College Basketball Best Bets: UCLA Hunting Wounded Ducks

Among our top plays on Thursday night are a two-fer from one C-USA battle and one Pac-12 underdog that has a big advantage in its matchup. 
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Three Man Weave and I are here with our three favorite bets on a tricky Thursday night college basketball slate.

Charlotte at FIU

3MW Picks: Charlotte +8, Under 151.5 Points

"Opposites attract" is one of the oldest, most perplexing, yet seemingly accurate, dating concepts that still rings true today. Sure, it’s cliche, but I mean who doesn’t love a sappy, romantic tale of two vastly different people overcoming all odds to find everlasting love.

In tonight’s showdown between FIU and Charlotte, think of the lightning-paced Panthers as a freewheeling frat boy whose perfect night is an EDM rave—a fitting comparison given FIU’s close proximity to South Beach—while Charlotte is the conservative bookworm who much prefers a "Netflix and chill" night in. So, when these two link up for their first date of the season tonight in Orlando, something’s gotta give…

Both Charlotte and FIU are being directed by first-year head coaches. On one hand, Jeremy Ballard has simply taken an already transition-oriented FIU team and shifted it into overdrive. On the other hand, Ron Sanchez—a longtime disciple of Tony Bennett at Virginia—has completely tossed out the run-and-gun playbook implemented under his predecessor Mark Price and has dropped a cinderblock on the offensive brake pedal.

There may not be another matchup all year that features two teams with more contradictory playing styles, and it's this contrast that presents a lucrative same-game spread and total two-fer bet special. If FIU can force Charlotte into a 40-minute track meet, the Panthers could run away from the visitors by double digits with ease. But, if the methodical, half-court minded Niners can force FIU to crawl alongside side them in a lower possession battle, it bodes well for their chances to stay inside the number.

After getting uncharacteristically sped up against Rhode Island back on Dec. 23rd, Charlotte has been disciplined at controlling the pace to its liking. In its most recent tilt with Marshall, a game that the Niners almost stole, Charlotte slowed down Dan D’Antoni’s hyperloop-speed ‘Hillybilly Ball’ to a 68-possession game, the second-lowest total of any of Marshall’s games this season. The Thundering Herd’s brand of basketball is in many ways a copy/paste of FIU, who relentlessly looks to run in the open floor and won’t hesitate to chuck it from the cheap seats.

Sanchez should be more than equipped to game plan against this, given the premium his former mentor Tony Bennett at Virginia places on retreating back on defense to force the opponent into executing in the half-court. And while the pack-line defense is susceptible to being burned from the outside, the Niners should welcome the Panthers’ trigger-happy tendencies—FIU is currently shooting 27% from behind the arc this season, which isn’t a major drop-off from the putrid 31% clip it finished at last year.

The only minor concern for Charlotte tonight is health and the corresponding impact on bench depth. Last game against Marshall, Sanchez relied on a seven-man rotation, as stud freshman guard Malik Martin (younger brother of Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin) sat out with knee soreness. Martin was a gametime decision last game against Marshall, so there’s a good chance he gives it a go tonight. Early money has already come in hard for Charlotte with the number already dropping a point and a half from 9.5 to 8. This could be an indication that Martin is leaning toward playing and his presence would come in handy against a deep stable of athletic FIU guards.

UCLA at Oregon

Meyer’s Pick: UCLA +3.5

I’m not the biggest fan of selling low on Oregon and Dana Altman while buying high on UCLA, but with the Ducks’ injuries, this is a tough matchup at home on Thursday night. Freshman phenom Bol Bol is out for the season with a foot injury, and fellow big man Kenny Wooten is also out with a fractured jaw. Without those two, Oregon’s interior defense and shot-blocking prowess takes a huge hit, while the offense becomes much more perimeter-oriented (which isn’t ideal for a team shooting 34.2% from three, 165th in the country).

Ever since UCLA fired Steve Alford and promoted Murry Bartow as interim, the Bruins have been playing at a blistering pace (82 possessions per 40 minutes). I was surprised to see the total for this one open below 140, but it’s already been bet up to 147. Without Bol or Wooten, Moses Brown should eat Oregon alive, and it’ll be tough for the Ducks to hold their own against UCLA’s other bigs Cody Riley and Jalen Hill. Per hoop-math, UCLA is 16th in the country in percentage of shots taken at the rim (45.3%), and Oregon just allowed Oregon State to shoot 62.5% last game on two-point shots without Bol/Wooten.

The big question for the Bruins coming into the year was at point guard after freshman Tyger Campbell went down with a torn ACL. That left the onus on Jaylen Hands, who was much more of a scorer than distributor last season. Now as a sophomore, he’s 10th in the country in assist rate and has six assists in each of UCLA’s first two Pac-12 games. Hands, Kris Wilkes and Brown are the biggest components of the Bruins’ offense, which has performed better against zone defenses this season per Synergy in half-court situations (.955 PPP vs. zone, .856 PPP vs. man), which bodes well against Altman’s matchup zone.

If the Ducks want to keep this game competitive, they are going to need big games from veteran floor general Payton Pritchard and five-star freshman Louis King on the offensive end. Unfortunately, both are making less than one-third of their three-point attempts, which is where they’ll be needed most against UCLA’s zone. Oregon simply doesn’t have the firepower or interior defense to keep up in what will be a high-possession contest.

Overall record: 14-14-1