Thursday Night College Hoops: Back the Under in Lubbock

The college basketball season continues to march on as many teams across the country continue to kick off their conference schedule with many other teams starting to end their non-conference slates.  

The Thursday Night college hoops slate looks to be the lightest schedule of a loaded week of games, but despite the smaller slate of action, there are still enticing games to jump in on. 

Here are the plays I am backing tonight, including a pick from tonight’s Big 12 heavyweight matchup between 5th ranked Kansas and 14th ranked Texas Tech.

#5 Kansas at #14 Texas Tech

Spread: Texas Tech -3.5
Total: O/U 135.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN

The game of the evening takes us to Lubbock, Texas where 5th ranked Kansas meets 14th ranked Texas Tech in the Big 12 conference opener for both schools.  Each team enters tonight’s contest with matching 6-1 records, with the Jayhawks playing the tougher schedule to date.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk has rattled off six straight wins after their opening loss to #1 Gonzaga, headlined by victories over #9 Creighton and a Kentucky team still finding their way, while Texas Tech lost their lone test of the season 64-53 to then #17 Houston and has wins over teams with a combined 9-20 mark to begin the new year.

While each team enters tonight’s game boasting offenses averaging 75 points per contest, the two teams are likely to play at a much slower pace tonight and defense will almost surely be the focal point of each team. 

Texas Tech enters tonight’s Big 12 opener with the best defensive unit in the country, and Chris Beard’s crew has landed in the Top 10 for defensive efficiency in each of his four seasons in Lubbock.  Their defensive numbers are downright beautiful through the first seven games of the schedule, as the Red Raiders are forcing turnovers on 30% of their opponent’s possessions and are holding teams to just 25% shooting from downtown.

The Jayhawks are not lacking for defense either.  So far this season they stake claim to the 6th overall defensive unit in college basketball and have held their opponents to just 29% shooting from three-point range.

This has all the makings of an all-out slugfest tonight and what else would you expect from two of the best teams in college basketball?

Kansas Players to Know

While Kansas lost a lot of talent when it watched Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike leave for the NBA, Bill Self has once again restocked his cupboard of talent this time with highly-touted freshman Jalen Wilson.

Wilson leads the Jayhawks in scoring with 15.3 points per contest and is shooting the three-ball at a 38 percent clip.  Junior Ochai Agbaji (14.1 ppg, 46% 3PM) and Christian Braun (11.9 ppg, 44.4% 3PM) give Self even more range from outside, while 6-10 junior David McCormack is Kansas’ best rim protector and fourth Kansas starter currently averaging double digits in scoring at just over 10 points per game.

The most important player this evening, however, is likely to be that of senior Marcus Garrett.  While Garrett is not the most dangerous scoring threat on the floor (8.6 ppg), he is Self’s best perimeter defender and a complete pest for the opposition to deal with. 

Why will he be so important?  Well, that’s a wonderful segue into the next section!

Texas Tech Players to Know

The Red Raiders’ best player of the young season has been that of former Georgetown product Mac McClung (14.1 ppg, 33.3% 3PM).  McClung is the catalyst for the entire Texas Tech offensive attack, and how he’s able to handle the relentless defense from Marcus Garrett will tell us a lot of how this matchup figures to go.

If Garrett can lock down McClung in the same manner he’s locked down many other guards across college basketball, the onus to score will fall on the shoulders of sophomore Terrance Shannon (11.8 ppg) and junior Kyler Edwards (11.3 ppg, 38% 3PM). 

Edwards is currently the teams’ most consistent shooter from long range, but collectively Texas Tech is a very poor outside shooting team (35% 3PM, 104th overall).  And they’ve been poor against teams that they are noticeably far inferior to the talent Beard has on the floor. 

The Red Raiders are also a smaller team, with no one in Texas Tech’s regular rotation being taller than 6-8 (Beard has a 7-1 freshman center who has only seen action in garbage time), but Kansas also has a roster comprised mostly of smaller players so their disadvantage in the frontcourt will not be as pronounced in this matchup as it could be further down the road.

Kansas-Texas Tech Prediction & Best Bet

With Baylor looking like the clear favorite to win the Big 12, this matchup will go a long way towards figuring out who the second-best team in the conference is.  Both Kansas and Texas Tech should reside in the Top 15 of the polls for the majority of the season, and each team will once again be a very difficult out in March.

