Fade & Shade Picks, Predictions, Odds

Conference tournaments are looming and as in every season some teams are ramping up (or ramping down, as results would have it into March. 

Thus a brief "Fade & Shade" for the weekend as we identify a handful of teams that look to be streaking one way or the other... 

Also, don't forget to check out my latest 2023 NCAA Tournament Bracketology Predictions for the upcoming event.

Teams to Shade

We're backing (shading) four schools on Saturday, which are listed below:

Jerry Stackhouse and Vandy have been making noise lately in the SEC. (Getty)

Indiana State Sycamores

Saturday vs. Illinois State (2:00 p.m. ET)

As undetected by radar as that surveillance balloon from China that floated into US airspace a couple of weeks ago, Indiana State continues to quietly surge in one of its best runs since Larry Bird steered the Sycamores to the top of the polls 44 years ago (my goodness, can it really be that long?). It’s not just six wins and seven covers on the spin for ISU, it’s the manner in which they’re doing it, mimicking Sonny Liston vs Flord Patterson the past couple of weeks , witha win margin of better than 25 ppg the last four wins after Wednesday’s romp past UIC in Chicago.  Just in time for fast-approaching Arch Madness in St Louis, too, where the Sycs look like a team no one is going to want to face, as HC John Schertz calls upon four double-digit scorers led by smooth-as-silk All-Name DePaul transfer G Courvoiser McCauley (16.7 ppg).

La Salle Explorers

Saturday at George Mason (4:00 p.m. ET)

Here should be something to cheer them up in Philadelphia and get those WIP listeners to quit whining about the Eagles getting cheated (or so they continue to say) in the Super Bowl!  How about the unexpected resurgence of LaSalle and the storyline involving 74-year old HC Fran Dunphy, an alum who was once part of some great Tom Gola-coached teams in the late 60s who has carved a Springfield Hall of Fame coaching career elsewhere in the Big Five (Penn & Temple) before returning for one more shot to prop up his old school, whose job opening last spring scared off most applicants. 

Not quite like the Ken Durrett-Fatty Taylor teams, but Dunphy indeed has the Explorers on the move with five straight wins and six straight covers.  Figuring out proper combinations and rotations in the first half of the season, the subtle genius of Dunphy is on display again after he decided in mid-January to mix things up a bit and bring second-leading scorer and former ‘Ville transfer Josh Nickelberry off of the bench, where he still gets starter’s minutes but has emerged as a super sixth-man and immediate spark to the offense; the recent uptick has roughly coincided with that move, with Nickelberry scoring 17 ppg off the bench across the five covers into Wednesday night’s win over Richmond, when Dunphy would instead lean on the frontline pairing of the Drame twins Hassan and Foussenyi, St Peter’s transfers who each scored 16 in the comeback win over the Spiders.  

Fordham Rams

Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth (2:30 p.m. ET)

We were onto the Rams early in the season when they broke quickly from the gate, but admit to having overlooked Vin Scully’s alma mater at the start of A-10 play when Fordham would briefly slump.  But the Rams have recovered in a Bronx hoops revival for the first time since the Tom Penders era of NIT qualifiers 40 years ago, or Digger Phelps’ memorable Big Dance qualifiers in 1971 featuring the high-scoring Charlie Yelverton.  All a credit this time to first-year HC Keith Urgo, who slid down a char from his assistant’s seat when Kyle Neptune completed his one-year apprenticeship last term and was called back to Villanova after Jay Wright’s retirement.  Urgo made one important stab into the portal by luring ex-Georgia Tech F Khalid Moore, scoring at a 15.2 ppg and forming a nice 1-2 partnership with holdover G and former Youngstown State transfer Darius Quisenberry (17 ppg).  The Rams are hitting the stretch drive at Aqueduct in fine form, having won and covered three straight and eight of nine, and can look forward to a bit of hometown edge when the A-10 Tourney lands in Brooklyn in a few weeks.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Saturday vs. Auburn (8:30 p.m. ET)

Given up for dead a few weeks ago after a humiliating 101-44 blowout loss at Bama, the Dores have hardly quit, and continue to respond to Jerry Stackhouse’s Ray Rhodes-like, tough-love approach.  It has been a plus to get 6-10 C Liam Robbins (15 ppg) back from an ankle injury in late January, and while it didn’t help vs. the Crimson Tide, the Dores have rolled off four wins and covers since with their legit post scoring threat (which a lot of SEC teams don’t have) back in the frame after adjusting to more small-ball in the weeks Robbins was out.

Meanwhile UC Davis senior transfer PG Ezra Manjon looks like he is finally adjusting to the rigors of the SEC, and is now starting to score as well (double digits in wins over Florida and South Carolina), and Vandy has some size on the perimeter with big guards Jordan Wright and Tyrin Lawrence to match up with the length of most SEC opponents.   Vandy also looks to have been able to benefit from a tough non-league slate, and while the NET currently sits around 90, the Dores do have more quality wins than many others on the bubble (including North Carolina), with Ws against Pitt, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida already in the Nashville satchel. 

