Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 10:00 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
Charles Koch Arena, Wichita, KS
Western Kentucky +7½ over Wichita St
7:30 PM EST. Both these teams opened with a win but WKU beat a Division II team while Wichita beat Lipscomb, a team that is likely going to contend in the Atlantic Sun Conference. As a -9½-point choice, Wichita beat Lipscomb by 17. If Wichita was -9½, they can’t be similarly priced against a strong team like Western Kentucky but here we are. That provides us with an opportunity to take back some pretty sweet points with an underdog that can win this one outright.
Example #1000 of why coaching is a tough gig: the Western Kentucky administration opted to move on from Rick Stansbury after his first under .500 C-USA record in his seven-year tenure. That was after a five-year run in which the Hilltoppers went 49-26 in league play. Translation: the standards are high at WKU. Enter Steve Lutz, a rising coaching star who swiftly built Texas A&M-Corpus Christi into a winner. He also brings exactly what WKU lacked during the prior regime: postseason success. Under Stansbury, WKU never made the NCAA Tournament. Conversely, Lutz and his Islanders went dancing in both of his seasons in the Lone Star State. WKU has gone dancing 23 times in its storied history, and Lutz is expected to get the Hilltoppers, well, back atop that hill.
Roster-wise, Lutz largely had to start from scratch. Only four players return, meaning the coach spent much of the offseason securing new talent. He succeeded, though, to the point that WKU could immediately contend for C-USA supremacy. The Hilltoppers’ nine new scholarship players will earn plenty of press clippings, but two returners hold the skeleton key capable of unlocking WKU’s lofty ceiling. This is a very under the radar group taking back inflated points here.
Meanwhile, the clock is always ticking in college basketball, especially at a program of Wichita State’s standing. Taking charge under difficult circumstances three years ago, Isaac Brown quickly impressed, winning the American regular-season title and shedding the dreaded interim tag.
He could not back up that success, though, going just 32-28 (15-18 in league play) over the following two years. The administration acted swiftly, opting to move on and bring in Paul Mills from Oral Roberts. Mills constructed a powerhouse in the Summit, racking up a 40-11 conference tally the past three years and guiding a Cinderella run to the Sweet 16 in 2021. The new boss is eager to build something similar in Wichita, citing the fervent fans — the Shockers set a TBT attendance record in July (July basketball!) — and the program’s history as key reasons he chose to take the gig. Mills hit the portal hard to speed up that process, and the newcomers could pay immediate dividends.
Mills’ arrival brings a renewed sense of optimism to the rabid Shockers fanbase. His sustained success at Oral Roberts indicates a likelihood he can cultivate something similar with Wichita State’s fertile resources. The top of the American looks likely to feature former NCAA Tournament opponents FAU and Memphis but the other typical contenders must replace major pieces, opening the door for the Shockers to climb back towards the upper echelon. However, plenty of ifs exist in that scenario: if Colby Rogers (transfer from Sienna) can deliver on his practice promise; if Kenny Pohto’s shooting resurfaces; if Harlond Beverly and Bijan Cortes unite as a two-headed ball pressure monster; if Isaac Abidde hits his potential. The variance for Wichita is shockingly high and there is no scenario in which they should be this big a favorite over an equal like WKU.
Western Kentucky +7½ -110 (Risking 2.20 units - To Win: 2.00)