Betting Preview for the Marquee Bubble Matchups on Saturday

Betting Preview for the Marquee Bubble Matchups on Saturday article feature image
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© Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Today, I will take a look at a few of Saturday’s significant matchups that carry major bubble implications:

  • Miami at Virginia Tech -4
  • Texas Tech @ TCU -3
  • USC at UCLA -2
  • UNLV at Boise -7.5

Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game analysis, injury updates, and second half calls. Also, make sure to check back in the afternoon for any write-up additions. I summarized the plays for the aforementioned four games at the end of the article.

Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writer, and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.


Miami @ Virginia Tech -4

2:00 p.m. ET

The Hokies finally scored a much needed at-large resume builder with a win over UNC. They followed that up with two road wins, albeit over a decimated Notre Dame team and in overtime at BC. Their matchup with Miami on Saturday is close to a must-win, as the Hokies sit squarely on the bubble.

The Canes come to Blacksburg banged up, but as a result, Jim Larranaga might have actually stumbled upon his best lineup. While Miami lost the services of wing Bruce Brown, the advanced metrics suggest the Canes won’t miss him moving forward. Per hooplens, Miami has played more efficiently on both ends of the floor in ACC games without Brown, particularly on defense, where they’re forcing a turnover on 24.8% of possessions with Brown off the court, compared to 17% with him.

Larranaga also benched Ja’Quan Newton at the point for freshman Chris Lykes, a long overdue move. Newton is not efficient enough at reading and reacting as a ball handler in pick-and-roll situations, so it’s not a surprise that the Canes have played better on both ends of the floor with Lykes.

While the personnel changes may help a stagnant Canes offense (again, small sample size with the new lineup), Virginia Tech’s defense poses a few problems. I cringed typing that previous sentence, as Buzz Williams’ squad has played awful defense most of the year. However, they do excel in ball-screen defense. Per Synergy, they limit pick-and-roll ball-handlers to .637 points per possession (92nd percentile nationally). Virginia Tech really struggles defensively against teams that use a lot of motion and off ball screens (see Virginia). Miami does not operate in that manner. This should be a plus match up for the Hokie defense.

Offensively, the Hokies almost strictly run a spread, penetrate and kick transition offense. That type of offense usually doesn’t work well against Larranaga’s defense. First, Miami allows nothing in transition. Per hoop-math.com, they allow transition field goal attempts at the 45th lowest rate in the country. And when teams do get in transition, the Canes only allow .91 points per possession. Second, Miami typically plays outstanding help defense on penetration. They are known for their strong closeouts on shooters.

Interestingly, Buzz recently ran more offense through Kerry Blackshear in the post than I’ve seen all year. That actually could work against Miami’s defense so keep an eye out for what Buzz runs early. Having said that, both defenses have favorable matchups.

The PICK: Under 148.5


Texas Tech @ TCU -3

2:00 p.m. ET

Quick turnaround for Texas Tech after a near collapse vs Texas, as they hop over to face TCU. In reality, the trip from Lubbock to Fort Worth actually requires a long 5 hour bus ride. While the Frogs have an extra day of rest, Texas Tech has more advantages schematically.

First, TCU can’t defend motion offenses. That’s music to Chris Beard’s ears, as his motion offense has struggled in Big 12 play. Tech actually clocks in as the league’s least efficient unit at the moment. Vanderbilt, which runs a similar motion attack, pasted TCU for 1.31 points per possession. Granted, TCU traveled to Nashville fresh off a huge home win over West Virginia, but the struggling Raider offense should find buckets with ease.

On the other end, Beard uses a pack line principled scheme, but with more aggression. Typically, the “line” in a pack line sits around the 16-foot mark to collapse on penetration. However, Beard extends his perimeter out just a bit further. Meanwhile, TCU head coach Jamie Dixon has famously moved away from his methodical motion to a more spread pick-and-roll offense. TTU does deny penetration from pick-and-roll ball-handlers, but they typically don’t hard hedge and “down” shooters. They actually prefer to eliminate the roller from the equation as well. That’s problematic for TCU, as Vlad Brodziansky is one of the country’s more efficient rollers.

