We're rolling with three underdogs and one home favorite facing a team that is on the brink of implosion. 

By Max Meyer
January 30, 2019

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

St. John’s at Creighton

3MW Pick: Creighton -4

Entering Big East play just over a month ago, St. John’s sat at 12–0, convinced it had made good on the promise of the roster’s talent. The non-conference schedule was [horrifically] poor, though, meaning Chris Mullin’s team still needed a strong Big East record with a couple key wins to secure a Big Dance invite. Fast forward to now, and the Johnnies are 15–5 overall and 3–5 in the Big East, and things appear to be going off the rails: “As a team we aren’t as together as we were in the beginning,” said Shamorie Ponds after they lost at home to Georgetown, while Mustapha Heron added, “we kind of went through the motions in the first half.” This squad does not have the luxury of sleep-walking through games, given that their flimsy résumé includes just a single Quadrant 1 win (and two Quadrant 3 losses).

That brings us to Wednesday night. The Johnnies are off to frigid Omaha, Neb., where they’ll face an offensive juggernaut in the revenge-seeking Creighton Bluejays (St. John’s won the first meeting 81–66 on Jan. 16). We’ll find out in a hurry if the Johnnies are “going through the motions” again, especially defensively, because if they are, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitch Ballock, Marcus Zegarowski and Co. will get hot in a hurry. Creighton isn’t exactly sitting pretty in the NCAA tournament picture itself; it has no bad losses, but a 5–8 record against Quadrants 1 plus 2 (with only one win coming against Q1) likely has the Bluejays just on the outside looking in at this point. They’re painfully aware of how important it will be to hold serve at home as the mediocrity of the Big East beats itself up (non-Marquette, non-Villanova division).

Part of the Johnnies’ defensive issues are how reliant they are on “events,” i.e., steals and blocks. Last year’s team thrived by gambling in passing lanes, extending out on the perimeter and funneling any opponents that managed to avoid turning it over into the human eraser that was Tariq Owens. Unfortunately, Owens transferred to Texas Tech, and South Carolina transfer Sedee Keita hasn’t quite been able to replicate his presence in the paint. The Bluejays are a tough team to gamble against: they move the ball extremely well, and they bury open jumpers at dizzying rates, the perfect formula to punish a scrambling defense—especially one that may lack some cohesiveness and communication, per Ponds’s comment.

Of course, this could certainly be a shootout, because Creighton’s defense is even more of sieve than St. John’s. The total on this game (163.5 as I type this) reflects that notion, so if you buy heavily into that, perhaps you’d feel more comfortable taking the points. I, however, see this as a bad travel spot to a rabid atmosphere for a mid-week game during the doldrums of late January/early February, leaving the Red Storm vulnerable to an early Creighton avalanche, at which point the “not together” Johnnies may just mail this one in.

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Louisville at Wake Forest

3MW Pick: Wake Forest +10.5

There’s no reason to dress this one up. At face value, betting on the worst team in the ACC against one of the hottest teams in the country sounds foolish. Wake Forest has dropped 8 of its last 10, including an embarrassing four-point home loss to Gardner Webb right before the New Year. Danny Manning’s crew couldn’t even take care of business against Boston College at home on Saturday, as the Demon Deacons squandered one of the few winnable league games remaining on their schedule.

On the flip side, Louisville has been nearly untouchable over the last two weeks. The Cardinals enter Winston Salem tonight riding a five-game winning streak, jump-started by a 20-point destruction of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Jan. 12. Since then, UL has dispatched four straight ACC opponents without breaking a sweat—only NC State managed to stay within single-digits of the Cardinals during that span.

Just to throw one last drop of gasoline on the fire before actually making a coherent case to bet on Wake Forest tonight, remember that this is a coaching matchup between Chris Mack and Danny Manning. In other words, this is a chess match between a brilliant offensive architect with an endless stash of tricks up his sleeve (Mack) and a shaky technical coach whose defenses often look stupefied and disjointed (Manning).

If all that didn’t scare you away, then come on down and ride the Demon Deacons +10.5 tonight with me and a few other lunatics out there—the water’s warm!

It’s that time of the year where everything we thought we knew about college basketball is called into question. We’re approaching the dog days of conference season when the wear-and-tear of non-stop travel and practice, with games sprinkled in between, is beginning to take its toll. Almost all of the top-tier teams have shown the propensity to let their foot off the gas in one game or another over the past two weeks, with Louisville being one of the few exceptions.

But if you dig deep into Louisville’s recent tear, you’ll find some holes in what appears to be a nearly flawless stretch of basketball. The Cardinals dug themselves into early holes against Boston College and Pittsburgh, while the Georgia Tech and NC State wins both have injury asterisks attached to them—Tech was without Jose Alvarado and NC State was missing Markell Johnson, both of whom are instrumental to their respective teams’ offense.

From a matchup perspective, Wake’s roster is actually sufficiently constructed to prevent Louisville from dominating the paint. With Jaylen Hoard and Olivier Sarr eating up the bulk of the forward minutes, Manning actually has a formidable frontline duo with the size and length needed keep the Cardinals from playing volleyball at the rim. While Malik Williams has been a terror in the middle for Louisville so far this season, the emergence of Steven Enoch has given Mack two imposing rim protectors and glass crashers inside. Mack rarely plays the two together, but Wake must focus on neutralizing both Williams and Enoch, who will tag team at the five, while making sure the Cardinals’ X-factor at the four-spot, Jordan Nwora, doesn’t heat up from distance.

