College Basketball Best Bets: The Tide Will Turn on LSU

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Alabama ended No. 4 Auburn's undefeated season.

College basketball experts Three Man Weave and SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer are back with their three best bets for Wednesday's slate, including two intriguing road underdogs and one road favorite on the rise. We're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 11:28 a.m. EST) for these plays.

Davidson at George Washington
3MW Pick: Davidson -4.5

Davidson and George Washington both come into tonight winners of three of their last four. The Wildcats have covered and won three straight, including an impressive home win over Saint Louis and appear to finally be playing up to lofty preseason expectations. The Colonials, meanwhile, have covered five of their last six contests, as they look to be starting to gel under new head coach Jamion Christian.

The primary reason for this pick is purely numbers. Davidson is a team that was expected by many to compete for an A-10 title this season, but whose rating has been tanked by oddsmakers (perhaps rightly so) after early year struggles. An injury to KiShawn Pritchett and Luke Frampton’s departure from the school had the Cats in scramble mode while guys like freshman Hyunjung Lee and junior Carter Collins adjusted to bigger roles. As hinted at above, I believe we are finally seeing Davidson playing close to its preseason number, which means it should be in a different class than George Washington, a team that has certainly improved under Christian but one that still is miles away from being a top-flight A-10 program. Since Davidson joined the A-10 in 2015, the Cats are 7-2 against the Colonials.

From a matchup perspective, I’ll first dive into the concern for Davidson backers tonight. George Washington has not been a good defensive team this season, but it’s done one thing extremely well—limit three-point opportunities. Only eight teams in the country have allowed a lower 3PA rate than Christian’s Colonials, and his squad is allowing opponents to shoot just 30% from outside the arc. On the surface, this does not bode well for a Davidson squad whose possessions end in spot-ups nearly 29% of the time (that’s a lot) and who rank 27th nationally in 3PA rate.

Thankfully, Bob McKillop has been around the block once or twice and this isn’t the first time he’s faced an opponent that shuts down the perimeter. Davidson’s offenses have historically been so potent under McKillop due to his ability to make adjustments and counter what defenses take away. There are few teams in the nation that run a more fluid motion offense—with four guards spread outside the arc in constant “pass and cut” mode. Rest assured, Davidson will find success on curls to the lane, backdoor cuts and drives from studs Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady if GW overplays the three-point shot. To boot, while the Cats do not look to run all that often, they are the 14th-best team in transition from a points per possession basis, per Synergy, a defensive area where the Colonials have struggled to get stops all year.

Luka Brajkovic, Davidson’s 6’10” center and only legit paint threat, will be a key factor in this game. He’ll be looked upon to provide consistent inside scoring when the perimeter is taken away. GW has had injury issues in the frontcourt—Arnaldo Toro and Mexie Offurum have missed a few games recently and Javier Langarica has been out awhile, leaving the Colonials with freshmen Jamison Battle and Chase Paar as the primary bigs. While Paar has given the Colonials good efforts this season since getting healthy, he’s been torched on the block in post-up situations, and Battle isn’t near the shot blocker guys like Toro and Langarica are.

Another case for a Davidson cover tonight is based on the Cats’ improved defense over recent games. Davidson has allowed just 0.87, 0.94, and 0.97 PPP over its last three contests, impressive marks for any team but especially impressive for a Davidson team that has been clobbered all year on the defensive end. The Cats have mainly been burned from behind the arc in conference play where teams are shooting 35.9%, and McKillop’s low pressure style of defense doesn’t force turnovers. GW has shot well in A-10 play, but it is by no means a three-point shooting team. Only two players on the roster have attempted over 70 threes this season and/or shot over 30%. GW’s recent hot shooting should start to regress. Davidson’s main concern on this end will be stopping the pick-n-roll, an action ran by the Colonials just about every time down the floor for their guards Armel Potter and Jameer Nelson. Gudmundsson has been exposed in this action this year, but others like Lee and Grady have done well stopping opposing ball handlers. With a lack of outside shooters or inside threats, expect McKillop to pay extra attention to stopping GW’s dynamic driving guards.

Temple at UConn
3MW Pick: Temple +6

Time is running out for the Owls and the Huskies. Two of the American Athletic Conference's most prestigious programs square off tonight in dire need of a course correction, both of whom are treading water in the deep end of the AAC standings. Temple and UConn each had brief moments of glory during the non-conference but have since faded into oblivion since the calendar flipped to January.

However, Temple’s recent skid—the Owls are 0-4 in their last four games, both outright and against the spread—has been largely influenced by an untimely string of injuries and illnesses.

“We had a flu bug that was going around,” said head coach Aaron McKie after Saturday’s loss at Penn. “Nate [Pierre-Louis] missed practice this week. Most of the guys had it. It’s part of the game. The opponent doesn’t really care about that. Yeah, Josh [Pierre-Louis] is sick and he’s battling that flu bug.”

On top of the infectious flu bug spreading like wildfire, the smooth operating Quinton Rose was also banged up over the last two weeks, which poured gasoline on an already-burning inferno. However, Rose’s last two outings indicates he’s starting to heal. A week ago, he lit up Cincinnati for 26 points on just 13 shots, to go along with three blocks and three steals. The last two components of that stat line point to Rose’s activity level and engagement on both ends of the floor, further proof that he’s approaching his peak form.

