See why our three favorite bets from Wednesday's college basketball slate include games from the Big East, SEC and Big 12 tournaments.

By Max Meyer
March 13, 2019

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

DePaul vs. St. John’s

3MW Pick: St. John’s -5

The Big East championship at Madison Square Garden. With the perpetual changing of conference tournament venues all across the country, this iconic pairing remains untarnished.

To the bright lights and big city we go for the opening round of the Big East tournament on Wednesday night, where St. John’s and DePaul will duke it out for the third time this season. The Demons have had the Johnnies’ number this year, winning at Carnesecca Arena by eight points in early January before completing the regular season sweep two weeks ago in Chicago.

The timing of those prior meetings is important, as it explains why both DePaul victories ought to have a big fat asterisk slapped on them. In the first matchup in NYC, the Red Storm’s offensive engine Shamorie Ponds was sidelined with a muscle strain, stripping an already rail thin rotation down to essentially six and a half players. In the rematch back in the Windy City, the Johnnies were again strapped for healthy bodies. Mustapha Heron played just 11 minutes after missing the prior two games with tendinitis in his right knee and Sedee Keita, Chris Mullins’ lone interior rim protector, tallied just five minutes against the imposing DePaul frontline. Yet, despite running on fumes, the shorthanded Johnnies still held a double-digit lead in the second half, before letting Max Strus go scorched earth with a 43-point explosion.

It’s been two weeks since that debacle in Chicago, which has given Heron plenty of time to rest and recover in preparation for the Big East tournament. He is nearly back to peak form after clocking in 34 minutes in the regular season finale against Xavier. Heron’s value in St. John’s perimeter-oriented lineup is simply irreplaceable. His stout 6’5", 215-pound frame allows him to hold his own against longer opposing forwards on defense, while generating numerous mismatch opportunities against those same guys on the other end of the floor—just take it from Mullin, who talked about Heron’s immense importance prior to the DePaul game:

“Our margin for error goes down [without him],” Mullin said. “Sometimes when that happens, guys think they have to do more, and at times that backfires.”

Not only will the Johnnies be armed with a full strength Heron tonight, but the bouncy Keita also returns to, hopefully, help stop some of the bleeding inside. Keita was held out of the lineup last week due to disciplinary reasons, but will be back in action this evening. While the skinny Keita is certainly susceptible to being bullied by DePaul’s bigs on the glass, just his presence as a defensive safety net should help prevent the Demons from playing ping-pong on the backboard. DePaul destroyed the Red Storm on the glass in both regular season tilts, hauling in a whopping 26 offensive rebounds in 80 minutes of action. St. John's must battle on the boards tonight and not let Max Strus get free from running off a flurry of screens all along the three-point arc.

With a much improved outlook from a matchup perspective, relative to the two prior regular season meetings, the qualitative dynamics in Wednesday's showdown heavily favor the Red Storm as well. For starters, as cliche as the saying ‘it’s hard to beat a time three times in a season” is, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that this holds merit in certain situations in college basketball. We’ve already witnessed two such examples in the past few days: South Dakota State was stunned by Western Illinois in the early stages of the Summit tournament after destroying the Leathernecks in both regular season meetings. And just last night, Saint Mary’s took down Gonzaga in the WCC championship, a head scratching result when you consider the Bulldogs beat the Gaels by 48 in Spokane earlier this season. Here’s to hoping the “third time’s a charm” phenomenon plays in the favor of St. John’s backers tonight.

Finally, there’s also a chance the oddsmakers have slightly overreacted to the two regular season results. On the surface, the current line of -5 seems to make sense—for context, the line on that last regular season matchup closed St. John’s -2.5, so a 2.5-point bump feels reasonable when you factor in the Johnnies home court edge. The difference is that the circumstances are fundamentally different tonight, which offers some value to taking the Red Storm at -5.

In addition to the aforementioned injuries that plagued the Johnnies in the first two games, there’s also some added juice to tonight’s tilt. The recent three-game skid has put their at-large hopes in serious jeopardy, making tonight a ‘must-win’ by all accounts. According to bracketmatrix.com, St. John’s is currently projected as a 10-seed, which means a loss would put their NCAA tournament lives in the hands of potential bid stealers over the next week and a half. With the Red Storm foaming at the mouth to get a victory on Wednesday, expect the rejuvenated Red Storm to come out with a strong effort in front of their home fans in New York City.

TCU vs. Oklahoma State

3MW Pick: TCU -4

Perhaps the biggest firebrand in the ever-raging debate surrounding bubble teams is conference record. A torch-and-pitchfork crowd has risen up to demand that any team that finishes below .500 in conference play should automatically be excluded from consideration, and while we are not here to litigate that notion, this game does present one of the more polarizing teams in that argument. TCU wrapped up the Big 12 gauntlet at 7–11, losers of six of its final eight games, inciting the masses that want them kept out of the Big Dance.

