College Basketball Best Bets: Ducks Will Fly at Home

Publish date:

College basketball experts Three Man Weave and SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer are back with their four best bets for Thursday's slate, including picks from two ranked matchups. We're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 11:03 a.m. EST) for these plays.

No. 21 Memphis at No. 23 Wichita State
3MW Pick: Wichita State -6

When Gregg Marshall took his Shockers to the American conference in 2017, he did so for games like this: nationally televised against a marketable opponent, giving his team a massive chance to test itself against a talented foe and earn the kind of win that will move the needle on Selection Sunday. Memphis, meanwhile, has been craving the same spotlight, but for different reasons. Penny Hardaway has quite literally declared this season a “national title or bust” campaign, and while James Wiseman’s absence has lowered the team’s ceiling, it has not deflated Hardaway’s expectations one bit.

Situationally, one could look at this as a “buy low on Memphis, sell high on Wichita,” with the Tigers coming off a home loss to an SEC school (Georgia) while Wichita State demolished another SEC school (Ole Miss). In this instance, though, I view that as the trajectory I expect these two teams to follow in the future. Memphis has built a gaudy 12-2 record against the nation’s 247th-ranked schedule (per KenPom), and even its best wins (at Tennessee and against NC State in Brooklyn) aren’t carrying as much weight as they once did. I expect the Tigers to lose their fair share of games in American play, residing a tier below Houston and—you guessed it—Wichita State. The Shockers’ schedule hasn’t been much better (246th), but I buy the home demolition of VCU, especially since it gave the blueprint for what Wichita can do in a hype home spot against an athletic foe.

And make no mistake about it: this is a hype home spot. This will be Wichita State’s first “blackout” theme at the Roundhouse in seven years, and Gregg Marshall has made his expectations on the atmosphere very clear:

"I anticipate Koch Arena being kind of like it was against Cincinnati in 2017-18, last game of the regular season. It's going to be electric. You're going to see some future pros on both sides, and it's going to be one heck of a basketball game."

Wichita is always a difficult place to play, but with a lauded foe coming to down led by a brash young coach who seems hellbent on filling opponents’ bulletin boards, you can bet the Shocker crowd will be especially hellacious on Thursday night.

Another key note here is that Memphis is dealing with the flu bug permeating the roster. Starting forward D.J. Jeffries missed the Georgia loss while dealing with the flu and did not practice on Tuesday; even worse, he passed it on to roommate Damion Baugh, another key freshman starter for the Tigers. Even if both play on Thursday, it seems clear that neither will be full strength, and I don’t expect an iconic “Flu Game” performance from either rookie.

This play is more about the spot than any specific matchup point, but I do also like the Shockers from that lens for two primary reasons. Both Wichita State and Memphis want to crash the boards on offense and force turnovers defensively; however, only the Shockers have proven to be stout on the defensive glass and secure with the ball on offense, allowing them to negate what is normally a Tiger strength.

I’d be wary if this line climbs too far above -6, but with a talented, extremely well-coached team hosting one full of (flu-ridden) freshmen in a raucous environment, plus a visiting coach who still has plenty to prove in big games, I feel comfortable riding with the Shockers here. 

Arizona State at Oregon State
3MW Pick: Arizona State +5

Up until late December, Arizona State had the makeup of a fringe top-5 Pac-12 caliber team. The Sun Devils peaked with a 20-point shellacking of Georgia, a squad littered with blue-chip talent, sitting with an 8-2 overall record and staring down the barrel of a critical non-conference stretch of the season. Bouts against Saint Mary’s and Creighton loomed large, two tests that would reveal if the Sun Devils were ready for the big bang conference opener—you know, against that other team from Tucson.

Fast forward to present time. Two blowouts and one non-competitive loss later, ASU flunked that three-game litmus test. There were countless reasons why the Sun Devils were extinguished in each of those contests, but the common denominator was a failure in the holy grail of basketball success determinants: shot making.

At the end of the day, every matchup nuance and lineup decision pales in comparison to the importance of simply making shots at a high rate, the ultimate equalizer in the modern game of basketball. During that aforementioned three-game span, Arizona State shot a subzero 19% (13-for-69) from the land of plenty, a microcosm of a season-long shooting slump—currently, the Sun Devils are sporting a hideous 29.3% team 3-point field goal percentage, which ranks in the bottom-50 nationally per KenPom.

Bobby Hurley, a longtime advocate of the 3-point shot, is flabbergasted as to why his team can’t throw the biscuit in the basket.

