College Basketball Best Bets: Don't Hate on Penn State

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SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer is back with some best bets for a monster Saturday slate in college basketball. We're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 8:54 a.m. EST) for these plays.

South Carolina at Texas A&M
Meyer's Pick: Texas A&M -1.5

Not only is this a great spot, but I think you’re getting a currently underrated team at a short price.

South Carolina is coming off a buzzer-beating win at home over SEC favorite Kentucky, and now has a quick turnaround by traveling to College Station for an early afternoon tip against one of the SEC’s worst teams. Talk about a flat spot.

But this Texas A&M group has come alive in SEC play after a disastrous showing against non-conference competition. A big reason why is that the Aggies were slow to adjust to first-year coach Buzz Williams’s system, but they’re getting the hang of it now.

"I feel like it's showing now," senior Josh Nebo said. "Competing against each other when nobody's there, those are the times when you really improve as a team and I feel like it's showing now."

In SEC play, A&M trailed by just three points with less than eight minutes to go at Arkansas before the Hogs pulled away late to win by 10. The Aggies then beat Ole Miss by 10 at home and won by 19 at Vanderbilt. They nearly pulled off the upset over LSU at home on Tuesday, however the Tigers escaped with a four-point win in overtime. Regardless, this is a team clearly on the upswing, led by its upperclassmen Nebo, Savion Flagg and Wendell Mitchell.

Another knock on South Carolina is its incredibly poor shot selection. Per hoop-math, the Gamecocks take the fourth-highest percentage of two-point jumpers (42.4%), but the 27th-lowest percentage of shots at the rim and 21st-lowest percentage of three-pointers.

A&M’s offense has been brutal most of the season, yet that’s due to an inability to make shots, particularly from three (351st in 3P% at 25.6). That number has jumped to 31.7% in SEC play, though. In a game where baskets will be hard to come by, I’ll side with the team taking smarter shots.

No. 21 Ohio State at Penn State
Meyer's Pick: Penn State +2

Ohio State completely embarrassed Penn State in Columbus back in early December, as the then-undefeated Buckeyes rolled to a 106-74 victory. The margin of victory, though, is rather misleading.

Ohio State led by 10 points with 13:26 remaining, then the game turned when Penn State star Lamar Stevens picked up his fourth and fifth fouls, with the latter being a technical to disqualify him from the remainder of the affair. Stevens fouled out after playing just 18 minutes, and the Buckeyes went on a 46-24 run in the final 13:26.

Fellow big man Mike Watkins, a critical part of the Nittany Lions’ smothering interior defense (15th in CBB on 2P% allowed, 27th in CBB in opponent shot percentage at the rim), only played 17 minutes himself due to foul trouble. Ohio State shot a 60.7% on twos and 53.8% on threes, and I doubt you’ll see the Buckeyes come close to replicating those marks in Happy Valley on Saturday.

Penn State has dropped three games in a row, however the Nittany Lions will be fired up with revenge on their mind and the chance to knock off a ranked team in the confines of Happy Valley. The Buckeyes themselves have been struggling too, as they snapped a four-game losing streak with a 12-point win over Nebraska on Tuesday.

Ohio State has started off 2-4 in Big Ten play, and three of those losses have come on the road, and all three have come by double digits. It’s not just the Buckeyes, though, that have struggled away from home. If you’ve lived under a rock this college basketball season or your focus is on other conferences, Big Ten teams have struggled mightily on the road.

If Stevens and Watkins aren’t whistled as frequently as the last Ohio State game, the Buckeyes should have a much more difficult time scoring the ball inside. Additionally, the physical nature of those two will be tough for Ohio State’s interior defense to stop, even though the Buckeyes have been elite this season defending twos (third in CBB in 2P% defense).

I’ll take the Nittany Lions here to pull off the upset. 

NOTES: Ole Miss has dropped its first three conference games and four straight overall. The Rebels entered the season ranked No. 56 on KenPom, but have fallen all the way to No. 111 amid this skid. For me, I view this game as a perfect “buy low, sell high” game.

Three of those four Ole Miss losses in a row have come on the road (Wichita State, Texas A&M, Florida). In the lone home game over that stretch, the Rebels blew a nine-point lead with 7:30 remaining against Arkansas and last by four. In the last loss, against the Gators, the Rebels were without two key starters in senior point guard Breein Tyree and junior center Khadim Sy. Sy didn’t make the trip to Gainesville for undisclosed reasons, however Davis said he will play today. Tyree (back contusion) will be a game-time decision, so definitely monitor that one.

LSU, meanwhile, is 4-0 in SEC play, but how the Tigers have pulled it off has been underwhelming. LSU won by 14 at Tennessee against a Volunteers team that had recently lost senior point guard Lamonte Turner. That was still the most impressive performance by far, as the Tigers have beaten Arkansas, Mississippi State and Texas A&M by a combined seven points, and those first two came at home while the latter was on the road in overtime.

I’m personally waiting to see if Tyree plays, and will fire on this if he’s good to go. 

UPDATE (7:07 p.m. EST): Tyree seems like he's going to play, so added Ole Miss +4.5 via William Hill.

A couple teams that I like in their respective matchups, but the number was a little too high for me to pull the trigger were UNLV -5 vs. New Mexico and Arizona -6 vs. Colorado. If those numbers come down a bit, I may add them. A moneyline parlay of the two isn't a bad idea, either. Or worst case, I'll try and grab UNLV and Arizona at a better number with in-game betting. And for my Pac-12 followers who were expecting at least one Pac-12 best bet from me, if I had to pick one play from the conference today, it'd be USC -2 vs. Stanford. I just think there are clear signs for Cardinal regression, and the Trojans play much better at Galen Center compared to on the road. 

Overall Record: 30-25-1

3MW Record: 23-14-1

Meyer Record: 7-10

Guest Record: 0-1