See why our three favorite bets from Thursday's college basketball slate include a Pac-12 and C-USA favorite along with an NEC underdog.
Three Man Weave and I are back with our three favorite bets from Thursday's college basketball slate.
Old Dominion at UTSA
3MW Pick: Old Dominion -1
Jeff Jones doesn’t need any eloquent pep talk to get his Monarchs ready to play tonight. All he needs to do is simply write the following on the locker room whiteboard: 67–49.
That was the score with just under five minutes left in first meeting between these two, with the Monarchs holding a comfortable 18-point lead over the host Roadrunners. From that point on, ODU played with a nervous complacency while UTSA charged back with a fearless desperation. By the time the clock struck zero, that 18-point cushion had vanished into thin air and the Monarchs were left scratching their heads as to what just happened.
Tonight, Old Dominion returns to the haunted hallows of UTSA’s Convocation Center in hopes of avenging that historical collapse. Outside of that inexplicable meltdown, the Monarchs have been a model of consistency this season in a league plagued by volatility. ODU towers over the rest of C-USA standings and has already knocked off Western Kentucky in the first leg of the conference’s new "Bonus Play" schedule. Losing sophomore sharpshooter Marquis Godwin back in early January caused some minor turbulence—ODU dropped two of its first three conference games—but Jones has brilliantly stabilized the lineup rotations in Godwin’s absence since then.
The Monarchs don’t need to do anything fancy tonight to come away with a victory—after all, they had the perfect blueprint last time these two teams played and executed it to near perfection for 35 minutes. ODU’s superior size and interior strength essentially eliminated any scoring opportunities at the rim for UTSA, as the Roadrunners shot just 8 for 28 from inside the arc. To match UTSA’s five-out, run-and-gun spread offense, Jones countered by inserting the more athletic and nimble Jason Wade into the starting lineup in place of 7-foot behemoth Elbert Robinson. Until the late-game collapse, this strategic move worked perfectly—the Monarchs were able to stay tightly connected to the Roadrunners array of shooters all across the perimeter without giving up much of anything in the lane. Look for Jones utilize a similar "small-ball" lineup tonight, which means less run for Robinson and Dajour Dickens, and an increased workload for Wade and talented reserve guard Justice Kithcart.
It all comes down to how well the Monarchs defend the three-point line. Keaton Wallace caught fire in the first meeting, raining in nine of the Roadrunners' 16 threes while Jhivvan Jackson chipped in with 21 points of his own. If ODU can keep Wallace and Jackson from getting in a groove early, it will put the onus on the Roadrunners supporting cast to carry the scoring load. Granted, that’s easier said than done—in the two games following the ODU miracle, Jackson and Wallace torched Western Kentucky and Marshall for a combined 72 points and 75 points, respectively. But, if there’s one coach I trust to devise a defensive scheme predicated on stopping the Roadrunners’ two-headed scoring attack, it’s Jeff Jones.
Robert Morris at Sacred Heart
3MW Pick: Robert Morris +4
In a 3MW extra game bonus pick tonight, we’re backing one of the NEC’s perennial powers in Robert Morris. The Colonials travel east to Fairfield, CT to take on Sacred Heart, which has been one of the league’s biggest surprises this season. Many pegged Sacred Heart to finish near the bottom of the standings, but Anthony Latina has engineered an unexpected resurgence and has the Pioneers just two games back of first place.
Latina leans heavily on his do-everything lead guard, Sean Hoehn, who’s the lone veteran voice in a locker room filled with freshmen. Hoehn embodies the prototypical Latina player as a guy who attacks the rim with reckless abandon. Per hoop-math.com, 47% of the Pioneers’ shots come at the rim, the third-highest rate in the entire country. This is a byproduct of constant perimeter penetration, courtesy of Hoehn and freshmen point guard Cameron Parker, and a relentless pursuit of the offensive glass. The most common lineups will feature two plus-sized forwards in Jare’l Spellman (6’10") and EJ Anosike (6’8"), a monstrous frontcourt by NEC standards.
However, Robert Morris has the beef inside to combat tonight’s impending invasion at the rim. For the Pioneers to score in the paint, they’ll have to go through the Colonials’ defensive centerpiece, Malik Petteway, a bonafide beast at 6’8", 240 pounds. Whether Andrew Toole goes man-to-man or zone, Petteway’s responsibilities as the defensive anchor remain the same. He’s typically used as a "super sub" off the bench but Toole actually slid him into the starting lineup last game and it would be wise to do the same tonight against a long Pioneer frontline.
