Saturday College Basketball Predictions: Our Pick & Roll, Including Arizona vs. UCLA
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Oumar Ballo (Arizona)
While most of you were enjoying the Waste Management Open, the Super Bowl and the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Michael Calabrese and Tanner McGrath were toiling away on the college basketball beat.
From sweating double-digit dogs at the mid-major level to calling for more chaos at the top of the polls, they’ve seen it all in the past few months.
So, if you’re new to this column, this week’s slate is a perfect introduction to how they like to work. A sprinkle of high-major hoops helps the A-10 and Sun Belt games go down.
Either way, winners are winners, and our two-man Pick & Roll is all about helping you cash tickets. So, crack open this four-pack of picks and get ready for wall-to-wall action from 2 p.m. ET to the wee hours of the night.
McGrath’s Top 2 Saturday Picks
Duquesne vs. Fordham
In an early-January edition of the pick-and-roll, I opened our column with this sentence:
“Tucked away deep in A-10 lore is Fordham’s surprisingly strong home-court advantage. The Rams are 21-5 at the Rose Hill Gym since the start of last season, including an 12-5 ATS record, per our Bet Labs database.”
Because of that angle, I took the Rams to cover a two-possession spread against Saint Joe’s at home. The Rams accomplished that task.
Now we have to update our Fordham at-home numbers. The Rams went 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in their five home games since the Jan. 7 contest, meaning they’re 27-6 SU and 16-7 ATS at Rose Hill Gym since last season.
The Rams play Duquesne at home on Saturday in a great situational spot. Fordham is looking to bounce back following a tough road overtime loss to George Mason, while the Dukes are primed for a letdown after an unimpressive, non-cover home win over UMass.
We can also target Fordham for some game-to-game positive regression. The Rams only lost against George Mason because they shot 3-for-25 from 3, and ShotQuality unsurprisingly graded that game as an analytical Fordham win.
Image Credit: ShotQuality
Duquesne has a lights-out offensive attack, as the Dukes run the floor and shoot like crazy.
However, Fordham boasts a wildly underrated defense, as the Rams rank third in the A-10 in defensive efficiency.
Specifically, the Rams are an above-average transition defense (.973 PPP allowed, 66th percentile) and are elite at keeping opponents off the 3-point line (13th nationally in 3-point rate allowed).
Behind this defense, the Rams wiped the floor with the Dukes in the first meeting, winning by eight in Pittsburgh.
The Dukes only shot 3-for-16 from 3, so you could argue some regression is coming in a revenge spot.
However, one of Fordham’s strengths is avoiding high-quality 3s, so that was expected. Plus, Fordham shot only 14-for-22 from the charity stripe, which shouldn’t happen to a 75% free-throw shooting team.
I’m also partial to betting on the better defensive team at home. Plus, I’m very partial to betting on the team with the best player on the floor.
Darius Quisenberry will be the best player on the floor. The fifth-year point guard is an electric three-level scoring guard that excels at getting to the line while boasting the league’s fifth-lowest offensive turnover rate despite high usage.
This reel is from a few years ago, but most of these same traits apply now.
MID-MAJOR MONDAY 6’1 Sophomore G Darius Quisenberry out of Youngstown State is a BUCKET. The Springfield, Ohio native averaged 16.6 PPG 3.6 RPG 4.2 APG 1.5 SPG this past season while also being named to the Horizon League First Team. SERIOUS NBA POTENTIAL 💯💯 @dquiz23 pic.twitter.com/4j14cneP8W
— Frankie Vision (@Frankie_Vision) September 21, 2020
No matter how the Rams get it done, I’m betting on the nation’s most underrated home-court advantage in a favorable situational spot.
The short spread doesn’t hurt, either.
Pick: Fordham -1
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Kansas vs. Texas
I was on a podcast last week where I literally told the host this exact line:
“A Big 12 home team off back-to-back road losses, easy money!”
That team was Baylor, which avenged its back-to-back losses to Kansas and Kansas State with a convincing home win over Texas.
In turn, Texas followed that defeat with another road loss to TCU.
So, here we are, getting another Big 12 home team off back-to-back road losses. In back-to-back weeks no less.
“Time is a flat circle” — Matthew McConaughey as Rusty Cohle in True Detective, circa 2014.
All this is to say — this is the first spot I circled for Saturday. It’s the absolute spot of the day. I’m hesitant to call it “the spot of all spots,” but it’s coming close.
Not only that, but we can target Texas for some game-to-game positive regression. Texas’ three-point loss to TCU was graded as a five-point analytical win by ShotQuality, proving the Frogs were a little lucky to come out on top.
Image Credit: ShotQuality
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks just ran a seven-game win streak into another Big 12 regular-season title, further padding Bill Self’s trophy case.
But since Kansas has already clinched another Big 12 regular-season title, it’s fair to question the Jayhawks’ motivation here.
At the minimum, it’s fair to question the Jayhawks’ motivation compared to the Longhorns. At 11-6 in conference play, Texas is tied with Baylor and Kansas State for the second seed in the Big 12 Tournament entering the regular season’s final day.
Texas could drop to the four seed with a home loss on Saturday.
I also don’t hate the on-court matchup. Kansas loves to run the floor and run downhill, pressuring the rim with its long wings.
However, Texas boasts a solid interior defense and an excellent transition defense. Some of Texas’ interior defensive metrics are shaky, but the Longhorns are the best transition defense in the Big 12 by both ShotQuality and Synergy’s metrics.