On the perimeter, Wake needs a bounce-back game from lead guard Brandon Childress, who was downright awful on Saturday against Boston College. Childress missed all nine of his three-pointers and coughed up the rock a whopping eight times against a lackluster BC defense. Childress’s inconsistency and unpredictability are a big reason why Wake has struggled this season, but he can certainly be a weapon when he’s locked in. If the Brandon Childress who hung 28 points on just 12 shots against Virginia Tech shows up tonight, the Demon Deacons should be able to stay neck-and-neck to a Louisville team overdue for a letdown, which will be playing its third game in seven days.

Bracket Watch: Kentucky, Michigan Push for the Top Line

USC at Washington

Meyer's Pick: USC +7.5

Washington is the cream of the crop in the Pac-12 (which isn’t saying that much), as the Huskies have started 7–0 in conference play. They’re coming off an impressive road sweep of the Oregon schools, marking their first two wins over opponents ranked in the top 75 of kenpom.com’s efficiency ratings this season.

So why has Washington been so successful? The Huskies’ defensive success with Mike Hopkins’s 2–3 zone has carried over from non-conference play, but it’s been the massive improvement on offense, particularly how well Washington has shot the ball, that’s raising the ceiling in Seattle.

In Pac-12 play, Washington’s eFG% is 59.7. If that seems incredibly high, that’s because it is: 59.7 would lead the country in eFG% this season, and it would have led it last season too, even over Villanova’s flamethrower of a unit. The Huskies are shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc in conference play, which would rank third in all of college basketball over the full season. They have some nice perimeter shooters in David Crisp and Dominic Green, but considering Washington’s three-point shooting on the season sits at 34.5% (153rd), I’m thinking there will be some regression coming.

Washington still has a strong inside-outside duo of Jaylen Nowell and Noah Dickerson, but when the wings start hitting threes at as high a rate as they have, this is a tough offense to stop. The Huskies will have to make their threes early and often against USC, as the Trojans are tops vs. conference foes in two-point defense (44.8% in Pac-12 play) and are second in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’re also first in turnover percentage on offense (15.3%), a detriment for a team that loves to generate turnovers and turn them into transition opportunities.

USC is coming off a home sweep of UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State, led by big men Nick Rakocevic and Bennie Boatwright. Rakocevic is a traditional big, who can certainly hold his own against Dickerson inside. Boatwright is a stretch four and an ideal player to bust Washington’s zone because of his offensive versatility. In fact, in USC’s sole matchup vs. Washington last season, Boatwright went off for 27 points against the Huskies’ zone.

Steady point guard play from Duke transfer Derryck Thornton and true freshman Elijah Weaver will be the key in this one. USC has plenty of offensive weapons, but it needs to keep the ball moving against the zone and can’t commit ill-advised turnovers. The Trojans have not fared well on the road under Andy Enfield of late, which scares me, but I think USC will compete in this game if Washington’s shooting numbers come back down to Earth.

Memphis at Tulsa

Meyer's Pick: Tulsa +2

This is my buy low, sell high game of the slate. Memphis recently clobbered UCF 77-57 Sunday, moving to 5-2 in conference play. On the other end, Tulsa lost by 12 to Houston at home, marking its third double-digit defeat over its past five games, with the only win over that stretch coming vs. UConn at home. The Golden Hurricane are now 2-6 in the AAC after picking up wins over Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Dayton out of conference.

I’m selling high on Memphis here because it has played just three AAC road games thus far, and the only one it’s won was a four-point squeaker at Tulane, the worst team in the conference. The Tigers have gotten off to slow starts at Houston and Temple, and ended up losing those games by a combined 22 points. The only other true road game they’ve played was a nine-point loss at LSU.

Now Memphis is traveling to Tulsa, and has to go up against Frank Haith’s zone defense. Naturally the best way to attack it is by finding open guys along the perimeter, and AAC foes have been doing so. The Golden Hurricane have allowed a 44.9% three point rate in conference, which is the highest mark in the AAC. The bad news for Memphis is that it is much stronger inside the arc (Tigers are shooting 56.0% on twos in AAC play per kenpom, which ranks first) compared to outside of it (28.4% in AAC play, which ranks 10th). It’ll be hard to find good looks around the rim against the zone. Per hoop-math.com, Tulsa allows just 29.1% of shots around the rim (tied for 33rd) and teams are shooting just 55.7% on attempts taken at the rim (55th).

Meanwhile, AAC opponents are shooting 51.4% on twos against Memphis. Tulsa has senior point guard Sterling Taplin, who is strong at attacking the rim, and junior big Martins Igbanu, who is a force inside. These two are strong at drawing whistles and getting to the line as well. Tulsa has already played Cincinnati and Houston twice, two of the tougher defenses in the conference. Memphis isn’t nearly as ferocious on that end as those two teams, and it seems likely that Tulsa can improve upon its conference-worst 43.5 shooting percentage (not surprising with five of its eight conference games coming against Cincy, Houston and UCF) on twos here.

Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said this week that other coaches are jealous of the Tigers staff’s heavy NBA background, which puts a giant target on his team’s back. Going up against Tulsa in his first game after those comments, an experienced group that is more battle tested in AAC play, isn’t an ideal matchup. I’ll take the home underdog here, with a very strong chance that it wins outright.

Overall Record: 31-28-1

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