College Basketball Odds & Picks: Our Staff’s 8 Best Bets For Tuesday’s Opening Night
Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images. Pictured: Kihei Clark (0) of the Virginia Cavaliers.
It officially feels like Christmas Day as college basketball is back with a full slate for the first time since April.
Between the Champions Classic, some underrated mid-major games and dangerous affairs for teams like Alabama and Davidson, it is safe to say that the season is starting with a bang.
It’s finally time to attempt to pad our wallets on the hardwood. With that in mind, here is our staff’s eight best bets for Opening Night.
Tuesday 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.|
Mount St. Mary’s vs. Villanova
This game is poised to be the slowest-paced game on the opening slate. Mount St. Mary’s ranked 356th in tempo, while Villanova came in at 336th last season, according to KenPom. Both offenses played deep into the shot clock, ranking outside the top 300 in average possession length.
Jay Wright’s offense will be centralized around three pillars that we have seen historically from Villanova:
- Take care of the basketball (ranked fourth nationally in turnover percentage last season).
- Ball movement (301st average possession length)
- Bomb away from 3-point range (30th in attempts)
Villanova returns four starters but will be without its most prolific offensive weapon from last season in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is now playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Point guard Collin Gillespie will be playing in his first game after an MCL injury ended his season in February last year.
A matchup with Mount St. Mary’s isn’t the ideal season opener for Villanova. The Mount, which also plays at one of the slowest paces, focuses on grinding out games on the defensive end.
The unit ranked first in the NEC in defensive efficiency. It held opponents to 30% from 3-point range and 45% on 2-point attempts, both ranking inside the top-30 nationally.
Offensively, the Mountaineers will be without Damian Chong Qui, who was their workhorse last season. As the primary ball-handler, Chong Qui averaged 15 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. He’s replaced by a transfer from UAB, Jalen Benjamin, who averaged 9.2 points.
The Mount features a physical frontcourt of Mezie Offurum, Nana Opoku and Malik Jefferson. The three will be able to match up with the Nova bigs and help to protect the paint.
This game has extended scoring droughts — especially from Mount St. Mary’s — written all over it.
I’m playing the under in what will be an ugly season opener for both programs
Pick: Under 132.5 (Bet to 131)
Toledo vs. Valparaiso
Losing the MAC Player of the Year (Marreon Jackson, who transferred to Arizona State) and the national leader in 3-pointers (Spencer Littleson, who turned pro and joined a team in Belgium) will undoubtedly be a challenge for Toledo.
But returning for Toledo will be MAC Freshman of the Year Ryan Rollins (13.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG), likely to be one of the best players in the MAC this year.
Joining him will be two double-figure scorers up front in Setric Millner Jr. (12.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and JT Shumate (11.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG).
The Rockets might not rank third nationally in 3s like they did last season after losing two of their best players, but I still expect them to be inside the top 100 in offensive efficiency.
Changing their mascot from the Crusaders to the Beacons wasn’t the only change for Valparaiso in the offseason. Eight players transferred out and the roster will include 10 new talents, four of whom come from the Big Ten.
Former Wisconsin Badger Kobe King (10.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG), Trevor Anderson (3.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 54.2% 3PT) and Joe Hedstrom, a 7-footer who didn’t see much playing time at Wisconsin due to a knee injury last year and a redshirt season, previously all transitioned together to become Beacons.
More importantly, Valpo lost two exhibition games in the past two weeks, the first coming against a Division II program in Ashland, 87-78. The Beacons’ next game against Flagler College — another Division II program — resulted in a 70-67 loss.
With so many new players on the roster for the Beacons and their recent performances against inferior competition, I think this will be an easy win and cover for the Rockets to start the season.
Pick: Toledo -4 · Bet to Toledo -5 (-115)
Illinois Chicago vs. Dayton
Welcome back, college hoops! My first bet of the 2021 season will be on the UIC Flames.