Fortunately for the Horned Frogs, no such rule exists, and as it stands, they’re narrowly inside the field at bracketmatrix.com. What they absolutely cannot do, though, is drop their Big 12 tournament opener to 12–19 Oklahoma State, meaning they need this game like blood. It’s obviously do-or-die for the Cowboys, as well, but the draw of the NCAA tournament should be a slightly better motivation than simply “playing spoiler.”

One of TCU’s biggest issues all season has been its lack of depth, a problem exacerbated by a rash of transfers during the season. The Frogs have struggled to finish games late, losing to Kansas in OT and West Virginia in 3OT (among others), as they’ve clearly worn down against deeper opponents. Luckily, Oklahoma State is one of the rare teams in college hoops with fewer bodies left than TCU. The Horned Frogs rank 305th in bench minutes per KenPom.com, edging the Cowboys, who sit at 323rd; somehow, TCU’s seven-man rotation is deeper than Oklahoma State’s, which essentially plays six and a half guys.

The two teams split their regular season matchups, with each winning a tight one on its home floor. That will likely keep this number low, but a few key factors from those games stand out. Kouat Noi, probably TCU’s most dynamic scorer, missed the meeting in Stillwater, and his presence should be a major boost. Additionally, Oklahoma State was tremendous from deep in that one, hitting 11 of 25, a rare feat against Dixon’s man-to-man that extends and looks to take away the three-point line.

Finally, the Frogs have some of the best ball movement in the country (Dixon teams always share the ball), and against an OSU defense that mixes in plenty of zone, that should be deadly. Ultimately, what sells me on this matchup is the coaching matchup. Mike Boynton is no slouch: he’s off the Brad Underwood tree, and he’s admirably kept the Cowboys competitive despite a clear lack of experience and players. He’s no Jamie Dixon, though, a proven coaching commodity who has won consistently through his tenures at Pitt and TCU and whose teams traditionally play solid, smart basketball. When combined with the above factors, Dixon is the clincher.

Georgia vs. Missouri

Meyer’s Pick: UNDER 129.5 Points

I currently feel like Hunter S. Thompson, typing feverishly while en route to Las Vegas, though it’s far less scenic at 6 a.m. here at John F. Kennedy airport compared to the drive through the desert. So it only seems fitting to write about two teams that are going through dry spells themselves.  

It’s tough to score when you don’t get shots up. Turnovers are a major issue for both Missouri and Georgia, as the Tigers turned the ball over on 21.6% of possessions in SEC play (12th) while the Bulldogs are at an even-worse 22.1%. 

Georgia’s offense has been a disaster of late, notching 0.64 and 0.68 PPP over the past two games (64–39 loss to Missouri and 66–46 loss to South Carolina). The recent struggles can be attributed to Rayshaun Hammonds’s season-ending injury. Georgia’s second-leading scorer (12.1 PPG) injured his foot on Feb 23. against Ole Miss. He aggravated the injury on March 2 against Florida in his attempted return after playing just five minutes, and has been shut down since. 

After Hammonds got hurt against Ole Miss, Georgia’s offense has ranked 267th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per T-Rank. Not only have the Bulldogs still been turning it over a ton over during this recent span (24.0%, 345th in CBB), they also haven’t shot the ball well (45.4 eFG%, 302nd) and have been playing at a much slower pace (327th in adjusted tempo). So basically, this team has turned into an under bettor’s dream. 

Hammonds is one of the few offensive weapons Georgia has, so it’s not surprising to see this team in such disarray trying to score. With Hammonds out, teams can now more easily focus on stopping Georgia big man Nicolas Claxton (13.0 ppg, team’s leading scorer), and he only attempted six shots in that March 6 matchup against Missouri. 

The Tigers haven’t been great putting the ball in the hoop in SEC play either. Besides the aforementioned turnover issues, they also rank ninth in the conference in eFG%. Cuonzo Martin-coached teams aren’t exactly known for their offensive prowess. Missouri struggles getting shots close to the basket, as just 30.6% of its attempts have come near the rim (tied for 51st-worst in CBB, per hoops-math). This team also plays at a slow pace, ranking 324th in adjusted tempo.

On defense, the Tigers excel at limiting looks close to the basket, allowing shots near the rim on just 26.9% of shot attempts (11th-fewest in CBB). Basically, you can expect a game featuring plenty of jump shots between two teams that don’t shoot the ball well. After all, they combined to miss their first 28 three-point attempts in their meeting in the regular season. Add in the fact that they both play at grinding paces and turn the ball over a good amount, and I’ll take my chances that they won’t reach 130 points in what should be a really ugly start to the SEC tournament. 

OVERALL RECORD: 61-56-2

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