NCAAB Predictions | Mike & Tanner’s Top Pick & Roll Selections for Saturday

NCAAB Predictions | Mike & Tanner’s Top Pick & Roll Selections for Saturday article feature image

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Niko Medved (Colorado State)

Mike Calabrese and Tanner McGrath are back for another edition of our Pick & Roll. The dynamic duo has Saturday college basketball predictions.

McGrath's 2 Saturday Picks

Illinois vs. Maryland

Saturday, Feb 17
5:30 p.m. ET
Maryland +2.5

Part 1: Death, taxes, and Big Ten home teams.

This season alone, home teams in conference play are 52-41-2 ATS. Since the start of last year, those squads are 132-97-3 ATS. And over the past eight seasons…

The Big Ten has the second-highest home-winning percentage of any conference this year, at 72%.

Home-court advantage is paramount in this league. And Big Ten home teams are the gift that keeps on giving.

Part 2: Death, taxes, and fading ranked teams in the road.

Ranked teams on the road are 21 games under .500 this year, generating a -16% ROI. They’re also 11 games under .500 as favorites, generating a -21% ROI.

So, when I saw No. 14 Illinois was laying two at Maryland, I was instantly intrigued.

But I became enamored once I saw how the Terps match up with the Illini.

Did you know Maryland has won four of the past five head-to-head meetings? The Terps have thrice won as an underdog during the stretch, including a meeting in Champaign earlier this year, where they won by nine as nine-point ‘dogs.

There’s one main reason for that.

Both defenses run opponents off the 3-point line, with Illinois ranking sixth nationally in 3-point rate allowed and the Terps ranking 13th. They do so in different ways – Illinois runs a drop-coverage scheme while Maryland runs heavy press coverage – but it has the same effect.

That effect: These head-to-head matchups are generally interior, 2-point battles. It’s all about paint buckets, baby.

Maryland has the advantage there, specifically on defense.

The Terps rank fifth nationally in defensive efficiency thanks to a devastating interior wall. Julian Reese is among the nation’s best post-up defenders (.52 PPP allowed, 91st percentile) and rim protectors (7% block rate), so the Terps are among the best post-up defenses (.76 PPP allowed, 84th percentile). They allow only 28 paint points per game (84th percentile), block five shots per game (93rd percentile), and lead the conference in 2-point shooting allowed (46%).

On the interior, Illinois will mainly try to create offense in transition or via isolation, relying heavily on Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask. I’d also look for Quincy Gurrier and Coleman Hawkins to get involved in some way.

Unfortunately for them, Maryland is a solid per-possession transition defense (.96 PPP allowed, 77th percentile), allowing only seven fast-break points per game. The Terps' individual defenders are excellent, with Reese, Jahmir Young, and Donta Scott excelling on an island.

Julian Reese.55 (81st percentile)3.4 (3rd among 117 B10 players)
Jahmir Young.59 (76th)2.4 (13th)
Donta Scott.41 (91st)2.1 (22nd)

As a result, the Terps rank in the top 30 nationally in isolation PPP allowed (.62).

The Terps can match up with the Illini one through five. Reese will protect the paint, and everyone else will hound the perimeter.

Maryland’s interior defense will stand firm.

We can’t say the same for the Illini’s.

On the surface, Illinois boasts a decent defense, ranking third in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency.

But Illinois has been getting bullied down low. Only Michigan is allowing more paint points per game in Big Ten play than the Illini’s 38. Only Nebraska and Wisconsin have a lower block rate than their 8%. Nobody allows more post-up points per game than their eight, which doubles as the ninth-highest rate nationally.

From an efficiency standpoint, the Illini have been OK against post-up sets, hovering around the D-I average. However, those numbers are carried by Quincy Gurrier, while the other bigs have struggled.

PlayerPost-up PPP Allowed
Quincy Gurrier.58 (87th percentile)
Coleman Hawkins.93 (38th)
Dain Dainja.87 (47th)
Luke Goode1.17 (12th)

That’s a problem against Maryland, which funnels so much of its offense through Reese in the post.

