Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 3:30 PM EST odds are subject to change.
UTEP +22½ over Texas
Moody Center - Austin, TX
Streaming: Longhorns Network
9:00 PM EST. The Longhorns come in as the 12th ranked team in the country and perhaps they’ll be as good as advertised. Chris Beard had been the poster boy for the JUCO-ization of college basketball. Whether he was in the Big 12, at Little Rock or coaching in the ABA, he had proven himself capable of flipping an entire roster in one offseason and finding a way to make it all work. Things are a little different heading into his second season at Texas, though. Coming off a year where he got the Longhorns to 22 wins, a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and a top-15 mark in KenPom, he didn’t have to revamp his roster this offseason. Hell, he’s going to head into his sophomore season in Austin with as many returning Big 12 minutes as anyone this side of TCU. Not only does he bring back three starters, but two other key rotation pieces that could step into starting roles are back as well. “Coach [Bobby] Knight used to say ‘comfortable gets your ass beat,’” Beard said. “Growth comes when you’re uncomfortable. I told our returners, first day of postseason meetings, we gotta have better players and coaches. It’s the same people, so we have to improve, whether you’re all-conference or trying to get into the rotation. Make improvements.”
What we know for sure is that ranked teams are usually overvalued in the first week of the season. When you get behind ranked teams early, you pay a premium. The challenge is finding undervalued mid-majors that are going up against superior teams while taking back a plethora of inflated points. UTEP fits.
After racking up 71 wins in three seasons at D1 newbie Abilene Christian — and a huge upset over in-state big brother Texas — the UTEP Miners came calling, and Joe Golding answered. Once he arrived, Golding immediately started to build a program in El Paso akin to his incredible work in Abilene. Nothing comes easy, though. The Miners were crushed by injuries and COVID absences in 2021-22. Not a single player took the court in all 34 games, and several players suffered through extended absences. Somehow, the Miners still won 20 games, an impressive battle through adversity for a short-handed squad.
Even though it’s Year 2 for Golding, it is essentially another restart. Let’s frame it this way: the Miners lose 83.6 percent of their minutes played, 88.9 percent of their scoring, 91.0 percent of their assists and 93.8 percent of their made 3-pointers. That’s one of the reasons why Texas is priced so high here but starting from scratch is not always a negative.
“Sometimes when you take over a new job, that’s the way it goes,” admitted Golding. “But we had the opportunity to bring in 10 guys, I’m excited about the guys we brought in. We think they fit more of the style of how we want to play on both ends of the floor, more of what we did at Abilene Christian.”
It may be difficult to look at this team and pick out a star. But again, after so much reliance on two players last year (Bourn and Bieniemy) that’s just the way Golding likes it. Remember: his Abilene Christian team that beat Texas had eight different guys who scored between 6.0 and 11.9 points per game. Balance and depth are vital in this system. UTEP is one of many squads lurking in a dangerous pack within the heart of Conference USA. The roster’s offseason tumult could depress expectations a fair amount, but Golding has never much cared for worrying about such things. Doubt them at your own risk, particularly in a system that aims to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts — and make no mistake, these are some intriguing parts, not to mention a bunch of inflated points. We’ll take our chances.
UTEP +22½ -110 (Risking 2.20 units - To Win: 2.00)