real threat to win it all.

The Wildcats had to finish the 2020-21 season without point guard Collin Gillespie, who tore his MCL late in the season. Villanova still managed to win the Big East and make it to the Sweet 16, losing to the eventual champion in Baylor.

Thanks to the NCAA's new COVID-19 policy regarding an extra year of eligibility, Villanova welcomes back Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels for their super-senior seasons.

The offense will miss Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, though, as the big man was drafted 32nd in the 2021 NBA draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Can the Mount pull off the improbable against Villanova, which could be looking ahead to its matchup with UCLA on Friday night?

Mount Saint Mary's Mountaineers

Mount St. Mary’s is one of the biggest teams in the NEC and won’t be outmatched physically by Nova.

The Mountaineers own one of the top frontcourts in the conference, as Mezie Offurum, Nana Opoku and Malik Jefferson all stand at 6-foot-8 or taller.

Mezie OffurumSenior6'8"4.940.6
Nana OpokuR. Senior6'9"
Malik JeffersonSenior6'9"

The trio was pivotal to the Mount’s top-ranked defensive efficiency mark in the conference. The Mountaineers ranked 10th in the nation in field goal percentage, holding opponents to 45%. They ranked ninth nationally in field goal percentage at the rim, while sitting at 24th in 2-point percentage.

Much of that success goes to the big three, which is highlighted by the reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year in Opoku.

The Mount’s offensive identity last year was to set non-stop picks for Chong Qui and let him make a play. With Chong Qui hitting the transfer portal, the Mountaineers will need someone to step up.

They welcome in junior point guard Jalen Benjamin, who averaged 9.2 points with UAB last season.

The frontcourt options were dominant defensively but haven’t shown the ability to create their own shots at a high percentage.

Villanova Wildcats

Jay Wright’s squad owned the sixth-most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom.

Although the group played at the 336th adjusted tempo in the nation, it wasn't afraid to fire away from deep, ranking first in the Big East in 3-point attempts. In what is no surprise, the Wildcats took care of the basketball owning a 14% turnover rate — which ranked fourth nationally.

The loss of Robinson-Earl is immense for the Wildcats. He was a mismatch nightmare that flew past opposing centers and bullied smaller wings. Without him in the lineup, we should see more pick-and-roll offense that centralizes around the three guards in Gillespie, Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels.

The three accounted for nearly half of the Villanova 3-point attempts last season and connected on 35%. They will be matched up against a versatile Mount St. Mary’s man-to-man defense that won’t allow many easy buckets.

Defensively, the Wildcats were a mediocre group that allowed 67 points per game. They owned an effective field goal percentage of 51% that ranked outside the top 200 in the country.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Wright elect to play a zone to test the shooting woes of the Mount without Chong Qui on the roster.

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Mount St. Mary's vs. Villanova Betting Pick

This matchup includes two teams who both will be without their top playmakers from last season.

Chong Qui didn’t come out of the game once in his final six contests for a good reason. The offense was significantly worse when he wasn’t on the floor and who picks up the offensive slack for Mount this season remains to be seen.

Villanova will be moving on without Robinson-Earl, who averaged 15.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. That leaves the majority of the scoring to Gillespie, Moore and Samuels.

The Mount’s methodical pace and dominant defense will attempt to slow down the game and grind out possessions. Villanova has no problem playing at a slow pace, especially in Gillespie’s first game back from injury.

Villanova ranks 336th in the nation in tempo, while Mount St. Mary’s ranks 356th in the same category, according to KenPom. This will be the slowest-paced game of the opening week and we should see extended scoring droughts from both sides.

Pick: Under 134 (Play to 131)

Akron vs. Ohio State

Tuesday, Nov. 9
6 p.m. ET
Under 145

By Jim Root

Can we call this the Battle of LeBron?

Sure, he did not attend college, but he’s from Akron and he’s shown quite a proclivity to back the Buckeyes.

Ohio State is the clear favorite in this tussle for the King’s heart, but the visiting Zips are no slouch.

Akron Zips

Akron coach John Groce is quite familiar with the Big Ten, having spent five seasons in charge of the Illinois hoops program. His teams launch from beyond the arc with a deep assortment of shooters, aiming to spread the floor and exploit the gaps created.

