College Basketball Best Bets: Blue Hens Won't Lay Egg vs. Towson

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College basketball experts Three Man Weave are back with their two best bets for Thursday's slate. They're rolling with two home teams, including one coming off a brutal buzzer-beater defeat. We're using the current odds from William Hill (as of 10:32 a.m. EST) for these plays. SI Gambling Producer Max Meyer will be submitting his best bet later on in an update. 

Cincinnati at Wichita State
3MW Pick: Wichita State -5

The easy way out here would be to make a “Shocking” joke about Wichita State losing at Tulsa on Saturday, but I have higher expectations for myself. I was astounded—nay, flabbergasted—to see a Gregg Marshall-coached team lay an egg down the stretch against a Frank Haith-coached team, and Mr. Haith continues to be my college basketball arch-nemesis (but that’s an entirely different issue). The Shockers, meanwhile, desperately need a bounce-back performance.

It won’t be easy against a surging Cincinnati squad, but from a handicapping angle, this sets up quite well as a “buy low, sell high” spot for Wichita State. The Shockers just shot 6-for-31 (19.4%) from downtown—many of which were open jumpers—against Tulsa and couldn’t even get a game-winning shot attempt off in the last 10 seconds. Marshall lamented the awful shooting performance against a Tulsa defense that invites jumpers.

“You have to make shots,” Marshall said. “You have to make wide-open shots. We had a hard time doing that [Saturday]. Obviously we could have had more movement of the ball. We could have gotten the ball into the middle a little more. But the shots we were missing early in the first half, I’m thinking off the top of my head, four, five, six shots just wide open, no one near them. We’ve just got to knock them in.”

The Wichita guards and wings are too good to continue converting at such a dire rate from downtown, and losing on a buzzer beater should have the Shockers laser-focused on getting a win to stay within striking distance of the top of the American standings.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won four straight games (and six of seven), and the Bearcats are coming off an incredible comeback against Houston on Saturday night, erasing a 15-point deficit in the second half. It was an emotionally taxing half that required a home-run effort, and it’s easy to imagine a hangover/letdown coming in a hostile environment at the Roundhouse.

Another factor that’s absolutely worth noting: Cincinnati has had some serious travel issues in trying to get to Wichita, and the Bearcats will not arrive until Thursday afternoon, not long before the 6 p.m. central tip-off. That can really throw off a team— especially one that left it all on the court to edge out Houston on Saturday—and Cincinnati struggled in a similar situation when traveling to Tulane. The Bearcats had to take a smaller plane and stop multiple times on the way to New Orleans, and they ended up losing outright as 7.5-point favorites.

This is a similar spot to four weeks ago when I rolled with Wichita to cover against Memphis, and the Shockers jumped out to a double-digit lead in that one en route to a relatively comfortable cover. I’m expecting a similar performance in this one, despite a physical, in-form opponent. Alright, I’ll say it: I’ll be Shocked if they don’t get it done. 

Towson at Delaware
3MW Pick: Delaware -2.5

In today’s memorandum, "Handicapping the Hens," we probe into the ebbs and flows of Delaware’s 2019-20 betting market value. As you’ll find, the Blue Hens’ value fluctuations bear a striking resemblance to a traditional story plot line. First, there’s the opening act. Everything’s honky dory in this conflict-free first phase of our story. While the stage is set, we grow fond for the characters as they build toward something great. This is the month of November for Delaware, a four-week stretch during which the Blue Hens ripped off nine straight wins and put the entire CAA on notice.

Then, the problem arises. Our characters face their first signs of adversity and we are often introduced to the villain. For the Blue Hen hoopers, they faced many villains during this tumultuous stretch of the season—seven to be exact—as Delaware sank to 12-7 on the year after a sizzling 9-0 start. The fascinating wrinkle during this chapter of our handicapping tale was the introduction of a new character, Dylan Painter. A former Villanova transfer and 4-star recruit, Painter is a unicorn by CAA standards. He wasn’t bashful asserting himself as one of the go-to guys on an already well-oiled machine, a forceful move that reverberated throughout the Hens’ internal chemistry. Despite Painter’s gaudy individual numbers, Delaware went 3-4 in Painter’s first seven games, a unreconcilable development that left handicappers all over the country scratching their heads.