Teams to Fade

We're also fading (going against) three teams this weekend, two on Saturday and one on Sunday:

California Golden Bears

Cal hasn't been able to hold onto the ball this season. (Getty)

Saturday at UCLA (10:30 p.m. ET)

We hate to seem like we’re kicking the Golden Bears when they’re down, but for the purposes of this exercise we simply have to call ‘em as we see ‘em.   There have been extenuating circumstances; the remnants of Covid can be felt all around the Pac-12, with that dramatic drop in revenues a couple of years ago playing a part in USC and UCLA looking to make up some of that loss by moving into the cash fields of the Big Ten.  But the lockdowns were also felt harder in Berkeley than many locales and can be partly blamed for derailing the football and hoops programs which completely lost momentum across nearly two years, with normal practice facilities and weight rooms closed for extended periods. 

So, blame it on Covid, but that’s where we’re at in the conference and specifically with the Golden Bears, at 3-21 SU and likely in the last stages of the Mark Fox regime, who has grimly hung onto his job these past few months but expected to be humanely terminated at the end of the campaign.  Fox has also had to deal with unwelcome injury issues this season that have also removed top scorer G Devin Askew (15.1 ppg) from the equation.  Getting past 60 points is thus a mighty chore for this offense these days, and we saw what happened on Thursday night against an angry USC team off a couple of potentially damaging losses (Trojans 97-60...and it wasn’t that close).  

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

Saturday vs. North Dakota State (8:00 p.m. ET)

We want to be careful here because we are putting “fade” next to a team that hasn’t lost outright in its conference as we move into later February.  But old Oral is indeed back, as the now-called Golden Eagles (who were known as the Titans when they made a run all of the way to the Elite 8 in 1974) are accelerating thru the Summit the way their school namesake used to hit the donations overdrive long ago in his weekly TV sermons, still unbeaten in the league race as we move past mid-February. 

A familiar name from  two years ago, G Max Abmas, is still bombing away (22.8 ppg) as he was in that breathless 2021 tourney run (and we can only guess that ORU has figured out how to play the NIL game if Abmas is still in tow), though he has some different running mates these days in Tulsa, including former Vandy transfer G Isaac McBride (12.4 ppg) and the Spruce Goose of the Summit, 7-3 Connor Vanover, who showed up from Arkansas this season and continues to fool defenses by often stepping out behind the arc to fire 3-balls in a sight that recalls the days of Manute Bol. Make no mistake, Paul Mills’ guys can score, as their 85.5 ppg (ranks only behind Gonzaga) suggests.  Here is the rub, however; oddsmakers and the wagering public are now onto ORU, and point-spreads are consistently inflating well into the teens.  After Thursday’s narrow escape vs. North Dakota, that’s now three straight spread Ls, not even close laying those sort of bomber prices the last two vs. Western Illinois and the Fighting Hawks.  The Golden Eagles have become a semi-public team again, and the oddsmakers are now putting hefty premiums on ORU prices.  Proceed carefully. 

Ohio State Buckeyes

 Sunday vs. Purdue (1:00 p.m. ET)

It’s been nirvana for Buckeyes haters the past month as Chris Holtmann’s team can’t seem to get out of its own way, the losing streak (SU and vs. spread) now at seven, and twelve of the last thirteen, as things seem to be getting much worse before they get any better.  We thought Sunday’s ugly 62-41 home loss to Tom Izzo’s Michigan State was maybe the nadir this term, as no starter scored in double-digits as OSU shot just 28% (17 of 60) from the floor, until Thursday night at Iowa City, when the Hawkeyes had the lead up to 26 points in the second half before Fran McCaffery called off the dogs. 

Also alarming has been the drop in production touted 6-6 frosh bull-in-china-shop Brice Sensabaugh, who seems to have hit the proverbial freshman wall, who into the Iowa game has been held to just 12 combined points across the previous two outings nd just 8 for 36 from the floor the past three outings, with some Big Ten sources suspecting some friction with Holtmann, who benched his young star for an extended period in last Thursday’s loss to Northwestern and might not be keen on the scuttlebutt that has Sensabugh opting out early and into the NBA Draft, where he’s projected by some to be a mid-first round pick. (In other words, it looks like Sensabaugh is a one-and-done.)  Holtmann kept Sensabaugh in the game after McCaffery cleared his bench on Thursday, so the frosh added a few garbage-time buckets to pad his stats, but for the most part it was another disappointing effort.  Holtmann appears to have no answers at the moment,  with an angered Purdue (off of two straight losses) on deck. 

Freshman Brice Sensabaugh has struggled lately for the Buckeyes. (Getty)