“I mean, I’ve always valued the 3-point line offensively, no matter where I’ve coached,” said Hurley earlier this week when asked about his team’s shot selection. “I would say last year was probably a step back from the prior two years in terms of 3-point shooting and using that as a weapon. This year, we’ve regressed a little more, and there’s still a lot of season left. But I do think that the composition of our lineup and what I’ve seen on the floor in the offseason and fall, we should be shooting better. And we should be a better 3-point shooting team than last year’s team and it just hasn’t happened yet.”

I’m with you, Bobby. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why Remy Martin, Rob Edwards and Taeshon Cherry have all seen their 3-point conversion rates dip from a year ago, nor is there any explanation for newcomers Alonzo Verge and Jaelen House both shooting below their reputational expectations. At some point, these shots are destined to fall. So, what better platform to ignite this turnaround then against Oregon State’s downy soft perimeter defense…

Wayne Tinkle will likely mix and match defenses tonight between man to man and zone—per Synergy, Oregon State plays zone on 30% of all defensive possessions. Regardless of the defensive structure Tinkle throws out there, scoring from five feet and in is typically off limits against the Beavers. That area is patrolled by 7-foot flyswatter Kylor Kelley, who gets his limbs on seemingly every (foolish and ambitious) shot attempt from close range. However, the Sun Devils won’t bat an eye at the Beavers’ interior enforcer. ASU went 2-0 against Oregon State last year and scored at a hyper efficient 1.12 point per possession clip in the rematch in Corvallis. Kelley’s defensive presence tends to have a shock effect on unfamiliar opponents, but the Sun Devils won’t be disturbed after carving up the Beavers twice last year.

It all comes down to which Romello White shows up this evening. White is the Sun Devils’ rock on both sides of the ball and will be tasked with neutralizing Kelley’s overwhelming activity around the rim. Offensively, White gives the Sun Devil guards an interior safety valve. His post scoring prowess often commands double teams and subsequent inside-out kick outs for open looks, which need to fall tonight for ASU to score at an adequate rate. White’s been a shell of himself the last two games, nearly missing the in-state showdown against Arizona with a bum ankle, but all reports indicate that White is nearing full strength.

“He looked good today in practice. He was moving very well,” said Hurley yesterday in practice. “And we took the gloves off a little bit this week, and we’re not going to baby him and give him more days to rest. He agreed with me on that plan, so he was moving very well today.”

If the Sun Devils’ double-double machine is up and running at full speed this evening, ASU has great value as a buy-low opportunity, particularly in a matchup where it has had recent success.

No. 24 Arizona at No. 9 Oregon
Meyer's Pick: Oregon -3.5

Oregon. Arizona. Bill Walton on the call. It doesn’t get much better than this for Pac-12 basketball.

These are two top-20 teams on KenPom (Arizona No. 12, Oregon No. 17), however I do think the Wildcats are slightly overrated compared to where they’re being priced in the market.

Let’s look at how these two teams have fared against “elite” competiton—other top-20 KenPom teams. Arizona lost by five at Baylor and by four to Gonzaga at home, but those are somewhat misleading final scores. You’d think given that the Wildcats lost by a combined nine points in those games that they would be tight second halves with some lead changes. Instead, Arizona led for a combined total of 55 seconds in those second halves. The Wildcats were down 16 points with two minutes left to Gonzaga and trailed by 11 to Baylor with four minutes left before last-second rallies to make the final scores respectable. Despite what the scoreboard says, Arizona certainly looked like a tier below both of those elite teams.

Meanwhile, Oregon edged a full-strength Seton Hall by one on a neutral, lost by one in overtime to Gonzaga and won at Michigan by one in overtime. In the Seton Hall game, Oregon needed to rally down from 19 points in the second half, but the Gonzaga and Michigan contests were close throughout the second half. Based on the games against “elite” competition, Oregon definitely looked like they belonged and even looked like the superior team at times, unlike Arizona.

In terms of matchup, I’m always glad to back Dana Altman at a small number. Over the past five-plus seasons in Pac-12 play, Oregon has covered a whopping 59.1% against conference foes, which is the best in the Pac-12. As a home favorite overall, that number shoots up to 62.5%. In the past five-plus years, Arizona is second among all Pac-12 teams at covering on the road at 54.8% (Utah is 57.8%). But here’s where it gets super interesting. As a road favorite over that stretch, Arizona is 17-9 against the spread (65.4%). As a road underdog? 6-10-1 (37.5%).

