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College Basketball Best Bets: Ramble on to Start the Week

Loyola Chicago's Cameron Krutwig

College basketball experts Three Man Weave are back with their two best bets for Monday's slate, which features some conference play! For these bets, we're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 10:06 a.m. EST).

Loyola Chicago at Valparaiso
3MW Pick: Loyola Chicago -3

Several conferences are kicking off league play in the semi-dead period between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and the Missouri Valley joins that club tomorrow with a pair of “Illinois vs. Indiana” showdowns in the Hoosier State. I’ll be ignoring the SIU at Indiana State game, though, in favor of two teams with iconic NCAA tournament moments. Loyola Chicago won’t be returning to the Final Four this year (I don’t think I’m tempting the Old Takes Exposed gods…), but several pieces from that magical 2017-18 team remain, while the “Bryce Drew Shot” by Valparaiso is still the Picasso of full-court inbounds plays. The edge in this game, though, tilts toward the visiting Ramblers.

Loyola runs its offense through the bulky but nimble-footed Cameron Krutwig (whom I affectionately refer to as the Krut-pig), a 255-pound southpaw whose soft touch and clever post moves make him nearly unguardable in one-on-one settings on the block. His preternatural paint skills force defenses to consistently send double-teams at him, and his development into a truly elite passer has made even that strategy a scary one. Krutwig ranks 30th in all of college basketball in assist rate, and he recently posted a triple double (22 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in a win at Vanderbilt.

The best way to stop him is by having a big man strong enough to not get moved around easily by his size and long enough to challenge his crafty half-hooks. Unfortunately, the two players most capable of doing that for Valpo now play for Butler and Cincinnati, as both Derrik Smits and Jaume Sorolla elected to take the graduate transfer route this offseason. That left a hole in the paint for the Crusaders, one that freshman Ben Krikke has not quite been able to fill. As a result, the Crusaders’ 2P% defense ranks 310th in the country at 54.4%, and when contrasted with Loyola’s fifth-ranked 2P% offense (57.5%), the concerns become magnified.

On the other end, Loyola’s disciplined man-to-man should be smart enough to make life hard on the Crusaders’ star guard, Javon Freeman-Liberty. The Valpo offense is not very balanced, with Freeman-Liberty ranking 10th in the entire country in percentage of shots taken while on the court (36.0%), and with multiple defenders to throw at him (Lucas Williamson, Jalon Pipkins, Marquise Kennedy), Porter Moser should be plenty capable of devising a solid scheme with a week to prepare.

Additionally, Porter Moser and the Ramblers have owned this matchup in the two years since Valpo joined the MVC. The Ramblers are 5-0 straight up and 4-1 against the spread, with an average cover margin of +5.5 in those five meetings. Moser’s versatile lineups and physical man-to-man defense have stumped the Crusaders before, and this matchup looks no different to me.

Lastly, a quick note on travel: Loyola is barely over an hour from the Valparaiso campus, so although the Athletics-Recreation Center—aka the ARC—can be a rockin’ venue, the lack of any intimidating travel means the home-court value is mitigated.

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SI Recommends

This line opened at pick'em in many places, so clearly, my opinion on this game is not unique. Still, though, as long as it doesn’t inflate past -4, I think there’s value on the Rogers Park Ramblers. 

Detroit at No. 1 Gonzaga
3MW Pick: Gonzaga -32.5

In arguably the most lopsided matchup of an evening featuring several lopsided matchups, Detroit travels to Gonzaga in a completely meaningless game for both programs. Both squads start conference play later this week, so this is more of a check-the-box exercise than actual contest. Prior to the spread being released, I had to think of the number at which I would not take the Zags, landing on around 100. This game features two teams on the opposite ends of the “blow-out capable” spectrum. Gonzaga has built a reputation over the past decade or two of destroying inferior competition. This season, the Bulldogs have wins by 50, 31, 30, 39, and 35. The Titans, on the other hand, have losses by 27, 35, and 39.

Blow-out tendencies aside, Gonzaga has a distinct matchup advantage in this game. Mark Few’s squad boasts the No. 1 offense in the country per KenPom, thanks to its superior ball handling, shooting, rebounding and versatility. Detroit’s defense ranks 333rd in the land per KenPom, ranking among the nation’s worst in 2P% and 3P% defense. The Titans will be decimated inside tonight by Gonzaga’s trio of 6’10”+ big men plus 6’8” freshman Anton Watson. Mike Davis doesn’t have anyone on his roster over 6’8”. Both Clemson and Notre Dame, two of the three power conference squads Detroit has faced this season, destroyed the Titans inside and on the glass, grabbing a combined 38.5% of their offensive misses, equivalent to the sixth-best mark in the country. The Zags should be able to play through Filip Petrusev or Drew Timme on the block while sharpshooters like Corey Kispert, Ryan Woolridge, Admon GIlder, Killian Tillie and Joel Ayayi bomb threes from deep. Anything that caroms off the rim should be handled more times than not by the plethora of Zag bigs.

Pace is another factor that favors the heavy favorite. Both teams rank in the top 75 in the country in tempo, meaning we should see a high-possession game. This plays into Gonzaga’s hands with its ability and willingness to score on the run. Per Hoop-Math, Gonzaga ranks 11th in the country in percentage of initial FGA in transition; Detroit is 272nd in percentage of initial FGA in transition allowed. We should see a game tonight with 75+ possessions, which should allow Gonzaga to waltz to a comfortable 40-point-plus victory.

Detroit’s only hope at staying competitive rests on the capable shoulders of Antoine Davis, the coach’s son and third-highest used player in the country. Davis has been far less efficient this season than his eye-popping freshman year, but he’s liable to hang 40 on anyone on a given night. This year, Davis is averaging 25.2 PPG and is attempting a ridiculous 11.1 three-pointers per game. He’ll be launching all night in this one as the Titans struggle to get anything inside the arc. If he goes 7/13 from deep and pours in 35 points, like he did against SIU Edwardsville on Dec. 21, Detroit likely covers the giant spread. If Davis shoots 26.7% from deep like he has in his other 11 contests, the sky is the limit on by how much the Zags can win.

Overall Record: 19-18

3MW Record: 16-10

Meyer Record: 3-7

Guest Record: 0-1