Tonight, however, is a total toss-up in terms of who will come out victorious.  If I had to pick a winner I would lean with the oddsmakers here and take Texas Tech as home favorites, but I feel like the temperature of this game screams “under” as Texas Tech’s smothering defense should slow down the Jayhawks bevy of outside shooters, while Kansas’ tough perimeter defense will make offense for the Red Raiders hard to come by.

I will be taking the under and looking for windows to bet the game live.  If you love defensive basketball, this will be the matchup for you.

Prediction: Texas Tech 68, Kansas 64
Best Bet: UNDER 135.5  

#9 Creighton at St. John’s

Spread: Creighton -6.5
Total: O/U 157.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, FS1

If two Big 12 teams shooting sub 40% percent on the evening isn’t your thing, the Big East has a game for you.

9th ranked Creighton (4-2 overall, 0-1 Big East) looks to bounce back from an 89-84 home loss to Marquette when it pays a visit to conference foe St. John’s (5-3 overall, 0-2 Big East) tonight.

The Red Storm are also looking to bounce back from a recent skid, as they have dropped their first two conference games of the season, most recently a 97-94 OT loss to Georgetown this past Sunday. 

The scoreboard should light up all evening as St. John’s plays at a blistering pace (14th overall tempo in the country per KenPom) under coach Mike Anderson, while Creighton has the 5th most efficient offense in college basketball, shoots nearly 60 percent from the floor and is averaging 85 points per game.

Neither team figures to play much defense tonight, hence why the total is pushing the 160 range, but that should keep the game entertaining, to say the least.

Creighton Players to Know

As we’ve discussed at length in recent pieces highlighting Creighton, the Bluejays have a treasure trove of three-point shooters that they unleash on their opposition seemingly from start to finish.

Greg McDermott’s Bluejays have five players averaging double-figures in scoring and all five players can shoot the three, each shooting better than 34% from distance.  The catalyst of their offensive attack falls on the shoulders of senior guards Denzel Mahoney (16.2 ppg, 42.1% 3PM) and Mitch Ballock (10.7 ppg, 38.6 3PM).  Marcus Zegarowski is the teams’ best distributor and is also a sniper from long range (13.8 ppg, 34.1% 3PM), and Christian Bishop is a 6-7 forward that is shooting the three-ball at a 50 percent clip.

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the team that has a roster of outside shooters is not exactly a team that also believes in relentless defense.  The Bluejays enter tonight’s game with the 249th overall three-point defense and are outside of the top 160 in forced turnover percentage and offensive rebounding. 

Teams also average about 17 seconds a possession when going against the Creighton defense (265th overall in college basketball), indicating that an open shot is not hard to come by when playing against the boys from Omaha.

St. John’s Players to Know

Mike Anderson is slowly rebuilding the Johnnies after the disastrous Chris Mullin regime, and while they struggle shooting the three (231st overall in NCAA), they have a stable of athletes that can shine in Anderson’s torrid style of basketball.

The main component of the Red Storm attack is sophomore guard and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Julian Champagnie.  Champagnie is averaging nearly 21 points a game with eight rebounds chipped in, and he’s been especially dependable from the free-throw line where he’s converted on nearly 87 percent of his free throws.

Junior tandem Vince Cole (12.5 ppg, 35.5% 3PM) and Greg Williams Jr. (12.1 ppg, 36.8% 3PM) give the Johnnies their best role players and threats from outside, while 6-10 junior Isaih Moore (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is Anderson’s most dependable rim protector down low.

As could be expected with Anderson’s frenetic style of basketball, St. John’s is downright miserable on defense when they are unable to force a turnover.  While the ’40 minutes of hell’ mantra does have St. John’s forcing turnovers on 25% of their opposition’s possessions (28th overall in NCAA), and the 8th best steal rate in the nation, when they do not force a turnover it typically ends in an easy bucket for the other side.

St. John’s boasts the 250th ranked three-point shooting defense and gives up a basket on 56% of their opponent’s possessions (285th in NCAA).  That could post a great number of challenges for a team that happens to be facing one of the best offensive teams in the country.  