Petteway acts as a safety net to the Colonials’ fierce perimeter pressure, which has forced the most turnovers in the NEC this year on a per-possession basis. That aggressive style can sometimes result in unnecessary fouls far from the basket, a pitfall the Colonials need to avoid tonight to keep the free-throw reliant Pioneers off the charity stripe. The only way Robert Morris struggles tonight is if it beats itself—the Colonials must be smart defensively and keep hacking to a minimum, while also valuing the basketball on each and every possession. In the first meeting between these two, RMU turned it over a whopping 21 times, which allowed the Pioneers to keep it moderately close for most of the game. If the Colonials limit the self-inflicted wounds, they should assert their superiority over the overachieving Pioneers tonight and potentially move into a tie for first place in the NEC standings.
Arizona State at Oregon
Meyer's Pick: Oregon -3
Admittedly, this is the most challenging Pac-12 betting slate I’ve encountered in a while. But when betting this crazy conference this season, there are a few commandments: 1. Fade USC in the first half on the road 2. Back road Utah 3. Bet a lot against Stanford when Daejon Davis isn’t playing (and KZ Okpala to a lesser extent) 4. Never trust Arizona against a zone defense 5. Fade Arizona State on the road or off a major win.
The Sun Devils aren’t coming off a huge victory (unless you want to call a comeback win over Cal where they trailed 34–28 at the half as such), but they’re at Eugene on Thursday night. Under Bobby Hurley, ASU is 10–23 on the road and has never swept a Pac-12 road trip. The Sun Devils haven’t won at Oregon since New Year’s Day in 2011. Arizona State may have the highest ceiling in the Pac-12, but it is also the most Jekyll and Hyde team in the conference, and that inconsistency really shows up on the road.
The first time these two teams played this season, ASU beat Oregon 78–64 in Tempe. Don’t be fooled by the score, this was a much closer game than the 14-point differential would indicate. The Ducks actually led 54–50 with 8:37 left until the Sun Devils ripped off a 19–0 run to take a 69–54 lead with 4:32 remaining and never looked back. This was also a game for Oregon where forward Paul White twisted his ankle early in the second half and big man Kenny Wooten dealt with foul trouble, so he only played 14 minutes. Those two being rendered ineffective resulted in Arizona State shooting 66.7% on two-point shots in the first matchup, an anomaly even for a team as good as getting to the rim as the Sun Devils.
These teams are going in opposite directions currently, as ASU is on a three-game win streak while Oregon has dropped its last three contests, capped by surrendering 62 points in the second half at UCLA and blowing a 16-point halftime lead in a 90–83 loss. This has been an extremely frustrating season for Dana Altman, as the Ducks are now 6–8 in Pac-12 play. They are, however, 4–3 at home, with the three losses being a five-point defeat to Oregon State without Wooten (and fellow big man Bol Bol), an 87–84 overtime loss to UCLA in which the Ducks blew a nine-point lead with 48 seconds left and a 61–56 loss to Washington in which the teams were tied with one second left before Oregon fouled Jaylen Nowell on a three and disaster struck. Every other home game against a Pac-12 foe, the Ducks have won by double digits.
Now Oregon gets an ASU team that really struggles against zone defenses (62nd percentile vs. man, 25th percentile vs. zone, per Synergy). That’s because Arizona State thrives when slashing to the basket, as the Sun Devils’ perimeter shooting is not their strong suit. The Ducks are also great at forcing opponents to turn the ball over (21.6 turnover percentage, second in the Pac-12), an area that Arizona State has struggled with at times in Pac-12 play (turnovers on 19.3% of possessions, seventh). I think the Sun Devils will consistently struggle to score here this time around, especially if Wooten (15th-highest block rate in CBB) can make his presence felt defending the paint by staying out of foul trouble. If Louis King, Payton Pritchard and White can each contribute enough on the offensive end (48 combined points in first meeting vs. ASU, but that was with White really struggling in the 2H after suffering his injury), the Ducks should get another comfortable home win against #RoadASU.
OVERALL RECORD: 56-50-1