College Basketball Best Bets: Our Staff’s 7 Top Picks for Thursday
Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Oumar Ballo (Arizona)
Wednesday was a wild night in college basketball, as No. 4 UConn lost at Providence, No. 12 Miami dropped a game to Georgia Tech, No. 16 Duke was smoked by NC State, Georgia upset No. 22 Auburn and No. 17 TCU won on a last-second shot against No. 19 Baylor.
But in this piece, it doesn't matter what game or how hyped a certain matchup is. We're just looking for betting value.
Our staff has seven best bets for Thursday's slate, so dive in now and get your top college basketball odds and picks.
Thursday's 7 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.
Maine vs. UMass Lowell
Bryant-Vermont is the biggest game for tonight’s America East slate. However, I’m much more intrigued by this Maine–UMass Lowell matchup, partially because these are two teams trending up, and partially because it will be a much closer game than the line implies.
I'm higher on UMass Lowell than any person on the planet. My biggest preseason college hoops future was River Hawks to win the AmEast at 10-to-1. I love Max Brooks, Abdoul Karim Coulibaly and Ayinde Hikim.
That said, the River Hawks are super overvalued right now. They’re 13-2 — with a quality cover against Rutgers and a win over UMass — but have played the 360th-toughest strength of schedule.
In fact, ShotQuality marks the River Hawks as the luckiest team in the country, with a ShotQuality record of just 7-6. Negative regression is on the horizon.
Or perhaps, it’s already here. The River Hawks have failed to cover in three of their four games since the UMass win, barely sneaking by St. Francis Brooklyn and NJIT while dropping a game at Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, our Black Bears are due for positive regression and a big bounce-back game. They’ve lost three straight and four of their last five, but the streak has consisted of one-point losses to Harvard and Marist, alongside tough games at Akron and Ohio State.
Factor in regression, and the spread shouldn’t be double digits.
UMass Lowell has a tough frontcourt, but its backcourt is exploitable. The Black Bear backcourt of Kellen Tynes and Jaden Clayton is the most dynamic Orono has seen in years — Tynes is currently fourth in KenPom’s Conference Player of the Year ratings.
Defensively, Maine has been very active at forcing turnovers, ranking 12th in steal rate. Meanwhile, the exploitable MALO backcourt is sub-340 in offensive turnover rate and 359th in offensive steal rate.
The Black Bears should be able to force some turnovers and pick up some easy transition buckets. Plus, the shot-making prowess of Gedi Juozapaitis impossible to quantify.
GEDI JUOZAPAITIS FORCES OVERTIME[[
— Maine Men’s Basketball (@MaineMBB) December 29, 2022
Chris Markwood has proven he can coach his team up in big moments, and this game is a monster bounce-back moment for Maine.
Look for the Black Bears to take the River Hawks down to the wire on Thursday night.
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Maryland vs. Rutgers
I’d like the Scarlet Knights’ chances against the Terps on a neutral court, but I’m absolutely jumping on this because the game is being played at the RAC (as I happily ignore the corporate sponsorship slapped on that building, which will always be the RAC to me).
Since Steve Pikiell took over at Rutgers, his teams have defended their home court at one of the best clips in the nation. Rutgers is 48-29-3 at the RAC during Pikiell’s six-plus seasons at the helm.
Meanwhile, these Terps have been far from road tested. Maryland has played just three true road games thus far. Those matchups included a win over a dreadful Louisville team, plus two very subpar performances in losses.
Maryland scored just 0.89 points per possession against Wisconsin, thanks to a sluggish start.
The Terps started even slower against Michigan, scoring only 13 points in the first half. The Terps totaled only 46 points — on 0.61 points per possession — in that game without a single-player reaching double figures.
Give me the better team with the better coach on its home floor.
By D.J. James
Rutgers just overcame possibly its biggest road test in the Big Ten against Purdue. The Scarlet Knights will now host Maryland on Thursday night in another Big Ten battle.
The Scarlet Knights prosper on the defensive end. They rank third in KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rating while forcing opponents to use up 17.9 seconds per possession on average. This is the 281st-slowest rate in college hoops.
They guard the arc well, holding the opposition to 25%. Even inside, they’re holding opponents to 44.5%.
They do have a tendency to foul — ranking 110th in free-throw attempt percentage on defense — but this comes with the territory of defensive-minded teams.
Meanwhile, Maryland is also a better defensive team than offensive. The Terps rank 32nd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. They also guard the arc well, holding teams to 28.2% from deep and 44.9% inside on 2-pointers.
They also rank relatively low in free-throw attempt percentage on defense (125th).
The Terps hold opponents to an even slower defensive pace at 18.3 seconds per possession, which ranks 336th in the NCAA. Rutgers predominantly gets its points on 2-pointers, so with how well Maryland can guard the interior, the Scarlet Knights will not find many open looks.
The only issue with an under here is Rutgers’ fouling, but it may have a slight edge in this area since its home.
