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Our three favorite bets from Thursday's college basketball slate include a winless Pac-12 underdog, a Big Ten favorite and a Pacific Northwest showdown.

By Max Meyer
February 21, 2019

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

Michigan at Minnesota

3MW Pick: Michigan -5

In Thursday’s marquee matchup, Michigan travels to the Barn hoping to complete a season sweep of the Gophers after a narrow victory in Ann Arbor on Jan. 22. My initial gut reaction to this spread was “wow, this seems low,” which, as certain gambling wise guys will tell you, is the surest reason to bet on a team. Digging into the matchup details a little further supports a Wolverine gamble, but this game should be an all-in-all tight affair.

Minnesota runs offense through Jordan Murphy, most often through a hi-lo set with freshman Daniel Oturu lining up opposite the stud power forward. Gopher guards pop to the wings off big man block screens and look to feed Murphy on the block or the high post. Murphy has been simply awesome this season, bulldozing his way to the best FT rate in the Big Ten and posting an eye-popping 15.9 ppg and 11.9 rpg. If the hi-lo lob over the top to Oturu isn’t there, Murphy is more than capable of taking his man off the bounce and scoring near the bucket or setting his wings up for an open three-ball. Murphy’s 2.7 apg is good for fourth in the Big Ten among forwards.

When looking at Michigan’s defensive makeup, it would seem to suggest that the Wolverines should have no issues stopping the Gopher attack, an offense that relies almost entirely on scoring in the paint and getting to the foul line. Only freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur is shooting over 32% from three on the year for Minnesota, and he’s one of only two Gophers that have even attempted over 100 threes. Jon Teske, a 7’1” anteater, anchors the paint with his long arms and sturdy frame. Teske is one of the best shot blockers in the country and is a major reason Michigan ranks eighth in the country in 2P% defense. But the four spot is a concern defensively for the Wolverines. Iggy Brazdeikis and Isaiah Livers have both had major issues stopping post-ups and ball penetration, and Michigan has allowed other talented Big Ten bigs to run roughshod over them in league play. In Michigan’s loss to Penn State, Nittany Lion forward Lamar Stevens posted a gaudy 26 points and 12 rebounds; in the loss at Wisconsin, All-American candidate Ethan Happ put up 26 and 10 of his own; and against Iowa, center Luka Garza poured in 19 points and grabbed eight boards. Yes, Michigan is a stout defense, but the Wolverines have had their fair share of struggles stopping elite bigs.

Part of this tendency to allow big men ample opportunities is Michigan’s keen focus on shutting down the three-point line. With its athletic perimeter pests in Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole, the Wolverines are allowing the third-lowest three-point attempt rate in the country. This overplay and “in-your-jock” action on the arc funnels the ball into the paint leading to more chances for opposing forwards to score.

Having aired that concern, I’d like to emphasize the confidence I have in John Beilein figuring out a way to stop Murphy in the paint. With little to no shooting threats on the outside, Michigan should be locked in on stopping the senior forward and clogging the paint. The Wolverines should also be able to bother Minnesota with their perimeter pressure in the half-court. Amir Coffey, a 6’8” wing, has become Minnesota’s de facto PG this season and, while steady in the turnover realm, is not immune to the pressures of an athletic perimeter shell. Past Coffey, sure-handed Gopher ball handlers are few and far between. Another reason to like the Wolverines is Minnesota’s tendency to stagnate on offense. When the Gophers’ offense is clicking, it can be a pretty sight to behold, but far too often Richard Pitino’s crew falls into classic “stand and watch” mode. This type of offense will be taken advantage of by an elite defensive team like Michigan.

UMKC at Seattle

3MW Pick: Seattle -6

Let’s get a little WACky and head to the Pacific Northwest, shall we?

After an impressive non-conference portion of the season featuring wins over Washington State and at California (2–2 against the Pac-12), Seattle tumbled over the side of a cliff in WAC play to the tune of a 1–9 league record. It hasn’t been pretty either, with especially befuddling losses at UT-Rio Grande Valley by 15 and to D-I newcomer Cal Baptist at home by 11, leaving many to write the Redhawks off as a threat to New Mexico State and Grand Canyon. That severely misrepresents the course of Seattle’s season, though.

Coach Jim Hayford has the respect of the Weave, but unfortunately, he’s been robbed of any semblance of a full-strength roster over the past month and a half. Star shooter Matej Kavas has missed the last eight games (and essentially 10 of the past 11), and skilled guard Delante Jones has missed the past five as well. As if that’s not enough, this article from the Seattle Times details the additional injury and illness issues that have also plagued the Redhawks, leading to many practices where coaches had to play to even construct a 5-on-5 scenario.

All of that is finally changing, though. Per that same article, Kavas and Jones are both due back tonight, and the flu bug has finally moved on to bother someone else. The Redhawks’ schedule softens to close the year, as well, with five of their final six games being in the friendly confines of the Redhawk Center. First up on the docket: the Kangaroos of UMKC. The ‘Roos won the first matchup in Kansas City on Jan. 26, but it’s hard to use that game as much of a barometer with Kavas and Jones both absent.  

