College Basketball betting guide: Thursdays are for Mid-Majors

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Northern Iowa @ Missouri State

These two teams have been headed in opposite directions since Dec. 10, when Missouri State got worked at Oral Roberts, while UNI had dreams of a potential at-large berth after wins over SMU, NC State, UNLV and UT Arlington. Since then, Missouri State has rattled off three straight wins, including a 2-0 start in the Valley, while UNI has lost four straight, including an 0-2 start in league play after an inexplicable loss at home to SIU and a blowout at Bradley.

Last year, Missouri State took the rubber match in the MVC tourney after each team won at home during the regular season. Defensively, both run modified pack lines that look to wall off the paint, as Missouri State allows the fourth-fewest FG attempts at the rim in the country, while UNI is 69th in that regard, per

Ironically, both offenses rely heavily upon post touches. Per Synergy, UNI runs offense through Bennett Koch in the post at the ninth highest rate in the country, while Missouri State works through the more versatile NBA talent Alize Johnson in the post at the 16th highest rate. Missouri State has a decided advantage when it comes to post defense, as Missouri State coach Paul Lusk has the luxury of not exposing his best offensive player in Johnson to fouls because of elite post defender Obi Church. Per Synergy, Church allows just .529 points per post possession. On the other side, Koch and Klint Carlson have allowed a poor .96 and 1.08 points per post possession.

In terms of jump shooting, UNI has the advantage, especially if Spencer Haldeman returns to the lineup, as reports indicate. Additionally, the Panthers have rebounded on the defensive end exceptionally well against some of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Rebounding misses against the Bears is essential, as they grab their own misses at the 38th highest rate in the country and score at 1.2 points per possession when they do, per Synergy.

Neither team forces many turnovers nor allows much in transition, which means this game boils down to whether or not a good jump shooting UNI team hits shots. In their win over the Bears last year, UNI shot 10-22 from 3. In the two losses, the Panthers shot a combined 10-43.

Other Notes

  • Per, Eastern Illinois scores at just .94 points per possession with point guard Terrell Lewis off the floor, and 1.04 with him on it. Lewis should miss another game tonight at Morehead State, and the Panthers also might not have D’Angelo Jackson, per Justin Rust of the Journal Gazette and Times Courier. Defensively, that would leave Jay Spoonhour without his two primary ball screen defenders against a Morehead team that runs most of their offense through ball screens.
  • I loved Austin Peay’s offseason hire of Matt Figger, who has the Govs off to 2-0 OVC start, albeit against EIU and SIUE. The Govs have bought into Figger’s aggressive, denial-heavy defense, but their offense could struggle against UT Martin’s 3-2 matchup zone. APSU only scores .78 points per possession against zones, per Synergy.
  • As Markus McDuffie gets his game legs back under him, Wichita State’s scuffling pick-and-roll defense will improve. WSU’s ball screen defense will be essential against Houston’s Rob Gray. I have some concerns about the Cougar defense tonight, as it looks like they won’t have Breaon Brady, Sampson’s primary post defender and best rebounder, which really hurts against the Shockers in their first AAC home game.
  • Arkansas State has no height, but that shouldn’t hurt against Georgia Southern’s four-out offense. That said, the Red Wolves have extended a lot of zone pressure, which won’t work against the elusive Tookie Brown at the helm for GSU.
  • Southern Miss arguably plays the saggiest man-to-man defense in the country, which should work against a  UTEP team that shoots just 31 percent from 3. Keith Frazier has taken an indefinite leave of absence for UTEP, but the Miners just shredded a Rice zone to the tune of 1.25 points per possession in their first game without him. The ball movement improved, and freshmen Kobe Magee and Trey Wade responded well to the extra minutes. Additionally, big man Matt Willms, who has his legs back with two games under his belt, could exploit USM’s poor post defense.
  • Paul Mills inherited an Oral Roberts roster tailor made for his morphing 1-1-3 zone schemes. Mills has the mobile size to make his scheme work, and ORU has started to buy in; getting R.J. Fuqua healthy at the point also helps. On paper, Fort Wayne should shred zones, as they shoot the 3 at the 14th highest rate in the country, and hit 37 percent thanks to John Konchar. However, the Dons shockingly grade out as one of the worst zone offenses in the country.
  • Appalachian State has struggled to defend Louisiana in the recent past, as the Cajuns run a transition-heavy offense that relentlessly attacks the rim. Per Hoop-math, ULL attempts shots at the rim at the 13th highest rate in the country, which should pay off against an App State team allowing 1.1 points per possession in transition. Defensively, ULL solely focuses on running shooters off the 3-point line — essential against App State’s Bob McKillop structured motion offense.
  • UT Arlington has had serious issues, but this team still has an NBA prospect, a dynamic PG and a high-major 7-footer. Don’t write them off just yet! Troy recently returned Jordan Varnado, who has helped much more defensively (and will against Hervey tonight), and Wesley Person should shred some of the zone defenses that UTA mixes in.
  • Sacramento State proved that even a poor offense can score against Portland State if you handle the Vikings’ full-court pressure. Eastern Washington has been above average in their press offense, but freshmen Jack Perry has yet to see full-court pressure this year.
  • UC Irvine heads north to take on UC Davis in a rematch of last year’s conference title game. The Aggies’ elite halfcourt defense should shut down the Eaters poor halfcourt offense. UCD will also have issues on offense pounding the ball into Chima Moneke against the teeth of Russell Turner’s defense that features a trio shot blockers.
  • Hawaii’s flex motion should excel against Long Beach State, but the Pyramid has terrorized the Bows since joining the Big West. Having said that, this game depends on the status of Bryan Alberts, Gabe Levin and Deishuan Booker for the Niners.
  • Matt McCarthy must avoid foul trouble against Yoeli Childs for San Francisco to beat BYU, as Dave Rose continues to work through Childs on the block as if Eric Mika never left. McCarthy grades out as one of the WCC’s best post defenders, but the Dons lack depth down low. If he can stay on the court, the Dons match up well against a potentially flat BYU team after the gut-wrenching SMC loss.

Thursday Top Picks (YTD: 195-190-4):

UTM/APSU under 136.5
Western Carolina +5
Fort Wayne/Oral Roberts under 153
Ark State/Georgia Southern over 151
Troy +7
North Texas -8
ULL -12.5
UNI +5.5
Weber State -11.5
Portland State +1

Follow @jorcubsdan on Twitter for any additional analysis.

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