College Basketball Best Bets: Vegas Isn't Lyin' With Nittany Lions as Small Home Dogs vs. Maryland

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Penn State basketball vs Maryland

College basketball experts Three Man Weave and SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer are back with their two best bets for Tuesday's slate, including fading a couple of ranked teams. For these bets, we're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 11:06 a.m. EST). 

Northern Iowa at No. 24 Colorado
3MW Pick: Northern Iowa +9

Not too long ago, Northern Iowa was a mid-major powerhouse. Under Ben Jacobson, the Panthers made four NCAA Tournaments from 2007-2016, amassing a record of 220-118 (.650) and ranking in KenPom’s top 100 eight of those 10 seasons. After a rough three-year stretch, UNI appears to be fully back in peak form, currently sitting at 8-1 overall (6-1 ATS) with a win against South Carolina on a neutral floor and a narrow loss to West Virginia.

The Panthers head to Boulder today for a tilt against the Buffaloes, a team with the third-most minutes returning in the country from last season and one that is expected to compete for a Pac 12 title. Colorado is coming off a shellacking at the talons of Kansas, but still holds wins over Arizona State and Clemson on neutral floors. Like UNI, the Buffs are a one-loss team but hold a much different ATS mark at 3-4-1.

Per KenPom, Colorado’s home-court advantage is the best in the entire country, as the altitude factor has long played in the Buffs’ favor. Despite this, and the fact that Colorado is the athletically superior squad from the bigger conference, I love the Panthers catching near double-digits.

Jacobson had eight days to prep for this contest, and you can bet he used that time to fine tune a gameplan to combat the athletic disparity. UNI plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, so expect Jacobson to grind this game to a halt and force the Buffs to play in the halfcourt. The Panthers have historically been excellent at stopping transition, which will be a key against a Colorado team looking to push off the defensive glass.

Offensively, the Panthers might find scoring to be a challenge against one of the best defenses in the country. Colorado does an excellent job denying three-point opportunities, something UNI relies on to score. The Panthers don’t really run a sophisticated offense—many possessions result in isolation or PnR plays for star guard AJ Green, or spot-up looks for Jacobson’s four or five shooters constantly dotting the arc. The Panthers will also face ample perimeter pressure, as the Buffs rank 14th nationally in turnover rate. Green is sure-handed and should be able to handle the pressure, and UNI’s patience may allow it to take advantage of Buff gambling on the outside.

On the other end, while UNI may have no answer for Tyler Bey, the Panthers should be able to limit Buff scoring to a reasonable degree. UNI competes hard on the glass, as all well-coached teams do, and limits free-throw attempts, something Colorado has relied on this season to put points on the board (20th nationally in FT rate). Expect Jacobson to throw double-teams at Bey and dare Colorado’s overall lackluster cast of shooters to try to beat them from the outside. Neither team is great offensively this year, so this game could very well be an ugly affair. UNI should be able to hold off Colorado just enough on the defensive end to keep this game within nine. And if the Panthers are hitting shots, they could pull the road upset.

No. 4 Maryland at Penn State
Meyer's Pick: Penn State +1

Simply put, it’s hard to top this spot. Undefeated Maryland is coming off a miraculous home win over Illinois in a game it had no business winning. Now the Terps will be traveling to Happy Valley for their first true road game of the season, and at a location they’ve lost in each of the past three seasons.

Meanwhile, Penn State is coming off an embarrassing 106-74 defeat at the hands of Ohio State. However, the Nittany Lions’ two big men and two of their top players, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins, played 17 minutes apiece due to foul trouble. When Stevens fouled out after being whistled for a technical with 13:26 remaining, Ohio State only led 60-50. After that call, the Buckeyes outscored the Nittany Lions 46-24 for the remainder of the game.

Stevens and Watkins should give Penn State the advantage down low on both ends of the floor, which was already a concern with Mark Turgeon’s team.

“We’ve got to get a post-up game. We have no post-up game,” Turgeon said after the Illinois win. ”Last year, we played through Bruno [Fernando] the whole year and now it’s like jacking 3s up the whole game. We’ve got to figure out how to be a little bit better offensively.”

According to Hoops Lens, when Stevens and Watkins are both on the floor, opponents are only making 38.7% of their two-point attempts. Overall, with the two big men on at the same time, Penn State is allowing just 0.72 points per possession. Maryland doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket threat like Fernando like season, and it shows. After running post-ups on 11.7% of its plays last season, Maryland’s post-ups have dropped to 7.8%, per Synergy.

One area where Maryland has been elite is with star guard Anthony Cowan conducting pick-n-rolls, as the Terps rank in the 96th percentile in points per possession on those plays, per Synergy. The problem is, Penn State has also been excellent defending the ball handler in PNRs, allowing just 0.434 points per possession (96th percentile).

If Maryland is unable to get anything consistently in the paint, the Terps are going to be forced to do a lot of their damage from the perimeter. They’re not a great three-point shooting team (30.4%, 255th in CBB), and that’s where Penn State can be most vulnerable. Just two opponents have shot 40% from three against the Nittany Lions this season, and not coincidentally, those are their two losses. A third, Yale, hit 39.1% of its threes, and was able to build a big early lead before Penn State rallied for a two-point win. Maryland hasn’t made more than 38.5% of its three in a single game this season, and have only made more than a third of its attempted threes in four of 10 games.

The Terps have often benefitted this season from grabbing offensive rebounds (33rd in OREB%). Watkins, though, has been a one-man wrecking crew on the glass, as he has a defensive rebounding percentage of 28.0 (29th among all CBB players) and offensive rebounding percentage of 14.0 (56th). So if Maryland isn’t getting chances inside, not knocking down outside shots or picking up second opportunities on the glass, it could be a rough offensive performance here.

One other interesting note on Maryland is that the Terps have been slow starters early on in games this season. Maryland has held a lead at the U12 break in the first half just once in its first 10 games of the season. If the Terps are still feeling the effects of their astonishing comeback last game and let Penn State get off to a fast start, it’ll make their first road game even more of an uphill battle. 

Season Record: 13-14