College Basketball Best Bets: Our Staff’s Top 6 Picks for Thursday, Including Ohio State vs. Iowa, Minnesota vs. Rutgers & More (Feb. 4)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Pictured: Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Ron Harper Jr.
- Thursday's college hoops slate is another good one, and our NCAAB staff sees plenty of betting value on the games.
- Our staff was especially drawn to Iowa vs. Ohio State at 7 p.m. ET, but they also broke down games such as Cincinnati vs. Temple and Rutgers vs. Minnesota.
- Check out each individual breakdown complete with a betting pick below.
Thursday’s college basketball slate may not be the biggest we’ve seen this season, but it definitely doesn’t lack for headlines — or for betting value.
Our staff broke down Thursday’s college basketball odds from top to bottom and highlighted their top six best bets for today’s college hoops action. Among those picks, three of our analysts are unanimously siding with Iowa against the spread vs. Ohio State.
Our staff’s top six picks span four games beginning with No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Iowa tipping off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. Our best bets card extends through the 9 p.m. ET tipoff between Minnesota and Rutgers to finish up with Montana vs. Portland State at 10:05 p.m. ET.
Check out our staff’s full breakdowns and picks for each of their top games below.
College Basketball Odds & Picks
Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing on Thursday morning.
Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.
#7 Ohio State vs. #8 Iowa
The Hawkeyes lost two straight before surviving against a Michigan State team that had lost six of its past eight contests.
The biggest question is why Iowa has struggled over the past three games. The answer is simply perimeter defense.
Certainly a factor to look for when March Madness begins, Iowa ranks 248th nationally in 3-point defense. Over the past three games against Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana, each of the teams shot at least 40% from beyond the arc.
This has been the biggest Achilles’ heel for the Hawkeyes, with previous losses coming against Gonzaga and Minnesota, which shot 50% and 39% from long rang, respectively.
Ohio State may not have the offensive capability to replicate the teams that have had success against Iowa.
The Buckeyes have seen a dip in long-range shooting since conference play started and now rank ninth in the Big Ten.
The biggest weapon for this high powered offense comes at the charity stripe with a top-20 ranking in free-throw rate.
That is an area the Iowa defense excels in, ranking 21st nationally in defensive free-throw rate.
This will be the best game of the Thursday slate, but without the ability to get to the line or shoot 3-pointers, the Buckeyes will come up short in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
#7 Ohio State vs. #8 Iowa
I had a pretty good handle on Iowa coming into this season. I banked on an occasionally volatile offense having its fair share of off-nights, particularly once Big Ten play rolled around.
Those expectations, as it turned out, were right on the money.
Iowa still has a Final Four ceiling, particularly when its offense is clicking and 3s are falling. But when it’s forced to grind games out in the 70s, it’s capable of dropping games to just about anyone in the conference.
Indiana and Illinois both capitalized on pedestrian offensive nights from the Hawkeyes, and as a result, both the public and oddsmakers have begun to reel back on the Hawkeyes.
If I had consulted my power rankings to set this line a month ago, Iowa would have been in the 9-to-10 point range as a favorite. But recent history has caused an overcorrection, and I’m happy to pounce on a few possessions worth of value.
Ohio State, in my eyes, has been a bit of an overachiever this year, and it remains tethered to E.J. Liddell.
When Liddell pumps in 16 or more points, Ohio State is 8-0 SU and 6-2 ATS. When he goes for 15 or less, those records crash back to earth at 5-3 SU and 4-4 ATS.
I foresee Liddell getting into foul trouble for just the second time all season having to body Garza in the paint. Then, Iowa boat-races the Buckeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
#7 Ohio State vs. #8 Iowa
By Mike Randle
Iowa is coming off a win, but no cover, against an underwhelming Michigan State team.
The Hawkeyes are still 10-7 overall ATS but have failed to cover their last three games. They are in a mini-slump, having lost two of their past three games, but they have a favorable matchup against a Buckeyes team that does not force turnovers.
Ohio State ranks last in Big Ten play in defensive turnover percentage, which will allow the explosive Hawkeyes offense to get quality shots on the majority of their possessions.
Iowa’s last three opponents have found success with a strong defensive game plan balanced by offensive efficiency.