The PICK: Texas Tech +3


USC @ UCLA -2

6:00 p.m. ET

UCLA welcomes USC to Pauley in desperate need of resume wins, which are actually in short supply in this year’s Pac-12. Steve Alford has gone almost exclusively 4-out at this point, with 6’11” Gyorgy Goloman now in a limited reserve role. Consequently, the Bruins showed more transition offense against Stanford, which Alford excels at coaching. That also aligns with a weakness of USC’s defense, which allows 1.13 points per possession in transition. That grades out in just the sixth percentile nationally, per Synergy.

Additionally, with four perimeter players on the floor vs. Stanford, Alford used more ball screens for Jaylen Hands and Aaron Holiday than he typically runs. Consequently, “roller” Kris Wilkes had his most efficient game as a Bruin. USC is notoriously poor at defending ball screens, but a lot of poor pick-and-roll defense stems from Bennie Boatwright, who is a game-time decision with his plantar warts (a sentence I thought I’d never type). And without two bigs on the floor, the Bruins can more effectively handle Andy Enfield’s extended ball pressure, which generates turnovers at the highest rate in the Pac-12.

While Boatwright is a mercurial defender, there’s no denying his impact to the USC offense, particularly against zone defenses. The Trojans would really miss his perimeter shooting, especially since Alford has been using more 3-2 zone. The Trojans have been hit or miss vs. zones this year, but that speaks to Boatwright’s frequent absence from the lineup. I do think the Bruins find a way, regardless of Boatwright’s status.

The PICK: UCLA -2


UNLV at Boise State -7.5

8:00 p.m. ET

Marvin Menzies’ young (but hyper talented) UNLV squad really struggled through the first half of Mountain West play. However, the Rebels may have turned the corner, and to Menzies’ credit, he has made some key adjustments.

Brandon McCoy, an NBA lottery talent, plays in the middle for the Rebs, but he has struggled mightily vs. relentless double teams from Mountain West defenses. However, in a two game home stand that featured wins over SDSU and SJSU, McCoy showed definite improvement vs. hard doubles with more patience and quicker resets when he knew the help defender was coming over. He still needs to improve passing out of double teams, but he has clearly started to make his move quicker after the initial seal off. McCoy posted 43 points on 17-25 shooting in those two UNLV wins. When McCoy and Shak Juiston play like they did on the recent home stand, the Rebels have the best frontcourt in the league.

McCoy and Juiston actually had fine offensive games in the first meeting vs. Boise State in Vegas. The UNLV frontcourt duo combined for 41 points on 17-23 shooting. However, the Rebels couldn’t hit enough perimeter shots against Leon Rice’s 2-3 zone. The seasoned Broncs also exposed UNLV’s transition defense (typically a strength) and poor defensive rebounding. Of course, it also didn’t help that UNLV couldn’t stay in front of BSU’s outstanding wing Chandler Hutchison, who routinely drove by Kris Clyburn and dominated undersized Jovan Mooring in pick and roll switches. Hutchison tallied 32 points on 13-18 shooting and was the clear difference maker.

Interestingly, Menzies has gone to a shifting 2-3/1-3-1 zone for stretches over the last few games. I have to think he did so in preparation for the Broncos, who struggled against zone defenses. Boise grades out in just the 43rd percentile nationally vs. zones, as the offense tends to struggle when Hutchison can’t exploit mismatches in pick and roll. Additionally, Menzies has benched Clyburn, who Hutchison toasted all night in Vegas. 6’7″ athletic freshman Tervell Beck has seen a recent minutes increase, and could have more success defending Hutchison with his long wingspan.

The PICK: UNLV +7.5


Saturday Summary

YTD: 368-355-6
2H: 33-23

Miami/VT Under 148.5
Texas Tech +3
UCLA -2
UNLV +7.5