College Basketball Best Bets: 5 Favorite Picks for North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh, Missouri vs. Auburn, More (Tuesday, Jan. 26)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Sharife Cooper.
- Tuesday's college basketball slate features a number of games that appeal to the casual fan as well as bettors.
- Auburn's addition of Sharife Cooper proved to be a spot of contention amongst our staff — at least in terms of tonight's Auburn vs. Missouri game.
- Check out each pick for our staff's five favorite games below.
We have a tremendous college basketball Tuesday ahead of us.
Our college hoops staff broke down five games, starting with North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. ET and running through Missouri vs. Auburn at 9 p.m. ET, which was a very popular game for our writers.
Check out full breakdowns and picks for each game below and feel free to navigate to any game by using the table below.
College Basketball Odds & Picks
All listed odds have been updated as of Tuesday morning. Specific bet recommendations at the end of each matchup breakdown come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing on Tuesday morning.
Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.
North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh
By Pat McMahon
This line has climbed up from the opening number of 142.5, and for good reason.
The Tar Heels like to play fast and have the ability to speed their opponent up. Pitt ranks in the top 100 in tempo as well, so we should be in for an up-and-down game.
In addition to playing fast, both teams are efficient offensively. North Carolina ranks 63rd in offensive efficiency, while Pittsburgh ranks 91st, per KenPom.
The Tar Heels generate most of their offense from inside the arc.
North Carolina has one of the most talented frontcourts in college basketball, and all three of its star forwards can do plenty of damage in the post.
Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks, and Day’Ron Sharpe are three of the team’s top four scorers. They’re all gifted low-post scorers, but what makes them especially dangerous is their ability to crash the glass.
The Tar Heels are the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, averaging 15.8 per game. This type of production allows them to get quick and easy second-chance looks and helps make up for their below-average 3-point shooting.
Pittsburgh’s offense got a huge boost when Justin Champagnie returned to the lineup last week after missing two games.
Champagnie went off for a combined 55 points and 30 rebounds in the Panthers’ wins over Syracuse and Duke. The offense operates so much smoother with Champagnie back in the lineup, as Pitt averaged 87.5 points in those victories. With Xavier Johnson having a great junior season at the point (14.5 points and 6.3 assists per game), the Panthers offense should keep rolling as long as Champagnie stays healthy.
It’s understandable if the less-than-stellar 3-point shooting from both teams makes you wary of this over. However, the quick pace and offensive efficiency from both sides give me confidence that we’ll see some points.
Four straight UNC games have gone over the total, as have three straight Pittsburgh games. I like that trend to continue on Tuesday night, and I’d play this over up to 146.
Pick: Over 144
Missouri State vs. Drake
Drake is arguably the story of the year in all of college basketball.
The Bulldogs are 13-0 SU and 11-0 ATS. The pride of Des Moines is well on its way to the finest season in school history and its first trip to the Big Dance since 2008.
And this team isn’t squeaking out wins, either. Drake has been ruthlessly efficient on offense (EFG%, third) and defense (EFG%, 23rd).
The thing is it’s done it against an absolutely miserable schedule. Drake has faced the 339th-worst schedule in all of D-I.
And while the Bulldogs have absolutely wiped the floor with the Chicago State Cougars and the St. Ambrose Fighting Bees (not made up) of the world, Missouri State represents a significant step up in competition.
The Bears have a dynamic offense of their own fueled by 50/40/90 sharpshooter Isiaih Mosley. The sophomore from Columbia, Missouri, is averaging 23.5/5.5/3.4 to go along with his lethal shooting stroke. Drake hasn’t faced any team with a pulse offensively and was nearly swept by Missouri State last season.
The Missouri Valley is truly a three-horse race this year between Drake, Loyola-Chicago and Missouri State, and aside from Loyola on its home floor, I’m not afraid of fading any of them if the price is right.
I had this game penciled in as Drake-1.5, so I’m happy to clear the one-possession threshold and nab the 4.5 points in this spot.
Pick: Missouri State +4.5
Missouri vs. Auburn
For Missouri’s offense to be successful, it has to get the ball in close as often as possible.
