Many of the early-season and holiday-themed multi-team events (MTEs) in college basketball feature a few good matchups, but often have some cakewalks in the early rounds.
That’s not the case at Mohegan Sun for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, with four competitive teams that all have NCAA tournament aspirations.
Come March, the winner of this event will surely consider it a chip on their at-large resume, with the team that loses twice lamenting November losses that could have had a major impact.
All four games should make for good viewing, with a betting angle to be found in each of them.
We’ll break down the early-season outlook for each of the four teams, then determine where the value is for your wagers this weekend.
When I took to Twitter this fall to make some season-long predictions, I didn’t want to go chalk and suggest that the four best teams would reach the Final Four. Where’s the fun in that? So, I started digging into some second-tier candidates with eyes on a run in the postseason.
The team that jumped out to me: Saint Louis.
I love the make-up of this Billikens roster.
Last year, Gibson Jimerson scored 16 points per game as one of the best shooters in the nation. He’s already showing improvement, posting 19 points per game thanks to 46% shooting on his nine long-range attempts per game.
While Gibson is the top scorer, point guard Yuri Collins is operating the controls for Travis Ford’s offense. Last season, he posted 7.9 assists per game, ranking second in the Atlantic 10 in assist rate. This season, through three games, he’s dishing 12 assists per night!
He’s one of the most creative and efficient guards in the nation. Collins opened the season with a 14-assist, zero-turnover outing in a win over Murray State.
Javonte Perkins returns, as well. With opposing backcourts focused on Collins and defenses spread by Jimerson, Perkins takes full advantage and can score at every level of the court.
This trio of homegrown talent is aided by two power-conference transfers which make the Billikens more athletic and dynamic.
Francis Okoro joined SLU from Oregon before last season and anchors the rebounding efforts, nabbing eight per game last year and 12 per game so far this season.
Javon Pickett joins from Mizzou, where he was a double-digit scorer in the SEC.
Saint Louis has the makings of an NCAA tournament team, but needs to capitalize on chances for quality wins. The Atlantic 10 currently has just one other team in the top 80 of KenPom’s rankings (Dayton, picked to win the conference in the preseason poll).
This weekend, Saint Louis has two critical chances to build its tournament resume.
The Billikens’ first opponent comes from the Big Ten, with Kevin Willard steering Maryland for the first time after his 13 years at Seton Hall.
It was a curious hire in an active coaching carousel. Mark Turgeon was let go, presumably for only making one Sweet 16 in his 10 years in College Park. It seems curious to then hire a coach who has never made the Sweet 16 and has just one NCAA tournament win.
Seton Hall fans took Willard’s departure in stride, happily hiring former Pirate Shaheen Holloway, who won more NCAA tournament games at Saint Peter’s last season than Willard did in over a decade at the Hall.
Willard takes over an uninspiring roster, primarily built upon players returning to a program that hasn’t had a .500 season in conference play over the past two seasons.
Three of the four highest-usage players from last season are gone, leaving role players in need of improvement to replace that production.
The frontcourt of Donta Scott and Julian Reese is talented and experienced, yet it’s one that will be overmatched against the massive size and skill of the best big men in the Big Ten.
Willard has his work cut out for him in year one, with this event acting as the first true measuring stick for this roster.
After playing two good teams this weekend, the Terps will play at Louisville before seeing Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee and UCLA in December.
In the world of NIL and the transfer portal, Miami was front-page news this summer.
Jim Larranaga landed one of the nation’s top transfers, pulling guard Nijel Pack from Kansas State to Coral Gables, with a major assist from Miami booster John Ruiz, whose company signed Pack to an $800,000 (and a car) NIL deal.
Isaiah Wong, who led the Canes to the Elite Eight last season, responded by threatening to transfer himself if he didn’t see similar compensation.
It was the kind of situation that has emerged out of the shadows, striking fear into the NCAA and those who long for the old days.
On the court, here’s what matters: Wong stayed, so he and Pack make up one of the best backcourts in college basketball.
Any Hurricane opponent is going to struggle to contain both Wong and Pack from penetrating and creating offensive opportunities.
The backcourt will carry Miami this season, as the Canes also feature a less than stellar frontcourt that will struggle to contribute in the scoring department and clean the defensive glass.
Last season, the Friars were the most fascinating team in college basketball.
Ed Cooley’s team entered the NCAA tournament 15-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer. There was an internet army ready to denounce Providence at every turn.
Possession-based metrics hated Providence. KenPom’s “Luck” metric had the Friars as the most fortunate team in America. Regression loomed like the grim reaper.
The Friars then calmly entered the NCAA tournament, waxed their first two opponents and played the eventual national champs as well as anyone, in a tight Sweet 16 loss.
A handful of the key contributors from that team are gone, though Cooley took to the transfer portal to re-stock the cupboard.
Bryce Hopkins from Kentucky, Devin Carter from South Carolina, and Clifton Moore from La Salle step right into the rotation.
Most importantly, former Florida and Louisville guard Noah Locke comes to Providence in need of reclamation. Locke was once an NBA prospect, scoring nine points per game as a freshman at Florida. Two schools later, and he could be the key piece to spark the Friars back into the NCAA tournament.
This pool of transfers surrounds Jared Bynum, the heart and soul of last season’s team. If he can assimilate the newcomers around him into the gritty Providence culture, Cooley and the gang should be formidable in Big East play.
Hall of Fame Tip-Off Betting Picks and Analysis
I haven’t seen odds listed to pick the winner of this event, though it’s probably clear from those write-ups which team I like to emerge with two wins this weekend.
Saint Louis is the best team in this field and won’t be under the radar much longer if it beats Maryland and the Miami-Providence winner.
Miami will be a slight favorite against the Friars (and should be), yet that game has the makings of a street fight.
That’s rare to say about a November MTE game, but both Miami and Providence are stocked with guards from New York, Philadelphia and the DMV area, all of whom bring a special intensity to both ends of the floor.
I’ll be awaiting the total in that matchup, looking to nab anything under 140.5.
All four of these teams will enter Mohegan Sun undefeated, each 3-0. Only one will start next week still having not lost.
It’s noteworthy that of the 12 games these teams have won, only Saint Louis can boast a win over a top-100 team (beating Memphis earlier this week).
The Billikens answered their first test, and I like them to ace two more in Connecticut this weekend.