College Basketball Best Bets: Our Staff’s 6 Favorite Picks for Wednesday, Including UNC vs. Northeastern, VCU vs. Richmond, & More (Feb. 17)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images & Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images. Pictured, from left: Richmond Spiders guard Blake Francis (1) and VCU Rams guard Nah’Shon Hyland (5).
- Wednesday's college hoops slate is a big one with a number of important games for a number of reasons.
- Our staff rattled off their six favorite bets for the day coming from four different games, starting with Syracuse vs. Louisville at 6:30 p.m. ET.
- Check out each individual pick complete with odds and a breakdown below.
There are a lot of big games on Wednesday’s college basketball slate.
Our staff’s top six picks span four games beginning with Syracuse vs. Louisville at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Our best bets card then extends through the 7 p.m. ET tipoffs and includes North Carolina vs. Northeastern, St. Francis BK vs. Fairleigh Dickinson, and VCU vs. Richmond.
Check out our staff’s full breakdowns and picks for each of their top games below.
Editor’s Note: Wednesday’s Syracuse vs. Louisville men’s basketball game has been canceled due to COVID-19 within the Cardinals program.
College Basketball Odds & Picks
Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing on Wednesday morning.
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Syracuse vs. Louisville
By Mike Randle
Louisville returns to the court after a two-week pause due to COVID-19 protocols.
The Cardinals will be without two scholarship players, while head coach Chris Mack returns after testing positive for the virus. That lack of consistency and preparation is significant against the zone defense of the Orange.
Syracuse has won three of its last four games, including an impressive 77-68 victory at NC State. The Orange have caught fire from beyond the arc, shooting 46.7% (14-of-30) from 3-point range over the past two games. Head coach Jim Boeheim’s crew is also shooting an impressive 81.3% from the free-throw line in ACC play.
The Cardinals’ offensive limitations will struggle against the length of Syracuse.
Louisville is shooting just 31.1% from 3 within conference play, and its defense does not force enough turnovers to disrupt the Orange.
I expect a rusty Louisville offense to struggle and the hot-shooting of Alan Griffin (15.8 ppg, 37.3% 3) and Buddy Boeheim (10-of-22 3 last four games) to keep this game close throughout.
Syracuse vs. Louisville
By Pat McMahon
One of the more challenging aspects of handicapping college basketball this season is not knowing what to expect from teams coming back from long layoffs.
With Louisville returning to the court for the first time in over two weeks, it’s difficult to predict how sharp it will look against Syracuse, especially with the announcement that two unidentified scholarship players won’t be available.
What we do know about Louisville is that its offense was very inconsistent in conference play prior to its program pause. The Cardinals shoot just 31.9% from 3 as a team, which is bad news going against a Syracuse defense allowing just 30.8% from beyond the arc.
The other concern with the Cardinals offense is getting consistent scoring outside of its two star guards.
Carlik Jones and David Johnson combine for 44% of the team’s scoring and 72% of its assists. If other players don’t step up and help them out, the Cardinals could be in for a long night.
On the other side, Syracuse has several capable shooters but struggles mightily with consistency.
The Orange shoot 32.5% from 3-point range, with Alan Griffin (37.5%) the only major contributor above 35%. Louisville is a very strong defensive team, ranking 30th in adjusted efficiency and allowing just 30.9% from beyond the arc. It has what it takes to make it a long night for Syracuse’s shooters.
Louisville’s pace of play (301st in adjusted tempo) also bodes well for the under. It’ll take its time against the zone and also make it a point to keep Syracuse out of transition and force the Orange beat it in the half-court.
This should be a tight game throughout, and I think there’s a good chance the winner doesn’t reach 70 points.
North Carolina vs. Northeastern
Roy Williams’ statement about this game was that North Carolina was looking for home games… ‘Period.’
Northeastern head coach Bill Coen answered the call, as the Huskies have covered four of their last five games on the road.
The Tar Heels are looking to bolster a winning record as we approach the ACC Tournament but have not played a home game since Jan. 23 because of COVID-19 disruption.
From a matchup perspective, there is no reason to think Northeastern cannot hang in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina runs at a much faster tempo than Northeastern, with the Heels at 73rd in the country and the Huskies at 241st.
Even though Northeastern runs at a slower pace, it is the 3-point shot that is the equalizer here. The Huskies are 33rd nationally in point distribution from beyond the arc with a shooting percentage that ranks 83rd in Division I.
Conversely, the Tar Heels are 291st in perimeter defense, which should give way to Northeastern firing from deep on most possessions.
Look for the Huskies, who have a better 3-point shooting percentage on the road this season, to give North Carolina a challenge in covering the spread.
St. Francis BK vs. Fairleigh Dickinson
The Terriers walked away with an 83-75 victory on Tuesday night over Fairleigh Dickinson, hitting 158 points on the dot.
