College Basketball Best Bets: Our Staff’s 7 Selections for Thursday, Including Gonzaga vs. San Francisco
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Things are heating up tremendously in college hoops.
March is just days away, so many mid-major conferences are currently participating in their final full week of regular season basketball, while other leagues have squads battling for bubble positioning.
With this being the beginning of “primetime” in the sport, our staff is taking an even deeper dive — than we already do — into the schedule.
Today, we have seven selections for you, including a Pac-12 game, a critical matchup in the WCC and other mid-major affairs.
Thursday’s College Basketball 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.|
Bryant vs. St. Francis (BKN)
By Alex Hinton
Bryant is 14-2 in the NEC and in second place in the league. On Saturday, the Bulldogs will have a chance to win at least a share of the regular-season title when they play first-place Wagner.
First, it must beat St. Francis (BKN) on Thursday to get that point.
Bryant has the most efficient scoring offense in the NEC at 78.4 points per game.
The Bulldogs are led by Peter Kiss, who is the nation’s leading scorer at 24.8 points per game. The senior guard has scored 30-plus points in five-straight games and has 25-plus in 11 of his last 12.
The Bulldogs lead the conference in 2-point field goal percentage. However, when they do miss, they collect 32.8% of their misses.
Bryant ranks 45th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and will have a huge advantage on the offensive glass against a St. Francis (BKN) team that is 264th in defensive rebounding percentage.
The Bulldogs are not stellar on the defensive end, ranking 274th in adjusted defensive efficiency. However, they will not be going against a great offense either.
St. Francis (BKN) is 293rd in adjusted offensive efficiency. It’s also 315th in effective field goal percentage, 312th in 2-point field goal percentage and 289th in 3-point percentage.
Defensively, Bryant ranks in the top three in the NEC in all categories.
Bryant won the first meeting, 85-68, on Jan. 23 in Rhode Island. It has won by four points or more in 12 of its 14 conference wins and by seven points or more in 11 of the 14.
In this spot, we only need the Bulldogs to win by four for a push and five to get the cover. DraftKings is offering value here, as some books have the line at -5.5. I would play it up to -6.
Pick: Bryant -4 (Play to -6)
Fort Wayne vs. Oakland
By Doug Ziefel
The Oakland Golden Grizzlies are catching this IPFW team at the wrong time. The Mastodons have been on fire of late, as they enter this matchup on a seven-game winning streak.
Their streak has stemmed from a string of great offensive performances. In five of the seven wins, the Mastodons have had an effective field goal percentage of 55% or higher, which is a big jump from their average of 52%.
On the other side, Oakland is not playing its best brand of basketball of late, as it enters this game off of back-to-back losses at home.
The Grizzlies have struggled mightily at defending shots from inside the arc. That happens to be the area where Jalon Pipkins and Jarred Godfrey do most of their damage for IPFW.
When a team is as hot as the Mastodons are, you have to ride the train until the wheels fall off. And judging by the edges they have in this one, we’re likely to make it to the next stop.
Pick: IPFW +6.5 (Play to +5)
Marshall vs. Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee (20-7, 11-3 C-USA) hosts Marshall (11-17, 4-11 C-USA) as it begins its final homestand of the 2021-22 regular season.
The Blue Raiders have been threatening at home and are riding a smoking hot 16-game home win streak. They are streaking in recent games, too, as they’re looking to extend their six-game win streak as 6.5-point favorites.
Middle Tennessee was victorious in the first matchup against Marshall a couple of weeks ago, leaving Huntington with an 81-79 win after a hard-fought game.
The Blue Raiders are the best team in the nation against the spread, going 19-5-1 this season, covering an astounding 79.2% of their games. Juxtaposing Marshall from a technical standpoint tells a widely different story, with the Thundering Herd going 7-17-2 against the spread to rank 352nd in the nation.
Middle Tennessee is the 98th-ranked team in the nation, per KenPom.
The Blue Raiders’ offense ranks in the top third of Division I offenses, with an AdjO of 108.5 points per 100 possessions. The team has been shooting very well all season, ranking 78th in the nation in effective field goal percentage and 48th nationally from inside the arc.
On defense, Middle Tennessee has been formidable, ranking 124th in the nation in AdjD by allowing 101.1 points per 100 possessions. The Blue Raiders force a lot of turnovers, sitting 44th in the nation in defensive turnover ratio.
Marshall is the 238th-ranked team in the country, with an AdjO and AdjD ranking of 200th and 275th, respectively. The Thundering Herd have been terrible at defending opposing teams’ field goals, and I expect the sharp-shooting Blue Raiders to fully exploit this.
I am projecting Middle Tennessee as 12.72-point home favorites. This represents more than a 6-point advantage to the market line.
Look for Middle Tennessee to do what it’s done all season, which is win at home and cash tickets.
Lay the chalk in Murfreesboro.
Pick: Middle Tennessee -6.5 (Play to -7.5)
Cleveland State vs. Detroit
Detroit Mercy is now a perfect 7-0 straight up and against the spread at home this season. The Titans will try to keep that streak alive against a Cleveland State team on the brink of winning the Horizon League regular-season title.
Cleveland State might stumble toward that title, however. The Vikings are in the midst of a five-game road trip to close the season, and they were forced into a triple-overtime loss on the first game of that trip.
