College Basketball Betting Pick & Roll: Calabrese & McGrath’s Top Picks for Saturday, March 5
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Posh Alexander (St. John’s)
- Tanner McGrath dives into a Missouri Valley Conference affair and Iowa State vs. Baylor.
- Meanwhile, Mike Calabrese eyes a Pac-12 affair and a Big East duel.
- Read below for their four best bets for Saturday's college basketball slate.
When that clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, people around the world experience a similar feeling, the kind of feeling only a clean slate can provide.
For college basketball gamblers, March provides a feeling akin to that New Year’s experience.
It doesn’t matter how many melts you endured during the regular season or how many last-second shots rimmed out. Cold streaks and hard luck are out the window.
March is synonymous with madness, and that kind of volatility is music to bettors’ ears. Longshots and Cinderellas are ready to capture the nation’s imagination and line the pockets of savvy bettors.
McGrath’s Top 2 Saturday Picks
Loyola Chicago vs. Northern Iowa
Under Porter Moser, the Ramblers were known for their defensive prowess. In Moser’s two tournament runs, the Ramblers were top-15 in defensive efficiency nationally.
However, this year’s version of the Ramblers have taken a step-back defensively, but a major step forward offensively.
Loyola Chicago has turned into a shot-making machine. Coach Drew Valentine has his team running a slow-progression offense (315th in tempo) that works its way toward open jumpers (43.2% 3PA/FGA, top-50 nationally).
And this team has shot the lights out. Six players in Valentine’s 11-man rotation are shooting over 36% from 3. The Ramblers are ninth nationally in catch-and-shoot 3-point efficiency (1.19), per ShotQuality, and are 11th nationally in spot-up PPP (1.085), per Synergy.
They’ll be going up against Northern Iowa, which has become the over bettor’s dream team. Every Northern Iowa game devolves into a shooting contest, with UNI ranking 70th in 3-point rate (42.7% 3PA/FGA) while allowing the third-highest 3-point rate to its opponents (48.8% 3PA/FGA).
As a result, the Panthers are a whopping 18-11 to the over this season.
AJ Green is the Panthers’ unquestioned leader, and he is the definition of a shot maker. He gets to his spot every single time, and he’s deadly as a jump shooter — in the mid-range or from behind the arc.
Behind Green, the Panthers are eighth in off-the-dribble 3-point efficiency, something they do at the sixth-highest frequency nationally.
Meanwhile, that’s basically the Ramblers’ weak point defensively. Loyola is 175th nationally in off-the-dribble 3-point defensive efficiency and 252nd in mid-range defensive efficiency. Green is going to get his — as he did when he dropped 32 against the Ramblers in the MVC season finale.
However, Northern Iowa doesn’t just give up a lot of 3-point opportunities, the Panthers are weak at defending them. The Panthers are sub-275 in catch-and-shoot 3-point defensive efficiency and off-the-dribble 3-point defensive efficiency.
The Ramblers’ offense is going to shoot right through that. But the Panthers’ offense will be similarly effective against the opposing defense. This is setting up to be a high-scoring, 3-point heavy affair.
These two blew way past the total in both meetings this year, and I’m not expecting it to stop with both team’s seasons on the line. KenPom is projecting the total at 141, and I’m ready to play it up to 145.
Pick: Over 145 or better
Iowa State vs. Baylor
It’s a pretty big spot for Baylor, as the Bears are looking to stay on the one-seed line for the Big Dance, as well as lock up a share of the Big 12 regular-season title.
All this comes on Senior Night.
But 12 is a huge number, especially with Iowa State coming off of the most pathetic performance of any power conference team this season.
The Cyclones shot 2-for-17 from 3 and 13-for-36 from 2 on their way to scoring just 36 points in a home loss to Oklahoma State. Somehow, Iowa State barely cracked .5 PPP.
A bounce-back spot like this activates one of our Action PRO systems: Teams Off Big Loss to Ranked Opponent.
When a team has a losing margin of 14 or more in the previous game and then gets a ranked opponent in the next game, those teams are 147-84-2 ATS in that spot. That’s good for a whopping 64% win rate and a 24% ROI.