Now, this game was played at the highest tempo of any game on the Tuesday slate, and the same will be true on Wednesday.
Both teams rank inside the top 60 in adjusted tempo, per KenPom, and play a mixture of good offense and terrible defense.
Both teams are the worst defenses in the Northeast Conference, allowing well over 1.07 points per possession. Fairleigh Dickison has a distinct advantage on offense, as it’s shooting 39.5% from 3-point range, while St. Francis is allowing almost 40% from deep.
On Tuesday, Fairleigh Dickinson went 11-of-30 from deep, which is actually below its season average, so I expect the Knights to see some positive shooting regression Wednesday.
Not only are both defenses terrible at guarding the perimeter, they are also terrible inside, as both teams combined for 31 offensive rebounds on Tuesday.
That was not at all surprising. These are the two worst defensive rebounding teams in the conference.
So, even if both of these teams struggle from the field for whatever reason, they’ll have plenty of second-chance opportunities.
I have the total projected at 164.22, so I think there’s some value on over 158 points at the Rothman Center tonight.
VCU vs. Richmond
In one of college basketball’s most unheralded rivalry games, the two Atlantic 10 teams from Richmond, Virginia, will clash tonight in what could prove to be a crucial game along the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Bracketology aggregator Bracket Matrix currently pegs VCU as a 10 seed, far from safety in the field, and Richmond as the fourth team out of the tournament. A win for either would be a massive chip in the battle for an at-large bid.
The game itself will be a fascinating chess match, pitting the two team’s biggest strengths directly against one another. VCU is forcing turnovers at a high rate, harkening back to the program’s heights during the “Havoc” days of Shaka Smart.
The Rams rank fifth in the nation in turnover rate forced, with a quarter of VCU’s defensive possessions leading to a turnover. VCU’s pressure is particularly pesky, forcing the second-highest rate of steals in the nation, leading to transition scoring opportunities.
Richmond, meanwhile, has been elite at avoiding turnovers offensively. The Spiders rank in the top 10 in avoiding turnovers this season. With two senior guards capable of handling the ball, Richmond’s offense has been stellar at avoiding wasted possessions. Clearly, something has to give.
This game occurring in VCU’s home gym likely gives the Rams enough of an advantage to earn your wager.
Richmond’s ball security has been less effective in true road games this season. The Spiders are averaging 11.13 turnovers on the road, compared to just 9.43 turnovers in home or neutral site games.
There also could be some rust on Richmond’s side since the Spiders have not played a game against a Division I opponent since Jan. 26.
A road game at the Siegel Center is not the ideal place to ease back into game speed. Even if you think Richmond can settle in, consider taking VCU in the first half.
VCU vs. Richmond
The Spiders were contending with a potential three-week layoff before their Athletic Director, John Hardt, got creative.
The veteran AD added a game with Division III St. Mary’s College of Maryland on Sunday to keep his team sharp ahead of a pivotal four-game A-10 stretch that includes tussles with VCU, Duquesne and Saint Louis.
Given the adverse effects that long layoffs have had on teams this season, this is the kind of savvy move that could save Richmond from a rusty performance against the Rams.
With the rust factor removed from the equation, I love the Spiders in this spot. My preseason pick to win the A-10 has done some of its best work on the road this season, and the 15-minute drive across town should do little to slow Richmond’s momentum.
Richmond is 6-1 both SU and ATS on the road, with its only loss coming at the hands of West Virginia in Morgantown.
VCU, meanwhile, has struggled to defend its home court with a 5-4 ATS record and a 15-point home loss to lowly Rhode Island on its resume. Since that loss to URI, VCU has stepped up its game on the defensive end considerably, holding opponents to just 63.5 points per game.
But it hasn’t faced an offense as efficient as Richmond (31st) since it squared off with St. Bonaventure (71st), which, coincidentally, was VCU’s last loss (70-54).
The Spiders do most of their damage from inside the arc and have three front-court starters who average 11 points or more per night.
Sophomore Tyler Burton has been particularly impressive during his sophomore campaign, pouring in 15 points per game across his last four while stretching defenses with his improved 3-point stroke (FR – 26.3% | SO – 42.4%).
VCU doesn’t start a single player over 6-foot-8, relying on its athletic and aggressive defense to produce “stocks” and turnovers. The Rams produce just a hair under 16 blocks and steals per game, which is tops in the country.
But Richmond is just as good at avoiding turnovers and getting its shots rejected as VCU is good at producing them. The Spiders rank 13th nationally in turnovers and fourth in shots blocked per game.
When VCU struggles to create havoc, it loses. And given Richmond’s veteran lineup and tune-up game on Sunday, I don’t foresee them playing loose with the basketball here.
I would grab the Spiders before this game inches closer to a pick‘em at tip-off.
Pick: Richmond +125