Cue up the final phase of our story. Yes, the always predictable victory of our protagonists. This is when our beloved characters overcome conflict and achieve some version of success. This is where we stand today with the Blue Hens, now winners of four games in a row, including two of the CAA’s most impressive victories: at Northeastern and at Hofstra. That two-game stretch marked the ‘a-ha!’ moment for our protagonist. Flushed with extensive talent and enviable experience, the Blue Hens finally figured out how to weaponize their offensive artillery.

Tonight, Delaware seeks revenge against Towson, who toyed with the Blue Hens earlier this year in Baltimore. Out of all the CAA adversaries, the Tigers have been as close to invincible as any villain the Hens will face the rest of the season. There’s an old saying, "respect your opponent," a mantra Delaware would be wise to embrace tonight. Towson’s loaded with length and athleticism, which has translated into the CAA’s best 2-point field-goal percentage defense. The Hens face a tall task in having to score against this interior fortress, but our protagonist is a different version than what we saw in the first meeting between these two NCAA tournament hopefuls.

Stanford at Utah
Meyer's Pick: Utah -2 (as of 11:26 a.m. EST)

Stanford has been the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 this season, rolling off to a 16-5 start and legitimate NCAA tournament hopes despite having minimal expectations coming into this campaign. Stanford is coming off its biggest win of the season, beating Oregon by 10 at home on Saturday for its first Quad 1 victory. However, the Cardinal have benefitted from an extremely advantageous travel schedule, and that’s about to change.

Stanford hasn’t traveled outside the state of California for a game since… November. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. And the Cardinal’s three Pac-12 road games haven’t exactly been daunting environments—apologies to Pauley Pavilion, Galen Center and Haas Pavilion. Now Stanford embarks on the conference’s most challenging trip, starting with facing off against Utah in the rowdy Huntsman Center on Thursday night.

The altitude road trip is a pain for all Pac-12 teams, and this is a very young Stanford group, as it ranks 334th in experience, per KenPom. There are zero seniors in the main rotation, and the Cardinal start two true freshmen in prolific guard Tyrell Terry and sharpshooting forward Spencer Jones.

Terry and Jones have keyed an offensive renaissance in Palo Alto, while the defense has jumped to another stratosphere after finishing 66th in adjusted efficiency last season. The Cardinal are now sixth in the entire country in that department, and have been spectacular at defending shots close to the rim, allowing opponents to shoot a mere 38.7% from close range per hoop-math (sixth in CBB). Where Stanford has been fortunate, however, is with unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers. According to Synergy, opponents are shooting 30.2% on those shots and registering 0.887 points per possession—and Stanford’s defense ranks in the 91st percentile in that department.

In Pac-12 play, the Cardinal have the best two- and three-point shooting percentages and the best 2P% and 3P% defense in the conference. Stanford is a solid team, but leading all of those shooting categories simply isn’t sustainable. Keep in mind, five of Stanford’s eight league games have come at home and the Cardinal have already faced the dregs of the Pac-12 (Cal and Washington State) three times. And before the Oregon victory, we started to see some cracks forming with the Cardinal losing three in a row, including to California and Oregon State.

Admittedly, Utah has stumbled in Pac-12 play at 3-6, but the Utes have been a much better team in their home arena. They’re won three of their four games there against conference foes, with the fourth being a five-point loss to Oregon. On the road has been a different story, as the Utes have lost all five contests, including four by at least 16 points. In the Utes’ two losses to the Los Angeles schools this past week, they were without Both Gach (knee). Gach didn’t play at USC on Thursday after he was labeled a game-time decision and sat out against UCLA on Sunday after being on the floor during warmups.

I’m hoping after a few more days of rest that Gach is back after his last-second scratch this past weekend because he is an explosive athlete who can to the hole with ease. He and Timmy Allen are both excellent at getting to the rim, and Stanford had trouble a week ago defending a strong slashing team in Oregon State when it lost to the Beavers by five in Palo Alto. True freshman point guard Rylan Jones has also been very impressive as a floor general, despite the fact that he looks similar to the kid from the Mad Magazine covers.

In the end, I have to trust the spot with a Stanford team coming off its best win of the season and playing well over its head now having to travel for its toughest road environment of the season. 

Overall Record: 37-34-2

3MW Record: 27-20-1

Meyer Record: 10-13-1

Guest Record: 0-1