Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 10:00 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
Stony Brook +18 over St. John’s
7:00 PM EST. No one in college basketball made a bigger splash this offseason than the St. John’s Red Storm. That’s because the Johnnies went out and hired the best college basketball coach of a generation. Six years after being exiled from high-major college hoops following a series of embarrassing scandals while the head coach of Louisville, Rick Pitino makes his triumphant return to the Big East, the league that kicked off his career back in the mid-1980s.
Rick Pitino wins everywhere he goes. He’s won 10 regular-season titles, including the Big East twice. He’s won 14 conference tournament titles, including the Big East three times. He’s been to seven Final Fours. He’s won a pair of national titles. Now Pitino is back home, with a chance to put his stamp on a program that has been crying out for a winner since Lou Carnesecca hung up his sweaters. Carnesecca’s final season (1991-92) was the last time the Johnnies won the Big East regular-season title. They haven’t won the Big East tournament since 2000. They haven’t made a Sweet 16 since 1999. Their last Final Four came in 1985. They’ve been to just three NCAA Tournaments in the last two decades. The answer is when, not if, the 70-year-old Pitino changes that legacy.
That’s the setup here. Make no mistake that Rick Pitino would sell his mother for a cigar but also make no mistake that the Johnnies are way overpriced to start the year because of this cockroach.
St. John's brought in an entirely new roster. It's a talented roster, one filled with a slew of dazzling scorers who can take over in any contest but truth be told, we don’t really know anything about this group. Everyone can see the names on the roster and they should all agree that, on paper, putting a bunch of really good mid-major transfers with a monster of a 5-man, a Hall of Fame coach and a couple of talented freshmen seems like a winning recipe.
However, that’s not always the way that it works. Up-transfers are busts more often than they end up being stars. The high-major additions have never, with the exception of Nahiem Alleyne, played a major role on a great team. Even Alleyne was relegated to bench duty for UConn last season. And as good as Soriano’s numbers were, it is unclear how much of that was because he was a great player versus a result of playing in an up-tempo system on a team that didn’t have another option in the paint.
Stony Brook brought in one of the nation’s most underrated transfer classes in advance of its 2022-23 season. Dean Noll, Sabry Philip and Aaron Clarke, most notably, were arriving to pair with returner Frankie Policelli for what could have been a deadly four-pronged attack. That didn’t happen.
Noll tore his ACL in September and missed the entire season. Philip tore his Achilles tendon during training camp, and he also missed the entire year. Clarke gave it a go early but suffered the same fate; a back injury limited him to only three games played. Promising freshman Jared Frey suffered a turf toe injury in his first appearance, and missed the rest of the year. “It was the most challenging year I’ve had to deal with from the standpoint of fielding a team,” head coach Geno Ford expressed. “We literally had eight guys in uniform on many occasions. We didn’t play 5-on-5 in a live practice without assistant coaches until Jan. 21.”
Stony Brook starts the year healthy and could take a big leap. So, while St, John’s stock is high to start the year because of a Rick Pitino, Stony Brook’s stock is low after they stumbled to just an 11-22 record (6-12 CAA) amidst injury woes from start to finish. The Seawolves won just one game over a KenPom top-300 opponent, and never won more than two games in a row. In some ways, though, the challenges set up a deeper and more experienced group for 2023-24.
Stony Brook’s 2022-23 season never got off the runway. Injuries, especially in the backcourt, derailed the campaign before even the opening tip. Geno Ford now returns those hobbled guards in Aaron Clarke, Dean Noll, Sabry Philip and Jared Frey alongside a promising sophomore to form a potentially dangerous backcourt. Losing Frankie Policelli is a big blow, but Ford hopes to offset his defensive rebounding and shooting with more second-chance opportunities. This is a team that could be easily slept on this year given its poor record last year. But remember, the Seawolves finished higher than any of the other first-year CAA programs last season despite playing shorthanded from the onset. Stony Brook should take a noticeable step forward. No question they’re taking back more points than they should be and figure to come in under the number.
Stony Brook +18 -108 (Risking 2.16 units - To Win: 2.00)