Luke Yaklich came over from Texas and in his first season at the helm, COVID-19 really impacted his ability to run the team. The Flames were impacted throughout the year with players having to miss time due to COVID-19 protocols.
This year, with a full offseason under his belt, I expect UIC to be a real contender in the Horizon.
I am a huge believer in Yaklich’s ability to coach on the defensive end. He transformed Michigan’s ability to guard under John Beilein, which was a key driving force in some of the Wolverines’ March runs.
That trend continued at Texas. I loved the hire when UIC tabbed him as its head coach in the spring of 2020.
Dayton had a bit of a disappointing season in 2020-21 after the absolutely special 19-20 campaign. It still bums me out that the team, led by Obi Toppin, never got its chance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Flyers lose two of their best players from last year in Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson. I think it will take some time to replace both, particularly on the offensive end where Crutcher was really the key playmaker last season.
When breaking down this opening-night matchup and line, 15 points is just too many. I expect UIC to really challenge the Flyers’ backcourt defensively and there are a lot of new faces on the Dayton side that may take some time to gel together.
Yaklich will have his guys ready to go, and they will absolutely be competitive in this game. Give me the Flames to cover the number and hang tough at UD Arena.
Pick: Illinois Chicago +15 (Bet to +13.5)
Kansas vs. Michigan State
The Spartans are in a bit of a rebuild this season, looking to replace three of their top four scorers.
Aaron Henry made Michigan State’s offense go last season and Rocket Watts’ departure for SEC country is equally concerning.
That will place a lot of the offensive burden on the shoulders of Joey Hauser. The Marquette transfer took a step back last season, experiencing significant dips in his shooting from both the field and 3-point range. Kansas’ perimeter defenders will likely make it difficult for Hauser to get off to a hot start at Madison Square Garden.
As for the KU offense, Remy Martin is poised to change the Jayhawks’ fortune. The highly sought-after transfer averaged 19 points per game in back-to-back seasons for Bobby Hurley at Arizona State and gives KU a dynamic point guard scoring option for the first time since Devon Dotson left early for the NBA.
Kansas, under Bill Self, is more or less a coin flip against the spread since 2003 (52%), but when his team features a high-scoring point guard (16+ PPG) that number nearly reaches 57% ATS.
Given the pieces already in place (David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji) and an excellent scoring option off the bench (Joseph Yesufu), the Jayhawks have the horses to boatrace the Spartans out of the gate.
Tom Izzo is 2-4 straight up and 1-5 against the spread in his last six ranked matchups in November and December, a trend I see continuing at the Garden.
I will be playing this up to -6 and on the alternate line at -9.5 (+225).
Pick: Kansas -4 (Bet to -6)
Kansas vs. Michigan State
Following some lackluster point guard play last season, both Bill Self and Tom Izzo decided changes needed to be made.
For the Jayhawks, Marcus Garrett is out (signed with Miami Heat) and Arizona State transfer Remy Martin is in. For the Spartans, Rocket Watts is out (transferred to Mississippi State) and Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker is in.
Both guards are dynamic and can score at high levels. They’ll increase their respective team’s offensive output in the long-term.
However, it’s easy to imagine those offensive gains won’t come right away, especially since both teams played well defensively last season (Michigan State struggled early, but posted a defensive efficiency metric under 90 in five of its last seven games).
To attest to that, both Kansas and Michigan State rank among the top-10 teams in KenPom’s preseason defensive efficiency metrics.
Therefore, I’m targeting the under. The total opened at 145 but has since been steamed down across the market. The 143.5 at BetMGM is currently the best number available. I’d grab that ASAP.
Either way, find the best number you can and prepare yourself for an opening-night slog.
Pick: Under 143.5
Milwaukee vs. North Dakota
Milwaukee is destined to improve from a 10-12 record and a KenPom ranking of 216th from a season ago.
A lot of that has to do with the arrival of five-star freshman and head coach Patrick Baldwin Sr.’s son, Patrick Baldwin Jr. The Panthers also return two of their top three contributors from last season in DeAndre Gholston and Josh Thomas.
