College Basketball Pick & Roll: Calabrese & McGrath’s Best Bets for Sunday’s Slate

College Basketball Pick & Roll: Calabrese & McGrath’s Best Bets for Sunday’s Slate article feature image
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Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: Mark Fox (Cal)

With just one meaningful college football game left on the slate, the nation can finally turn its collective attention to the hardwood.

If you were one of the fans waiting on bowl mania to come to a close before diving deep into college hoops, don’t worry you didn’t miss a whole lot in the past two weeks.

The sleepy holiday break was even quieter this year with COVID outbreaks ravaging schedules coast-to-coast. As a result, some teams had to put things on pause.

Since then, the CDC crafted a new five-day quarantine recommendation, which could significantly impact how teams and universities handle future positive tests.

These developments have our two-man team bullish on the second half of the college basketball season, and they’re back with a new year’s resolution to provide winners to our audience.

So let’s walk the ball up court, set up our offense and let the Action Network’s Pick-n-Roll go to work.


McGrath’s Top Sunday Pick

UCF vs. SMU

Sunday, Jan. 2
2 p.m. ET
ESPN2

I am shocked to see SMU open as 2.5-point favorites and then get bet up. SMU has covered in five straight games, but UCF just pulled off a big home win over Michigan.

This should be a sell-high spot, but the line doesn’t make sense. All the projection sites make this spread between SMU -0.9 and -1.5. That means this is too many points for a team that’s covered in three straight road opportunities.

Everything for SMU revolves around Kendric Davis, who is a high-level floor general. The fourth-year senior is the Mustangs’ highest-usage player, but he’s also top-50 nationally in ORtg, true shooting percentage and assist rate.

With Houston’s Marcus Sasser sidelined for the rest of the season, Davis might have AAC Player of the Year honors wrapped up.

SMU's Kendric Davis is hiding in plain sight.

Playing like an All-American.

21.6 PPG
5.2 APG
4.7 RPG
1.5 SPG
50.3% from the field

The best player in the American Athletic Conference.

— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 30, 2021

But UCF’s backcourt is fairly lengthy, and they are obnoxious, smothering ball-pressure defenders. The Knights are top-40 nationally in defensive turnover rate and 3-point defense and they’re top-15 in spot-up PPP allowed and pick-and-roll PPP allowed.

I trust in Johnny Dawkins’ defense to hound Davis all day, which will make SMU’s chances of getting past the number very slim.

I’ll take the Knights at anything better than +3.

Pick: UCF +3.5


Calabrese’s Top 2 Saturday Picks

Evansville vs. Northern Iowa

Sunday, Jan. 2
2 p.m. ET
ESPN+

I’m bullish on this Panthers team here in 2022 and I am thrilled to buy low on them coming off of two losses to pesky opponents during the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

Liberty made nearly 50% of its 3-point attempts (15 3PT) in a two-point win over the Panthers and Wyoming took advantage of UNI missing nine foul shots in a two-point Cowboy win.

Northern Iowa was snakebitten during that trip to Hawaii and returns home in need of improved play from its go-to scorer AJ Green.

The junior wing has been boom or bust in the past six weeks, dropping 24 or more four times, while failing to exceed 13 points in UNI’s other three games (all losses).

The Panthers need him to be special, and Evansville’s lack of defensive acumen could help him find the groove again. Here’s how teams shoot against the Aces with Evansville’s respective national rankings included:

  • Opp Effective FG% (52.3%, 276th)
  • Opp 3PT% (37.9%, 323rd)
  • Opp Shooting Efficiency (1.091, 256th)

Evansville tries to offset its defensive issues by slowing games way, way down. The Aces play at the 323rd-slowest pace, but UNI just dealt with this same issue over the Christmas holiday. Liberty played at the 326th-slowest pace, and UNI sped things up considerably, flying past the total by 25 points.

This will be Green’s fifth game against Evansville in his UNI career, and when he plays the Panthers win. Green and UNI have won all four contests by an average of 14 points per game.

Evansville has failed to exceed 60 points eight times this season, which means controlling tempo is the only way it keeps things close here.

I’ll take the far superior four-win team in this matchup and bank on UNI speeding things up and Green finding his rhythm.

Pick: Northern Iowa -10.5


Arizona State vs. Cal

Sunday, Jan. 2
7 p.m. ET
Pac-12 Networks

Arizona State has taken a significant step backwards this season, meaningfully falling off in nearly every offensive metric. The Sun Devils are scoring 10 fewer points per game, with four and five percent dips in their 2- and 3-point shooting respectively, year over year.

Making matters even worse is that they really struggle on the glass. The Sun Devils are corralling just 24.8% of offensive rebounding opportunities and 72.6% of defensive rebounding opportunities. That places them 222nd (Off Reb) and 215th (Def Reb) nationally.

The Golden Bears will be able to keep ASU off of the glass all game. Cal is the nation’s top defensive rebounding team (83.7%), allowing just five offensive boards to opponents each game. When you’re facing a team that can’t shoot, limiting second chance opportunities is key.

As for the Golden Bears, this is a program that hasn’t posted a winning season since 2017. They entered this campaign on a 39-85 run. They weren’t competitive and it appeared Mark Fox’s rebuild was never going to materialize.

But this season, something is happening in the Bay Area. The Bears have won six of seven straight up, behind a senior laden frontcourt.

Andre Kelly and Grant Anticevich are combining to average 27 points and 17 rebounds per game for Cal. This team finally has an identity and the public hasn’t caught up to this fact as of yet.

Cal is 6-2 ATS as a favorite this year, but this number has opened as a one possession spread because of Arizona State’s work on the road (3-0 ATS). Yes, the Sun Devils did rise to the occasion against San Diego State, Oregon and Creighton away from home, but this is a team that hasn’t played since December 19th.

The layoff should translate to more poor shooting from ASU, and Cal is well positioned to take advantage of that. I would play this up to 4.5.

Pick: Cal -2.5 (Play to -4.5)

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