Our best bets for Tuesday include buying low on a struggling Big 12 team and fading a top team in the ACC.

By Max Meyer
January 15, 2019

Three Man Weave and I are back with our three favorite bets from Tuesday's college basketball slate.

Central Michigan at Northern Illinois

3MW's Pick: Central Michigan +5

Who’s ready for some MACtion?

For all cross-sport betting degenerates who often dip their toe into the college football gambling well, the MAC needs no introduction. The conference is best known for its maniacal midweek matchups, which typically feature two offenses trading punches at a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot rate and defense being played, well, when it’s convenient...

The result? Points pandemonium.

So, if you’re into that sort of thing—that is, watching the scoreboard light up like a Christmas tree—tonight’s showdown on the hardwood between two of the league’s most prolific offenses, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, will eerily resemble those gridiron shootouts. CMU enters tonight with the eighth-highest scoring average in the country (88 points per game), while NIU sports the nation’s 28th-highest adjusted offensive efficiency and 10th-highest effective field goal percentage, per kenpom.com.

The secret sauce for the Chippewas’ scoring brigade is grad transfer guard Larry Austin, who’s now at his third college destination after brief pit stops at Xavier and, most recently, Vanderbilt. The Chips' first-year floor general is running Keno Davis’s cheetah-paced offense with near-flawless precision and has turned out to be a perfect pairing with incumbent combo guard Shawn Roundtree in the backcourt. For many coaches, inserting a ball-dominant lead guard to an already well-oiled offensive machine would be cause for concern. After all, Roundtree was ‘the guy’ last year, as he posted the eighth-highest usage rate in the entire conference.

Davis didn’t bat an eye at this potential dilemma because he used a similar fusion of two backcourt alphas back in 2016-17 that worked wonders for the Chips’ offense. Youngstown State transfer Marcus Keene joined forces with Braylon Rayson to form one of the most explosive 1-2 perimeter punches in the nation—this year’s tandem of Austin and Roundtree is akin to that Keene/Rayson dynamic duo.

Austin and Roundtree co-pilot Davis’s perpetual run-and-gun offense and are flanked by a pair of athletic slashers on the wing (Kevin McKay and Rob Montgomery), along with a prototypical catch-and-shoot stretch forward (David DiLeo). This starting five will have the tall task of slowing down NIU’s offensive attack that has no shortage of weapons themselves. Eugene German and Dante Thorpe can get buckets in bunches, while versatile 6’7" forward Levi Bradley is matchup nightmare for most defenses.

The defensive DNA of both teams is where Central Michigan should have a slight matchup edge tonight catching five points. Davis uses a combination of an extended three-quarter court press and a tricky 3-2 matchup zone. While the veteran Husky guards won’t be turned over easily, the unorthodox and unpredictable defensive rotations should cause a slight bit of discomfort to German, Thorpe and Bradley, who thrive at attacking more generic man-to-man defenses through Mark Montgomery’s offensive sets.

On the other end, the Huskies are still searching for a true defensive identity after finishing dead last in defensive efficiency in the MAC last year. This soul searching has manifested in a fairly conservative defensive approach so far this season, as the Huskies have been ultra-concerned with stopping dribble drives at the expense of surrendering an abundance of open threes—currently, only 11 teams in the country have given up a larger percentage of opponents field goal attempts from behind the arc. This could be advantageous to cutting off driving lanes for Austin and Roundtree, but both are willing distributors and will have no problem finding their teammates spotting up for open looks from the outside, particularly DiLeo and two reserve sharpshooters in Matt Beachler and Dallas Morgan.

West Virginia at TCU

3MW's Pick: West Virginia +6

In one of the more surprising storylines of the season’s first two-plus months, the West Virginia Mountaineers may be the worst team in the Big 12 (and they certainly have the league’s worst NCAA tournament resume). It’s rare to see a Bob Huggins team performing this poorly, but injuries (to Sagaba Konate and James Bolden) and various suspensions (to Brandon Knapper, Wesley Harris and Esa Ahmad) have limited the Mountaineers. The peak of those roster difficulties occurred this past Saturday afternoon, when Huggins nailed Harris and Ahmad to the bench for the entire game (the latter of whom is supposed to be a senior leader) and became Disappointed Dad, calling it a “teaching moment for the kids.” Of course, even when largely full strength, WVU has still struggled, so perhaps it’s more of a talent/roster meshing issue than anything.

However, following that “teaching moment,” I’m betting on Huggins having his team locked in and ready to put forth a strong effort in Fort Worth. Ahmad and Harris in particular will hopefully have received the message loud and clear following Saturday’s benching, because in Huggins’s own words, “sometimes you have to take things away that you don't really want to take away and it hurts you as much as it hurts them. Generally speaking they come back a whole lot better for it."