Iowa State will play slow (235th nationally in tempo) and is frisky enough on defense to be ranked in the top-10 in defensive efficiency. The Cyclones are the perfect team to back as an underdog, a spot where they’re 10-5 ATS this season.
Moreover, Baylor is still missing guard LJ Cryer, who is out until mid-March with a foot injury.
Baylor also just ripped off wins against Kansas and Texas, and the Bears could be in a small let-down spot despite the importance of the game.
Baylor has won three straight against Iowa State, but failed to cover in all three of those games. The average margin of victory in those games was seven, and the ShotQuality margin of victory in the meeting earlier this season was just two.
I therefore see some value in Iowa State +12, and would bet it down to +10.
Pick: Iowa State +12 (Play to +10)
Calabrese’s Top 2 Saturday Picks
Oregon State vs. Washington
Washington is still jockeying for position in the Pac-12 pecking order and a win here — coupled with a Washington State loss to Oregon — could slot it sixth.
Grabbing the six-seed is valuable because it would put the Huskies in line to play UCLA, and place them on the opposite side of the bracket from Arizona. So, the motivation is there to not mail in their season finale to Oregon State.
The Beavers head into the Emerald City in complete disarray. At 3–26 (1–18 Pac-12) this could go down as the worst Beavers team in school history.
They’re fairly horrific from the field (164th 2PT, 271st 3PT), dreadful from the line (257th) and one of the worst high-major rebounding teams in recent years (351st in defensive rebounds).
According to ShotQuality, they’re also one of the worst transition defenses in college basketball (339th), and a dismal 324th in terms of shot quality coming out of a timeout. So, even when they can set things up for themselves offensively, they can’t execute.
This team is absolutely wretched.
Washington, meanwhile, is like many middling high-majors: up and down. The Huskies love to attack the basket, and get to the line more than anyone in the Pac-12.
They force a lot of turnovers (15.5, 26th) and convert in transition (26th). Given Oregon State’s inability to slow anyone down when a fast break happens, that’s a major advantage for the Huskies here.
With the Beavers coming in on a 16-game losing streak, and being dreadful against the closing number on the road (3-8), I have to take the Huskies and Terrell Brown Jr. in this spot. The senior wing is finishing his career at UW strong, with 70 points in his last three games.
I’ll be riding with Brown and the Huskies in the first half (-5.5) and for the game (-9.5).
Pick: Washington -9.5 (Play to -11)
St. John’s vs. Marquette
This is the Red Storm’s last stand, and very well could be Mike Anderson’s, as well.
Prior to arriving in Queens, Anderson had guided nine separate teams at three different programs (UAB, Mizzou, Arkansas) to the NCAA Tournament. He was a winner, a program builder and at the time (2019), a really good get for a struggling St. John’s program.
But, to put it simply, the wins haven’t come.
The talent is there, and the upside has been on display (four ranked victories in the past three seasons), but inconsistency has held the Red Storm back.
What’s interesting, however, has been St. John’s play in defeat recently. Yes, SJU is 4-5 SU in its last nine, but that has included close losses (five points or less) to Providence and UConn, and a six-point loss to Villanova.
The Johnnies have been close, and they have the firepower to win in a shootout. Usually they have to contend with teams trying to slow them down, but not Marquette.
The Golden Eagles play at the 29th-fastest tempo, according to KenPom, and just got burned playing up-tempo affairs with DePaul (91-80) and Creighton (83-82).
Essentially, Marquette’s advantage this season has been its ability to get to the rim and shoot 3s, while avoiding other shots almost altogether (30th nationally).
But when Marquette gets into track meets, teams get similar looks at the rim and from long range, as DePaul and Creighton did in recent games.
Once that advantage goes away for Marquette, it gets exposed on the glass. According to ShotQuality, Marquette is 336th in defensive rebounding and even worse on the offensive glass (342nd). St. John’s, meanwhile, is the third-best offensive rebounding team in the Big East.
After knocking off Villanova on Feb. 2, the Golden Eagles have been in a mini tail spin, and given Shaka Smart’s late-season swoons at Texas, I’m willing to play the hungrier team on the road at this price.
Pick: St. John’s ML +150 (Play to +130)