Either way, Texas’ wing defenders can match up head-to-head with Kansas’ downhill wing scorers. Jalen Wilson might struggle to score on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns’ offense relies heavily on mid-range and post-up buckets. Meanwhile, Kansas is ninth in the Big 12 in both mid-range and post-up PPP allowed.
Timmy Allen will not struggle to get his high-post buckets on Saturday.
Give me this for 40 minutes, please.
Need another big night from Timmy Allen against TCU! pic.twitter.com/3AvM0mvwpP
— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) March 1, 2023
I’m slightly worried about Texas’ ball-screen defense, as Kansas is a different animal when Dajuan Harris Jr. dominates at the point of attack in the pick-and-roll.
However, given how incredibly strong the situational spot is, I think we get the suffocating Longhorns defense on Saturday.
I’ll bank on that, as Texas gets a big win to end its regular season.
Pick: Texas -2.5
Calabrese’s Top 2 Saturday Picks
Texas State vs. Marshall
Let’s start with some Dan D’Antoni history. After a 10-year stint in the NBA as an assistant coach, the lesser known of the D’Antoni brothers took the plunge and headed to Huntington to start his college head coaching career.
D’Antoni had previously spent 30 years as a high school head coach at Socastee High in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He won over 500 games in the Palmetto State and founded the Beach Ball Classic, one of the premier high school basketball tournaments.
He sent 60 players to the college ranks and coached two Gatorade Players of the Year. He’s a basketball legend.
He’s also a legend at the window, at least when it comes to coaching his first game of a conference tournament. In two years, he quickly turned around Marshall’s program and turned it into a fun watch on the offensive end.
That has also translated to up-tempo wins in the first round of Marshall’s conference tournaments on a yearly basis. The Thundering Herd are 5-1 SU and ATS in their opening conference tournament game since 2017.
This season, they’re the same run-and-gun team that D’Antoni has become famous for over the years. The Herd are seventh in scoring (81.6 PPG), fifth in assists (17.6 APG) and play at the eighth-fastest tempo, according to KenPom.
They’ve also improved defensively to the point that they’re the only Sun Belt team in the top 90 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (KenPom).
They’re entering their first Sun Belt Tournament on a 7-2 SU run, and they beat Texas State in their lone meeting this season by eight as five-point road favorites.
Texas State, on the other hand, lost seven of nine down the stretch to finish its regular season, and will be playing in its third game since Tuesday on Saturday night in Pensacola.
The Bobcats leave a lot to be desired on the offensive end, shooting just 31.4% from 3-point range (322nd) and checking in at 302nd in overall shooting efficiency.
They used a lot of transition buckets and points in the paint to beat Georgia State in their opener, but they returned to form against Old Dominion, scoring just 65 points.
Old Dominion had one of its worst shooting nights in years (12-for-52), gift-wrapping the Bobs a trip to the quarterfinals.
Against a well-rested Marshall team, there’s a good chance they get run right off the court.
I would play this game up to Marshall-10.
Pick: Marshall -8.5
Arizona vs. UCLA
While the Pac-12 regular season has already been decided, the No. 1 seed out West for the NCAA tournament is very much up for grabs.
Arizona will need to win out — including a Pac-12 title — to secure it and UCLA can all but pencil its name into the West’s top spot with a win at Pauley Pavilion and deep run in the Pac-12 Tournament next week.
The last time these two teams met in the desert, it was an absolute rock fight.
The Wildcats survived 58-52 despite playing one of their worst games of the season on the offensive end. If it weren’t for their 15 made free throws, their 19-for-49 night from the field would likely have sunk them.
UCLA would obviously prefer to slow things down, but that game was an anomaly even by its plodding standards. The Bruins have scored at least 70 points in seven of their last nine games and are as sharp on offense as they have been all season.
Arizona has been running hotter as of late, pumping in 86 points per game in its last nine.
It may surprise readers to learn that UCLA is actually up to 22nd in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metric, which is a testament to its defense. The unit creates 16.2 turnovers per game to spur the Bruins’ running game and their work on the offensive glass (20th in Off Reb %).
My angle on this game is that Arizona will succeed in pushing its tempo (10th) and UCLA will respond by shredding an Arizona defense that seems to be regressing.
Arizona State (120th KenPom Offense) and Stanford (133rd shooting efficiency) both scored in the upper 80s against Arizona without the benefit of overtime.
Arizona has left far too many 3-point shooters open against both the Sun Devils (11/28 3PT) and Cardinal (10/18 3PT), and while UCLA isn’t a 3-point dependent team, David Singleton and Tyger Campbell have the ability to hurt the Cats when they fail to rotate defensively.
And finally, I’m a believer in Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. By the advanced efficiency metric from TeamRankings, they’re the only frontcourt duo in the nation that ranks inside the top 40 (Tubelis 15th, Ballo 33rd).
Against UCLA, they shot 39% as a duo. If Adem Bona gets in foul trouble, UCLA could really have some issues in the paint.
Illinois gave the Bruins’ frontcourt fits during a nine-point upset at the beginning of the season, and Arizona’s bigs are far more refined on the offensive end than Coleman Hawkins and Dain Dainja.
It may require some foul shots going my way down the stretch, but I think this game gets over the hump and is played in the 150s.
Pick: Over 148.5
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