Trying to figure out which college basketball games to put your money on? Here are our favorite bets from Friday's slate.

By Max Meyer
December 21, 2018

Looking for a way to start your weekend on the right foot? Three Man Weave and I have our four best bets on Friday's college basketball slate.

Providence at Texas

3MW Pick: Providence +8.5

Ed Cooley takes his Friars down to the Lone Star capital for a big bout with Texas, and Mr. Cooley is a big reason we like the road dog in this one. Providence has been without freshman gunner A.J. Reeves for its last two games (and he will continue to be out Friday night), and Cooley knows that with a semi-shorthanded roster, he’ll need to keep Texas out of the open court, where its athletes can thrive. Per Synergy stats, Texas is scoring 1.126 points per possession in transition (76th percentile nationally), but that figure drops off a cliff to 0.852 (33rd percentile) when the Longhorns are forced to operate in the halfcourt. Providence already ranks 63rd in fewest percentage of shots allowed in transition (via hoop-math), and I fully expect Cooley to engage the parking brake throughout this game. And once in the halfcourt, the Friars will force their counterparts to shoot over them, making a deficient shooting team prove that it can knock down shots consistently (something Texas hasn’t been able to do for three years).

Additionally, the absence of Reeves may have been a blessing in disguise for the Friars’ defense. According to Hoop Lens data, Providence is surrendering 1.14ppp when he’s on the court,; when he’s on the bench, that number drops to 0.83ppp, a monstrous gap that raises alarms about Reeves as a defender, both on- and off-ball. He is a tremendous shooter, and Providence will surely miss his perimeter firepower, but the recent play of junior Maliek White has more than made up for Reeves being sidelined. In two starts without the freshman, White is averaging 17 PPG, 5 APG and 3 RPG while shooting a blistering 11/17 from the field, 5/9 from deep (65%, 56%). Sure, those games were against Central Connecticut State and Albany, but both are well-coached teams who don’t give up easy points, and White is playing with a renewed confidence knowing his role is more secure.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Providence’s tightly spaced flex offense may struggle a bit against Texas’s superb defense, but one key route for points is glaring: the offensive glass. Between Nate Watson, Kalif Young, Jimmy Nichols and Alpha Diallo, Providence will always have two persistent offensive rebounders on the court, and Texas has struggled to clean the glass at times. And as long as the other three Friars get back on defense, this shouldn’t spell trouble in the transition game.

Situationally, the travel obviously does not favor the Friars, having just played on Tuesday and now heading to Texas. However, in our eyes, the more important “spot” factor is just how badly Providence needs this game. PC’s non-conference resume is relatively barren, with its best wins coming against Rhode Island (KenPom's No. 93), at Boston College (No. 99) and vs. South Carolina (No. 115), while sustaining two losses to teams currently outside the Top 100. Beating the Longhorns in Austin is close to mandatory for the Friars’ at-large hopes, giving them a surefire Quadrant 1 win and staking a marquee win to the top of their ledger before entering the Big East brawl. You better believe Cooley will have them aware of the gravity of this game, and along with emphasizing defense and tempo to turn the game into a rock fight, we are taking the points with PC.

La Salle vs. Alabama A&M (in Atlantic City, NJ)

3MW Pick: La Salle -13

Not all winless teams are created equal. In this year’s Battle of the Bad, 0-10 La Salle and 0-10 Alabama A&M square off in Atlantic City to prove once and for all which team sucks the least!

Before even getting into the matchup, from a pure geography perspective, this game heavily favors La Salle. The Explorers haven’t played since Dec. 8th and Atlantic City is only 62 miles from the City of Brotherly Love. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are coming off a Wednesday battle with in-state “rival” South Alabama and presumably had to make the 884 mile trip up north just yesterday.

Even more good news for La Salle, star point guard Pookie Powell will make his return after sitting out the past three contests. Powell is by far La Salle’s most important player, leading the Explorers in minutes (33.3 MPG) and scoring (18.3 PPG). At times, Powell is the only source of offense for a squad that has had frequent bouts with scoring droughts, so getting his services back means the world. Perhaps most importantly, Powell takes care of the basketball, which cannot be said about most of his fellow La Salle guards.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Powell is vital to La Salle’s pick-n-roll attack; the Explorers run offense via the pick-n-roll at the 25th highest rate in the country, and Powell is the preferred ball handler in these situations. His ability to come off a ball screen and drive to the cup or kick out to an open teammate spotting up for three is key to La Salle’s success. Alabama A&M has been shredded this year defending the pick-n-roll, ranking in the bottom 5% of the country on a points per possessions basis.

