College Basketball Best Bets: Buffs Aren't as Strong on the Road

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College basketball experts Three Man Weave and SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer are back with their four best bets for Thursday's slate, including rolling with three Pac-12 home teams. We're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 11:36 a.m. EST) for these plays.

Oregon State at Washington
3MW Pick: Washington -3.5

In the Pac-12, there’s just no place like home. Just ask Washington about its tumultuous trip to NorCal over the weekend. After blowing a late lead against Stanford last Thursday, the Huskies laid another egg three nights later just across the bay in Berkeley. Tracing back to the end of 2019, Washington’s now lost four of its last five game since the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii (1-4 against the spread over that span), which begs the question whether Mike Hopkins and the boys are still stuck in a trance from the island "vacation."

Here’s the thing. Since returning to the mainland, this recent skid is no longer a blip on the radar. Rather, it’s become an infected wound on the Huskies’ resume, one that, if left untreated, could put them in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament. Complicating matters is the recent suspension of point guard Quade Green, who had quietly stabilized Washington’s offense after bolting from the intense media microscope at Kentucky. Last weekend, we got an alarming sneak peek into the long-term effects of removing Green from the system. His absence sent shockwaves through Washington’s offense, resulting in unforced errors and uncertain decision making. The Huskies’ posted putrid offensive performances of 0.80 and 0.85 points per possession in back-to-back games, looking dazed and confused on offense for nearly 80 minutes of basketball.

After conceding that the loss of Green is a catastrophic blow in the Cal postgame press conference, Hopkins emphatically attempted to close that chapter and focus on moving forward. "To be honest, I've moved forward," Hopkins said. "This is what we've got. This is who we are. This is how we have to win. Sometimes things like this happen. We got to realize we've got good players in the program."

In the long run, I fear for Washington’s at-large chances. But, for here and now, this recent turbulence sets up for a great value bet. The Huskies draw an Oregon State team that’s beating its chest after walloping Arizona by 17 points at home on Sunday. The Beavers do have an impressive road win over Colorado this season, but OSU has not been the same team away from Corvallis this season—just refer to double-digit losses to Texas A&M and Utah. Now, they have to travel to Seattle to face the bloodthirsty Huskies, who should be able to pound the ball inside and go right at 7’4" Kylor Kelley, one of the most feared rim protectors in all of college basketball. Isaiah Stewart’s brawn should bully Kelley’s lean frame and put pressure on the Beavers’ interior centerpiece. OSU will counter with some zone schemes to protect Kelley, but Washington’s overwhelming length and size across all five possessions will allow them to easily throw over the 1-3-1 and find seams to attack. Finally, if all else fails, Washington’s ultra-long lineup in a post-Quade Green world should relentlessly invade the glass to hunt down two and three-shot opportunities.

Even without Green, Washington still has oodles of talent and is coached by a savvy schematic coach, one who should have the Huskies well-prepared to exploit Oregon State’s multiple defensive schemes.

Cal State Northridge at UC Riverside
3MW Pick: Cal State Northridge +3.5

I’ll start this writeup with a shameless plug for Matt Cox’s Mid Major Reinforcements piece on our website, because the biggest reason for this pick lies at the heart of that article’s premise: Lamine Diane, CSUN’s preternaturally talented forward who sat out the first semester due to “academics” (whatever those are). Diane single-handedly raises the level of this Matadors team. Of course, you might also notice a UC Riverside name in that article (forward Arinze Chidom), so both of these teams are incorporating a significant piece as conference play kicks into high gear.

Back to Diane. The results since he returned don’t necessarily display the “next level” performance I’m proclaiming, particularly the bowl of wet farts the Matadors left at Cal Poly last Saturday night. CSUN lost by 18 as a six-point favorite, and unfortunately, that’s a risk you run when wagering on a Mark Gottfried team—at any point, they could sit down on the court while waiting for its next bag drop payment. Still, I choose to take it as a good sign that CSUN got that deplorable game out of its system before I back them tonight.

