Which two road underdogs and short home favorites are we backing in Tuesday night's college basketball action? 

By Max Meyer
January 08, 2019

There's no more college football, but college basketball is in full swing. Three Man Weave and I are here with our four favorite bets from Tuesday's college basketball slate.

Brown at Canisius

3MW Pick: Canisius -1

Were you a fan of NBA Jam, the classic basketball video game that pitted NBA stars against each other in a stylized version of two-on-two? If your answer is no, then kindly explain to me why you hate fun. And if your answer is yes, then you’re going to love Brown-Canisius! Both of these teams feature high-usage backcourt combinations in Desmond Cambridge/Brandon Anderson (Brown) and Takal Molson/Isaiah Reese (Canisius), and while we likely won’t see any flaming basketballs in this one (we hope?), this could end up being a tremendous perimeter battle between the two prolific duos.

Brown has been playing out of their minds recently (the Stony Brook + at Marist + at San Diego State stretch was wildly impressive), and Mike Martin’s recent lineup shift to bring Anderson off the bench as a microwave scorer has paid dividends, allowing Cambridge to run the show with the starters unopposed. However, Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon has the luxury of two 6’5" options in Molson and Reese to throw at Cambridge, with both offering some length to bother Brown’s offensive engine. If the Griffs can limit him, their chances of winning grow exponentially; in nine Division I wins, he’s averaging 22.1 PPG, compared to just 11.0 PPG in four losses. Anderson and Tamenang Choh offer other scoring options, but the offense largely goes as Cambridge does.

Aside from bothering Cambridge, the Griffs can also take advantage of Brown’s biggest weakness: turning the ball over. Brown ranks 282nd nationally in turnover rate per KenPom, with nearly everyone besides Cambridge being relatively loose with the rock. Meanwhile, Canisius is 51st in the country in forced turnover percentage (also per KenPom), using extended pressure from Molson, Reese, and pesky 5’10" gnat Malik Johnson to make opposing ball-handlers miserable. This has been Anderson’s biggest bugaboo all year, and he may end up with nightmares from his trip to Buffalo.

The Bears’ defense has also been quite solid, especially from three-point range: opponents are shooting just 26.0% from deep so far this season, third-lowest in the entire country. Meanwhile, Canisius themselves are shooting a “cover your eyes” 28.5% from deep, 334th nationally—not very encouraging, right? To the contrary, we think this trend may correct in both directions, expecting both numbers to regress toward more reasonable numbers. Opponent 3P% is often heavily influenced by luck (see this post from Ken Pomeroy all the way back in 2012), and Canisius will take plenty (91st in 3-point attempt rate); we would not be surprised to see the Griffs have an effective night from beyond the arc.

Ultimately, like many of our bets, this one is a bit of a “sell high, buy low.” Brown has been sensational, but we’re not entirely sure that’s sustainable, while Canisius has finally started to resemble the team we picked to finish fourth in the MAAC during the preseason. In other words, Brown’s value may be at its highest, while the Golden Griffins are on the upswing. This one started with Canisius as a 2.5-point home underdog, which we loved, and although we like it less now, we’re still in on the Griffs as a slight favorite.

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Ohio at Bowling Green

3MW Pick: Ohio +4

It’s Tuesday, which can only mean one thing: MACtion. The conference as a whole is quite possibly the best it’s ever been, featuring a top-25 squad in Buffalo and 11 other teams that are solid to really, really good. This game features an Ohio squad that has battled numerous injuries in the early going and a hot Bowling Green squad riding a five-game win streak.

Ohio was picked to finish second in the MAC East behind Buffalo in our preseason MAC standings, led by a talented backcourt combo in Teyvion Kirk and Jordan Dartis. Kirk has played nearly every minute of every game and has put up some impressive counting stats, but he’s been wildly inefficient likely in part due to the absence of Dartis. With no word on a timetable, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Ohio will be without its best shooter for the remainder of the season. Dartis’s absence has contributed to Ohio’s ineptitude on offense and has forced the Bobcats to play exclusively through transition, Kirk pick-n-roll and Jason Carter in the post. Ohio will not be successful trying to force the ball inside against Bowling Green, where Demajeo Wiggins patrols the paint, but the Cats can absolutely exploit the Falcons in transition. Per hoop-math.com, only eight teams in the country give up more transition opportunities than the Falcons, primarily a consequence of Michael Huger’s focus on crashing the offensive glass. Given the Bobcats are the 18th-best defensive rebounding team in the country per KenPom, they should see plenty of chances to push off the glass down the floor.

The Bobcats have been able to win games this season thanks to their defense, a unit that combines pesky perimeter stoppers in Kirk and Antonio Cowart with shot blocker Doug Taylor. The Falcons want to play through Wiggins in the post and sophomore guard Justin Turner via pick-n-roll, two areas where Ohio has competed well this season, and we’ve already talked about the crucial glass battle. Basically, everything Bowling Green wants to do on offense, Ohio should have an answer for. Turner is uber-talented, but Kirk has the length to defend the 6’4” PG where most MAC and other mid-major defenders fall short.

