College Basketball Best Bets: Beating Utah Will Be Child's Play for BYU

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College basketball experts Three Man Weave and SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer are back with their three best bets for Wednesday's loaded slate, filled with ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdowns and one of the best rivalry games in the country. For these bets, we're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 10:54 a.m. EST). 

Notre Dame at No. 3 Maryland
3MW Pick: Notre Dame +9.5

The Ohio State/UNC and Virginia/Purdue matchups are getting most of the Wednesday night hype, but I’m interested in a different feature of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Notre Dame is hoping to build an NCAA tournament resume after a disastrous 2018-19 campaign, while the host Terrapins have vastly different ideas.

Maryland enters with its head in the clouds, sitting at 8-0 after winning the Orlando Invitational in convincing fashion. The Terps dismantled Marquette in the championship, winning by 20 and holding all-universe guard Markus Howard to (by far) his worst performance of the year. The Terps don’t have many weaknesses, and Anthony Cowan’s growth into an even more efficient floor leader has further weaponized the offense.

Mike Brey has had over a week to prepare for this one, though. I always love riding great coaches with ample time to prepare a game plan, and in this specific instance, I see quite an advantage in backing Brey against his counterpart, Mark Turgeon. Brey will certainly have spent plenty of time poring over the Terrapins’ game film from Orlando, scheming a way to limit an attack that has scored 1.00 points per possession or better in every game this season. Notably, Maryland gets a ton of free points at the charity stripe by attacking the basket, but Notre Dame’s defense is one of the best in the country at not fouling.

On the other end, part of what made Maryland’s defense so successful against Marquette was being able to cut off the head of the snake. Daryl Morsell swallowed Howard whole, and the rest of the Golden Eagles were left to figure out how to create shots for themselves. Notre Dame’s dual point-guard system makes that far more difficult, though, as both TJ Gibbs and Prentiss Hubb can facilitate the four-out attack, and fifth-year senior Rex Pflueger is quite serviceable, as well. That multifaceted attack is significantly harder to defend, and Maryland’s rotations will be tested against Notre Dame’s elite ball movement. Brey’s bunch has also shot the ball relatively poorly from distance so far this year, and the collection of snipers should see some positive regression from beyond the arc very soon.

This isn’t the Irish’s first foray to the East Coast for a road battle against an elite team, either. They gave North Carolina everything it could handle for 30 minutes before a 13-2 UNC flurry with 10 minutes left extended the margin a bit, but hanging around for that entire game should give the young Irish plenty of confidence heading into another fierce road environment.

Lastly, you can’t discuss this Maryland team without mentioning its dominance on the offensive glass, where Jalen Smith, Donta Scott and the Mitchell brothers (Makhi and Mahkel) have barraged teams thus far this year. John Mooney and Juwan Durham should be able to compete in this regard, but it is a concern after UNC out-rebounded the Irish in the season opener, 51-31.

Of course, no bet is a lock, but you could certainly do worse than backing a well-rested, hyper-prepared Notre Dame team against a group of Terrapins that may be a little too proud of its sterling new No. 3 ranking in the AP Poll.

South Carolina at UMass
3MW Pick: South Carolina -1.5

I was giddy last night when I saw this game at PK, ready to unload my (very unimpressive) bank account on the Cocks, but looks like I’ll have to pull that back to a “normal-sized” hammer with the spread moving toward South Carolina.

These two squads have moved in different trajectories compared to their respective preseason rankings. South Carolina has disappointed thus far, losing to Boston on its home floor and struggling to put away teams like Gardner-Webb and George Washington. UMass bolted out of the starting gates to a 5-0 mark with wins over two tough mid-majors in Northeastern and Rider before facing a three-team Power 6 chopping block in Virginia, St. John’s, and Rutgers over Feast Week. Despite the three straight defeats, the Minutemen have jumped from No. 240 in KenPom’s preseason rankings to No. 183; the Cocks have fallen from No. 70 to No. 99.

Those last three UMass losses are the main reason I’m hammering South Carolina tonight. UMass was physically outmatched—particularly inside—against all three squads, a similar situation the Minutemen will find themselves in tonight against South Carolina. UVA, Rutgers and especially St. John’s battered UMass on the glass, an area that the Cocks should have no trouble exploiting as well. Per KenPom, South Carolina is 39th in the country this season in offensive rebounding rate, while UMass ranks just 292nd in defensive rebounding rate. To boot, the Gamecocks score almost exclusively inside the arc, be it off the offensive glass, perimeter penetration, post-ups or knifing into the lane via transition. Only 13 teams in the country have scored a higher percentage of points from inside the arc than South Carolina, and only 19 teams in the country have given up a higher percentage of points inside the arc than UMass. Granted, the Gamecocks do rely HEAVILY on mid-range jumpers instead of the preferred “near rim” look, but when a defense allows what the offensive team prefers to do, it almost always favors the offense.