Defensively, Groce is mostly a man-to-man guy. Fortunately, he has a stalwart rim protector in Enrique Freeman as the foundation.

The Zips may be a little less zippy this year, though, without star point guard Loren Cristian Jackson. LCJ — not to be confused with LeBron, aka LBJ — was a 5-foot-8 blur, jetting all over the floor to create points for himself and his teammates.

He ranked seventh nationally in usage and 23rd in assist rate, emphasizing just how vital he was to the Akron offense. Groce's teams are rarely extreme one way or another tempo-wise, but without LCJ, it’s reasonable to predict they’ll slow down somewhat.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Meanwhile, Ohio State loses a key scorer of its own in sniper Duane Washington Jr.

If the offense ever stalled last year (a rarity), Washington was the “get out of jail free” card. He was a devastating pull-up shooter from beyond the arc and his scoring prowess helped buoy the Buckeyes’ No. 4 ranking in KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.

That was well ahead of the defense, which finished 82nd. In the three years prior, OSU ranked 15th, 25th and 19th on defense. Mysteriously, the Buckeyes stopped forcing turnovers entirely.

In response, Chris Holtmann nabbed Jamari Wheeler from rival Penn State, a tenacious on-ball stopper who immediately upgrades the perimeter defense.

Washington-for-Wheeler is not a one-for-one swap, but regardless, expect a more balanced team this year.

Akron vs. Ohio State Betting Pick

If you’ve already deciphered the endpoint of this deliberation, then you have terrific reading comprehension.

Between the loss of LCJ as an offensive catalyst, the potential downturn in the Zips' pace and a more stable Ohio State defense, it’s the under for me.

I’m taking it at 145 now, and I would take it down to 143.

Pick: Under 145 (Play to 143)

Kansas vs. Michigan State

Tuesday, Nov. 9
7 p.m. ET
Michigan State +4

By Shane McNichol

The 2019-20 college basketball season unfolded differently than any other season we've ever seen. While COVID-19 is sure to continue to impact the 2020-21 season, things should settle into some sense of normalcy and look a little more like the college basketball we are used to seeing.

Schedules should stabilize, fans will be in attendance and the NCAA Tournament should be less impacted.

To start the season, the Champions Classic will once again be the most talked-about item on the early-season calendar.

That is inevitable when the four blue bloods who are connected to the event show up each year. No matter where each finds itself in the rankings, the aura around all four means there are endless storylines to dissect.

That's certainly true of this year and this game. Tom Izzo and Bill Self both bring in teams capable of great seasons and deep runs in March, yet neither is without question marks.

Like two boxers feeling each other out in the first round, Tuesday's meeting of the Jayhawks and Spartans will likely be more of a learning experience than a statement game.

Where does that leave the betting public? Let's evaluate where each team is entering the season and which side should garner your bet Tuesday night.

Kansas Jayhawks

Most of Self’s roster returns this year, and they're likely upset with how last season ended.

The Jayhawks lost to USC in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, limping into postseason play while battling a COVID-19 outbreak on the roster.

Defensive stalwart Marcus Garrett is gone, but 71% of Kansas’ minutes are back this season (second-most in the Big 12).

Garrett is nominally replaced by Arizona State transfer Remy Martin. He was one of the premier targets in the transfer portal this offseason.

Martin’s addition to this Jayhawks' roster makes for an interesting fit. He’s a lead guard, which last year’s Jayhawks needed desperately, yet he’s more of a score-first combo guard than a pure point guard.

Some of that disparity may have come from Martin’s time at Arizona State, where seemingly every Sun Devil was fighting with teammates over chances to shoot the ball. If Martin can stabilize into Self’s offensive scheme, he’s one of the best players in the Big 12.

Martin will be flanked by some familiar faces in Lawrence. David McCormack returns for another season in the paint. Ochai Agbaji looks to grow after a relatively disappointing 2020-21 — when his production stagnated instead of blossomed.

Two players have a chance to raise Kansas’ ceiling to championship contender status.

First, if Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu can be as useful for the Jayhawks as he was for the feisty Bulldogs last year, he can provide a real scoring pop off the bench. I’m skeptical that a player his size can have a major impact for a power conference program, though.