A potential X-factor in this game could be the play of James Gollon, a 6’5” wing and partial starter for the Bobcats last season. Gollon played just six minutes last game against Northern Illinois after riding the pine with an injury all season. His presence is key due to one thing: Bowling Green sucks at defending the three-point line. The Falcons are 327th this season in 3PA rate and 287th in 3P% defense. Gollon is the Cats’ best shooter outside of Dartis, knocking down 39.3% of his 89 attempts in 2017-18.

This game should be a fairly up-and-down affair, as both teams like to run, and Bowling Green comes in with high confidence and playing its best basketball of the season. These two factors don’t bode well for the underdog, but four points is too much to lay against an Ohio squad that many projected to compete near the top of the MAC.

North Carolina at NC State

Meyer’s Pick: NC State -1

Expect lots of points to be scored in Raleigh on Tuesday night, as these two schools play at among the fastest paces in all of college basketball. North Carolina State is one of the most frustrating defenses to go up against, employing a full-court pressure-filled defensive scheme. It’s not a surprise that the Wolfpack are seventh in the country in turnover percentage, forcing one on 24.6% of possessions. North Carolina has been more careful with the ball in its last two games, committing just 11 apiece against Harvard and Pittsburgh. But carelessness with the ball has been an issue at times this season, which is expected with a true freshman at point in Coby White. The Tar Heels are 4–3 when they’ve lost the turnover battle, versus 7–0 when its opposition has more turnovers.

Limiting turnovers will be the biggest key in this game for UNC, since it has the 12th-worst transition defense in the country in terms of eFG% at 63.3 (via hoop-math.com), a stark contrast from its opponents’ 42.6 eFG% (12th best) in non-transition situations. To make matters worse, NC State is one of the best in the country in transition offense, sporting a 68.0 (fifth in CBB) eFG%.

Offensively, NC State is a very well-balanced team. It is eighth in three-point shooting (40.9%) and 12th in shooting from inside the arc (57.8%). The Wolfpack have four players that average double figures, led by upperclassmen guards Torin Dorn and Markell Johnson. Johnson played a major role in NC State’s upset win at Chapel Hill last season, scoring 20 points and dishing out 11 assists. NC State has a deep bench too, as it has eight players that average 6.5 PPG or more. In fact, over the Wolfpack’s past seven games, they’ve had 13 double-digit efforts off the bench.

One big advantage UNC has in this one is size. NC State just has one player taller than 6’5” in its starting five, and just two players in its deep 10-man rotation that stand at taller than 6’7”. Yet, despite UNC ranking 15th in average height, per kenpom.com, it is surprisingly 308th in the country in percentage of shots taken at the rim (30.3%, per hoop-math.com). NC State is really strong defending the perimeter, but is vulnerable inside due to its lackluster height. The Wolfpack are a very strong rebounding team, though, so don’t expect the Tar Heels to win this game by dominating second-chance points.

NC State has won 12 straight games at home, and PNC Arena should be a raucous atmosphere in the Wolfpack’s first conference game in Raleigh. North Carolina has been inconsistent against strong competition this season, and I like NC State to send a resounding message to its rival at the beginning of ACC play.

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UNLV at New Mexico

Meyer’s Pick: UNLV +4.5

Beware of the emotional hangover spot. New Mexico handed Nevada its first loss of the season on Saturday, crushing the Wolf Pack 85–58 at The Pit as a 14.5-point underdog. After a disappointing non-conference performance, the Lobos now have to be feeling quite good about themselves after toppling a team that some thought would cruise through conference play without a blemish. UNLV is a rival and this contest is at The Pit, one of the country’s most fearsome venues to play at, but the Lobos could be physically and mentally exhausted after giving it their all to shellack Nevada.

The key to New Mexico’s turnaround has been Paul Weir’s decision to switch from man to zone defense. Seeing a 58 next to Nevada’s name on the scoreboard is jarring, and the Lobos have allowed much lower point totals of late compared to the start of the season. UNLV, however, actually performs better against zone in half-court offense, putting up .875 points per possession against it compared to .812, per Synergy.

The biggest advantage UNLV will have in this game is on the offensive glass. The Rebels are the No. 1 team in the country in offensive rebound percentage, coming into this game with whopping 42.5% mark, per kenpom.com. On the other side, New Mexico carries a 32.9 defensive rebounding percentage, which is 314th. Neither of these teams have shot the ball very efficiently this season, so if the Rebels can rack up second-chance points, that can certainly swing the pendulum in their favor.

The Rebels, however, have been scoring more since forward Shakur Juiston’s season-ending injury. The big reason why? Coach Marvin Menzies has rolled out smaller lineups, and as a result UNLV has averaged 26.5 threes attempted over its past six games. That has increased floor spacing dramatically, boosting the offensive as a whole. Besides going with more three-guard lineups, having a 6’8” forward in Joel Ntambwe who is an outside threat (40.4% shooting from three) on the court as well has made the Rebels much tougher to defend of late.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this line creep up slightly higher, as I’d imagine public money will be on New Mexico in this one given the big win over Nevada. But this is a great spot for an improving UNLV, so I’ll gladly take the points now.

Overall record: 11-9-1

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