College Basketball Odds & Picks: Our Staff’s 5 Best Bets for Thursday, Including Saint Mary’s vs. Utah State
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While Thursday’s slate is a bit slimmer than earlier this week (especially after the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was completed), there is still value to be had in the betting market.
Last year’s Cinderella story faces a Power 5 school in Fort Worth, Texas, while Utah State and Saint Mary’s duke it out in an evenly-matched affair.
Our staff has you covered with these two games — and two more — as part of their five best bets for tonight’s college hoops matchups.
Thursday’s 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.|
Oral Roberts vs. TCU
By Doug Ziefel
Last year’s March Madness darlings are back. The Oral Roberts Golden Eagles have traded wins and losses early on this season. The Eagles are still playing the run-and-gun style that got them to the Big Dance last season.
Led by junior Max Abmas, they are averaging 87 points per game this season.
Their eight-man rotation lives and dies by the 3-ball and that is not an exaggeration — 3-pointers are 54% of the Eagles’ offense. On top of the barrage of 3-pointers, this team also plays a frenetic pace as they are 56th in tempo.
On the other side, the Horned Frogs have gotten off to a solid start. This will be their first test of the season, as they have played a very soft schedule early on.
Regardless, the work of sophomore guard Mike Miles can’t be discounted. Miles is the team leader in scoring and assists.
TCU is nearly the complete opposite of Oral Roberts. The Horned Frogs’ pace is slower than molasses in winter time, as they rank 270th in tempo.
They also differ on the defensive end. The Horned Frogs actually play defense, whereas it seems optional for the Eagles. The gap is enormous in adjusted defensive efficiency, as TCU ranks 77th and Oral Roberts ranks 313th.
Despite the Eagles’ weak defense, that does not change the fact that there is value on them. Oral Roberts is a truly unique challenge for any program and the Horned Frogs have not faced a team anywhere near the caliber of the Eagles.
TCU has also not been particularly great at defending the 3, currently sitting at 111th in defensive 3-point percentage.
The contrast of styles will cause a multitude of swings and runs, though if the Eagles get hot the points will come in bunches. Take the points as the Oral Roberts could drum up another upset special.
Pick: Oral Roberts +8.5 (Play to +7.5)
Oral Roberts vs. TCU
TCU finished last season 12-14 after winning just three of its final 15 contests. Head coach Jamie Dixon pulled the plug and hit a full reset mode as he brought in eight transfers to fill the roster.
So far, the formula has worked out, as the team has won five of its first six contests. However, all those wins have come against opponents who rank outside the top 200 in the country, according to KenPom.
TCU lost by 19 points in its sole contest against a quality opponent. Now, the Horned Frogs must match up against the Cinderella team of the 2020 NCAA Tournament in Oral Roberts.
Oral Roberts owns one of the most electric offenses in the country, averaging 87 points per game this season. The unit is led by Max Abmas, who is averaging 22 points per game while hitting 44% of his 57 3-point attempts.
He’s been complemented this season by two Power-5 transfers in Issac McBride and Trey Phipps. The two are both averaging double digits this season and have been great complementing pieces to Abmas.
It’s difficult to trust the young TCU squad with so many new faces in the program, especially when the Horned Frogs were defeated by 19 points in their only tough matchup this year.
Now, they face an offensive juggernaut that can light it up from outside and take care of the basketball. The Horned Frogs could be on upset alert at home as this game should come down to the wire.
Pick: Oral Roberts +8 (Play to +7)
Youngstown State vs. Milwaukee
The Youngstown State Penguins (2-3) head to Wisconsin to face the Milwaukee Panthers (1-5) this evening. This game will commence Horizon League play for both programs.
The Penguins have dropped two of their last three games, but both losses were decided by five points or less.
Milwaukee’s sole win this season comes over a North Dakota team that is one of the worst in the nation, per KenPom. Since winning their season opener, the Panthers have dropped five straight.
The Penguins have won four of the last five contests against the Panthers and six of the last nine. Youngstown State has won its last five conference openers.
On offense, the Penguins have the advantage with an adjusted offensive efficiency (ADJOE) ranking of 217th to the Panthers’ 268th ranking. Youngstown State is one of the best in the nation in protecting the ball on offense, turning the ball over only 15.1% of the time.
Defensively, Milwaukee has the edge over Youngstown State with an adjusted defensive efficiency (ADJDE) ranking of 238 to 323, respectively. The Penguins can close the differential in ADJDE through their ability to control the defensive glass, grabbing over 75% of available defensive rebounds.
Youngstown State has the offense to win this conference opener outright. On defense, the Penguins will grab enough rebounds to keep this game very close.
My model projects Youngstown State to win this game outright by a point. Given that the Penguins are on the road, I’d grab the points instead. Take the five points in Milwaukee.
Pick: Youngstown State +5 (Play to +4)
Lipscomb vs. Belmont
This game has the feel of an old Bracket Busters matchup, with two mid-major programs that have been strong in recent history.
Belmont was expected to be top-75 team this season with an outside chance at an at-large bid in March. The Bruins haven’t quite lived up to that billing, losing in three games that would have been impressive resume builders — at Ohio, at LSU and vs. Dayton.
Lipscomb, meanwhile, has started the year off hot. The very same Dayton team that beat Belmont was boat-raced by the Bisons in Dayton’s home gym. Lipscomb led that game by as many as 23 points in the second half.
Third-year head coach Lennie Acuff has Lipscomb’s offense firing on all cylinders. The Bisons lead the nation in 3-point percentage and effective field goal percentage. That could scream that future regression is coming, yet this is a strong offensive team, so I don’t expect Lipscomb’s shooting to drastically fall back to earth.
Even on the road and with shooting regression looming, these two teams are closer than this line suggests. KenPom projects this as a 13-point game. BartTorvik has it even closer, with a projection of an 11.8-point difference.
Given what we’ve seen from these two teams early on, especially against that common opponent of Dayton, I like the Bisons to keep this within a dozen, if not push Belmont into crunch time.
Pick: Lipscomb +15.5 (Play to +15)
Saint Mary’s vs. Utah State
By Mike Randle
I’m going against the sharp reverse line movement with the Utah State Aggies at home. The Aggies have rattled off six straight wins, including a 27-point win over New Mexico State and a 73-70 win over Oklahoma.
Utah State is an impressive 5-1 against the spread with its only loss coming in the opening game of the season.
The Aggies are an elite offensive team that displays high efficiency in the three key areas: 3P%, 2P% and FT%. Utah State ranks top 44 or higher in all three while also holding opponents to just 45.5% from inside the arc (82nd best).
Saint Mary’s is off to a fantastic 7-1 start, but simply hasn’t played the same level of competition as the Aggies. This will also be the Gaels’ first true road game, and they will be battling a pair of versatile bigs in Justin Bean (22.6 PPG, 12.9 RPG) and 6-foot-10 Brandon Horvath (14 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 53.6% 3P).
This spread has moved around all day, getting to Utah State +0.5 just an hour ago. I took it immediately at Utah State -1.5 and would be comfortable laying up to two points.