Charlotte vs. FIU
By Brett Pund
The 49ers have already shown that they can pick up solid victories away from home, winning at Davidson and beating Boise State in the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are 6-2 at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center, but this is likely due to a very soft schedule. They have beaten Florida National, Houston Christian, Stony Brook, Eastern Washington, Incarnate Word and Florida College.
Even with the weak opposition, FIU has still allowed 72.25 points per game at home this season. A Charlotte squad that's in the top 40 in EFG% (17th), 2-point shooting (35th) and 3-point (23rd) shooting — according to Bart Torvik — will like its chances of topping that.
This could be a great spot for a 49ers’ team total to fly over anything around 70, but they play at too slow of a tempo to trust that.
FIU lost by 15 to North Texas and 26 at Florida Atlantic, and I think this could be another double-digit loss to Charlotte.
Purdue vs. Ohio State
No. 1 ranked Purdue lost for the first time earlier this week to Rutgers, and I believe the Boilers will go down again on Thursday night in Columbus.
The Buckeyes are quietly playing as well as any team in the Big Ten, with a nice mix of seasoned veterans and talented freshmen.
Chris Holtmann’s team has been lethal offensively, checking in at second in Ken Pom’s AdjO rankings.
Brice Sensabaugh should be able to attack the Purdue guards and make plays in the paint, and Sean McNeil could be in for a big night against a Purdue team that has been allowing some open looks from distance.
Zach Edey will surely get his on the inside for the Boilermakers, but look for Holtmann to limit the Purdue guards and try to take away any clean perimeter looks.
I expect Ohio State to be able to limit the number of second-chance opportunities Purdue gets, with guys like Zed Key and Justice Sueing doing their part to keep Edey and Mason Gillis off the glass.
The Buckeyes’ offense will keep humming along, allowing OSU to outpace Purdue in what should be a fun one in the Schottenstein Center.
Cal State Fullerton vs. UC Riverside
Cal State Fullerton hasn't recorded a win over a team inside the top 230 since a November 13 double-overtime win over Vermont.
Fullerton’s only three wins in the month of December came against unranked San Diego Christian, No. 227 Sacramento State and No. 316 Cal St. Northridge.
To make matters worse, Fullerton suffered losses to Utah Tech, North Dakota, Seattle and Southern Utah, who all sit outside the top 150.
Fullerton now travels to take on a UC Riverside team that has plenty of length and experience. Riverside has managed a 9-5 record this season behind an offense and defense that rank inside the top 170 in adjusted efficiency.
In addition, its strength of schedule is a full 98 spots higher than Fullerton’s this season. Three of Riverside’s five losses have come to teams ranked inside the top 65 nationally.
Fullerton’s struggles can be tied to the defensive end, where it ranks outside the top 300 in effective field-goal percentage, 2-point percentage and free-throw percentage.
This struggling offense will now face a Riverside defense that ranks 45th nationally in average height (6-foot-6) and 95th in D-I experience (2.32 years).
This length will be crucial in the matchup between Fullerton’s point guard Jalen Harris and Riverside’s Zyon Pullin. Both of these ball-handlers are crucial to the offensive success of each team, but I expect Pullin to have the upperhand.
Pullin has three inches on Harris and is a master at getting to the free-throw line, drawing 5.4 fouls per game.
Harris, meanwhile, has struggled with turnovers this season, giving the ball away on 13.8% of Fullerton’s offensive possessions.
Overall, I'm happy to invest in a Riverside team that has the size, experience and matchup advantage on its home floor.
Washington vs. Arizona
The Arizona offense is the best in the nation, carrying a unanimous No. 1 ranking in AdjO by both KenPom and Bart Torvik. As one of the most up-tempo offenses in the nation, the Wildcats translate a flurry of offensive activity and sharp-shooting into a nonstop offensive onslaught.
Junior forward Azuolas Tubelis is the leader of the offense. He leads the Pac-12 in scoring, with 20.1 points on an outstanding 60.5% shooting. He also ranks second in rebounds with 8.7 per game.
Tubelis was just named to the Wooden Award Midseason Watchlist, which identifies the 25 best college basketball player in the nation.
In addition to Tubelis, the Wildcats get a lot of productivity from fellow big man Oumar Ballo. In 14 starts this season, Ballo is averaging 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
The frontcourt combination of Tubelis and Ballo — in conjunction with a vibrant backcourt mix — is going to cause fits for the Huskies' defense.
Arizona will be facing a Washington defense that ranks 108th in AdjD (per Bart Torvik) and gives up 98.3 points per 100 possessions.
Of particular concern for the Huskies is the relative weakness of the offenses they have faced this season. Washington has faced teams with an average AdjO rank of 176th nationally, making tonight’s matchup against the electric Arizona offense a doozy.
On offense, things get worse for the Huskies, as they rank in the bottom 50% nationally in offensive efficiency. They've struggled from beyond the arc, making just 30.3% of field goal attempts.
Washington doesn’t have the offensive firepower to offset the frontcourt productivity of Tubelis and Ballo.
The chalk is too low in Tucson, as I’m projecting Arizona as 21.5-point favorites.