Creighton – St. John’s Prediction & Best Bet

Everything about this matchup screams a prime bounce-back spot for the Bluejays.  Despite the two recent setbacks to Missouri and Marquette, Creighton still very much remains as one of the most dangerous teams in all of college basketball. 

St. John’s is gradually improving under Mike Anderson, but this is just a bad matchup for them all around.  I am taking Creighton to cover the spread and also sprinkling some on the over as, despite the eye-popping 157.5 number, I think that’s kind of low for these two teams.

Prediction: Creighton 87, St. John’s 78
Best Bet: Creighton -6.5; OVER 157.5

Omaha at Wyoming

Spread: Wyoming -10.5
Total: O/U 146.5
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET, N/A

For our final game on the Thursday betting card, we’re going a little off the beaten path for some quality Summit League vs. Mountain West action. 

Omaha (2-6 overall) plays its sixth-consecutive road game, and second game in as many nights, when they visit Wyoming (5-1 overall) in Laramie.

The Mavericks are coming off of a 91-49 blowout at the hands of Colorado last night and have dropped five of their last six games with their lone victory being a two-point win over SIU Edwardsville (331st overall KenPom). 

Meanwhile, Wyoming has been a pleasant surprise to date with a 5-1 record, but they have played the 306th overall schedule so that record is likely a bit misleading at this point in the season.  Nonetheless, they do get another favorable draw tonight with an Omaha team that doesn’t do much of anything well.

Omaha Players to Know

The Mavericks’ best player and leading scorer through the first eight games of the season are that of bench player Marlon Ruffin (11.8 ppg), with starters Matt Pile (9.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and Wanjang Tut (8.1 ppg) being Omaha’s best secondary players.  It’s rare to see the talent flipped to where their best bench player is outperforming every starter, but this is the Summit League and there are no rules here.

Wyoming Players to Know

Through the first six games of the season, the Cowboys boast a Top 50 program in both three-point shooting (46th overall) and shots inside the three-point stripe (48th overall), and they’ve shown a great ability to limit turnovers with the 18th best turnover rate in college basketball.

While Wyoming has certainly played a schedule full of cupcakes, they’ve made the most of it and are quietly one of the most efficient scoring units in all of college basketball, at least in these games against the bottom feeders of the college basketball world.

Wyoming is led by their trio of guards: Marcus Williams (18.3 ppg), Kenny Foster (15.8 ppg, 67% 3PM), and Hunter Maldonado (15.5 ppg).  Collectively, the Cowboys as a whole love to create open looks from the outside, with three key contributors shooting the ball from the perimeter at better than a 40 percent rate from downtown.

That does not bode well for an Omaha team that has been away from home for a while and does not defend the three-ball whatsoever.

Omaha – Wyoming Prediction & Best Bet

Typically, I would be hard-pressed to lay a double-digit line on a team that went 7-23 in the regular season a year ago, no matter who they may be playing.  But Omaha is in a very tough spot playing in their second game in as many nights in a place that’s hard enough to get a road win under normal circumstances, much less in the middle of a season being held during a pandemic.

Omaha only has one more non-conference game after this and then they can return to the comfort of playing Summit League teams at home.  Tonight, however, they will endure yet another blowout.  I will take Wyoming to cover the 10.5-point spread.

Prediction: Wyoming 84, Omaha 69
Best Bet: Wyoming -10.5

Saturday College Hoops Best Bets: Look at a Texas Two-Step

The 2020/21 college basketball season officially tipped off Wednesday night, and this is our first college hoops Saturday of the season! 

For those of you somewhat new to betting on college basketball, the Saturday slate is usually stacked with well over 100 games throughout the season, today’s slate is not quite at that size just yet (thanks COVID-19), but there are still a lot of juicy options to choose from.

I’ve pared the board down to three for you, including a bonus play if your book has odds on it.   Let’s dive right on in.

North Texas at Arkansas (-8/143)

Eric Musselman’s 2020/21 season debut couldn’t have gone much better, as the Razorbacks squeezed by with a 142-62 win over Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday.  They’ll get a much bigger test today when they face North Texas, who also happens to be coming off of a 116-62 beatdown of that same Mississippi Valley State team.

The Razorbacks could be one of the deeper sleepers in all of college basketball this season, as Eric Musselman has a roster loaded with fresh talent thanks to six impactful transfers joining the program and the 7th best-recruiting class in the country.

