Some mid-major and Pac-12 action gets the nod from us on Thursday as the best betting opportunities in college basketball.

By Max Meyer
January 03, 2019

After a tough Wednesday, Three Man Weave and I are back with our five favorite bets on Thursday's college basketball slate.

Georgia Southern at Texas State

3MW Pick: Georgia Southern +3

At 3MW, the Sun Belt is one of our favorite mid-major conferences, a group of solid programs tucked into the southeastern U.S. The league has an impressive collection of coaches for a mid-major league (shout out to Ron Hunter and his stool!), and the chess matches in conference play make for great television.

That brings us to Georgia Southern taking on Texas State Thursday night in the Sun Belt opener for both squads. Both coaches are sneaky good; Mark Byington has accumulated a 46–30 Sun Belt record through four seasons in the league, while Danny Kaspar has been a head coach in the state of Texas since 1991 and is 549–282 over that time (at Incarnate Word in NAIA, Stephen F. Austin, and Texas St.). Similarly, both teams have injury concerns: Ike Smith (wing who helps let them play small-ball) has missed three straight games for GSU, and Montae Glenn (starting center) exited the Eagles’ most recent tilt after the first possession. On the other side, the Bobcats’ Alex Peacock (stretch big man) missed TSU’s 105–29 nuking of Howard Payne.

Alright, with that all out of the way—why take GSU here? The biggest reason is Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern’s offensive engine and point guard maestro. He’s excellent as both a scorer and distributor in the pick-and-roll, action that Byington relies on heavily, and the Eagles will need all the points they can get against Kaspar’s stout defense. TSU’s halfcourt D currently sits in the 98th percentile nationally in a points per possession basis, but they have shown vulnerability to pick-and-roll ball-handlers, ranking only in the 44th percentile defending those (both stats per Synergy).

The other key weapon for Georgia Southern is its devastating transition attack. A hefty 24.5% of GSU’s possessions are in transition (13th in the entire country), and they score at an excellent 1.162 points per possession clip, per Synergy. On the other side, Texas State’s defense goes from “impenetrable” to “beatable” when opponents are in the open floor; again, Tookie Brown will be key here, as he’s responsible for pushing the tempo. The Eagles will also need to rebound as a collective to start the break (especially without Glenn, their best defensive rebounder); a big game from one of Iowa State transfer Simeon Carter or JUCO transfer Isaiah Crawley (or both) would be a major boost.

On the other end, Peacock’s potential absence would hurt Texas State’s surgical, patient offense. Outside of star wing Nijal Pearson, he’s the only player on the team shooting over 30% from deep in Division I games on any meaningful volume, which should allow GSU’s changing defenses to focus even more on Pearson.

There’s very little edge to find in the spot or “motivation” aspects—both teams have performed well in the nonconference (8–5 for GSU, 11–2 for TSU, neither has any “bad” losses to speak of) and they’re both obviously 0–0 in league play. Statesboro to San Marcos isn’t the most convenient of travel, though, so if that concerns you, perhaps you’ll want to temper your bet here.

BELLER: Bracket Watch: Who Begins 2019 on the Top Line?

Monmouth at Iona

3MW Pick: Monmouth +5

Oh, how the mighty MAAC has fallen…

There was no better drama than the 2016 MAAC conference race, when tensions between the league’s top two powers, Iona and Monmouth, rose to levels that would make even the Montagues and Capulets uncomfortable. Monmouth would ultimately edge Iona by a game in the regular season conference standings, but the Gaels got the last laugh when they avenged their second-place league finish with a three-point victory over the Hawks in the MAAC championship.

What used to be appointment television every Friday for all college hoop diehards is now just a barren wasteland for degenerate gamblers looking to make some extra spending cash for the weekend. As of this moment, Niagara is the MAAC’s only team with a record above .500, a petty accomplishment given the Purple Eagles have played one of the 20 worst non-conference schedules in the country (per kenpom.com). With seemingly every team in a rut, the program prominence of both Iona and Monmouth has attracted the bulk of the blame for the league’s demise this season.

The Gaels and Hawks combined record sums up to a barbaric 3–21, which could look even worse had Monmouth not stunned Penn in overtime on New Years Eve. There’s a slew of reasons why both squads have struggled this year, but the common denominator has been the loss of two critical pieces. While Monmouth has sorely missed the playmaking ability of Micah Seaborn, Iona has been searching for a plug to fill the void inside left by Roland Griffin—yup, he’s that guy who got into a locker room brawl with an assistant coach earlier this season, an act that raises additional questions about the Gaels’ locker room chemistry, but we’ll save such speculation for now.

Tim Cluess has stayed true to his preferred brand of basketball as the Gaels are playing at their typical NASCAR pace, looking to run off any steal or defensive rebound. In contrast, King Rice had an epiphany that without a dynamic player like Micah Seaborn to spearhead his free-flowing, fast-paced offense, the Hawks needed a stylistic makeover. Rice has hit the brakes on offense and has refocused attention on half-court execution and set plays. This move has worked miracles for lead guard Ray Salnave over the past month, who is now playing his best basketball of the season and got some big buckets in the Hawks’ 76–74 overtime stunner against Penn. His renewed confidence, along with the return of Deion Hammond to the lineup last game, bodes well for the Hawks in this matchup where steady guard play against Iona’s pressure will be critical.

