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McDonald's Nuggets: UCLA opening, title prediction, more

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Mick Cronin
Mick Cronin (AP Images)

Dan McDonald is back with his weekend primer, McDonald's Nuggets. This week’s edition touches on the UCLA opening, the likely champion on Monday night and more.

MORE: Last week's Nuggets | College coaches make Final Four predictions | Top 10 one-and-dones in the last decade

HOT TAKE: Follow up from previous 'Hot Take'

Jamie Dixon
Jamie Dixon (AP Images)

In the second edition of this column, I wrote that I would advise coaches to be very careful about leaving a good situation for UCLA. As it turns out, it has been tough for the Bruins to find their guy. The early reports were that John Calipari was the target, although what they were offering was a pay cut to live in a state where the cost of living is significantly higher. That wasn’t going to do the trick there. The latest rumblings suggest Jamie Dixon is the new target, although he has a significant buyout that TCU doesn’t appear to be willing to negotiate. If not Dixon, Mick Cronin has also been rumored. Dixon and Cronin are very good and successful basketball coaches, but UCLA seems to swallow guys like them up and spit them out. I’d tell both of them to think long and hard about jumping into those waters.

PREDICTION: Cavs cut down the nets

Virginia's Mamadi Diakite, center, with teammates Kyle Guy, left, and Jack Salt.
Virginia's Mamadi Diakite, center, with teammates Kyle Guy, left, and Jack Salt. (AP Images)

It’s going to be a great story on Monday night when Virginia coach Tony Bennett gets to cut down the nets the year after being the first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to lose to a No. 16 seed. Of the four teams left, I think Virginia has the best team and the hungriest team, which I think sometimes is equally as important. After scoring just 22 points in the first three games of the tournament, Kyle Guy went for 25 in the win over Purdue. If he’s on track, the Cavaliers are the scariest team remaining.

RECRUITING NOTE: Nate Oats impressive first week at Alabama

The Nate Oats hire seemed to come as a little bit of a surprise to many, as his name hadn’t been thrown around for the Alabama job much, but he’s hit the ground running since taking over in Tusclaloosa. His first order of business was landing a commitment on Saturday from Raymond Hawkins, whom he had previously recruited to Buffalo. John Petty had initially put his name in the transfer portal, but took it out after meeting with Oats. Keeping Kira Lewis, which seems like a possibility, and finding a way to sign in-state five-star forward Trendon Watford need to be the priorities on the recruiting trail for Alabama in the immediate future.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Auburn

It’s hard to have a much better weekend than Auburn did in Kansas City. First, the Tigers throttle a really good North Carolina team. Then Bruce Pearl’s squad takes down John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats in a thriller to send Auburn to its first Final Four. The most impressive part is the Tigers did so on Sunday without Chuma Okeke, who suffered a torn ACL in the win over North Carolina. Auburn will have its hands full against Virginia on Saturday, but it’s hard to count out this team the way it played throughout March.

GAMBLING PICKS 

The Auburn-Virginia game is a tough one to pick here because I think it all comes down to whether Auburn is hitting shots from three-point range or not. I’m going to take Virginia (-5) and the under (131) in the first game of the night because I think Virginia will control the pace and keep Auburn mostly in check from there.

In the second game of the night, I definitely like the under (132). These are two teams playing really good defense lately with coaches who put an emphasis on that end of the court. I’m going to take Texas Tech (+2.5) to win this outright.

Finally, I know I said above that I see Virginia winning, but I do think there could potentially be some value in taking Texas Tech to win the championship (+425).