But what’s weird about all this is that the Illini’s drop-coverage scheme should excel at defending the rim. Most drop-coverage defenses boast elite at-the-rim defensive metrics because they prioritize defending the rim and 3-point line by funneling opposing ball-handlers into the midrange.

But Illinois’ rim protection started collapsing in Big Ten play, leading to the above-mentioned numbers.

And that problem may get exacerbated against Maryland's backcourt.

The best way to beat the drop is through elite dribble penetration, which Maryland has with Young. So much of Kevin Willard’s offense relies on his point guard creating in the middle of the floor, and Illinois is ready to hand that over without debate.

We could see this 100 times on Saturday:

Furthermore, Young’s biggest problem is ball handling, with Maryland ranking dead last in the Big Ten in turnover rate. But because drop-coverage is such a passive scheme, Illinois won’t pressure the ball, ranking second-to-last in the conference in defensive turnover rate.

Things might get deadly if Maryland could finally see some positive shooting regression. The Terps are shooting 28% from 3 in conference play, but ShotQuality projects that number should be closer to 32% based on the “quality” of attempts, probably because 55% of their catch-and-shoot opportunities are coming unguarded, a top-25 rate nationally.

If some shots could fall against an Illinois defense that ranks 11th in the Big Ten in Open 3 Rate allowed, it would open up extra lanes for Young and backcourt mate Deshawn Harris-Smith to dribble create. In turn, that’d generate more open shots, and the cycle would continue until Brad Underwood’s defense is entirely unpacked.

But even without regression, I have a good feeling that Young and Reese will get buckets against the Illini’s questionable, passive interior defense. And I don’t feel good about the Illini’s scorers creating individual interior offense against the Terps’ rim wall.

I mean, that’s precisely what happened in the last matchup.

Reese scored nine points on 12 post-up sets, dropping 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting from 2-point range. Young dribble-created his way to 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting from inside the arc with eight assists and only two turnovers. The Terps managed 52 paint points while shooting 26-for-48 (54%) from 2-point range with a 14:7 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Meanwhile, the Illini amassed a meager 26 paint points while shooting a miserable 15-for-42 (36%) from 2-point range. They struggled in ball screens (four points on 14 sets) and posted more turnovers (nine) than assists (eight).

I expect more of the same on Saturday, especially with home-court advantage flipped. And I’m giddy to grab a Big Ten team catching points against a ranked visitor.

I'd be willing to bet the Terps pull off the outright upset again.

Pick: Maryland +2.5 (Play to PK)

Phone With the Action App Open
The must-have app for college basketball bettors
The best NCAAB betting scoreboard
Free picks from proven pros
Live win probabilities for your bets

Utah State vs. Colorado State

Saturday, Feb 17
5:30 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
Colorado State -4.5

I love this spot for the Rams.

Colorado State is off a tough road loss in one of the most challenging mid-major arenas to play, losing by 16 at San Diego State. I fully expect Niko Medved and Co. to leverage their Fort Collins home-court advantage and bounce back.

Meanwhile, Utah State has won two straight, crushing Boise State at home and beating Wyoming by eight in Laramie on Wednesday. It’s a good time for a letdown game against one of the nation’s best guards in one of the mid-major’s harshest environments to play.

Funny enough, I recommended Utah State in this column last Saturday against Boise in a similar situation. The Broncos were heading on the road – MWC HCA is a tough nut to crack – for the second leg of a two-game road trip at altitude to play an Aggies team trying to rally following consecutive losses.

Part of the reason I faded Boise there was because I worried about the Broncos’ legs. Boise ranks sub-300th nationally in bench minutes, running a relatively short rotation, and it was playing its second straight road game at high altitude.

Well, funny enough, the Aggies rank 328th in bench minutes and are preparing to play their second straight road game at high elevation after beating Wyoming on Wednesday. Darius Brown and Great Osobor played a combined 80 minutes at 7,200 feet in Laramie, and they’ll now have to put up another considerable effort at 5,200 feet in Fort Collins.

