College Basketball Best Bets: 5 Top Picks for Thursday Evening’s Conference Tournament Games
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Moore (Villanova)
Championship Week is heating up, especially with our Thursday evening slate that features some interesting matchups.
But we’re not looking for the best games to watch; we’re searching for the best betting value.
Our staff dives into five different games from five different conferences, including St. John’s vs. Villanova at MSG and Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame at the Barclays Center.
So get your college hoops betting card ready with our top selections for Thursday evening’s conference tourney games.
Thursday Evening’s Conference Tournament Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.|
Miami (OH) vs. Kent State (MAC Quarterfinal)
By Ky McKeon
Kent State is rolling right now, as it comes into the MAC tourney as winners of its last 12 and sporting a sterling 9-3 record against the spread.
The Flashes have the MAC Player of the Year in point guard Sincere Carry and a force of nature inside in MAC Sixth Man of the Year Justyn Hamilton. And we are going to fade them!
Miami (OH) has struggled down the stretch, and lost its only matchup with Kent State by 13 (it was down by as many as 30).
But context is important.
During a six-game stretch in February when it went 1-5 (and lost to KSU), Miami (OH) was missing arguably its most important player: Dalonte Brown.
Brown is vital to the RedHawks’ success on both ends of the floor. He can score, rebound and defend multiple positions. With Brown back in the fold, Miami (OH) is a categorically different team.
In general, Miami (OH) is a good dog bet in a conference tournament setting for several reasons. First off, the RedHawks are experienced and have played with each other for many games. They brought essentially everyone back from last season and play primarily upperclassmen.
Two, the RedHawks have a deep rotation of talented guards who can score and take care of the ball. Mekhi Lairy, Dae Dae Grant, Isaiah Coleman-Lands and Myja White (assuming he’s healthy after being out with an illness) form a reliable backcourt corps that will not cost the team precious possessions.
Miami (OH) ranks 18th nationally in turnover rate.
Three, the RedHawks hits free throws at the fourth-best clip in the country. They don’t shoot a ton of free throws, but in late-game situations, this is crucial.
Lastly, Miami (OH) can shoot the cover off the ball from deep. The RedHawks rank second in MAC play in 3P% and shoot 3s at the third-highest rate in the league. We’ve seen countless examples of teams getting hot in tourney settings, and Miami (OH) has the tools for that type of run.
The concern is defense. Miami (OH) is one of the worst defensive teams in the MAC, and Kent State is as well-balanced an opponent as they come. The Flashes will own the glass and get to the foul line with regularity.
A saving grace is this game will play under 70 possessions, raising variance and the chances Miami (OH) can stay within the number if outside shots are falling.
I’m rolling with the talent and hot shooting potential of the RedHawks.
Pick: Miami (OH) +7 (Play to +6)
Quinnipiac vs. Siena (MAAC Quarterfinal)
There aren’t many conferences in which the 11-seed will be favored over the 3-seed, but welcome to the MAAC. The favorite to win the tournament, Iona, went down yesterday, which has opened up the league for the taking.
Quinnipiac destroyed Marist, 77-52, in the opening game of the tournament thanks to a massive discrepancy in 3-point shooting. The Bobcats connected on 17-of-35 (49%) from deep while holding the Red Foxes to 2-of-17 (12%).
Recreating that effort will be difficult against Siena, as the Saints have hit 35% from 3-point territory this season. Quinnipiac also owns the 321st-ranked 3-point defense in the country, allowing 37% from beyond the arc.
Nearly 45% of Quinnipiac’s shot attempts on the year have come from 3-point range. Siena’s defense has allowed the ninth-fewest shot attempts from deep this season, and opponents have converted on just 32% from that range.
Siena handled Quinnipiac in both regular-season matchups, winning by nine and seven points. The Saints shot over 50% in both of those matchups, and held the Bobcats to 39% and 44% from the field.
I’m backing Siena to dominate the 3-point line and complete the season sweep over Quinnipiac.
Pick: Siena +1.5 (Play to -1)
St. John’s vs. Villanova (Big East Quarterfinal)
Most years since the new-look Big East debuted in 2014, Villanova strolls into Madison Square Garden with little to prove or gain. Top seed in the tourney, resume already locked in. Rinse and repeat.
Since 2014, the Wildcats have six regular-season Big East titles, winning the Big East Tournament in only three of those six years. They have a fourth recent Big East Tournament title, back in 2018 when Xavier won the regular-season crown.
Villanova used that as motivation to spark a run at MSG, continuing that run by laying waste to the NCAA Tournament by winning all six games en route to a national title by a double-digit margin.
Jay Wright once again has that kernel of motivation at his disposal. Villanova lost the Big East regular-season title to a Providence team the Wildcats swept this season.
The first step on Villanova’s quest to even the score this week is St. John’s. Villanova swept the Johnnies this year, as did the rest of the Big East’s best teams. St. John’s went 0-9 against the five Big East teams that earned a bye in this event.
If anything, Red Storm backers might hope for a home-court advantage, but Villanova fans will be out in full force after the short Amtrak ride up to New York. I’m more concerned with St. John’s playing a second game after beating DePaul last night against a rested and ready Nova team.
This line has dipped to -6 or even -5.5 at some books. As of this morning, FoxBet still has it at -5.5. I like it anywhere under 7.
Pick: Villanova -6.5 or better
Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame (ACC Quarterfinal)
March. Is. Here.
Nothing encapsulates March more than a tournament buzzer-beater. That’s exactly what Virginia Tech’s Darius Maddox gave us last night in an overtime win over Clemson to keep his team’s March Madness hopes alive.
Alas, that was yesterday, and we are now focused on today’s slate of matchups. This shapes up to be an intriguing one, as both Virginia Tech and Notre Dame are very eerily similar.
Both squads rely on perimeter shooting, emphasize guarding the perimeter, give up looks down low due to being undersized and play at a snail’s pace. It very well may come down to who has the ball last.
While both styles are similar, I give the edge to Virginia Tech.
The Hokies are more efficient and rank a tad higher in every category previously mentioned. They also have the clear advantage in guarding the rim down low with Keve Aluma anchoring the paint.
With Notre Dame having to shade down low to limit Aluma’s inside scoring, this will open up more clean looks for a team already warmed up from previous play.
I grabbed Virginia Tech on the open at +1, and I would play this no higher than -2 in what will be a slobber-knocker of a fistfight.
Pick: Virginia Tech +1 (Play to -2)
Maryland Eastern Shore vs. North Carolina Central (MEAC Quarterfinal)
No. 3 North Carolina Central and No. 6 Maryland Eastern Shore tip off in the quarterfinals of the MEAC Tournament on Thursday.
The schools split the season series this year with the road team emerging victorious in both contests.
North Carolina Central won, 75-63 (138 points) on Jan. 24, while Maryland Eastern Shore notched a victory, 79-66 (145 points), after overcoming a 16-point deficit on Feb. 21.
In both matchups, the victor shot the lights out. North Carolina Central shot 50% from the field and 44% from 3-point range in its win. Maryland Eastern Shore shot 52.8% from the field and an astounding 58.3% from 3-point land when it came out on top.
On the season, North Carolina Central and Maryland Eastern Shore had a 3-point shot averages of 31% and 32.8%, respectively. In the third meeting between these two, look for shooting percentages to normalize, especially from beyond the arc.
North Carolina Central went 13-12 to the over this season, and Maryland Eastern Shore was the worst over team in the league at 8-14.
Play the under as these two defensive-minded teams meet for the third and final time.