Statistically, the Matadors have lived up to their name; if you check out their KenPom page, you’ll feel like a bull when looking at their defensive numbers (i.e., you’ll quite literally be seeing red). They rank 327 in KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency metric, but looking closer, I don’t think they’re quite that bad. Foes have buried a scorching 39.3% of their triples against them, a number that ranks their 3P% defense 343rd in the country. That number is likely to regress, and that will be especially helpful for a team that does give up a fairly high proportion of triples. There’s risk here—Riverside takes a lot of threes—so let’s hope the host Highlanders are only “average” from this range. Additionally, adding a disruptive monster like Diane should help; he’s currently averaging 2.4 blocks and 2.4 steals per game, demonstrating the impact his athleticism can have on the game.

What I really think CSUN can do in this matchup is outscore Riverside, and that starts with Diane. He’s a completely unfair offensive talent in the Big West, capable of scoring around, over or through any defender in the league. He’s highly adept at drawing contact (currently drawing an absurd 11.3 fouls per 40 minutes), and that propensity to get to the line could have the compounding effect of forcing the aforementioned Chidom (and/or fellow big man Angus McWilliam) to the bench early.

Gottfried smartly dots the floor around his star with shooting, particularly the lethal backcourt of Terrell Gomez (39.2% from deep) and Darius Brown (37.8%). That forces opponents to think twice about doubling Diane, and when they do, the skilled redshirt sophomore has enough vision to kick the ball out to the right spot. The offense was certainly rocky in San Luis Obispo on Saturday night, tallying just 0.76 points per possession, but they’re far too talented to expect another egg like that. Diane needs to avoid foul trouble—he picked up his fifth after just 26 minutes at Poly—but if he’s on the court, the offense should hum.

Ultimately, I think this game feels like a “pick’em,” which means I’m thrilled to be getting 3.5 points while having the best player on the court. With any luck, Diane will also be “reinforcing” the Weave’s pick record while slapping up a 30-point, 15-rebound line. 

No. 20 Colorado at Arizona State
Meyer's Pick: Arizona State +2

Let’s roll with a Thursday two-fer from the Conference of (non-revenue sports) Champions.

We’ll start with one of the Pac-12 betting commandments: Thou shalt fade Colorado on the road. Since the Buffaloes moved to the Pac-12 in 2011, no team in the conference has been worse at covering on the road than Colorado, as it has gone 36-61-1 (37.1%). If you want to look at since the 2017-18 season, when McKinley Wright, Tyler Bey and a few other key rotation players were all on the roster, the Buffs are 7-20 ATS on the road (25.9%).

The Arizona road trip in particular has been troublesome for Tad Boyle, as his teams have won just once at either Arizona State or Arizona in 14 tries since switching their allegiance to the Pac-12. Last season, with largely the same roster, Colorado lost by a combined 30 points on the Arizona road trip, and that included the worst Arizona team of the Sean Miller era.

Colorado has started off Pac-12 play with three straight home games, while Arizona State has begun its conference journey with three consecutive on the road, and two of them came against the Pac-12’s top teams in Oregon and Arizona. So situationally, this is a nice buy-low spot on the Sun Devils.

ASU’s biggest strength on defense is forcing turnovers (54th in CBB in defensive turnover rate), and that is led by the energetic guard tandem of Remy Martin (190th in steal rate) and Jaelen House (34th in steal rate). Colorado has had major issues this season keeping care of the rock, as it ranks 233rd in turnover rate. The Buffaloes’ offense as a whole has been very inconsistent this season, and while they’ll have an advantage inside with Bey and Evan Battey, they have really struggled scoring at the rim. Per hoop-math, Colorado has shot 54.7% at the rim, which is tied for 35th-worst in the country. Among high-major schools, only Providence and Marquette are worse. And even though the Buffs are 51st in 3P% (36.5%), I don’t trust their outside shooting, especially away from home. They are 200th in three-point attempt rate this season, and last season with largely the same roster, they shot 32.3% from three (272nd). So I’ll buy some improvement, but not that much.