Finally, as Christian Braun begins his junior year, he has a chance to be the player who makes a leap and sparks something for Kansas. He grew into a much bigger role as a sophomore, taking more than twice as many field goal attempts than he did as a freshman.

His efficiency took a dip, especially beyond the arc.

If his game has developed to the point where he is as much a creator as a spot-up shooter, the Jayhawks' offense will be much more difficult to defend. Playing next to Martin should ease that process for Braun.

If everything comes together, Kansas could be a Final Four and national title contender.

Michigan State Spartans

Last year proved to be one of the most challenging for Izzo in recent years. Sparty dropped eight of 10 games over a six-week period and snuck into the tournament as a participant in the First Four.

Michigan State sprouted a 14-point lead in that game, before crumbling in the second half and losing to eventual Final Four team UCLA. Had it been the Spartans who won that game and ran through the bracket, hopes would be much higher in East Lansing.

Instead, there are a lot of questions for a team without a proven star.

Disappointing homegrown product Rocket Watts is gone via transfer and leaves behind a roster of players that each have a wide variance of outcomes. Any of Joey Hauser, Gabe Brown or Malik Hall could make a leap and become a real difference-maker for Izzo, yet each is just as likely to struggle this season.

Two newcomers will dictate Michigan State’s positioning in a brutally tough Big Ten.

Tyson Walker transfers in from Northeastern. He was one of the best scorers on the East Coast, dropping 18.8 points per game on top of 4.8 assists. He’ll see a far lower usage rate and much tougher defenders in the Big Ten.

Freshman Max Christie is the real headliner. The Illinois native was the top-ranked shooting guard, per 247Sports. The five-star talent will be expected to be a major contributor right away, likely as one of the top scoring options for the Spartans.

His ability to translate to the college game right away is the biggest swing indicator for Tuesday night’s game.

Kansas vs. Michigan State Betting Pick

Kansas is a class above Michigan State. The Jayhawks have a better roster. There’s a reason Kansas is favored here. Yet at this point in the season, with both teams riddled with unknowns, I can’t advise laying points on a favorite.

That's particularly true with Kansas missing starting forward Jalen Wilson, who will miss the game due to suspension following a DUI arrest.

In fact, as the Champions Classic has grown into the premier kick-off event of the college basketball season, we’ve seen that the oddsmakers aren’t in tune with the four invited teams each year.

In the last six years the event was played, there have been 11 teams favored (with one game listed as a pick ‘em). Those 11 favorites have covered just three times, with six of those favorites losing outright.

On opening night, with both teams settling into a new roster, ride this trend by taking Sparty and the points. If the Michigan State moneyline creeps up any closer to +200, that could make for a valuable bet as well.

Pick: Michigan State +4

Belmont vs. Ohio

Tuesday, Nov. 9
7 p.m. ET
Belmont -3.5

By Keg.

It's been a long 217 days without college basketball, but the long wait ends on Tuesday.

While some people are excited to see Duke vs. Kentucky, a matchup of college basketball blue bloods to kick off the season, another one of the 184 games to be played on Tuesday has my attention.

The Belmont Bruins will head to Athens to take on the Ohio Bobcats in a matchup of two of the most experienced teams in the nation.

Both return nearly their entire teams from last year and are expected to be contenders to win their respective conferences, but between the two of them, who can get the year started with a win?

Belmont Bruins

All five starters return from a 26-4 team that started even stronger at 24-1 before an injury to Nick Muszynski contributed to a pair of OVC losses at Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State in late February.

Then, after advancing to the league tournament title game, Belmont was beaten again by Morehead, denied an NCAA Tournament bid, and wasn't invited to a reduced-field NIT.

Last year's disappointment came after the 2020 NCAA Tournament that wasn't played because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bruins had earned their ticket in 2020 by beating fellow league power Murray State in the OVC Tournament finals.

The Bruins will once again have a chance to become an NCAA Tournament troublemaker because of their experience and one of the best players in college basketball in Grayson Murphy (10.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.3 SPG, 58.9% FG, 35.7% 3PT, 74.2% FT).