On the other end of the floor, South Carolina’s sizable perimeter is built to stop UMass’s preferred attack: scoring from three-point range. The Minutemen have one of the highest 3PA rates in the nation and have shot the lights out this season at a 36.1% clip. The Gamecocks haven’t been their normal “elite” selves on the defensive end in 2019-20, but they have stopped threes at a very high rate. Opponents are shooting just 27.3% from distance against them this season and the Gamecocks have one of the lower 3PA rate defenses in the country.

Finally, this game favors the favorite due to the fact that UMass cannot exploit South Carolina’s weaknesses. The Gamecocks have been terrible stopping teams in transition this year, and UMass plays at the 210th “fastest” pace in the country. Frank Martin’s squad has also sent opposing teams to the free-throw line at one of the highest rates in the country, an area UMass doesn’t actively look to take advantage of with its preference to settle for jumpers.

In its first five games against mid-major competition, UMass scored a scorching 1.15 PPP. In the last three games against Power 6 competition, the Minutemen have managed just 0.79 PPP. That’s no coincidence—this team is built to struggle against bigger, more physically imposing teams. South Carolina, both in terms of personnel and style of play, is one of the most physically imposing teams in the land. The Gamecocks should be able to have their way with UMass on the latter’s home floor and cover the minimal spread. 

BYU at Utah
Meyer's Pick: BYU -2.5

There aren’t many better rivalries in college sports than the Holy War. Utah and BYU absolutely despise one another, so much so that the basketball series was briefly suspended after Nick Emery punched Brandon Taylor back in Dec. 2015. After a two-season hiatus, BYU beat Utah 74-59 behind big man Yoeli Childs’s 31 points on 13-for-16 shooting from the field—including making 12 of his 13 attempts from inside the arc.

The NCAA suspended Childs for the first nine games of this campaign because of filing incorrect paperwork after withdrawing from the NBA draft, but the senior will be making his season debut in Salt Lake City. The Cougars have been very perimeter-oriented so far under first-year coach Mark Pope, but that’s largely due to the fact that they don’t have another interior presence like the 6’8” forward. With Childs back, not only does that give BYU a beast down low, but his presence should open up easier outside looks for seniors TJ Haws and Jake Toolson.

Worried about rust for Childs? Don’t be. Under Pope, who took over for long-time coach Dave Rose, Childs said that this is “the hardest I’ve ever practiced consistently, every single day.” That quote is also pretty telling that BYU looks to be on the right path under Pope, which could be why the Cougars overachieved in their first nine games without their star player.

BYU has a good amount of experience in its rotation, however that’s not the case for Utah. Of the nine players averaging at least 10 minutes per game for the Utes this season, five are freshmen. Three others are sophomores and the ninth is a first-year JUCO transfer. KenPom has them as the second-least experienced team in the country. After a 3-0 start, the youthful Utes have split their past four games, including losses to Coastal Carolina and Tulane along with barely beating 2-7 UC Davis (ranked No. 307 on KenPom). There will be growing pains as this team continues to mesh.

Utah surprisingly has been really solid with its interior defense to start this season. On shot at the rim last season, opponents shot a scalding 63.8% against the Utes. Even with their top rim protector Jayce Johnson transferring out to Marquette, the Utes are now only allowing opponents to shoot 48.2% at the rim (16th-best in CBB). So at first glance, you’d assume this will be a tough first game for Childs. However, freshman 7-footer Branden Carlson, Utah's top shot blocker who is also averaging 8.3 PPG on 62.2% shooting has been dealing with a knee injury. He missed last game vs. UC Davis, and if Carlson doesn’t play or isn't as effective, Childs should feast like he did in last year’s matchup.

Even without Childs, BYU was able to beat Houston, UCLA and Virginia Tech, and all were away from Provo. The Cougars even gave undefeated San Diego State its toughest test of the season, as that game was the only one the Aztecs haven’t won by double digits (they won by 5). Also, Utah’s normally critical home-court advantage aided by altitude won’t impact a BYU team whose campus is just over 100 miles away. So give me the more battle-tested, experienced and talented team to cover in the latest Holy War showdown. 

Season Record: 12-12