Additionally, Sean Miller teams typically struggle against zone defenses, and that’s what Arizona will be going up in Dana Altman’s match-up zone. In order to beat it, the Wildcats will need to knock down shots from the outside, as Oregon is 290th in three-point opponent attempt rate. Arizona is 44th in 3P%, however outside shooting has been a major question mark in those bigger games, as the Wildcats shot a combined 10/48 (20.8%) from three against Baylor and Gonzaga.

I also have major concerns about Arizona’s shot selection overall, which Miller has called out recently. Per hoop-math, the Wildcats have taken the 37th-highest percentage of two-point jumpers. In particular, star freshmen Nico Mannion and Josh Green have attempted two-point jumpers on 41.8% and 38.3% of their shots respectively.

Oregon has a veteran backcourt headlined by seniors Payton Pritchard (who is a NPOY candidate) and Anthony Mathis (ranked fifth in offensive rating among all CBB players). I don’t trust Arizona’s perimeter defense, and this is still a young team playing in its first conference road game (and second one overall).

For as good as fellow Arizona freshman Zeke Nnaji has been on the offensive end, he is still a major work in progress down low on defense. And with getting N’Faly Dante eligible and Shakur Juiston back from injury, Oregon certainly has enough size to counter Nnaji and Chase Jeter in the interior.

In the end, I just think Oregon is the more complete team, has more experience, has the coaching advantage and is playing in front of its home fans in Eugene. I’ll lay the number here.

Santa Clara at San Francisco
Meyer's Pick: San Francisco -6.5

This is a great buy low, sell high opportunity on tonight’s card.

San Francisco comes into this game on a three-game losing streak, dropping contests to Harvard, Saint Mary’s and Portland. The Harvard loss came in overtime and the Portland loss was a bad spot and a quick turnaround—the Dons had to travel from San Francisco after their home loss to Saint Mary’s Thursday night (11 p.m. EST tip) to Portland for a Saturday night game (10 p.m. EST tip) against a Pilots team that didn’t travel that week. It was also USF’s third game in six days.

Now the Dons are coming off four days of rest and get to play back at home vs. Santa Clara team that isn’t nearly as good as its 14-2 record would suggest. The Broncos have faced the easiest schedule in the country thus far, per KenPom, as they rank dead last out of all 353 teams in both strength of schedule rating and average adjusted offensive efficiency of opposing offenses (that mark is 347th in opponents’ average adjusted defensive efficiency, just a smidge better). Eight of Santa Clara’s 14 wins have come against sub-300 teams on KenPom or D-2 schools. And 14 of Santa Clara’s 16 games have come on its home court, where it has won them all.

The two times Santa Clara has faced an opponent ranked inside KenPom’s top 125 were at Stanford and at Nevada. In those two games, the Broncos lost by a combined 49 points. And USF will be road game No. 3, and the Dons are currently sitting at No. 111 in KenPom.

Santa Clara will likely be without second-leading scorer and starting center Guglielmo Caruso in this one, as the Italian big man suffered a leg injury two games ago against Alcorn State and was wearing a walking boot this past weekend. Caruso being out is a big blow to an already-thin frontcourt, and he was a major presence on both ends of the court. Among all CBB players, he ranks 134th in defensive rebounding rate, 97th in block rate and 26th in two-point shooting percentage (58/83 shots, or 69.9%). His absence will make going up against USF’s seven-footer Jimbo Lull much tougher.

Without Caruso, Santa Clara will have to be more reliant on its perimeter game, led by sophomore point guard Trey Wertz. The Broncos rank 55th in three-point percentage (though 182nd in three-point attempt rate). They get plenty of nice looks from outside because, like they’ve been throughout the Herb Sendek era, this is a very strong passing team. The Broncos rank 18th in the country in assist rate this season.

But two areas on defense that USF was strong at during the Kyle Smith era and have been equally adept in the first year under Todd Golden are limiting threes and defending passing lanes. USF ranks 14th in opponent three-point attempt rate, but opponents have knocked down 39.7% of shots from beyond the arc (39.7%). What this suggests is that USF has had rather unfortunate three-point luck on defense, and I expect that to regress.

USF is also seventh in the country in opponent assist rate. When these two teams met last season, the Dons held the Broncos to 40.0% and 34.6% assist rates in those games, significantly down from the Broncos’ 55.9% mark on the year. With a strong stable of guards in Jamaree Bouyea, Charles Minlend and Khalil Shabazz (fifth in all of CBB in steal rate), USF can certainly slow down the Broncos’ attack.

I love this spot and the matchup for USF, and I expect to see a Santa Clara team begin to fall back to earth after taking advantage of a Charmin-soft schedule thus far. 

Overall Record: 23-21-1

3MW Record: 19-12-1

Meyer Record: 4-8

Guest Record: 0-1