He's the only active player in the sport who's accumulated at least 900 points, 550 rebounds, 550 assists, and 150 steals in his career. Last season, he led the OVC in seven statistics and ranked among the NCAA leaders in 12, including steals and assists, while also becoming the first player in school history to record a triple-double (13 points, 12 boards, 10 assists against Morehead State).

Oh, and one more thing — he was the OVC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-OVC last season. This year, he will be on pace to become the league's all-time leader in assists and steals.

Muszynski (15.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.6 BPG, 58.6% 3PT, 73.4% FT) will also be back from injury and carries a big chip on his shoulder. Like Murphy, he was a 2020-21 first-team All-OVC selection.

Joining the two stars back this year will be another important player in his own right in Luke Smith (12.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 2.0 SPG, 45.3% FG, 39.4% 3PT, 81.8% FT), who made an impactful transition from Division-III University of the South to Belmont. He led the OVC in 3-point percentage and made 3-pointers while averaging nearly three assists and finishing eighth in Division-I with 61 steals.

Few teams in the country are as experienced as Belmont; it ranks 15th overall in returning minutes. And even fewer have more motivation to win their way to the NCAA Tournament after two consecutive years of sitting out.

Ohio Bobcats

The Bobcats enter the season aiming for their first back-to-back tournament bids since 1964-65. Ohio figures to be right with Buffalo as preseason favorites in the MAC.

It welcomes back everyone who played in the NCAA Tournament game Virginia except Jason Preston, who became the school's first NBA Draft pick since Brandon Hunter in 2003.

The Cats also return 80% of their minutes from a season ago, but figuring out how to operate without Preston may take some time to figure out.

Preston's position as starting guard will likely go to returning freshman Mark Sears (8.5 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 19.5 MPG, 47.1% FG, 28.6% 3PT, 85.1% FT), who earned a spot on the All-MAC Freshman Team last year while serving as the Bobcats' sixth man.

Sears had shown the ability to perform in the past when Preston had to miss five games because of injury.  During those games, he averaged 14.2 points, 7.6 assists, and 4.8 rebounds in 33.0 minutes per game.

Outside of Sears the lineup will look similar to last year. Fifth-year junior Ben Vander Plas (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 33.8 MPG, 43.2% FG, 34.7% 3PT, 76.4% FT) and fifth-year center Dwight Wilson III (14.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 27.3 MPG, 65.5% FG, 67.1% FT) will handle the frontcourt.

Then, third-year sophomores Ben Roderick (12.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 26.4 MPG, 47.5% FG, 39.6% 3PT, 66.7% FT) and Lunden McDay (10.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 47.5% FG, 33.7% 3PT, 79.7% FT) will man the wings.

The Bobcats will be one of the best teams in the MAC, and I believe they will excel in conference play. But it may take them time to gel without Preston early in the season.

Belmont vs. Ohio Betting Pick

Because Ohio may take time to come together, I bet Belmont at the opening line of -3.5 and would bet it up to -4.5.

The Bruins have a chip on their shoulder from being, in my opinion, robbed of tournament opportunities the last two years. Returning all five starters, this Bruins lineup should move seamlessly into this season and start the year off right with a win.

Pick: Belmont -3.5 (Play to -4.5)

Navy vs. Virginia

Tuesday, Nov. 9
9 p.m. ET
ACC Network
Under 125

By D.J. James

The beginning of the 2021-22 college basketball season provides plenty of promise for title contenders.

Teams will actually be able to play in front of fans this season, which could provide a home-court advantage component that was sorely lacking in the 2020-21 campaign.

The Virginia Cavaliers look to potentially expand upon a lackluster end to last season, where the Ohio Bobcats upset them in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament.

Their opponents, the Navy Midshipmen, are looking to build off of a 2020-2021 shortened season that saw them finish at 15-3.

Both of these squads play at an extremely slow pace, so will that continue as it has in the past?

Navy Midshipmen

Navy is a unique team. With all walk-ons, the Midshipmen are a bit tougher to handicap at the start of the season because of the lack of knowledge amongst newcomers.

That said, they return a lineup of exclusively upperclassmen that had an impressive run in 2020-21, even with a lack of a robust schedule.