Additionally, one thing that was interesting this past weekend was Bobby Hurley rolled out some 2-3 zone for the first time all season against Oregon in the second half, which slowed down the Ducks' attack. Colorado had a second-half implosion two weeks ago in Boulder when Wayne Tinkle switched up Oregon State's defense to zone, allowing the Beavers to comeback from a double-digit deficit and stun the Buffaloes. Given that ASU has already faced Colorado this season in non-conference play (yes, you're reading that correctly, thanks to the Pac-12 China game!), Hurley could opt to throw this new wrinkle at the Buffs here.

ASU’s offense has struggled in the half court all season, and it’s largely due to the fact that the Sun Devils have really struggled hitting outside shots. We saw recently what happened when those shots do fall, as ASU hit 50% of its three-point attempts in a road win over Oregon State last Thursday.

But where the Sun Devils can really thrive here is in transition. Per hoop-math, ASU is 23rd in all of CBB in percentage of shots attempted in transition. And per Synergy, while Colorado’s defense ranks in the 78th percentile in all of CBB in points per possession allowed, it drops to the 22nd percentile in PPP allowed on transition opportunities. With the Buffaloes’ aforementioned turnover issues and ASU’s ability to generate steals, the Sun Devils should find themselves with plenty of transition opportunities.

Give me the points and the outright upset in Tempe.

California at USC
Meyer's Pick: USC -11

The other Pac-12 team that hasn’t had a home game in conference play is USC.

The Trojans have struggled on the road during a lot of Andy Enfield’s tenure, particularly as a road underdog (9-19-1 against the spread or 32.1% over the past five seasons). But the Trojans at home have been a different story, especially as a favorite (39-30-1 ATS or 56.5% over the last five seasons). Despite having an abundance of talent the past five seasons after starting off his USC tenure with empty cupboard, Enfield’s teams usually take care of business against weaker foes and massively struggle with a step up in competition.

Cal comes into this one sweeping the Washington schools at home, but I’m far from buying the Golden Bears. They won by a combined 10 points despite Washington and Washington State shooting 15/57 (26.3%) from three, and the Washington game was without Quade Green, who the Huskies have massively struggled to adjust to his absence. Away from Berkeley has been a different story this season for Cal, however, as it ranks as the 10th-worst team in CBB in Haslametrics’s Away-From-Home rating—which measures how a team performs in neutral and road games compared to its overall season performance.

The biggest problem for Cal in this one, though, is that USC is a total matchup nightmare. The Golden Bears don’t like to take threes at all (347th in three-point attempt rate), but take an abundance of two-point jumpers (17th-highest shot frequency in CBB) and are middle of the pack in shots at the rim. USC’s defense excels at defending inside the arc, as the Trojans rank 17th in 2P% and 27th in block rate. That can largely be attributed to star freshman big man Onyeka Okongwu, who is a one-man Fort Knox in the paint.

Cal also has issues with controlling the basketball, ranking 227th in turnover rate. Per hoop-math, USC ranks 84th in percentage of initial field goals attempted in transition, and the Trojans certainly have the athleticism to give the Golden Bears fits on both the defensive end of the floor and in transition. Rebounding is another area where USC should have a giant advantage, as Okongwu, Nick Rakocevic and Co. rank 60th in offensive rebounding rate.

USC doesn’t take nearly as many threes as in seasons past, however if you give the Trojans second chances and transition opportunities, they should have a field day. And given that Cal should really struggle on the offensive end with USC’s length and athleticism, the Golden Bears will have trouble keeping up on the scoreboard. I really don’t like laying double digits with Enfield, but this has blowout written all over it.   

Overall Record: 27-24-1

3MW Record: 21-14-1

Meyer Record: 6-9

Guest Record: 0-1