The question is whether can Monmouth dictate the tempo Thursday, an especially tall task on the road. It was able to do so against Yale two weeks ago, holding the fast-paced Bulldogs to just 68 possessions and 66 points in a respectable eight-point loss to one of the Ivy’s top contenders. Slowing down Iona will expose the Gaels’ severe lack of interior depth, which could allow big Diago Quinn to eat on the low block inside. Quinn is a load in the middle and, like Salnave, has been a major beneficiary of Rice’s decision to take the foot off the gas offensively. The 6’9 250 pound senior dominated the Penn frontline with 19 points and 14 boards, seven of which were on the offensive glass.

Let’s be clear—Iona still has a clear talent advantage over Monmouth and the rest of their MAAC counterparts. And while conference season presents the opportunity to re-write the 2019 season script, there’s minimal evidence to support the narrative that the Gaels will all of a sudden flip the switch tonight (or anytime soon, for that matter). The spread might feel low for a near winless team going on the road to a perennial MAAC power, but both the macro trends and the in-game matchup seem to favor ‘All the King’s Men’ this evening.

Utah at Arizona State

Meyer’s Pick: Under 147

Arizona State is not an efficient team on offense. The Sun Devils are really strong at generating fouls and grabbing offensive rebounds, but their shooting numbers—32.5% from three (236th), 48.1% on two-point shots (233rd) and 68.4% from the line (221st)—leave much to be desired.

Arizona State has been held to under 1.0 PPP in recent games against Nevada and Vanderbilt, two teams that don’t foul often on defense and have the size to neutralize ASU’s length. The Sun Devils also were held to 0.96 PPP in a stunning home loss to Princeton in their last game. Explosive freshman Luguentz Dort has been in a funk, shooting 20% from the floor (9 for 45) over the past four games. Overall, the offense’s spacing hasn’t been ideal because of a lack of shooters this team has, and that’s led to more traffic around the rim on drives. 

Utah has been disappointing on defense to start the season, but the Utes aren’t a foul-happy team and they have the size (17th in CBB in average height) to ensure ASU won’t play volleyball on the glass.

Believe it or not, Arizona State is actually has the worst mark of all Pac-12 teams in non-transition (basically half-court offense) eFG%, meaning Arizona State will struggle on the offensive end if it isn’t able to push the pace. Per hoop-math.com, Utah is tied for the 28th-lowest mark in the country in percentage of total shots allowed in transition, and the Utes are 326th in adjusted tempo.

Utah’s offense has been better than expected to start off the season, but it has struggled against tougher competition. In five games against top-100 opponents, the Utes have scored more than 1.0 PPP once. The Utes lost three of their top four scorers heading into the season, and I don’t think they have enough firepower to overcome ASU’s length on the defensive end. Arizona State is a top-30 defense in FG% at the rim and percentage of shots blocked at the rim, and Utah isn’t the strongest shooting from the perimeter.

Larry Krystkowiak knows that Utah won’t be able to pull off the upset unless the Utes make this game a grinder, and I expect a lot of ugly offense from both teams in a low-possession game without many transition opportunities. 

MEYER: Why Has Pac-12 Basketball Been So Awful This Year?

California at USC

Meyer’s Picks: Cal +10.5 and +6.5 first half

Cal is the worst team in the Pac-12 by a good amount (that’s really saying something), but I don’t think USC should be favored by double digits over anyone. Five of its six losses have come against teams ranked in the top 70 on kenpom, but the Trojans have had trouble with teams like Robert Morris, Cal State Bakersfield, Long Beach State and UC Davis for the majority of games, not to mention a brutal double-OT loss to No. 212 Santa Clara. 

On offense, the Trojans don’t have ideal shot selection, as a whopping 32.2% of their total attempts are on two-point jump shots, per hoop-math.com. That is the highest number in the Pac-12, and USC isn’t shooting particularly well on them either at 36.2%. On defense, you often see lackluster effort with opponents getting more open and easier shot attempts than USC on the offensive end. 

Freshman star Kevin Porter Jr. is out again with a thigh bruise, and key sophomore contributor Jordan Usher announced his decision to transfer after sitting out last game against UC Davis while suspended indefinitely for unspecified conduct issues. Now USC’s rotation has shrunk dramatically, as six players grabbed 191 of the possible 200 minutes vs. UC Davis.

Cal was torched by Seattle big man Myles Carter last game as he put up 26 points and 13 rebounds in an 82–73 win over the Golden Bears. Cal doesn’t have much of an interior presence, though freshman seven-footer Connor Vanover is expected to play after missing the past three games with a concussion. USC’s double-double machine Nick Rakocevic should be able to feast, but the Trojans don’t have another big man who can dominate in the paint like Rakocevic, with 6’10” Bennie Boatwright’s manning his role as a stretch four. But with Vanover likely back and freshman forward Andre Kelly (who’s shooting 66.2% from the floor) bursting onto the scene, I actually think Cal can hold its own down low in this one.

Cal’s guard play has been much improved this season, led by Boise State transfer Paris Austin, who is averaging 14.2 points and 5.1 assists per game as the team’s floor general. The Golden Bears are tops in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting (38.2%) and FT percentage (76.6%). They aren’t sloppy on the offensive end either, ranking 37th in the country in turnover percentage. Cal’s defense is atrocious, however, I’m not sure USC will take full advantage because of its poor shot selection. 

USC’s spring semester doesn’t start until Monday, so an already tepid Galen Center atmosphere will be even more subdued. This is already a lost season for the Trojans, and I think you’ll see better energy levels from Cal as it hopes to start off Pac-12 play on the right foot. 

Overall record: 9-7

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