However, they lose their most aggressive offensive weapon in Cam Davis, who averaged over 16 points in both his junior and senior seasons.

John Carter Jr., Richard Njoku or Greg Summers — or a combination of the three — will fill his shoes as the season wears on. Then again, Davis shot over 35% from 3-point range last year, while Summers and Njoku marked under 10%.

Carter shot 32.6%, but even this is nothing to write home about. The issue beyond the arc likely persists and this could contribute to issues down the stretch if trailing the Cavaliers in this matchup.

Navy also does typically run a deep bench. Last season, nine guys played at least 16 minutes per game, so expect more of the same this year.

Although the Midshipmen are not very flashy, they crash the glass better than much of the NCAA. They were 28th in offensive rebounding percentage last season.

This explains their pace.

This is where the angle comes into play. Navy ranked 347th out of 358 in average possession length offensively (19.9 seconds per possession). It held its opponents to the same at 18.3 seconds per possession, which ranked 347th, as well.

The Midshipmen's defense is not necessarily the strongest but they tend to dictate the pace of play. Expect more of the same from the Midshipmen vs. a like-minded team in Virginia.

Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia is notoriously one of the slowest teams in college basketball from year-to-year.

That will not change in 2021-2022, even with the additions of Armaan Franklin from Indiana and Jayden Gardner from East Carolina.

Franklin fits the prototype of a UVA ballplayer. He averaged 1.2 steals per game last season.

Gardner plays above his height. The 6-foot-6 forward was able to bash with the bigs of the AAC, so fans will see how he transitions to ACC ball. He averaged 18.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. Coming from a team that ranked 62nd — as opposed to 353rd — in tempo could be a rude, early awakening, though.

Head coach Tony Bennett needed to fill the holes left by Sam Hauser and Jay Huff in the post. They were UVA’s two leading scorers last season.

With the slow pace, Bennett likes to play through his big men, so Gardner could see the lion's share of touches in this matchup with Navy.

Losing Trey Murphy III and Tomas Woldetensae did not help, either, as those four players were by far Virginia’s best long-range shooters. Four-star recruit, Taine Murray could be the next best option, but he has yet to prove his worth beyond the arc at the NCAA level.

Like Navy, Bennett will need to find where UVA's source of outside shooting will reside. In turn, this could slow down the Cavs’ pace of play even further.

Virginia also dictated the pace of each game it played in, and if it did not, it tended to struggle (i.e. in Louisville last season where it lost, 80-73).

Yes, the Cavs have a vast amount of turnover on this roster, but Gardner and Franklin should adjust quickly.

Last season, UVA ranked 353rd in offensive time of possession at 20.8 seconds per possession and 351st in defensive time of possession at 18.6 seconds.

Bennett’s system is standard. Expect more of the same in this game.

Navy vs. Virginia Betting Pick

Both of these teams play at a slow pace. Since both teams tend to slow the game down, there is no other angle but the under.

They both lost at least one significant source of outside shooting, and they will need to solve the issue as the season goes along. Do not expect that to happen in the first game.

Sure, Navy’s defense is not foolproof and Virginia is very efficient in its half-court game, but 125 points is still a bit too high.

The line currently sits at 125 (-113) at BetRivers, so play this down to 123 (-110). There are a couple more points available. Get ready for potentially the slowest game on opening night of the 2021-22 college basketball season.

Pick: Under 125 (Play to 123)

Kentucky vs. Duke

Tuesday, Nov. 9
9:30 p.m. ET
Under 148.5

By Doug Ziefel

Finally, college basketball is back in New York City. The Champions Classic takes center stage at the World's Most Famous Arena. As usual, the event will feature four of the game's most prominent coaching figures, though, this year's event holds extra importance.

Mike Krzyzewski is entering his final season as the coach of the Blue Devils. He has become one of the faces of not just college basketball, but of the entirety of basketball.

The accolades speak for themselves. Coach K is the winningest coach of all time. He's won five national championships and 15 ACC Tournament titles.

The legacy that he has created will leave him in the upper echelon of basketball coaches. Coach K may not be finished quite yet, though, as his Blue Devils enter the season with the highest of aspirations.