The Tigers have the best 2-point percentage in the SEC, with over 41.9% of their shot attempts coming at the rim. The reason for that is two-fold:
1) They are shooting 67.3% on those shot attempts, per Hoop-Math. 2) They shoot under 30% from beyond the arc.
However, in their upset at Tennessee on Saturday, Mizzou knocked down 8-of-19 shots from 3-point range. Another strength and reason for their win over the weekend is that they get to the free-throw line more than any other team in the SEC.
The good news for the Tigers tonight is that Auburn desperately struggles to defend the paint. Auburn allows over 50% from 2-point range and 56.1% on shots at the rim. So, Missouri should be able to score effectively at the rim tonight.
Sharife Cooper has made a world of a difference so far for Auburn, but the Tigers are still struggling on offense. In the last three games, Auburn has only scored over 1.00 points per possession in one of those games.
The biggest problem is it’s turning the ball way too often.
To make matters worse, it’s going up against one of the best defenses in the SEC. Missouri is allowing only 0.97 points per possession during conference play and are holding opponents to under 44% from 2-point range. That will come in handy, as Auburn averages over 55% from inside the arc.
Where Missouri really excels is in defending the perimeter, as it only allows opponents to shoot under 29%. Auburn shoots 3-pointers at one of the highest rates in the country, so Mizzou is well-equipped to defend it.
Another blow to Auburn is the loss of freshman Justin Powell, who has been out with a concussion for the last six games. He averaged 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in the first 10 games of the season.
I have Missouri projected as a -2.34 favorite, so I think there’s value on them at +2.5.
Pick: Missouri +2.5
Missouri vs. Auburn
The 10-2 Missouri Tigers will have their hands full when they head south to face the revitalized 9-7 Auburn Tigers on Tuesday night.
Bruce Pearl had a smile on his face to begin 2021 when freshman point guard Sharife Cooper gained eligibility for this season. The five-star recruit has averaged 21.1 points, 9.0 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game in his five games suiting up for Auburn.
The Tigers rank fifth in the SEC in scoring averaging 78.2 points per game this season. But in the five games Cooper has played, Auburn is averaging 87.0 points per game.
It plays at an extremely fast pace and ranks in the top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Auburn ranks 26th in the country in 2-point field goal percentage and 31st in offensive rebound percentage, so Missouri will be tasked with slowing down a number of scoring options.
The 10-2 record for Missouri is a bit misleading, as it has benefited from a soft schedule thus far. The next two months will tell the true story about this team.
Missouri will need to score in the paint, as it ranks 307th in the country in 3-point percentage, making just 29% of its attempts. Scoring in the paint for the Tigers won’t come easy against an Auburn defense that ranks 12th in the nation in block percentage.
I see value on Auburn in this matchup with books taking a while to adjust for Cooper. He has the potential to be a lottery pick in the NBA when he leaves Auburn.
Auburn is a much better team today than its 9-7 record may imply, and this is a great opportunity to buy low.
Pick: Auburn -2.5
Missouri vs. Auburn
This number may seem high when first looking into these two teams.
Auburn’s average game this season has produced a total of 152 points, but a methodical Mizzou team has produced an average total of only 138.8. Missouri has played the ninth-fastest tempo in the SEC so far during conference play.
That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence that this matchup between Tigers will lead to an outburst over 148.5.
The main factor that will drive the success of this bet comes on the Auburn side, where freshman point guard Sharife Cooper has transformed the Tigers into a totally new team.
In the 11 games Auburn played before Cooper was ruled eligible by the NCAA, Auburn’s games averaged 71.2 possessions, which would place the Tigers roughly at the mid-point of Division I in terms of pace.
Since Cooper entered the lineup five games ago, Auburn has played five games that have averaged 80 possessions, faster than the highest tempo team in the nation (Coppin State at 79.2 possessions per game).
That pace has led to a scoring boom for both Auburn and its opponents. Prior to Cooper’s arrival, Auburn averaged 74.4 points and allowed 71.8 points per game. With Cooper in the lineup, Auburn is posting 86.6 points per game and allowing 78.2 points for an average total of 164.8 points per game.
The speedy point guard has totally transformed Auburn into a new style of team that should be capable of playing fast-tempo games the rest of the season.
Pick: Over 148.5