Saturday’s College Basketball Pick & Roll: Calabrese & McGrath’s 4 Betting Picks
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Sincere Carry (Kent State)
- While the attention this week has focused around big Feast Week tournaments in Maui, the Bahamas and Portland, Mike Calabrese and Tanner McGrath don't want you to forget about the mid-majors.
- In honor of that, they are targeting four on Saturday, including one in upstate New York that could shock the Orange.
- Dive in below and formulate your own betting card from their four total picks.
This Saturday is no different, as we’re backing four mid-major college hoops squads to cover their respective non-conference games in late November.
However, the saying goes: The deeper you dumpster dive, the more value there is to be found. Or something like that.
Either way, let’s set up our four picks and roll into another profitable college basketball Saturday.
Calabrese's Top 2 Saturday Picks
Northeastern vs. Princeton
I was frankly surprised to see this number under 10. Princeton is a strong mid-major team with realistic Ivy League title aspirations.
Northeastern is 1-4 SU, collecting its only win in overtime against a talent-devoid Manhattan squad.
If this line had been set in both teams’ first game across the pond (London), I would have kept my money on the sidelines, waiting to see if the travel impacted their play. But Princeton played a complete 40 minutes against Army, beating the Cadets for their third straight victory.
The Tigers have also hit their stride without a superstar turn from Tosan Evbuomwan. He hasn’t hit 20 points in a game since their opener, but he still is one of the best passing bigs in college basketball.
If there were a game to predict a breakout from Evbuomwan, this would be it. Northeastern loves to roll out small lineups, and Coleman Stucke will be the Huskies’ lone big logging 25+ minutes.
That’s bad news for NU backers because the Tigers are a well-oiled machine running through Evbuomwan. Princeton is 47th in offensive efficiency a month into the season.
One other factor to consider is second-chance buckets. Princeton is 13th in defensive rebounding percentage and NU is 105th in offensive rebounding percentage.
The Huskies are an awful shooting team by nearly every significant metric. To give you a glimpse into their issues, they’re 323rd in shooting efficiency. That’s why second-chance buckets are their lifeblood.
And Princeton will cut off that lifeline.
I would play Princeton up to -9.5.
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Kent State vs. Houston
In my subset of situational plays, tucked under holiday hoops, is the “empty student section” variable.
Houston’s students won’t be back on campus for classes until Monday, and with an early afternoon tip, it’s highly unlikely the Coogs will be enjoying their usual home court advantage in front of “The Cage.”
On the floor, U-of-H is an unquestionable juggernaut. And if the Cougars win this game, they’ll take the floor in their next game as the nation’s No. 1 ranked team.
The Cougs are sixth nationally in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency. Marcus Sasser is an ironclad lock to make one of the All-American teams, and Jarace Walker has been a freshman revelation (12.4 PPG, 7 RPG) on 41.7% shooting from long range.
It’s rare for a team at the top of the polls to stay ahead of oddsmakers. They make their bones banking on the public backing top-five teams against the spread.
Yet UH is 5-0 ATS, covering by an average of 10.2 points per game. No one, even a national title contender, can keep that kind of torrid pace up.
Kent State has the offensive juice and disruptive defense (fifth in forced turnovers) to keep this one interesting. The Golden Flashes are averaging 82 points per game and are lethal from long range (39.8%, 23rd).
They also have the guard play to handle Houston’s pressure. Sincere Carry is averaging a hair under 20 and six, while shooting 38.2% from deep.
The key between a cover and another Houston blowout will be turnovers. The Golden Flashes love to play with tempo and can get sloppy with the rock. That won’t cut it against a Cougars defense that generates 17 turnovers per game.
If the Flashes protect the ball, I like them to hang around and cover this generous number.
McGrath's Top 2 Saturday Picks
James Madison vs. South Dakota State
Mid-majordum’s surprise college hoops team?
Look no further than the James Madison Dukes.
It’s funny, as the Dukes’ football team has pulled a similar trick. After moving up to FBS, nobody predicted the Dukes' football team would drop 36 points per game on its way to a 7-3 record in the Sun Belt.
Well, the Dukes’ basketball team is on a similar trajectory.