Arkansas is still going through the early stages of getting all the new faces to gel on the roster, but they are still deeply talented at every position.  However, their opponent today in the North Texas Mean Green are no slouches in their own right.

Considered to be one of the favorites in Conference USA this season, UNT returns a starting lineup that boasts four seniors including that of reigning conference player of the year Javion Hamlet.  The former JUCO product was a revelation last season for the Mean Green and he led the conference in free-throw shooting while hitting over 43-percent of his baskets from deep. 

If this matchup occurred a month from now when Arkansas would have had time to get more games under their belt with a practically entire new team, we’d be all over the Hogs here, but this is a spot that could favor the more experienced Mean Green who will have the best player on the floor.

I’ll side with the team that’s played together longer and take the points, though I’m torn here because Arkansas is one of my favorite teams this season.

Best Bet: North Texas +8

South Carolina vs. Liberty (+7.5/137.5)

Played on Neutral Court (Kansas City, MO)

One of the victims of college basketball’s 2019/20 season being abruptly canceled thanks to the pandemic was the Liberty Flames.  Liberty was in the middle of the best season in their program’s brief Division I history, going 30-4 on the season and winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament.

The bad news for Ritchie McKay’s Flames is that the bulk of that 30-win team has now moved on from the program.  The good news is he has added enough talent to this season’s roster to still be a very feisty opponent.  Liberty hit 19 threes, including seven from leading scorer Darius McGhee, in an 84-73 victory over Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Day.

That young talent will be put to the test immediately, however, against Frank Martin’s smothering 2-3 matchup zone.

South Carolina plays their first game of the season today, and it will be the first time we see prized transfer Seventh Woods in the lineup for the Gamecocks. He will be joined by the top scorers on the team from a season ago in A.J. Lawson and Jermaine Couisnard and considering Martin’s penchant for having his team play a quick tempo game, I can see this being a higher scoring game than what oddsmakers are calling for today.

Liberty plays at the second slowest pace in the country, trailing only that of the methodical Virginia Cavaliers, but Martin’s Gamecocks pushed the floor to the tune of the 11th quickest pace in the country. 

Look for South Carolina to force turnovers that lead to easy buckets for the Gamecocks, but also to give up a lot of open outside looks to Liberty’s bevy of perimeter jumpers and for the total to sail over the 137.5 mark.  I do also like Liberty to cover the 7.5-point number, and wouldn’t even rule out the idea of sprinkling a little bit on the moneyline, but for now, I’ll stick with the points.

Best Bet: OVER 137.5
If You’re Feeling Dangerous:  Liberty +7.5, Liberty ML (+275)

Louisiana at Baylor (-20.5/149.5)

Played on Neutral Court (Las Vegas, NV)

The Baylor Bears were well on their way to a 1-seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament when everything came crashing down.  Today marks Baylor’s season debut and first crack at picking up where they left off a season ago.

The bulk of last season’s team is back for the Bears, including their top three scorers in Wooden Award candidate Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell.  Baylor’s calling card a season ago was their imposing defense, and Scott Drew will also return Naismith Defensive Player of Year finalist Mark Vital to lock down the paint.

Today the Bears play a Louisiana side that is expected to finish towards the bottom of the Sun Belt after being a middle of the road team in the conference a season ago.  One thing to keep in mind with the Ragin’ Cajuns is they also like to play at a quick pace (32nd overall tempo per KenPom), but they’re downright awful in transition defense as they ranked 316th in that category a year ago.  They also got punished on the boards by most of their opponents, and no one in the country compares to how Baylor attacks the glass.

This has all the makings of a bad matchup for the young Cajuns.  Look for Baylor to get a comfortable blowout from Las Vegas.

Best Bet: Baylor -20.5

Bonus Play: Mississippi Valley State at Wyoming (-31.5/159.5)

Normally I would never consider laying 31.5-points with a team coming off of a 9-24 season, but as we already touched upon earlier in this article, Mississippi Valley State is a special kind of awful.  To date this season they have lost their first two contests by 80 and 54 respectively.  Mississippi Valley State is an auto-fade at this point until they give some reason not to be.   

Bonus Bet: Wyoming -31.5