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Looking for betting advice for Thursday in college hoops? See why we're eyeing three underdogs, one each from the SoCon, Pac-12 and Big Ten.

By Max Meyer
February 14, 2019

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

UNC Greensboro at Furman

3MW Pick: UNC Greensboro +3

The supporters of the “two-bid SoCon” (or even “three-bid SoCon?!) will find themselves in a bit of a pickle tonight, as two of the outside candidates to earn that second bid will clash tonight in Greenville, SC. Aside: Yes, the most likely scenario is still Wofford losing in the SoCon tournament, but we can dream! The Paladins own the best win of the bunch (at Villanova), while UNCG sports a gaudy 20–3 record, has the better NET and SOS and doesn’t possess a single questionable loss.

The biggest swing factor in this game will be the ball control battle, particularly when Furman has the rock. Greensboro coach Wes Miller throws out multiple different pressure looks, both in the fullcourt (37% of the time, per Synergy, second in the entire country) and the halfcourt, and Furman has shown some serious cracks with the ball (218th nationally in turnover rate, per kenpom). UNCG sophomore guard Isaiah Miller ranks second in the country in steal rate, and he was a terror when these two played on Jan. 12. In that first meeting, Miller had four steals en route to Furman coughing it up 21 times, which was 30% of its possessions, as the Spartans’ pressure throttled the otherwise-potent Paladin attack.

Another key aspect of the Greensboro defense is that despite extending pressure, Miller’s men do a solid job of not losing shooters, and against a Furman offense that has pristine ball movement and relies heavily on the three-point line, that will again be crucial. The Paladins actually shot 56% from deep in the first matchup, but the key number was that they only got off 18 attempts—well below their average of 29 per game. If you can force shooters like Andrew Brown, Jordan Lyons and Clay Mounce to put the ball on the floor, you’ve already got them out of their comfort zone.

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Of course, UNCG needs to find ways to score on the other end, which they easily did to the tune of 1.25 PPP back on Jan. 12. They shot it well from inside (55%) and outside (46%) while amassing 15 offensive rebounds (nearly half of their misses), with that second stat being the key. Neither team rebounds the ball well on defense, and whoever takes advantage of the available second chance points will open up key putback and kickout opportunities.

Spot-wise, there’s some slight concern for revenge after the Spartans controlled the entire game in January, but a similar argument could be made that it’s simply a better matchup for Greensboro (see: the 400 words above). Both schools have the most outside of shots at an at-large bid, so both should be totally locked in for a terrific conference battle. We’ll take the points in a matchup that we think is nearly a coin flip.

Arizona at Utah

Meyer’s Pick: Arizona +3

Betting on sports is exactly like the stock market: You buy what you think is undervalued and sell the overvalued. Arizona has been a team that I’ve faded early and often because it’s a name-brand program that really doesn’t have many quality pieces on its roster. Sure enough, even in a putrid Pac-12, the Wildcats currently sit at 5–6 in the conference standings and are in 10th place, only ahead of woeful Washington State and Cal. Yes, the same Washington State team that beat Arizona in Tucson by 14 last game.

But now I think this is a good time to buy Arizona at its absolute rock bottom.

Utah is an extremely bizarre team (which isn’t saying much in the Pac-12) that actually has performed much better on the road than at home in conference play. The Utes are 5–1 in Pac-12 road games, with the one loss coming by three points in overtime at Arizona. At home, a big advantage given the high altitude, the Utes are 2–3, and those two wins are against Colorado without McKinley Wright and Washington State without Robert Franks.

The Utes are coming off a dramatic 22-point comeback in the second half, capped off by Parker Van Dyke’s three at the buzzer, to stun UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. With Arizona coming off that embarrassing aforementioned loss to Washington State, the Wildcats are going to be stewing going into Utah while the Utes will likely still be walking on air. Arizona is currently on a five-game losing streak, its longest in 35 years. But this is a coaching matchup that has been one-sided, Sean Miller’s Wildcats have won 13 of 14 games against Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes.