On the other end of the floor, La Salle is going to try to speed up the Bulldogs. The Explorers press at a top 40 rate in the country and opponents’ possessions this season last an average of 15.9 seconds, the 15th fastest rate in the country. La Salle looks to force the other team into bad decisions and run the other way off turnovers. Despite its winless record, La Salle has been successful in turning teams over, thanks in major part to former Marquette guard Traci Carter, who ranks 12th in the nation in steal rate. Alabama A&M is no stranger to the press this season, having faced it 16% of its total possessions. The Bulldogs have been brutal when facing pressure this year, scoring only 0.667ppp versus pressing defenses (14th percentile in the country) and turning the ball over at a 26% clip. The Explorers are going to be able to be able to force turnovers, which should allow this game to get out of hand in the second half given how fast Ashley Howard’s team likes to play.

Alabama A&M has absolutely nothing going for it in this game. La Salle is hungry for a victory, well-rested, and the far better team. I was shocked to see this game open at 11, and it could rise even more in the Explorers’ direction before tip.

BELLER: Picks: Kansas–Arizona State, UNC-Kentucky Highlight Loaded Non-Conference Weekend Slate

Kent State at Oregon State

Meyer Pick: Kent State +10

The Friday before a holiday weekend is always a dead time on campus, so don’t expect a lively atmosphere in Corvallis when Kent State travels to take on Oregon State with a noon (!) PST tip. Wayne Tinkle’s match-up zone can certainly be a tricky adjustment for a team facing the Beavers for the first time. This is the third straight season Kent State has faced Oregon State, though, including last year’s 79-78 upset win on its home court.

Kent State is led by its strong guard play, most notably seniors Jaylin Walker and Jalen Avery. Walker missed the first five games of the season, but has exploded onto the scene since his return, averaging 25.2 PPG on 46.3% shooting, including a sizzling 55.6% from beyond the arc. Avery along with JUCO transfers Antonio Williams and C.J. Williamson are all averaging double-digit points per game. Walker and Avery combined for 42 points in Kent State’s meeting last year, so they’ll be confident going into Corvallis on Friday afternoon. Oregon State had difficulty defending top guards in recent matchups against Saint Louis and Texas A&M (Javon Bess and TJ Starks scored 24 and 18 respectively), so Walker can very much follow suit.

Oregon State has the best triumvirate in the Pac-12 with forward Tres Tinkle and guards Stephen and Ethan Thompson. The problem with the Beavers, however, is their limited depth, even further hampered with the injury of starting big man Gligorije Rakocevic. Seven-foot JUCO transfer Kylor Kelley has been a swatting machine, including blocking nine shots in Oregon State’s last game against Pepperdine, but he’s not the same offensive force down low as Rakocevic. Facing off vs. a team with as much firepower as Kent State, Oregon State simply doesn’t have many options outside of the aforementioned trio that can put it consistently into the hoop.

A big issue for the Beavers has been turnovers, as they’ve turned it over on 19.8% of their offensive possessions (219th in CBB). Oregon State turned it over 19 times in its loss to Kent State last season, and have 56 turnovers over its last three games. On the other side, Kent State is 31st in the country in turnover percentage on offense.

The Golden Flashes are also strong at drawing fouls, ranking 31st in free throw rate. As mentioned before, Oregon State’s lack of depth is arguably its biggest weakness. In fact, the Beavers rank 332nd in the country in bench minutes. If Kent State can get just one of Oregon State’s big three in early foul trouble, the Beavers will have a tricky time keeping up on the offensive end.

Oregon at Baylor

Meyer Pick: UNDER 130 points

This game should be ugly offensively, especially if Bol Bol, who has missed the past two games with a left foot injury, doesn’t play in this one (UPDATE: Bol is out for tonight). The Ducks don’t have a lot of firepower on offense, so having their 21.0 PPG leading scorer sit out here would be a major blow. Oregon has won both games without Bol, but wasn’t really tested by either Boise State and Florida A&M. Now enter Baylor and its 39th-ranked defensive efficiency. Like the Bears did at Arizona last weekend when they held the Wildcats to 49 points, I expect them to play a lot of zone and force Oregon to make perimeter shots.

Both of these teams play at slow paces (Oregon 289th in tempo, Baylor 302nd), have stingy defenses inside and struggle shooting from the outside. Dana Altman’s match-up zone will be a major problem for Baylor to develop a rhythm against, and Kenny Wooten is a human eraser with his shot-blocking prowess. Altman will set up his defense to dare Baylor to take threes. The Bears are 325th in all of CBB in three-point shooting percentage, even with two senior guards in Makai Mason and King McClure.

Expect both defenses to set the tone in Waco, and for points to be at a premium in a low-possession game on Friday night.

Overall Record: 4-4

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