College Basketball Mid-Major Betting Report: Breaking Down Saint Mary’s, Toledo & Jacksonville State
Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Matthias Tass (Saint Mary’s)
We have arrived in February, and that means continuing to do our homework on the mid-majors that will be lurking in March.
Most conference races are starting to take shape, with the favorites emerging and eyeing the league tournaments.
Our ongoing Mid-Major Report series continues with Saint Mary’s, Toledo and Jacksonville State — three teams entirely capable of ruining a power conference foe’s day.
They do it in different ways, though, and matchups mean everything in the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s take a look.
|Current Overall Record||17-4|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||9|
You may know Saint Mary’s, historically, as “the team with all of the Australians” or “the WCC team that’s not Gonzaga.”
This year, though, Saint Mary’s is much more than that.
Barring a wild collapse, the Gaels will be in the NCAA Tournament, and they might even earn Coach Randy Bennett his best-ever seed (previous best: 7).
Squaring off against Saint Mary’s is like playing tennis against a wall. The Gaels just keep coming back at you, largely mistake-free, forcing you to play near-perfect basketball.
This is especially true defensively, where the Gaels have a case as the most positionally sound team in the country. They are big, physical and experienced.
This same core has now ranked inside KenPom’s top 15 in adjusted defensive efficiency for two straight years. They force long possessions, Logan Johnson is a lockdown on-ball defender and they thoroughly dominate the defensive glass.
Bennett’s team returned everyone from last year’s squad (also a defensive juggernaut). The difference has been increased offensive potency, lifting the Gaels from a “pain in the butt” to a “legitimate top-25 team.”
Sharpshooter Alex Ducas missed most of 2020-21 with injury, but he’s back and has hit nearly 40% of his triples. And freshman guard Augustas Marciulionis, though inefficient at times, has added more dynamic playmaking to supplement incumbent Tommy Kuhse.
They are not going to win the WCC — that’s Gonzaga’s crown — but the Gaels have been a joy to wager on this season. They currently clock in at 13-6-1 ATS, and although the value may be evaporating, they have covered four of their last five.
If and when the Gaels do make the NCAA Tournament, it will be difficult to bet against them. The combination of experience and elite coaching is a terrific early-round recipe.
I can already envision them frustrating a “more talented” team on Thursday, grinding their way to Bennett’s fourth-career NCAA victory.
|Current Overall Record||18-4|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||12|
Transitioning from Saint Mary’s to Toledo is like changing a metronome into an EDM DJ. The Rockets are just that: an offensive rocketship that zooms up and down the floor with a bevy of potent weapons.
That offense is unquestionably Toledo’s calling card. Currently sitting at 38th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, the Rockets stump opponents with a disconcerting inverted alignment.
Their best shooters are their two 6-foot-7 forwards, Setric Millner Jr. and JT Shumate. Both sit above 37% from deep on the year (Shumate is at 49%), forcing opposing bigs to wander out to the unfamiliar perimeter. That opens up the floor for the Rockets’ lightning-quick guards.
Ryan Rollins is the star. The sophomore is currently averaging 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 48% from the field. He’s devastating in transition, and with other ball-handlers around him in RayJ Dennis and Ra’Heim Moss, defenses struggle to stop them all.
As you can see from the ATS record listed above, this team has been a blast to wager on this season. That follows a 2020-21 campaign in which the Rockets went 20-10 ATS.
A subtle part of that success is their elite free throw shooting — currently sixth nationally in FT% at 78.6%. If the cover is in question, Toledo has the clutch shooters to seal it.
If Toledo has any issues, it’s on the defensive end, particularly in the paint. Millner Jr. and Shumate are neither tall nor bulky, and bigger teams can punish them at the rim and on the glass.
The Rockets are still a long way from a tourney berth in the parity-ridden MAC. It would be Toledo’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1980, something that eluded the MAC regular-season champions in 2021.
|Current Overall Record||15-6|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||14|
In their first season in the ASUN, the Gamecocks have quickly asserted themselves atop the standings. Liberty has won the conference since coming over from the Big South, but there’s a new bully in town.
This past weekend, Jacksonville State went to Lynchburg, VA and snapped Liberty’s 45-game home winning streak. That result truly announced the Gamecocks’ presence in the ASUN.
They now control their own destiny to earn the league tournament’s No. 1 seed, which means hosting the event.
Like many dominant mid-major teams this year, Jacksonville State has benefited from the “super senior” policy. Physical guard Darian Adams, bruising center Brandon Huffman and versatile forward Kayne Henry are all back for a fifth college campaign.
That gives the Gamecocks a key ingredient: experience.
These Gamecocks also possess another vital “giant-killer” trait: they are loaded with shooting.
JSU currently ranks fifth in the entire country in 3P%, and five different guys can fill it up from downtown if left open. That’s the ultimate equalizer against power competition, should the Gamecocks make the Big Dance.
The primary difference from last year’s extremely similar roster is Jalen Gibbs, a transfer from Mount St. Mary’s. One of those potent shooters, Gibbs adds a volcanic element to the lineup. Few players in the college game can erupt for 40 points, a feat Gibbs accomplished at Elon in late November.
With legitimate size, depth and multiple offensive options, Jacksonville State has the ability to give foes headaches throughout February and into March.
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