College Basketball Best Bets: Golden Grizzlies a Bad Matchup for Cleveland State

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College basketball experts Three Man Weave are back with their two best bets for Thursday's slate. We're using the current odds from Westgate SuperBook (as of 1:30 p.m. ET) for these plays.

Delaware at Elon
3MW Pick: Delaware -2

Fortunately, this is not a battle in the wild between the two avian mascots at play here, because I’m not sure a Blue Hen (which is, apparently, a blue strain of American gamecock) could out-duel a Phoenix, considering phoenixes are, you know, immortal. On the basketball court, though, the Blue Hens have an excellent shot as short favorites on the road.

The first time these two teams played, Delaware was a 10.5-point favorite at home and Elon scared the pants off the Blue Hens. The hosts needed a go-ahead triple with five seconds left to squeak out a one-point victory. That should warrant the utmost attention from the Blue Hens, who still have a real shot at a CAA regular season title; at 8-4, they’re just one game back of 9-3 Hofstra. Of course, that can work both ways, as Elon should be plenty confident that they can hang with Delaware after a performance like that.

A key point on the first meeting, though: the Blue Hens were still figuring out how to incorporate 6-foot-10 Villanova transfer Dylan Painter into the lineup, forcing the team’s tremendous perimeter trio of point guard Kevin Anderson and wings Ryan Allen and Nate Darling to rediscover their roles on the fly. Painter himself was a complete zero against the Phoenix in the first meeting (only took two shots in 20 minutes), a strange occurrence considering he has an immense physical advantage against anyone Elon throws at him.

The Blue Hens have been playing significantly better, though, tallying six straight wins (covered four of their last five) and getting all-world performances from Darling (last four games: 30.5 PPG). They’ve figured out how to use their intimidating new "Paint" presence inside, as well as play off him and the attention he draws when on the block. Along with Darling's scoring tear, Anderson and Allen have recaptured their early season magic, a glorious time when the Blue Hens started the season 9-0 overall and 7-1 against the spread.

For Elon’s part, the Phoenix are also playing their best ball of the season. They've won three straight, including knocking off CAA contenders Northeastern and Charleston (at Charleston). Stanford transfer Marcus Sheffield has emerged into a star in his own right, but Delaware has the perimeter length to shut down the 6-foot-5 scoring machine (held him to 3-of-12 shooting in the first matchup).

Ultimately, this is just a situation where the talent on the Delaware sideline outclasses that of the Phoenix. Interestingly, had Delaware rolled over Elon in the first meeting, I’d be less inclined to back the Blue Hens. But since they nearly got embarrassed at home, they should not be at risk of overlooking this one. Both coaches (Delaware’s Martin Inglesby and Elon’s Mike Schrage) know how to maximize their teams. Given that stalemate, I’ll roll with the "better" team, in my estimation.

Cleveland State at Oakland
3MW Pick: Oakland -7.5

Since defeating Cleveland State on January 11, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies have lost six of their last seven contests and covered just twice. The grueling stretch sent the Grizzlies cascading down the Horizon League standings to ninth place, where they currently sit two games back of the CSU Vikings. The Vikes haven’t been great either since that January meeting, going 2-5 straight-up and 3-4 ATS, but at least Dennis Gates’ squad is outperforming expectations.

Oakland will look to right the ship tonight in the friendly confines of Athletics Center O’Rena after playing three straight on the road, the last two against the two best teams in the league. The Grizzlies will look to repeat their January 11 performance against CSU in which they completely shut down the Vikings, holding them to 0.87 PPP and coming out victorious by 13 points.

This is a nightmare matchup for Cleveland State, as the prior meeting indicated just over a month ago. The Vikings’ offense is already terrible, ranking 332nd overall in the nation and ninth in Horizon play, per KenPom, but against the Grizzlies it promises to be even worse. 

Oakland focuses on packing the paint defensively, allowing opposing teams to try to beat them from behind the arc. The Grizzlies allow the 11th-highest 3PA rate in the nation, usually a dangerous stat in today’s game but one that will be fortuitous against CSU. The Vikings are shooting just 27.4% from downtown this season, good for sixth-worst in the country (33.6% in league play). But more than that, no team in the nation attempts a lower rate of threes nor scores a lesser percentage from behind the arc than the Vikings. 

CSU wants to attack the rim and the glass any chance it gets. Per Hoop-Math, the Vikings rank third nationally in percentage of shots attempted near the rim and, per KenPom, eighth in FTA rate. The Grizzlies disallow opportunities near the basket and free throw attempts at top 50 rates in the country. While CSU may kill Oakland on the offensive glass (as they did in matchup No. 1), the Vikings will not get many clean looks near the cup nor free chances from the stripe.

On the other end, Oakland should find success creating second chance opportunities—the Vikings are nearly as poor on the defensive glass as the Grizzlies—and will earn ample trips to the free throw line. In the first matchup, Oakland shot a whopping 37 free throws, in line with its 77th best FTA rate in the nation and CSU’s 306th FTA rate defense. 

Kampe’s squad moves the ball extremely well on offense, which should help the Grizzlies cut up the Vikings defense. Kampe himself is another reason to love the Grizzlies tonight—he is a great coach with a history of winning. In a game against one of the weaker teams in the Horizon in which Oakland needs to get back near the middle of the pack of the conference standings, coaching should shine through and guide the Grizzlies to a double-digit win. 

3MW Record: 30-21-1

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