College Basketball Best Bets: Irish Won't Need Luck to Cover

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Notre Dame basketball

It's that glorious time of the year where we get afternoon college basketball to bet on and make our shifts at work fly. Three Man Weave and SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer are here to help you make some money on Thursday, giving you three best bets. We're using the current odds at William Hill (as of 10:44 a.m. EST) for these picks.

Toledo at Notre Dame

3MW's Pick: Notre Dame -7.5

For all degenerates seeking the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, look no further than the "Luck of the Irish"—though, "luck" won’t be necessary if all goes according to plan.

Notre Dame enters tonight’s tilt against Toledo with an ‘as expected’ 4-1 record, which includes an 11-point loss at North Carolina and four straight victories over watered-down opponents from low-major leagues. Notre Dame’s season looks uneventful on the surface, but peeling back the layers of each game reveals the Irish might be a sleeping giant. In that double-digit defeat in Chapel Hill, Notre Dame led by seven points deep into the second half before Cole Anthony’s coming-out party spoiled everything. Despite an ice-cold shooting performance from behind the arc (9/31), the Irish had the Tar Heels, a legitimate national championship contender, on the ropes for nearly 30 minutes in their building.

Notre Dame quietly returned to South Bend and proceeded to dismantle Robert Morris and Howard, proof that the Irish can shift into overdrive when firing on all cylinders. While their two most recent efforts were less stellar—10-point victories over Marshall and Presbyterian—make sure to take note of the injury/illness asterisks next to each game. Robby Carmody, a critical off-the-bench spark, suffered a concussion against Marshall, and the Irish’s unquestioned leader, John Mooney, came down with the flu shortly after. After Notre Dame’s shaky showing against Presbyterian, Mike Brey discussed just how vital Mooney is to the offensive rhythm.

“We were searching for a little bit,” Brey said. “A lot of stuff runs through [Mooney]. If he’s not scoring it, he’s handling it or dribble exchanging. We were a little lost there at times.”

It’s still unconfirmed whether or not Mooney will be back in the fold on Thursday, but all signs point to yes. Toledo is a worthy adversary, one that in many ways is a mirror image of the Irish in both personnel and coaching style, so Mooney’s presence will be critical. Based on Brey’s comments on Monday, he’s locked and loaded for Thursday's game, which leads me to believe he’ll have all hands on deck against the Rockets:

“We’ve got our hands full on Thursday because they’re really good,” Brey said. “They’re really well coached, they’re old, they know who they are, they shoot it. … They’re a big win for us, if we can get it, that’s going to be resume win. I have to rally our fans for Thursday. This is kind of an ACC preparation, they’re really good.”

With Mooney and Carmody likely to return, along with swiss-army knife Rex Pflueger now back in peak form (he started the season on a load management program), this is the ultimate "buy-low" opportunity for Irish bettors. Sign me up for a full-strength and highly motivated Notre Dame squad with substantial untapped upside.

Youngstown State at Akron

3MW's Pick: Youngstown State +9

Well, it didn’t take long for the smartest guys in the room to sniff this one out. This line has dropped a point and a half already this morning, so I’ll keep it brief.

Youngstown’s resume so far looks underwhelming on paper, but Jerrod Calhoun’s squad is on the cusp of breaking through. The Penguins’ rotation is a legitimate 10-deep, with a myriad of versatile weapons capable of adapting to almost any type of opposing lineup or style. Just ask Chris Mack how big of a thorn in the side these pesky Penguins can be, after they refused to fold against Louisville despite an anemic shooting performance (5/27 from 3; 8/19 from the free-throw line). Yes, Youngstown lost by 23 at the Yum! Center, but Louisville emptied everything in the tank to pull away from the pesky Penguins in the second half. I mean, would you expect anything less from a team coached by a Bob Huggins disciple?

Youngstown’s early shooting woes are destined to correct soon, which leaves just one true weakness in the Penguins’ DNA: interior size. Per kenpom.com, Calhoun’s favorite lineup so far this season features 6’6" Naz Bohannon as the de facto "center," a clear vulnerability to teams with larger frontlines. However, the Zips don’t offer that threat, as John Groce also prefers a more agile lineup that slots a perimeter-oriented forward (Xeyrius Williams) at the same position.

With Akron ill-equipped to capitalize on the Penguins' miniature size in the paint, Youngstown’s sticky defense is tailor-made to slow down the Zips’ high-octane scoring attack. If the Penguins can limit easy transition opportunities off long misses, the pace should be fairly methodical, which will make eight points feel like 18 over the course of 40 minutes. 

Tulane vs. Mississippi State

Meyer's Pick: Tulane +11

Let’s go to the Myrtle Beach Invitational in South Carolina, as we get to bet on some afternoon basketball!

Mississippi State has survived junior point guard Nick Weatherspoon’s 10-game suspension thus far with a 4-0 record, but some of the underlying metrics have been ugly. In particular, the Bulldogs rank 335th in turnover percentage, giving the ball away on 25.9% of possessions. That’s come against teams that rank 192nd (FIU), 24th (Sam Houston State), 191st (Louisiana Monroe) and 320th at forcing turnovers. Tulane, under first-year head coach Ron Hunter, ranks 25th in that department. Against the 24th-ranked defensive TO% team (Sam Houston), Mississippi State turned it over on a whopping 34.3% of possessions.

Under Hunter, Tulane has been in zone defense on 91.9% of possessions this season, via Synergy. The former Georgia State coach is known for his trapping schemes as a way to generate turnovers and get easy transition baskets. Senior Tyson Carter has been the point guard, yet his turnover rate is a whopping 25.7%. Freshman backup Iverson Molinar is even worse, sitting at 27.1%.

Additionally, when facing a zone, you’re going to have open looks from three that need to be knocked down. Tulane’s opponents have a 46.4% three-point attempt rate against the Green Wave thus far. But the Bulldogs aren’t a good outside shooting team, as they don’t take a lot of them (30.0 three-point attempt rate, 312th in CBB) and don’t make a lot of them (28.1%, 271st).

Where Mississippi State will have the advantage against the zone is offensive rebounding. Zone defenses are already vulnerable to offensive boards, and the Bulldogs lead the country in offensive rebound percentage (45.7%). Big men Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado have torched smaller opponents to start this campaign, and have given Mississippi State countless additional possessions. The offensive rebounding advantage that would lead to extra possessions, however, could definitely be cancelled out by the turnovers. And if Mississippi State isn’t shooting the ball well, the offense could be in trouble.

Hunter did a nice job on the transfer market, landing Kansas’s K.J. Lawson, Rhode Island’s Christion Thompson and Georgia’s Teshaun Hightower, whose eligibility for the start of the season was decided right before exhibition play. Those three along with Seton Hall transfer Jordan Walker are each averaging double figures, with Hightower leading the way at 19.3 PPG. Now, that has come against Southeastern Louisiana, Jackson State and Northwestern State, so Mississippi State is obviously a much different weight class. But I like the talent Hunter has assembled, and I certainly trust him as a coach given what he accomplished at Georgia State.

I’ve been looking to fade Mississippi State due to its shaky guard play with Weatherspoon out, and I think this is a spot to do it.

Season Record: 8-6