Hayford runs a four-out offense, attempting to space the floor with shooting and open up the middle for a skilled big to operate (Venky Jois at Eastern Washington comes to mind). The absence of the team’s two best snipers (Kavas and Jones), plus a nagging injury limiting wing Morgan Means, has thwarted the offense’s spacing, and scoring has been an absolute chore recently. With the return of Kavas and Jones should also come more space to operate, and point guard Terrell Brown and big man Myles Carter are probably salivating at the idea after watching their own efficiencies tumble. UMKC has been lit up from behind the arc this year (36.5% 3FG against), and if Kavas and Jones (and even Means) hit a couple shots early, it will open up the ‘Roos defense in the paint for drive, cuts, and offensive rebounds.

This bet is largely driven by the anticipation of a Seattle surge as the roster gets healthy, but the couple of matchup points (plus an ounce of revenge) make it feel even better. UMKC to Seattle is also two time zones worth of travel, a small detail but one that incrementally makes me gravitate to the home team even more. Get in on the ground floor of the Seattle resurgence, because it starts Thursday night.

California at Arizona

Meyer's Pick: Cal +13.5

I was dreading when this day would come. Watching Cal basketball will burn your retinas. But I can’t pass up getting 13.5 points against an Arizona team that has arguably been even more dreadful in the month of February.

Cal has actually been competitive of late, covering three of its past five games. The Golden Bears actually could have beaten Stanford and UCLA at Haas Pavilion— the Cardinal escaped by three after a reversed blocking call that became a charge after officials reviewed it on replay and the Bruins winning by eight in overtime after trailing by four with under two minutes left in regulations. But then Cal got absolutely demolished by USC in its last game to erase that recent goodwill, getting run out of its own building thanks to USC shooting a blistering 19-of-31 from beyond the arc (61.3%), including 10 threes by Bennie Boatwright. 

Arizona, meanwhile, is currently on a seven-game slide, its longest in 36 years. The Wildcats have been a total mess on offense, rankings 264th in adjusted offensive efficiency in February, per T-Rank. Second-leading scorer Brandon Williams has missed the past five games due to a knee injury, and the freshman is one of the few guys on the team that can create his own shot.

Brandon Randolph, Justin Coleman and Chase Jeter all have had major difficulty scoring consistently of late, and even when one of those players struggles, Arizona has trouble competing in games. The Wildcats’ most dangerous threat of late has been big man Ryan Luther taking corner threes. 

Cal, in theory, should be the perfect remedy for this Arizona offense. The Golden Bears rank 338th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 352nd in opponents’ eFG%. Those are impossibly bad numbers for a team residing in a major conference. Arizona even put up 1.30 PPP in the first meeting between these two, a 87–65 win in Berkeley. With a healthy Brandon Williams scoring 16 and Emmanuel Akot (who is no longer with the team) in the starting lineup the first time around, this is a much different Wildcats team now. 

The Achilles’ heel of Sean Miller-coached teams is going up against zone defenses, and this year’s Arizona squad is no different. The Wildcats rank in the 68th percentile in terms of points per possession vs. man, but in the 15th percentile vs. zone per Synergy. Cal plays zone defense on 43.7% of defensive possessions, and while opponents have been able to torch it (17th percentile), it’s still better than its man (3rd percentile). I expect Wyking Jones to run a good amount of zone here, and I don’t think this version of Arizona will have great success against it. The Wildcats simply don’t have great ball movement (249th in assist rate per kenpom) or have the lethal shooters to bust the zone (228th in three-point rate).

In a game that won’t have a blistering pace (Arizona is 234th in adjusted tempo, while Cal is 230th), 13.5 points is asking a lot of Arizona’s offense in this one. This is one of the few opportunities that Cal has left to win a game in Pac-12 play (the Golden Bears are 0–13), and I think you’ll see good effort from a team that was blown out in its last game to USC and the first time it played Arizona. Hold your nose, and give me the Golden Bears to keep this within single digits. 

NOTE

I’d like to see whether Louis King suits up to play in this one before betting on it. Oregon’s star freshman suffered an injury to his shooting hand this past weekend against Oregon State. If he doesn’t play, the Ducks will have major problems scoring in this one, and USC and the under (first half and full game) would be plays I’d potentially grab. If he does play, I’d like to see how much he’s affected by his injured shooting hand, and potentially take USC 2H if King seems off.

Oregon crushed USC 81–60 in Eugene the first time these teams met this season, with the Ducks generating 1.25 PPP thanks to 13-of-24 shooting from three. Oregon didn’t even have Kenny Wooten in that one, but it didn’t matter thanks to a rare strong shooting performance (the Ducks are 10th out of 12 in eFG% in Pac-12 play). However, USC is much stronger at home than on the road under Andy Enfield, and big man Nick Rakocevic got into early foul trouble in the first meeting and the Trojans were never able to get into a groove after that. They were also without projected lottery pick Kevin Porter Jr. Additionally, Bennie Boatwright has been on a tear of late, and his offensive versatility is the perfect counter to Dana Altman's match-up zone.

I think USC gets revenge at home, but will wait for an update on King’s injury before laying the 2.5 points or taking the under (137.5 full game and 64.5 first half as of 11:32 a.m. EST).

OVERALL RECORD: 52-45-1

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