College Basketball Odds, Picks: Our Staff’s 6 Best Bets for Thursday’s Slate (Dec. 29)
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Ian Martinez & Jahmir Young (Maryland)
Conference play continues to heat up as we roll into the Thursday college basketball slate.
Our staff is targeting six games tonight (which means six best bets), so dive in below and get the top college basketball odds and picks for Thursday.
Thursday's 6 College Basketball Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Thursday'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.|
Rice vs. Western Kentucky
By Brett Pund
I have these two teams very close in my power ratings, and I don’t believe the environment in Diddle Arena warrants Rick Stansbury’s unit laying 6.5 points.
While the Tops do have quality metrics at home, it’s largely due to playing a very soft schedule, featuring games against Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky State, Indianapolis, South Carolina State and Wright State.
Meanwhile, the Owls have a road win at Texas State and a narrow, overtime loss at No. 7 Texas in their most recent contests away from home.
One key metric that also helps the visitors here is how terrible WKU is at free-throw shooting. The Hilltoppers are outside the top 300 in FT%.
When you’re trying to close out a game and cover a spread, you must be able to step up to the line and knock down your foul shots. If you can’t do that, it’s hard for me to back you in a favorite role.
I also believe Rice has a great shot at winning this outright at +210 odds, but I’ll take the points in a close C-USA matchup.
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UMBC vs. Maryland
If you want to beat UMBC, you just have to run it off the 3-point line. The Retrievers run-and-gun, playing at an above-average tempo, launching 3s at the 28th-highest rate nationally and spotting up at the fifth-highest rate nationally.
It’s pretty simple: When the 3s fall, UMBC wins, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t bode well against Maryland.
Maryland is 34th in 3-point attempt rate allowed and ranks in the 96th percentile in spot-up PPP allowed (.717). The Terps might be due for some slight negative shooting regression on defense, but their 27th-rated 3-point defense is mostly legit because they run teams off the line.
Image credit: CBB Analytics
On the opposite end, the Retrievers are bad defensively because they’re undersized on the wing. That's a death sentence against Hakim Hart and Donta Scott, not to mention Don Carey runs 6-foot-5 at the two.
Maryland runs plenty of hand-off and off-screen sets for its scoring wings, and UMBC struggles to defend those sets (19th percentile in hand-off PPP allowed, 46th percentile in off-screen PPP allowed).
So, it’s just a brutal matchup all around for UMBC.
I’m not one to bet big favorites, but this is a fine situational spot. UMBC is due for a letdown game after winning six straight, while Maryland is 7-2 ATS as a favorite and 4-0 ATS as a double-digit favorite this season.
The KenPom line is Maryland -19, so I’d play the Terps at -18.5 or better.
Iowa vs. Nebraska
Iowa will travel to Nebraska on Thursday night for what will be its first game since being upset by Eastern Illinois.
Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes will have had eight full days over the holiday break to think about this loss and will be itching to get back on the court and right the ship.
Iowa will be looking to get back on track on the defensive end of the floor after allowing Eastern Illinois to put up 92 total points in its home gym.
This is a favorable defensive matchup against a Nebraska offense that has struggled to find consistency this season.
The Cornhuskers rank 172nd nationally in effective FG%, due in large part to their inability to connect from long range. Through 13 games, Nebraska has shot just 29.7% from 3-point range, which is 318th nationally.
Similarly, Iowa has struggled from 3-point range as of late. The Hawkeyes shot 7-of-33 (21.2%) against Eastern Illinois. This outside shooting will see progression on Thursday against a Nebraska defense that is allowing teams to score 37.5% of their points from distance, the 36th-highest rate in the country.
Although this number has already taken some steam in favor of the Hawkeyes, I believe this is a perfect buy-low spot on an Iowa team that still aspires to win the Big Ten.
Iowa has too many pieces on both ends to continue to struggle after having eight full days to digest the largest upset in program history.
USF vs. Memphis
By D.J. James
The Memphis Tigers play at a relatively fast pace, but they do have a top-25 defense, according to KenPom.
They will face the South Florida Bulls on Thursday to open up conference play. USF runs at the 262nd-slowest Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom. The Bulls occupy 18.4 seconds per possession, which could result in them slowing down the Tigers’ attack.
USF does not have a prolific offense. It ranks 211th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, shoots under 33% from deep and hits just a shade over 50% from 2-point range.
The Bulls predominantly score on the inside, so they may struggle in this matchup. Even if Malcolm Dandridge is out for Memphis — along with Alex Lomax, Jayden Hardaway and Keonte Kennedy — it does a good job of preventing easy shots inside.
Opponents are only shooting 43.4% on 2s against the Tigers, so even with a few guys out, USF’s offense does not have an advantage in this situation.
The Tigers also only score inside. They manufacture nearly 61% of their total points inside the arc, and South Florida does one thing well defensively: guard internally.
The Bulls are holding the opposition to 46.7% on 2-pointers, so look for Memphis to struggle a bit to find an open look, particularly if many of its offensive threats are out, or at least hindered from finding their production.
St. Thomas (MN) vs. South Dakota
The Tommies hit the road Thursday night looking to remain undefeated in the Summit League as they take on the South Dakota Coyotes.
Just 15 games into the year, St. Thomas has already surpassed its win total from a season ago.
South Dakota, on the other hand, is 5-8 on the season so far and trying to break a four-game losing streak. The Coyotes most recent loss was their first in conference, which came in a 17-point blowout at the hands of UMKC.
St. Thomas has been one of the top-50 offensive teams in the nation, ranking 22nd when it comes to effective field goal percentage. The Tommies are most threatening from beyond the arc, where they rank seventh in the nation by hitting 40.1% of their shots from deep.
It may be a small sample size — since it has only played two league games — but St. Thomas ranks second among Summit League teams when it comes to points allowed, free-throw percentage and turnover margin.
And while the Tommies may be one of the top-50 teams in the country on offense and one of the top two in the conference, you can’t ignore that their defense is in the bottom-20 in the nation.
However, South Dakota’s defense hasn't been much better. The Coyotes rank 337th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Defending the perimeter has specifically been a problem for South Dakota, as it’s allowed opposing teams to hit 36.9% from deep.
The Coyotes won't be able to keep up with St. Thomas on offense, as they’re averaging just 62.8 points per game and posting an effective field goal percentage of just 46.8%. That’s why I’ll be backing St. Thomas as high as four-point favorite over the Coyotes.
Troy vs. Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles are off to one of the best starts in program history with 11 non-conference wins so far this season. Southern Miss has been equally impressive against the spread this season, covering 80% of its games via an 8-2 ATS record.
The Golden Eagles’ ATS record is the 10th-best in the nation, and they have gotten there by being a well-rounded team. Southern Miss does lean as a defensive-minded team, ranking as the 24th-best scoring defense in the nation and 25th nationally in turnovers forced per game.
Troy’s defense has been comparatively more porous, ranking in the bottom 50% of units nationally in AdjD (at 188th, per Bart Torvik). Additionally, the Trojans’ top scorer this season, Miles Duke, hasn’t played since November 23 .
Look for the Southern Miss offense — which is led by guard Austin Crowley and forward Felipe Haase — to leverage home court advantage in the team’s first-ever Sun Belt game. Crowley and Haase are both averaging 16.2 points per game and should be able to take advantage of the weaker Troy defense.
Ultimately, the stout Southern Miss defense will be the differentiator in this game. Back the Golden Eagles at home as short favorites.
I’m projecting Southern Miss as six-point favorites in this game and recommend laying up to five points in this contest.