College Basketball Odds, Picks & Predictions: 6 Best Bets for Opening Night, Featuring Lehigh vs. Syracuse
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images. Pictured: Symir Torrence & Joseph Girard III (Syracuse)
It feels like Christmas morning because college hoops is finally back!
We don’t have the benefit of opening the new campaign with the Champions Classic like last year, but Monday’s slate still features plenty of betting value.
Monday’s Opening-Night 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.|
Winthrop vs. Penn State
By D.J. James
Penn State has seen a lot of roster turnover since 2021-2022, but under Micah Shrewsberry, this team should continue to play slowly.
Last season, the Nittany Lions ranked 354th in Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom. They also ranked in the top 50 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
They lose John Harrar in the post — which is an enormous loss — but they add Kebba Njie, a four-star center, who should log plenty of minutes alongside transfer Michael Henn (Denver).
Seth Lundy, Myles Dread and Jalen Pickett all return, and each averaged at least one steal per game. This should provide enough of a defensive boost to shut down Winthrop and throw mismatches at it consistently.
Winthrop owned a far better offense than defense last season, as it was led by D.J. Burns Jr. Losing both Burns and Patrick Good will force this team to take a step back.
Given that it’s the first game of the season, look for Cory Hightower to take the offensive lead. Even still, this may not be enough.
The Eagles do bring back Kelton Talford, Micheal Anumba and Chase Claxton — in addition to Hightower — to give them a boost on the glass against this new Nittany Lions frontcourt.
This should help — especially on the defense. Given the lack of experience from Njie, it could be a rude awakening for the young freshman.
The Eagles need to find an offensive boost to replace Burns, and it should take more than a game to do so. With Penn State’s pace and strong defense, look for this game to go under 139. Play it to 136.5.
Idaho vs. Denver
By Doug Ziefel
This game is going to be a 3-point contest, as both teams shot exceptionally well from behind the arc last season. Denver finished 26th in 3-point percentage and Idaho finished 36th.
However, what will keep the Vandals in this game is their ability to make more shots from downtown.
The Pioneers finished 318th in 3-point percentage allowed last season and Idaho’s top three players can all sink it from long range.
It all starts with Trey Smith. The senior transfer from San Jose State comes over with a solid pedigree, as he made 31% of his 3s last season. While his percentage is not great, Trey is a volume shooter and could be the Vandals’ leading scorer if he gets hot.
However, if it’s not Trey, it may be his fellow guard Rashad Smith. Rashad is a bonafide sniper. He hit 45% of his 3s last season and will now have more opportunities in this offense.
Then, last but not least is Yusef Salih. Salih should take significant strides as a sophomore. He is more of a 3-point specialist, but he did hit 38% of his attempts last year and could average double-digit points with a usage increase.
The trio should be able to unload a barrage of 3s on a Denver team that is not expected to be much better from last year — KenPom has it ranked 322nd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
Pick: Idaho +11.5 (Play to +10)
Morehead State vs. Indiana
Expectations are sky-high in Bloomington after the Hoosiers brought back nearly every key piece from a team that caught fire to end the year last March.
In this matchup against Morehead State, All-American candidate Trayce Jackson-Davis should be able to have his way on the inside. The senior came back to improve his game and go out with a Big Ten title, and I think you’ll see him motivated right from the tip in this one.
Meanwhile, I think Indiana will be a much-improved shooting team from the perimeter in ’22-23.
The Hoosiers really struggled at times to make shots a year ago, but Miller Kopp should be in more of a true spot-up role this season. Tamar Bates should also be more comfortable in year two, and freshman phenom Jalen Hood-Schifino can really stroke it.
With the Eagles likely being forced to double Jackson-Davis and fellow senior Race Thompson on the inside, expect Indiana to make plenty of open looks from 3 in this one.
Lastly, Indiana’s roster is plenty deep this season, with talented players in the 11-13 spots. As a result, I don’t expect much of a drop off in garbage time when Mike Woodson turns it over to his bench.
Back Indiana to get its season off to a fast start with a blowout victory over Morehead State.
George Mason vs. Auburn
George Mason opens the season with a trip to take on the reigning SEC champions in Auburn.
Bruce Pearl moves into this campaign with his top two scorers — Jabari Smith Jr. and Walker Kessler — playing in the NBA.
Also, Auburn looked sloppy in its exhibition game against University of Alabama Huntsville. The Tigers came away with just an 18-point victory while allowing 69 points.
Now they’re going to be tested by a George Mason team that can light it up from outside. Last season, the Patriots took 47% of their shots from beyond the arc and converted at a 36% clip. The program found 40% of its points from 3-point territory and will challenge Auburn’s perimeter defense.
George Mason is led by one of the top forwards in the Atlantic 10 in Josh Oduro. Last season, Oduro averaged 18 points and eight rebounds while hitting 53% from the field.
The Patriots owned just a 14-16 record in 2021-22, but only lost two games by more than a dozen points. I envision them giving War Eagle all they can handle in their opening matchup, especially as Auburn searches for a new offensive identity.
Despite only taking 58% of the ticket count, George Mason accounts for 88% of the total money in this matchup. I’m following the sharp action and backing the Patriots to keep this game within reach.
Lehigh vs. Syracuse
The Lehigh coaching staff has embraced the analytical revolution, and it shows when the Mountain Hawks are on the defensive end of the floor. No team in the nation allowed a lower percentage of their opponents’ field goals to come from outside the arc.
On the other end, Lehigh looks to take advantage by hoisting its own 3s. The Mountain Hawks scored the highest percentage of points from long range during Patriot League play last season.
Lehigh will certainly be ready to launch some jumpers over the Syracuse zone tonight. The Orange allowed opponents to take the second-highest ratio of 3s to 2s last season in all of college basketball.
While Lehigh may be hell-bent on preventing 3-point attempts, Syracuse will be tough to slow in that regard. Jim Boeheim returns many of the shooters from last season’s club, which ranked top-20 in the nation in 3-point percentage.
Lehigh is going to outshoot Syracuse on the road in the Dome, with the Orange glad to play that style of game. Even in a blowout win for Syracuse, both teams should fire enough shots from long range to push this game over.
Pick: Over 146 (Play to 147)
Longwood vs. Alabama
Alabama may get things revved up by the time conference play rolls around, but as it stands, its starting lineup is short on experience.
Jahvon Quinerly will be on the shelf until mid-December, rehabbing from a torn ACL. That means that Alabama will be starting two freshmen, two sophomores and a transfer at the point.
The talent is undeniable, particularly Mark Sears (Ohio, 19.6 PPG/6 RPG/4.1 APG), but this number screams “blowout,” and I’m not so sure that’s a wise bet against a highly efficient and dangerous mid-major.
Longwood finished 50th in offensive efficiency and seventh in 3-point shooting percentage last season.
It trots out three fifth-year seniors and played the transfer portal perfectly by luring Walyn Napper away from Southern Miss. Napper finished second in Conference USA in assist rate in 2022 and should set up the Lancers’ wings with good looks all game.
Keep in mind that Alabama has never been much of a defensive team under Nate Oats. The Tide finished 232nd in defensive efficiency last season and sent teams to the line more than any team in the SEC (21.4 FTA, 325th).
I’ll side with the feisty mid-major with great depth and experience and hope that Alabama doesn’t catch fire from 3 (30.9%, 303rd).