After moving from the CAA to the Sun Belt, JMU is dropping 97 points a night. The Dukes have jumped to a 5-1 record, with absurdly dominant wins over mid-major peers and their only loss coming to No. 1 North Carolina.
The Dukes failed to cover against the Tar Heels, partially because they shot 7-for-27 from deep. However, James Madison also got bullied on the glass, with Armando Bacot grabbing 23 rebounds. The Dukes were out-rebounded 50-to-34 in that one.
Rebounding shouldn’t be a problem on Saturday.
South Dakota State plays a similar game to James Madison, as both teams get out in transition at a top-25 rate and typically shoot the lights out.
However, I’ve been unimpressed with the Jackrabbits so far. They dropped games to Akron and Stephen F. Austin while looking ugly in a nine-point win over Valpo.
The Jackrabbits have two issues.
First, they are small. Eric Henderson’s five-out offense calls for a smaller frontcourt that can stretch the floor, so that’s expected. However, that makes me more confident that the Dukes will win, given their only loss came because of issues on the glass.
Second, the Jackrabbits are having turnover problems. South Dakota State was top-100 in offensive turnover rate over the last two seasons, but the Jackrabbits are 350th in that stat after six games this season.
Welcome to hell. Mark Byington’s defense emphasizes ball pressure to force turnovers and get easy buckets running the floor. So far, the Dukes are top-50 in defensive turnover rate and top-10 in transition frequency.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, given the Dukes returned eight of their top nine highest-usage players from last season. This team has an identity.
However, the Dukes are executing it at a much higher level than I expected through six games.
South Dakota State was a juggernaut last season, and I think the market may be slightly inflated on the Jackrabbits after last season’s run. Everyone is forgetting their top ball handler and top two shotmakers aren’t on the team anymore.
Meanwhile, James Madison’s top two shotmakers — Vado Morse and Takal Molson — are still in the backcourt.
And the Dukes are blowing opponents out.
Expect more of the same on Saturday.
Pick: James Madison -2
Bryant vs. Syracuse
Bryant boasts tremendous talent. It starts with elite bucket-getter Charles Pride, but extends to Sherif Gross-Bullock, Earl Timberlake and down the roster.
Currently, five Bulldogs are averaging double digits in scoring, and another two are averaging at least seven.
It’s not surprising. Jared Grasso has turned Bryant into a mid-major powerhouse by running an up-tempo, shot-happy offense.
However, the bigger question was how the team’s early-season chemistry would be. Bryant is integrating four new starters into the lineup and four new transfers into reserve minutes. Every player is an experienced transfer, but not all the pieces will fit the puzzle on the first go.
That became obvious against Florida Atlantic, when Bryant ran into 21 turnovers and shot 38.1% from 2-point range against a battle-tested Owls squad.
However, I have been eyeing this spot against Syracuse since non-conference schedules were released in the summer.
I don’t believe in Syracuse. Jim Boeheim is past his prime, and I’m not sure how eager he is to work with his new roster. The Orange currently have five freshmen running key minutes, which resulted in losses to Colgate and St. John’s, alongside an overtime win over Richmond.
So, Bryant is dealing with chemistry issues, but Syracuse is 283rd in experience while Bryant is 38th. That negates that angle.
More importantly, however, is that Grasso runs his own zone defense. Bryant goes zone more than 94% of Division I college teams.
That means Bryant practices against the zone every day.
If there’s one thing this flux team knows how to do, it’s how to carve up a zone defense, and the trigger-happy Bulldogs will shoot over Boeheim six ways to Sunday.
Meanwhile, Grasso’s own zone defense should work well against a Syracuse team severely missing the Boeheim brothers. Syracuse is 343rd in 3-point rate this season, and I don’t know how it creates offense against a team that begs you to take the outside shot.
Also, Syracuse’s zone never leads to good rebounding numbers. Meanwhile, Grasso has figured out zone rebounding to some degree, as the Bulldogs rank top-50 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates this season.
This is the spot Bryant puts it all together, as the matchup is too favorable for a talented but-transfer-laden team not to flourish. I don’t see Bryant losing this game by double digits.