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While Utah is the most efficient offense in the Pac-12, its bugaboo has been turnovers. The Utes turn the ball over on 20.1% of possessions (267th in CBB), and it’s gotten even worse in Pac-12 play at 20.7%. Arizona, meanwhile, forced turnovers on 21.6% of defensive possessions (45th in CBB), and that’s gone up to 21.9% vs. conference foes. Utah turned the ball over 22 times (24.7% of possessions) in its first matchup against Arizona, a big reason why it lost despite shooting a scorching 59.4% on two-point shots and 52.4% on threes. This is especially important because the last thing you want to give Arizona is easy baskets in transition, given how much the Wildcats have struggled on offense.

Additionally, Arizona has been unlucky with how its Pac-12 opponents have been shooting from the outside. Three-point attempt rate is a better measure of perimeter defense than three-point percentage. Arizona has allowed a 34.6 three-point attempt rate to conference foes (second-best mark in Pac-12), but opponents have shot 39.1% from three (last). The Wildcats know what to expect from this Utah team on offense, and you can bet Miller will try to effectively game plan limiting easy looks from the outside for the Utes. I’d also be surprised if Utah reached the same blistering shooting percentages as it did the first time this season vs. Arizona, a game in which it still lost.

Utah does play a good amount of zone defense, which is Arizona’s kryptonite under Sean Miller. The Utes, however, had trouble defending the athletic Wildcats the last time out, racking up 22 fouls and sending Arizona to the FT line a whopping 30 times. Free throws and transition buckets are the easiest way to get an offense back on track, and that is the formula Arizona will try to replicate here on the road. It also doesn’t hurt that opponents have shot 62.9% on attempts at the rim against Utah (Utes are 73rd-worst in the country in that department), and its lack of legitimate rim protectors will make it difficult to defend Chase Jeter—who went off for 21 points and 13 rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting vs. the Utes earlier this season.

I like Arizona to end its losing streak here on Thursday night, so I’ll gladly grab the additional 3 points as well.

Illinois at Ohio State

Meyer's Pick: Illinois +8

The reasoning behind this play is simple: If you are sloppy with the basketball against a Brad Underwood-coached team, you’re going to have a rough night.

Illinois has won four of its past five games, including two over ranked Michigan State and Maryland. The Spartans (19.4%) and Terrapins (20.2%) rank 12th and 13th in the Big Ten respectively in turnover percentage, per kenpom. When going up against Illinois, Michigan State committed 24 turnovers (33.8% of possessions) while Maryland turned the ball over 21 times (29.6%).

So if Michigan State and Maryland are in the bottom three in conference play in turnovers, who is dead last? You guessed it, Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a turnover percentage of 21.2% against conference foes.

When these two teams played at the United Center in December, Ohio State committed 19 turnovers (25.3% of possessions), yet the Buckeyes won by 10 because of the Illini’s dismal offensive performance (0.89 PPP). Part of the reason behind Illinois’s current hot streak is its improved performance on the offensive end. Over the past five games, the Illini have notched PPP’s of 1.10, 1.09, 1.03, 1.11 and, most recently in an OT win over Rutgers, 1.15.

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Illinois is a very young team, so it makes sense that the offense is getting better as the season goes on. Freshmen Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili have particularly stepped up, scoring a combined 87 points over the past two games. Those two and sophomore guard Trent Frazier are a formidable scoring triumvirate, and I think you’ll see a much improved offensive outing from Illinois this time around compared to its first battle this season against Ohio State.

Ohio State’s biggest advantage in this one could be scoring inside with big man Kaleb Wesson. Besides being young, Illinois doesn’t have a lot of size either. Wesson can certainly take a game over on the offensive end, but he also has a propensity of getting into foul trouble. The Buckeyes’ three-game winning streak has been in part due to improved play from their bench, but if Wesson is forced to sit, they don’t have another interior presence that can take advantage of Illinois and its 65.7% shooting allowed at the rim (38th-worst in CBB per hoops-math).

The other thing that makes me nervous about the Illini is that they’ve been much better at home than on the road. But I like the fact that they’ve already played this Ohio State team once and have that experience under their belt. I just think this is a young team on the rise that can certainly cause the Buckeyes fits with constant turnovers in this one.

OVERALL RECORD: 45-39-1

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