Therefore, I think Detroit gives the Vikings hell at Calihan Hall tonight. The Titans almost beat the Vikings in Cleveland back in mid-January, falling short by two points, so the team has already proven it can compete.
And the revenge factor doesn’t hurt.
I’m also obsessed with Antoine Davis. Davis is arguably the most electric point guard in the nation, as he’s averaging 23.5 points and dishing out 4.6 assists per game while shooting over 37% from 3.
He’s the type of player who can take over a game and carry an underdog team to an upset victory.
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) February 1, 2022
The Titans ride Davis hard, too. Detroit has the highest isolation frequency of any team in college hoops, and Davis receives the majority of those opportunities. The team is top-25 in efficiency in those sets.
Meanwhile, Cleveland State ranks 245th in efficiency defending those situations.
On the back of Davis, Detroit’s offense can go toe-to-toe with the Horizon League’s Goliath. I think Cleveland State stumbles here, and I’m excited to back the Titans as a home dog.
Sharp money has already pushed this line down from +2, and I’d try to find Detroit at +1 or better.
Pick: Detroit +1.5 (Play to +1)
Gonzaga vs. San Francisco
By D.J. James
I have had my eye on the end of the season for Gonzaga for some time. In back-to-back games, it has perhaps its toughest stretch of West Coast Conference games: at San Francisco and at Saint Mary’s.
These are the second- and third-best teams in the WCC, so these outings will display if Gonzaga is going to potentially lose any games until the NCAA Tournament.
The Dons kept their last outing against the Zags close in the first half, finding themselves down by only three points at the break. It was then that Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren took over the game for Gonzaga and won by 16.
The Bulldogs really do not have weaknesses, but they aren’t as strong at defending the perimeter. They rank 20th in 3-point defense, where opponents are shooting around 29.7% on the season.
While holding teams to less than 30% from 3 is not bad, the Zags do allow the opposition to take a fair amount 3s. Granted, this is probably because of the intimidating presence of the Bulldogs’ bigs in the lane, but San Francisco isn’t going to be afraid to launch 3s either way.
The Dons can get hot, too. Of their total point distribution, 36.5% comes from behind the arc.
They have four players — Khalil Shabazz, Jamaree Bouyea, Gabe Stefanini and Julian Rishwain — with over 100 3-point attempts this season, and three players shoot above the 34% mark.
To cap it off, the Dons are even better at defending the arc than the Zags. They allow only 29% of 3s to sink for opponents this season.
Yauhen Massalski will be a pivotal force in the key, as Gonzaga was able to produce plenty of interior points in its last game against San Francisco. If Massalski can at least limit the potential of either Timme or Holmgren, the Dons will cover this number.
Pick: San Francisco +9.5 (Play to +8)
Gonzaga vs. San Francisco
Gonzaga travels to San Francisco in search of its 17th straight victory.
The Bulldogs have steamrolled their competition during that stretch, winning by an average score of 91-64. The group has won every game by double figures, and I anticipate that hot streak to continue in this matchup.
San Francisco has lived and died from the perimeter this season. The Dons take 45% of their shot attempts from deep, which has led them to finding 37% of their total points from 3-point range.
But Gonzaga has been stout at defending such shot attempts, holding opponents to less than 30% from 3-point territory this season. Gonzaga held San Francisco to 6-of-21 from deep and 36% from the field the first time these two teams matched up.
San Francisco doesn’t have the size defensively to slow down both Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme. In the first meeting, the duo combined for 45 points while shooting a combined 58% from 2-point territory.
Gonzaga makes its living scoring around the bucket, as it hits 62% on 2-point field goals (best in the nation).
Gonzaga is the cream of the crop in the WCC, and has been proving its dominance night in and night out. On Thursday, it will do the same on the road, and secure its 18th straight double-digit victory.
Pick: Gonzaga -9.5 (Play to -11)
UCLA vs. Oregon
Welp. Oregon is back to where it started.
The Ducks made a little midseason run to get itself right back in the at-large conversation. Tweets about Dana Altman and Rubik’s Cubes flooded our collective timeline.
But Oregon has now dropped three of its last four, including a disastrous home loss to Cal. The Ducks are back in a must-win situation.
Oregon will get a big opportunity against UCLA, which stuttered on its own Arizona road trip, but has since picked up three straight wins. However, this is the first of a three-game road streak for the Bruins, while the Ducks are beginning their own homestand.
Moreover, Oregon is coming into this game with two extra days of rest, as UCLA beat Arizona State Monday night.
There’s no real on-the-court reasoning for this pick. But it’s a bad spot for UCLA, and a spot where coach Altman tends to shine.
UCLA’s offense can be predictable (heavy doses of mid-range shots from its wings), and Oregon was able to force the Bruins’ hand back on Jan. 13. Oregon held UCLA to just 6-of-18 from the mid-range in an overtime victory.
I’m expecting Altman to try and do the same thing on Thursday. He’s taken down Mick Cronin in three straight games, so why not back him to do it again in a desperation spot?
Additionally, I’m always willing to fade the public in power conferences. At the time of this writing, over 70% of the tickets are on UCLA, but over 60% of the handle is on Oregon.
I don’t see this line moving down, so I wouldn’t recommend playing Oregon at anything worse than +3.