Rose will have to do damage against an imposing defensive blanket tonight, fortified by two shot-blocking savants in Josh Carlton and Akok Akok. The Huskies’ defense has mitigated a disastrous offense for most of the season—an exact replica of Temple’s current imbalance—but the Owls may have an advantageous opportunity to steal cheap points in transition against a backpedaling and disjointed defense. Temple’s defense excels at baiting opponents into chucking from the cheap seats, evidenced by a sky-high 44.2% defensive 3-point attempt rate. If UConn is suckered in by settling for outside jumpers, this could manifest in long rebounds and subsequent run outs, especially if Huskies are intent on sending multiple bodies to the offensive glass. This will set the stage for Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis to flourish out on the break, two deadly slashers in the open floor who are nearly impossible to stop with a full head of steam.

Temple and UConn are close cousins in their defensive-minded DNA, which should manifest in an ugly eyesore of a game. With points coming at a premium, it will be a chore for either team to pull away by more than three possessions at any point in time, which favors the Owls as a dog. Additionally, I’m no certified medical expert, but Temple should be healthier tonight after enjoying three days off to rest and recover since being outclassed by crosstown rival Penn over the weekend.

Something to keep an eye on is the availability of Temple’s De’Vondre "Dre" Perry, a malleable defender who doubles as a reliable floor spacer on offense. Perry’s now missed two games in a row and while no official word has been given on his status for tonight, all signs indicate he’ll be out. However, on the off-chance Perry does give it a go, that’s an added bonus for Temple backers at the current price, but don’t bank on him lacing ‘em this evening.

Alabama at No. 22 LSU
Meyer's Pick: Alabama +5.5

I can’t imagine it’d be fun to be stuck in a singular day over and over again, a la Bill Murray in Groundhog Day or the college student in Happy Death Day (sneaky underrated movie that came out a few years ago). And while no LSU players, at least ones who will openly admit it, have a full Phil Connors experience throughout the day, the entire team goes through an eerily similar two hours every time it laces up for its latest game as soon as we entered the new decade.

It goes as follows: LSU races out to an early lead, builds it up to double digits, squanders said advantage but escapes with a victory just in the nick of time. The Tigers are currently atop the SEC standings with a 6-0 record vs. conference foes, but they have won their last six games by a combined 15 points—which includes a 69-67 win over Texas this past weekend after blowing a 16-point lead with under 15 minutes remaining.

Just like Connors eventually escapes the endless loop, I am also of the belief that LSU winning all of these close games is unsustainable. And Alabama seems like a prime candidate to snap that streak.

LSU is fifth in offensive adjusted efficiency in all of college basketball per KenPom, which is pretty surprising since the Tigers are not a good shooting team at all (274th in 3P%). "Where LSU thrives is near the rim, whether it's by guards Skylar Mays or Javonte Smart slashing to the hole or by one of its bigs grabbing an offensive rebound. The Tigers are sixth in the country in 2P% (56.3), 23rd in shooting percentage at the rim (66.7, via hoop-math) and eighth in offensive rebounding rate (37.0). Just one member of its rotation is taller than 6’6” (Trendon Watford at 6’9”), but LSU’s athleticism and energy wears out its opponents inside.

After a rough start to the season under first-year coach Nate Oats, Alabama has turned the tide and enters this matchup on a four-game winning streak itself. In conference play, Bama has the lowest opponent offensive rebounding rate (26.9%) and two-point defense (40.0%) among all SEC teams. The Tide don’t have great size either, but given their strengths on the defensive end, this could be the team that gives LSU some issues.

And while LSU has a very strong offense, the Tigers are certainly vulnerable on the other end of the court, ranking 137th in adjusted defensive efficiency. In conference play in particular, the perimeter defense (12th in SEC in three-point attempt rate allowed, 14th in SEC in 3P% allowed) and generating turnovers (12th in SEC in turnover rate) have been the key areas in which the Tigers have been lacking. With Alabama’s perimeter-heavy attack led by sharpshooter John Petty (second in SEC play in three-point attempt rate) along with cutting down on turnovers in conference play (17.6% turnover rate, second-best in SEC), the Tide are a poor matchup all around for this LSU team.

As pointed out to me by one member of Three Man Weave, Jim Root, Oats was furious with his team over the weekend despite picking up a 77-74 win over Kansas State.

“Yeah I was really frustrated,” Oats said. “I mean, like, we wanna be tougher than the teams we play and I felt like we got—I mean one of the areas you can look at a stat sheet and see how hard we play is rebounding and they destroyed us on the glass so I know we play small sometimes but I didn’t think that was the issue as much as it was we just didn’t give an effort when we needed to.”

Oats continued: “We got to do a better job,” Oats said. “I just get a little frustrated over there like, you know, offensively. We’re so much better when we’re playing off our stops in the flow and transition. We need to get more in transition. That means our defense has to be better which we just got to keep working at. We just got to get better.”

Given the magnitude of this game and Oats’s lashing of the team this past weekend, I’d expect to see Alabama lasered in for this one. LSU isn’t as good as its record and all this close-game luck has to even out at some point. 

Overall Record: 33-31-1

3MW Record: 23-18-1

Meyer Record: 10-12

Guest Record: 0-1