Trying to figure out which college basketball games to put your money on? Here are our favorite bets from Monday's slate.
It’s been an exciting start to college basketball, and SI Gambling is proud to roll back out its best college basketball picks… but with a twist.
We’ll be having picks from multiple people this time around. First is Max Meyer, SI’s gambling producer who likes to think he is one of the bigger Pac-12 basketball nuts in existence. So expect a heavy dosage of picks coming from games featuring teams that play out west, and good luck staying up for them.
We also have the tremendous Three Man Weave joining us. 3MW—made up of three sharp college basketball minds in Matt Cox, Ky McKeon and Jim Root—is quite possibly the best source of college basketball gambling picks on the Internet. 3MW’s record this season with its spread picks? 83-58-3 (58.9%). Make sure to give 'em a follow as well at @3MW_CBB.
Alright, let’s move on to Monday's picks. Here are our four:
Game: Arizona State at Vanderbilt
Meyer Pick: Vanderbilt +1 and UNDER 156.5 Points
This is Bobby Hurley’s fourth season coaching at Arizona State. Do you know how many times the Sun Devils have won back-to-back road games during his tenure? Try zero. Now just two days after pulling off a 76–74 comeback win at Georgia (that was the Sun Devils' first road game of the season), ASU travels to Vanderbilt to face off against a Commodores team that hasn’t played a game since a 79–51 win over Middle Tennessee on Dec. 5.
Vanderbilt suffered a major blow after losing five-star freshman guard Darius Garland for the season, and the Commodores have gone 2–1 in the full games they’ve played without him. Prior to the Kent State game he suffered the injury in, Garland was averaging 19.7 points and 3.3 assists per game.
While Vanderbilt’s upside on offense takes a massive blow without Garland, the Commodores seem poised to reshape their identity as a defensive team. The freshman struggled on defense and Vanderbilt didn’t have much length on the perimeter with the 6’2” Garland often on the floor with fellow 6’2” guard Saben Lee. Now with a spot opened up after Garland's injury, Vanderbilt can throw out 6’7” Joe Toye, 6’8” Matt Ryan and 6’6” Aaron Nesmith to frustrate opposing wings with their length. The Commodores’ average height of 78.3” ranks 24th in the country, per kenpom.com.
Arizona State’s length is just shy of that, with an average height of 78.1” (32nd). This is a much taller and longer team than last year’s group, and Arizona State relies a lot more on driving and getting buckets in the paint because of it. The strong perimeter shooting from last year is gone, as the trio of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice have all graduated. Now, 23.8% of ASU’s points come from three-point shots (324th in the country). Additionally, after a three-point attempt rate of 41.3% last season (82nd), that number has dropped to 31.2% (323rd).
But with Arizona State attempting to score close to the basket early and often, Vanderbilt seems suited to counter that with its size and length. Opponents have scored on 46.0% of their two-point attempts against Vanderbilt this season (Vandy ranks 59th nationally there), and the Commodores also rank 52nd in block percentage (12.6). This is where fellow five-star prized freshman Simi Shittu and junior Clevon Brown (who has seen a big uptick in minutes recently, as his block percentage of 9.4 is 47th out of all players in the country) will shine.
I’m thinking this game will be more of a grinder than what the Vegas total indicates, with both teams struggling to develop a consistent rhythm on offense battling each other's strong length. In the end, I think this Arizona State team that relies heavily on its starters (26.3% bench minutes, 281st nationally via kenpom.com) will run out of gas in its second road game in three days to a well-rested and well-prepared Vanderbilt.
Game: Ball State at Valparaiso
3MW Pick: Ball State +1
Ball State and Valpo both come into this bout with fresh legs, as neither has hit the hardwood in a little over a week. The Cardinals dropped a tough road contest to Evansville back on Dec. 9 while the Crusaders are coming off a win against the dumpster fire that is George Washington. Despite this being BSU’s fourth straight game on the road, a week off at home should have the Cards well-rested for their three-hour drive up north.
Matchup-wise, this one favors Ball State. James Whitford’s ball-screen heavy offense and focus on pounding the rock inside to his twin engines, Tahjai Teague and Trey Moses, should be problematic for a Valpo team that struggles to keep offenses away from the rim. Sure, Derrik Smits has been excellent inside on both ends of the floor this season, but he’s the only competent paint defender on the squad (with slight apologies to the injury ridden Jaume Sorolla). Look for Teague and Moses to get Smits in foul trouble in this one, and if that happens, it’s game over on the glass for Valpo—the Crusaders are 298th in the country in defensive rebounding rate.
The pace battle will be one to watch in this game. Ball State wants to get out in transition and has thrived in that area this year, scoring 1.225ppp, the 18th-best mark in the country. Valpo looks to slow the tempo and relies on guards Deion Lavender and Bakari Evelyn to create offense in the half-court. Ball State’s perimeter defense is exploitable off the bounce—particularly in the pick-and-roll—but the Cards have been excellent at denying the three-point shot, a primary source of scoring in Matt Lottich’s offense.
Ball State is battle-tested and experienced. While Valpo has yet to have a truly “bad” effort this season, a presumably lackluster home crowd around the holiday season and a lack of interior bodies to slow down the Ball State bigs makes the Cards an attractive gamble at PK.
Game: North Dakota State at Montana
3MW Pick: Montana -10.5
North Dakota State travels to Missoula Monday night coming off two straight wins after a lengthy tour away from home. It was a forgettable month-long road trip, which was marred by a horrendous loss to Incarnate Word in the Bahamas, as well as zero good outings in the four games succeeding the tournament. The return back home to Fargo on Dec. 8 boded well for the struggling Bison as outside shots finally began to fall, a necessity for Dave Richman’s three-point reliant offense—only seven teams in the country have attempted a higher percentage of their shots from long distance this year. The additional rest was certainly a plus as well, but one could argue they were fortunate to face an injury-ridden Eastern Washington team and a Missouri State team still integrating some new transfers in back-to-back tilts at home.
Now, North Dakota State will square off with an experienced and talented Montana team which projects to be on the rise with the return of previously injured Jamar Akoh. The former Cal State Fullerton standout is a monster in the middle, and anchors the Griz’s stingy defense and equalizes any elite size on the opposition. In just his first game back last Saturday, Montana gave a top-100 caliber UC Irvine team all it could handle on the road, and with over a week off to rest, recover and prepare, this spot sets up nicely for Montana to come out with a big effort at home. From a matchup perspective, the Griz have a collection of perimeter ball stoppers who will pick up their coverage well beyond the three-point line with the intent of shutting down open looks from the array of trigger-happy North Dakota State shooters. While the Bison’s most dynamic offensive weapon, Tyson Ward, did return to the lineup last game after missing the prior contest against EWU, the versatile wing has simply been a shell of himself this season—barring an offensive outburst from Ward, highly touted JUCO newcomer Vinnie Shahid or one of the other Bison sharpshooters, the fresh and rejuvenated Griz should cruise at home.