Each of the last three Hawkeye opponents have scored over 80 points, led by superb 3-point efficiency. Their last three opponents (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State) shot a combined 43% (28-of-65) from beyond the arc.
The Buckeyes, however, have relied on 2-point scoring and free throws to generate points in conference play.
National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza should limit the interior opportunities, and Iowa has one of the lowest foul rates in the nation.
With 3-point specialist CJ Frederick (50%) back for a second consecutive game from a leg injury, I expect Iowa’s offense to regain it’s dominating form from earlier this season.
Cincinnati vs. Temple
The Cincinnati Bearcats and Temple Owls meet Thursday in what will be the Bearcats’ first game after a 25-day layoff due to COVID-19 issues.
The Bearcats went 20-10 overall last year and finished in a three-way tie for first place in the AAC, but it’s been a different story this season. Cincy currently sits at 3-7 on the year and is in need of a win after dropping six of its last seven games.
Temple has struggled offensively all season. It ranks 235th in 3-point percentage, 322nd in 2-point percentage, and 274th in free-throw percentage, per KenPom.
In conference play, it averages just 63.4 points per game, which is only ahead of Tulsa, which puts up 63.1. The main scoring option for the Owls is Damian Dunn, who averages 14.1 points per game, but he’s making shots at just a 34.0% clip.
Cincinnati has played at the fastest pace in the AAC this season. Although, the Bearcats haven’t played much basketball over the last month and will want to avoid running themselves out of this game.
They’re facing one of the worst offenses in the country, and it will be a solid opportunity for them to get back to what they were doing last season: playing defense.
I am taking under 140 in this game in what I think will be a ugly game with a lot of missed buckets. I’d be willing to play down to 139.
Minnesota vs. Rutgers
Looking at the set total for this game, Rutgers would seemingly be the team to sway this game to the under.
The Scarlet Knights are one of the slower teams in the Big Ten and shoot the second-lowest rate of 3-pointers as a percentage of total field goals.
Both of those traits lead to lower-scoring games, as does Rutgers’ feisty defense.
The Scarlet Knights lead the conference in forcing turnovers, blocking shots, and pilfering steals on a per-possession basis.
Only one of Rutgers’ last seven opponents topped the 75-point mark, and the last two teams to play the Scarlet Knights managed a combined 93 total points.
Despite all of those indicators, it’s Minnesota’s play that makes this my favorite bet on the board tonight. The Gophers’ home-road splits offensively have been drastic.
In Big Ten play, Minnesota is posting 76.8 points per game when playing in the warmth of The Barn in Minneapolis. On the road, the Gophers have scored just 62.8 points in five conference games.
Minnesota has made more than a quarter of its 3-point attempts in just one of its four road Big Ten games while turning the ball over more frequently than it does at home.
With this Gopher team on the road at The RAC, where Rutgers’ last three games have averaged a total of just 121.7, this under is the prudent pick.
Montana vs. Portland State
The Grizzlies’ offense has been somewhat average in conference play this season, averaging only 1.03 points per possession.
Montana’s offense is a little archaic, as it tries to get the ball as close to the basket as possible, with over 73% of its field goal attempts coming from inside the 3-point arc. However, when the Griz do get to the rim, they are shooting 63%, per Hoop-Math.
The Grizzlies’ other main objective is to get to the charity stripe as much as possible.
Montana has one of the highest free-throw rates in the conference and shoots almost 80% from the free-throw line.
The good news is Portland State is allowing the highest free-throw rate in the conference at over 50%, so the Grizzlies should be able to get to the line as often as they want tonight.
Portland State has the worst offense in the Big Sky, averaging only 0.92 points per possession.
The problem for the Vikings is they are desperately struggling from the field, hitting only 41.5% from 2-point range, 30.8% from 3-point range, and 55.3% on shot attempts at the rim.
To make matters worse, the Vikings have the third-highest turnover percentage in the conference and shoot only 66.9% from the free-throw line.
Montana has been solid on defense this season allowing only 1.01 points per possession and should have no trouble shutting down Portland State’s offense.
I have Montana projected as a -4.46 favorite on the road, so I think there’s plenty of value on the Grizzlies at -1.
Pick: Montana -1