The biggest problem for Milwaukee last season was on defense, as it ranked 281st in effective field goal percentage allowed and 271st in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. The good news is they’re facing a North Dakota team that is heading in the wrong direction in its rebuild under Paul Sather.
North Dakota is outside the top 300 in both the KenPom and Bart Torvik rankings heading into the 2021-22 season, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that it lost its best offensive player in Filip Rebraca, who averaged 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds a season ago.
That’s a big problem because the Fighting Hawks were one of the worst perimeter defenses in the country last season, ranking 334th in 3-point percentage allowed and 285th in steal percentage. So, going up against potentially the best pure scorer in the mid-majors is a major problem for North Dakota on opening night.
KenPom has Milwaukee projected at -11.4, so I think there’s some value on the Panthers at -7.
Pick: Milwaukee -7 (Bet to -8)
Navy vs. Virginia
This game feels like one that would attract more attention to the total. Glacially-paced Virginia in a 9 p.m. local tip against a service academy feels like an under, even with the total being offered at just 125.
I have my eye more on the chances the Midshipmen keep this one close. Virginia is in a transitional year, with the lowest returning possession minutes in the ACC, per Bart Torvik, thanks to five of Tony Bennett’s top seven players — according to usage rate last year — heading to the pros or transfer portal.
Navy, meanwhile, returns over 80% of its minutes played from last year, and the Midshipmen were solid last season. It was a little unfortunate that Navy was so good in the COVID-19 year. The Mids won at Georgetown and lost only one game in regulation in the regular season, a road loss at Maryland.
A veteran Navy team might be outclassed by Virginia, but I’m not sure the Hoos have the firepower to run away from anyone, let alone a decent opponent. There’s going to be a heavy offensive burden on unproven Virginia players, transfers new to the Bennett system or the pass-first Kehei Clark.
Bart Torvik, everyone’s favorite KenPom challenger, pegs this as an eight-point game. I trust his preseason projections as much as any other. Go with the Naval Academy on the road here.
Pick: Navy +14.5 (Bet to +13.5)
Louisiana Tech vs. Alabama
By D.J. James
The Alabama Crimson Tide lost some key pieces from their 2020-21 lineup in Josh Primo, Herb Jones, John Petty, Alex Reese and Jordan Bruner. They added some depth in Noah Gurley (from Furman) and Nimari Burnett (from Texas Tech), along with Charles Bediako, J.D. Davison and Jusaun Holt via recruiting. All are four-star recruits or better.
Returning players Juwan Gary, Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly help anchor the offense, but they still are a tad raw and will be to start the season.
Louisiana Tech is on a different wavelength. Most of its lineup will return, especially a key piece in big man, Kenneth Lofton Jr., who is an absolute bruiser at 6-foot-7. He averaged over seven boards per game last season.
Adding Keaston Willis from Incarnate Word provides another opportunity for buckets. He shot over 36% from downtown and registered nearly 19 points per game with 4.5 boards.
The Bulldogs are a bit short-handed. Their bench is not nearly as deep as the Crimson Tide’s. That said, in 2020-21, they still maintained a top-40 defensive efficiency, per KenPom. They limited three pointers to 30.7%.
Alabama loves to run at a fast pace and does not necessarily aim for shooting accuracy. In addition, with a new look at the team, it might take a few games to get on track, especially from long range.
Charles Bediako is a mismatch for Louisiana Tech. Depending on the seven-footer’s ability to remain in the game for long stretches of time, the Bulldogs will struggle to find someone to guard him.
Again, this deviates from Alabama’s ability to push the pace in a game. In a half court set, sure, the Tide have an advantage, but this could short change guys like Shackelford and Quinerly, who have been a part of this offensive structure for some time.
This is the angle. Louisiana Tech has plenty of returning offensive weapons. It will take some time for Alabama to find out how to utilize its newest recruits and most importantly, it needs to find its niche.
Louisiana Tech will play them close the entire way and most likely will fall short, only at the end.