We're rolling with home underdogs in the A-10 and MWC on Tuesday night, along with a MAAC team in a strong bounce-back spot.
Three Man Weave and I are back with our three favorite bets from Tuesday's college basketball slate.
Dayton at Saint Louis
3MW Pick: Saint Louis +2.5
SLU won five straight after stud freshman forward Carte’Are Gordon decided to take his talents to the powerhouse of DePaul, but since January the Billikens are winless in their last four. Anemic offense is mostly to blame for the Bills’ futility, notching over 1.00 PPP only once in those four contests. SLU’s offense ranks ninth in the A-10 this season and 271st overall per kenpom, driven by poor shooting from everywhere on the floor. In their last four games, the Billikens have shot just 17 for 72 (23.6%) from downtown, highlighted by a 2 for 20 performance at Duquesne on Jan. 23. It should come as no surprise then that Travis Ford’s squad needs to win the offensive glass battle and own the paint in order to put points on the board.
Ford starts two burly paint-bound postmen in Hasahn French and DJ Foreman, a frontcourt that oftentimes clogs the middle but one that gives the Billikens an edge on the boards. No team in the A-10 can touch SLU’s offensive rebounding prowess, led by French and Foreman and supplemented by perhaps the best rebounding guard in the conference in Jordan Goodwin. The issue comes with actually putting the ball in the basket. French is a talented player and has put up some gaudy numbers this season, but teams know they can just hack the 6’7” forward and send him to the charity stripe where he shoots—wait for it—33.8%(!??!!). French’s free-throw shooting is an enormous liability for the Billikens (he’s just 3 for 17 in SLU’s last four games), but his paint presence and rebounding is needed for SLU to win ball games.
The Flyers have one of the best overall big men in the A-10 in Josh Cunningham, a 6’8” senior that can hold his own on the glass, but outside of him Dayton could struggle to keep the Bills off the boards, as it ranks just ninth in defensive rebounding rate in the A-10 this season. Because of SLU’s size and strength, Dayton will likely show some zone against the Billikens tonight, forcing the SLU guards to be shooters. Despite SLU’s horrid recent shooting performance, it theoretically has enough firepower to take advantage of the zone—Tramaine Isabell shot nearly 35% from three on a high volume last year at Drexel, Dion Wiley shot around 37% at Maryland and Javon Bess knocked down 37.2% of his long-ball looks this season. The Bills have rarely shown it this season, but they have the ability to get hot from downtown, as a 11 for 29 performance against Saint Joe’s on Jan. 18 showed.
The calling card this season of SLU basketball and the reason why the Billikens can win this game is defense. Saint Louis ranks 35th in the country this season in kenpom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings and should be able to stop the Flyers’ Cunningham-focused, rim-attack offense. The Flyers have some very good individual players, but SLU has matches for all of them on the defensive end. Goodwin, a shut-down perimeter defender that ranks fourth in the A-10 in steal rate, likely draws Dayton PG Jalen Crutcher, a player he will be able out-muscle and bother with his superior length. Bess, though hobbled, is one of the top defenders in the entire country (just ask Charlie Brown) and can match up with a variety of Dayton wings and fours, and French and Foreman should be able to slow down Cunningham and the excellent freshman Obi Toppin.
This game will have to be an ugly affair for Saint Louis to come out on top. Ford has some injury concerns and will likely play a rotation of six guys, so expect SLU to slow down the pace from the get go. Javon Bess’s status is the key. If he’s able to play tonight, even slightly hobbled, the Billikens can win this game. If he’s out, SLU will need some awfully hot shooting from Wiley and Isabell.
Rider at Manhattan
3MW Pick: Rider -7.5
Who’s ready for some MAAC-tion in Manhattan?
Rider travels to the Big Apple tonight to take on the Jaspers in a duel between two teams at opposite ends of the college basketball maturity curve. On the low end lies Manhattan, a young, inexperienced group of brand-new faces struggling to patch up the holes left behind by a mass exodus of players this summer—the Jaspers lost five of their top six producers from last season, and the lone returner, bouncy forward Pauly Paulicap, has missed seven straight games with an injury.
A few years ahead of the Jaspers in that maturity cycle is Rider, the reigning MAAC co-champions coached by Kevin Baggett, who has the rare luxury of using a lineup that was essentially copy-and-pasted from last year—the Broncs rank eighth in kenpom.com’s ‘Minutes Continuity’ metric, a measure of how closely a team’s current lineup rotations align with last season. And even after a rocky start to the season, in large part due to lineup turbulence caused by Stevie Jordan and Dimencio Vaughn both missing time, the Broncs have hit their stride in conference play.
The young Jaspers have a longer-term horizon in mind, currently focused on mastering a distinct style of play under the tutelage of head coach Steve Masiello, a name that carries substantial clout amongst northeast basketball junkies. Lodged smack dab in the heart of New York City with numerous alternative Division I schools scattered around it, Manhattan is far from a basketball program gold mine. Yet, Masiello took the Jaspers dancing in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015, thanks to his trademark full-court pressing and zone trapping schemes that have wreaked havoc on the MAAC for years.
This season has been a bumpy ride for Masiello, who’s had to make some minor alterations to his preferred brand of basketball to protect and properly nurture his young squad. If we could travel ahead in time to next season or the year after, I’d expect to see Manhattan playing at a much faster pace with a more cerebral group of veteran pieces. But for the here and now, his freshmen-laden roster has been plagued by inconsistent, shooting, finishing and ball handling this season, which has prompted Masiello to limit possessions with sloth-paced games.