While the spotlight will be on Coach K and the Blue Devils, John Calipari and his squad on the other side cannot be overlooked. Calipari — the king of one-and-done — once again rebuilt his roster, but this time it centers around transfers, not recruits.

Duke enters this matchup holding slight edges in both rankings and prior history. The Blue Devils defeated the Wildcats in the last meeting in the Champions Classic to take a 2-1 series advantage in the event.

It may not hold much weight because the rosters are drastically different, but you can be sure that coach Calipari remembers the outcome.

Will the Wildcats put a damper on the start of Coach K's farewell tour?

Kentucky Wildcats

2020 was a disaster for the blue-blood Wildcats. They had plenty of talent, were a top-10 team preseason and even sent four players to the NBA. However, they finished 9-16.

With his talented freshmen leaving once again, Calipari looked for an answer as to how to turn the program around. He then discovered the transfer portal.

This Kentucky team is going to be very different than what we usually see. Not one projected starter is a true freshman.

In fact, its new leader is a graduate transfer, Kellan Grady. Grady gives the Wildcats an instant dose of offense, as over his four seasons at Davidson, he accumulated over 2,000 points.

Grady was joined by fellow transfer guards Sahvir Wheeler and CJ Fredrick. Wheeler may be lacking in stature (listed at 5-foot-9), but his game certainly makes up for it.

The Georgia transfer led the team in both scoring and steals last season. He brings a high motor and toughness to a Kentucky team that will surely endure him to both Calipari and the fans.

Fredrick is an Iowa transfer who should be a sharpshooter off the bench, as he shot over 46% from deep as a Hawkeye.

The three transfers just helped create an elite class, as they joined a midseason transfer from last season in Oscar Tshiebwe.

The big man from West Virginia is now eligible and is looking to give the Wildcats a dominant presence on the inside. Tshiebwe is a tenacious rebounder, so much so that he led the country in offensive rebounding percentage as a freshman.

While the Wildcats may be built on experience this year, that did not stop Coach Cal from bringing in two top recruits.

Guard TyTy Washington and forward Daimion Collins were the 14th- and 15th-best recruits in the country, respectively, and will give Kentucky massive potential off the bench early in the season.

Duke Blue Devils

It was a disappointing year for the Blue Devils in 2020. They struggled out of the gate and frustration mounted amongst the club. The team looked to reach a boiling point when star freshman Jalen Johnson left the program to ultimately turn pro.

Duke showed signs of life when it mattered as it was victorious in the first two rounds of the ACC Tournament. However, its season came to an end when the team was forced to withdraw after a positive COVID-19 test.

Coach K and his successor Jon Scheyer enter the 2021 season with the fifth-ranked recruiting class that includes three five-star recruits.

The first of those recruits is Paolo Banchero. Banchero is a 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward with the ability to do it all. The former state of Washington Gatorade Player of the Year is a tremendous athlete who has shown the ability to shoot from the mid-range as well as take defenders to the rack off the dribble.

Coaches are raving about Banchero as his willingness to pass the ball makes him a nightmare for opposing teams. He has Player of the Year potential and could be the next stud to lead the Blue Devils deep in the Big Dance.

Banchero is joined by two more top-25 recruits in AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels.

Keels is the projected 2-guard for the Blue Devils this season. He is well built and can score from anywhere on the court. Keels is also thought of as a prime-time player, meaning that his game only improves as the moment gets bigger.

Griffin is a natural wing like Banchero but has not played much basketball in the last year due to his high school's COVID-19 protocols. He possesses massive upside off the bench and could be a real factor once he gets going.

Finally, the veteran on the team is sophomore forward Wendell Moore. Moore's game matured throughout his freshman season and his potential to be a factor in both scoring and on the boards is key to the team's success.

What may be even more critical is his leadership as the Blue Devils' other four starters will be freshmen.

Kentucky vs. Duke Betting Pick

This opening game is a massive stage for all the young players on each side.

Add in the influx of new parts for Kentucky and the inexperience of the Blue Devils, and there could be some extended scoring droughts, especially early.

I'm going to take the under. I'd say wait until right before tip, as the total should keep rising and we can get the best of the number.

Pick: Under 148.5

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