On the other end, TCU has injury issues of its own, as star guard Jaylen Fisher is “out for the forseeable future” due to swelling in his surgically repaired knee. The Horned Frogs are undefeated in games where Fisher plays more than seven minutes, as his lights-out shooting and secondary creation skills make life far easier for point guard Alex Robinson. Following the transfer decisions of Yuat Alok and Kaden Archie (and maybe Angus McWilliam?), TCU is down to a seven-man rotation, and while that’s less of an issue against this WVU team than in most years, it’s still a concern.

Per Synergy, the Mountaineers are pressing “only” 29% of the time, a step down from the past four years of Press Virginia, when they’ve been between 36-38%, and that number continues to trend downwards, particularly away from Morgantown. In road conference games against Texas and Kansas State, Huggins rolled out the press on only eight total possessions combined, a miniscule number; he realizes that this year’s roster doesn’t have on-ball terrors like Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. Instead, he’s leaning hard on his team’s size and aggression on the offensive glass, led by future (current?) star Derek Culver and fellow big bodies Logan Routt and Andrew Gordon. If Ahmad has his head on straight/sees the court, he can be a matchup issue in this one, as well. The constant barrage at the rim should be beneficial against a TCU team that has the worst two-point defense in the Big 12 thus far.

Betting on West Virginia has not been a barrel of fun thus far (only 5-10-1 ATS, per teamrankings.com), but I’d be shocked if Huggins doesn’t salvage a competitive squad out of this bunch at some point. A road game against TCU, who is looking to bounce back from a two-game losing streak, may not seem like the ideal spot, but I’m expecting the “teaching moment” to produce a learned lesson on Tuesday night.

Virginia Tech at Virginia

Meyer's Pick: Virginia Tech +7.5

Betting against Virginia is not for the faint of heart. The Hoos have been a covering machine this season, and have won their first three ACC games by a combined 60 points. Tony Bennett’s Pack-Line defense has continued to stifle opponents, while Virginia’s offense ranks sixth in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency.

So why are we backing Virginia Tech here?

The Hokies have been a strong offensive team over the last two seasons, but the reason behind their top-10 ranking before Tuesday night’s affair is the massive improvement of their defense. After ranking 156th in 2016–17 and 70th in 2017–18 in defensive efficiency, VT has jumped up to 19th. A big reason why is the amount of pressure the Hokies are generating, especially when they press. VT has pressed on 7.3% of its defensive possessions thus far per Synergy, and has allowed just .482 PPP (12th in all of CBB) and forced turnovers 37.5% of the time (11th).

Hounding the opposition has also been key for VT in making every possession tough. Opponents have averaged 18.7 seconds per defensive possession, which is the 352nd slowest in the country, and yes, even more time-consuming than Virginia’s defense. Despite a lack of size (four members of the starting five are 6’6” or shorter, with 6’10” Kerry Blackshear being the exception), the backcourt pressure eats up more of the shot clock and causes opponents to have less time to run their offensive sets.

Because of that, opponents aren’t getting great shots, as VT allows shots at the rim just 28.3% of the time (26th in CBB, per hoop-math). Instead, opponents are taking threes on 48.3% of their shots, which is the eighth-highest mark in the country. That’s not an issue for the Hokies, though, as they can easily switch along the perimeter, and it prevents opponents benefitting from a likely size advantage inside.

Virginia has exceptional guards in Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy (along with emerging freshman Kihei Clark), but it hasn’t been nearly as sharp as a press offense. Per Synergy, the Hoos rank in the 99th percentile by averaging 1.043 PPP against man defenses in half-court situations, and they’ve only turned the ball over 11.3% of the time. Against a full-court press, they’re averaging 0.93 PPP (70th percentile) and turn the ball over on 15.5% of those possessions.

The Hoos have allowed just two teams to score 60 or more points this season, which is remarkable. The highest total they’ve surrendered is 71 to Maryland, which coincidentally is the highest-ranked team in terms of offensive efficiency they’ve faced this season (the Terps are 14th, the only top-25 offense Virginia has gone up against). VT is eighth, and shoots 42.3% from three (fifth-best mark in CBB) and have a 59.1 eFG% (fourth). The Hokies are led by star guards Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and all five guys in the starting five can shoot from the outside.  

Virginia has lost in ACC play just 13 times the last three seasons, yet three of those occurrences have come vs. Virginia Tech—including a 61–60 defeat in OT at home last year in the Hoos’ only ACC loss. Three members of VT’s starting five are seniors, and a fourth is a junior (Alexander-Walker is the only underclassman as a sophomore). The Hokies’ key players know exactly how to play their in-state rival and how to exploit the Pack Line. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to fade Virginia, but this is too many points in what should be a low-possession, highly contested defensive affair.

Overall Record: 17-14-1

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