Winning the tempo battle will be the key tonight, just as it was in the first meeting between these two in Lawrenceville on Jan. 19. Aware of the talent gap between his young team in-flux and an experienced talented Rider squad, Masiello held the fast-paced Broncs to their lowest possession game of the year. The result? A slow dragged-out rock fight in which Rider struggled to extend the margin, despite leading for 35 of 40 minutes. In the postgame press conference, Baggett explicitly credited Masiello for how well Manhattan dictated the speed of the game.
That self-awareness expressed by Baggett leads me to believe the Broncs come out with a sense of urgency to get out and run in transition tonight, which is where their supreme talent can gain an edge over the less athletic Jaspers. Rider should be fairly fresh with minimal travel wear-and-tear having just played in nearby West Long Branch, N.J., and should be extra motivated coming off a tough loss to Monmouth. With four teams lurking just two games back in the loss column of Rider in the MAAC standings, the Broncs can’t afford another road slip-up against a Manhattan team most prognosticators—including ourselves—pegged to finish dead last in the preseason. If the Broncs can handle the Jaspers’ initial wave of defensive pressure, they should feast in the soft underbelly Manhattan’s half-court zone defense and cruise to an easy road victory.
San Diego State at New Mexico
Meyer's Pick: New Mexico +2.5
Betting Mountain West Conference games is not for the faint of heart. Whether it’s bizarre swings from one game to the next (like New Mexico beating Nevada by 27 at home, only to lose by 11 to UNLV three days later at home) or experiencing a feeling that no lead is ever safe (like San Diego State blowing a 20-point advantage on the road at Fresno State), this conference is a tricky beast to handle.
My logic here is that I think Tuesday night’s game at The Pit is simply a great spot for New Mexico. This is San Diego State’s third game in seven days. The Aztecs have gone from playing in San Diego on Wednesday to up in the Bay Area at San Jose State on Saturday to a quick turnaround on the road in Albuquerque. That’s a lot of travel for a short period of time. In fact, the 67–56 victory at San Jose State (currently ranked 339th in kenpom) this past weekend is SDSU’s only conference victory away from home. And let’s be honest, The Pit is a much more daunting road environment than the Event Center.
So not only is this part of a grueling stretch for the Aztecs, they have to go up against a team that loves to push the pace. New Mexico’s adjusted tempo is 27th in the country, per kenpom, and this is the type of matchup that could leave a SDSU squad with a short rotation (266th in bench minutes per kenpom) gassed by the end. The Lobos are currently on a three-game losing streak and have lost six of seven since the monumental Nevada upset, but this rivalry game at home is certainly one they’ll get up for, especially when the Aztecs won by 20 points in San Diego less than a month ago.
The Aztecs have a very strong starting five (but like I said earlier, not much depth behind it), led by sophomore 6’10” forward Jalen McDaniels and senior guard Devin Watson. The key to their strong start in conference play has been improvement on the defensive end. However, something to keep in mind is that SDSU’s conference strength of schedule ranks as the second-easiest one thus far. Digging deeper, the Aztecs have only faced a top-five offense in conference play twice (an 88–64 loss to Boise State in which SDSU surrendered 1.31 PPP, and a 94–77 win over UNLV in which SDSU allowed 1.05 PPP. New Mexico put up 1.04 PPP in its loss to SDSU, led by sharpshooter Anthony Mathis’s 21 (including six made threes) and three other starters scoring in double figures.
The problem in that one for the Lobos was the defensive end, where the Aztecs accumulated a whopping 1.31 PPP. McDaniels and Watson combined for 45 points, while two other starters (Jeremy Hemsley and Matt Mitchell) had nine assists apiece, moving the ball extremely well vs. New Mexico’s zone throughout. But I’ll take my chances that SDSU won’t come close to that mark on offense this time. Coach Paul Weir has been mixing up man and zone defenses to keep the opposition on its toes, and will be prepared with adjustments in the rematch after SDSU torched the Lobos the first time around.
New Mexico has played more intense defense at home (0.986 PPP) than on the road (1.093 PPP) this season, as feeding off the energy of its fans always helps. So in a 70-possession game (a conservative estimate for the uptempo Lobos), that’s a difference of more than seven points per game.
Additionally, this is not a San Diego State team that gets easy shots close to the basket often. Believe it or not, the Aztecs are second to last in the country (352nd!) in percentage of shots taken at the rim (24.3), per hoop-math.com. Considering SDSU has shot 33.1% on threes in MWC play (sixth out of 11), that leads to more hit-or-miss efforts on the offensive end, like scoring 48 in a loss at Air Force in which it went 2 for 17 from three. The offense has tended to struggle on the road in conference, as the Aztecs didn’t reach the 1.0 PPP plateau in three of their four road games. At home they’ve reached that mark in all four MWC games, including racking up 1.17 PPP vs. Wyoming and 1.29 PPP vs. UNLV along with the aforementioned 1.31 vs. New Mexico.
I like this buy-low spot for the underdog to get revenge here in this rivalry game, especially in front of its rowdy home crowd that leads the conference (11,181, with Nevada’s 10,766 next) in average attendance.
NOTE: I also love the spot for Marquette on Tuesday night, with St. John's playing its third road game in a week. Traveling to Nebraska (at Creighton), North Carolina (at Duke) and now Wisconsin (at Marquette) in such a short span could definitely take its toll on the Red Storm. St. John's is coming off a 30-point loss at Duke, not exactly a strong formula to help a team whose star admitted recently about issues surrounding the squad. Additionally, the Johnnies trounced the Golden Eagles by 20 on New Year's Day (Marquette's only conference loss), so this is a juicy revenge spot. Marquette at -6.5 though is just too high for my liking, but I think this is a good game to attack with live betting or, if applicable, bet on the 2H line (I'd bet it only if Marquette is tied or trailing at the half).
UPDATE: Adding Marquette -6.5 2H as an official play with the Golden Eagles down 10 at the half to St. John's.
Overall Record: 34-32-1