It’s also worth mentioning Colorado State has a one-day rest advantage, which can only hurt Utah State more.

It’s also a revenge spot for Colorado State, who are looking to even the yearly head-to-head battle after its five-point loss at Logan in late January.

But, aside from the situational spot and location, what’s different between the past matchup and this one?

Colorado State is playing better defense. During conference play, the Rams rank first among Mountain West teams in 2-point defense (49%) and third in paint points per game allowed (29).

They’re underscreening opponents and swarming them in the paint, which is important against Danny Sprinkle’s dominant cut-and-post offense.

The Rams' season-long cut and post-up defensive metrics are questionable, which showed in the first meeting with Utah State (Osobor scored 20 on 6-for-12 shooting). But ShotQuality always projected Colorado State for positive regression in those areas based on the "quality" of attempts allowed, as the Rams rank top-80 nationally in post-up (.79) and cutting PPP allowed (1.33) while ranking 17th in at-the-rim PPP allowed (1.06).

Meanwhile, Colorado State can under-screen Utah State because the Aggies can’t shoot. The Ags rank eighth in the Mountain West in 3-point shooting (33%) and ninth in Open 3 Rate. Sprinkle relies heavily on interior offense, and to his credit, his squad leads the league in 2-point shooting (58%) and ranks second in paint points per game (40).

But it’s clear to me the Rams have the interior defenders to stop Sprinkle’s attack, and I expect better effort and better results in those areas at home in a bounce-back spot against a gassed Aggies squad.

Conversely, I don’t think the Aggies have the interior defenders to stop Niko Medved’s inventive motion offense.

Isaiah Stevens is among the nation’s best point guards, dropping in 16 points a night while dishing out a nation-leading seven assists per game. He quarterbacks the offense and handles the ball, and his job is to consistently hit his teammates running off-ball secondary actions – specifically, off-screen, cutting, and posting sets.

Well, Utah State is vulnerable on the interior, allowing the third-most paint points per game in the Mountain West (33), primarily because the Aggies can’t stop those specific secondary actions.

CSU OffenseUSU Defense
Cutting PPP1.5 PPP (99th Percentile)1.27 PPP allowed (17th percentile)
Off-Ball Screen PPP.93 (65th).97 (29th)
Post-up PPP.90 (60th).92 (23rd)

The Rams had some trouble in the first meeting getting those actions going. But, again, I expect better effort and better results at home in a bounce-back spot against a gassed Aggies defense. Utah State’s defense can be exploited, and Medved is an uber-smart game planner who should scheme up better sets in a revenge game with extra rest.

Pick: Colorado State -4.5 (Play to -5)

The new ESPN Sportsbook is now online and you can use Action’s ESPN BET promo code TANBONUS for a new user welcome.

Calabrese's 2 Saturday Picks

Marquette vs. UConn

Saturday, Feb 17
3:00 p.m. ET
Over 147.5

Nothing aids an over more than a flurry of foul shots in the final minute of a game.

The rub, of course, is that you need it to be a close game.

On the surface, the nation’s No. 1 team, playing on its home floor as a seven-point favorite, doesn’t necessarily scream “close game.”

Luckily, we have one major factor trending in our favor: Shaka Smart on the road as an underdog.

There may not be a better coach in America to back in this spot. Smart has covered 11 of 15 games as a road 'dog since taking over Marquette in 2021, pulling off outright upsets in half of them.

And this isn't some flash in the pan.

Smart's always been a tremendous coach as a road 'dog, knowing how to motivate his players and game plan against the nation's best teams.

So, if we’re to believe Marquette is a live 'dog in this one, how do we play it?

While the spread and moneyline are enticing, I’ve targeted the over for a few reasons.

The Eagles, winners of eight straight, have to push the tempo to beat UConn. It'll be a long afternoon in Hartford if they allow the Huskies to settle into their half-court defense.

UConn ranks sixth nationally in 2-point defense (43%). And once shots go up, Dan Hurley’s frontcourt gobbles up rebounds and completely shuts teams down on the offensive glass.

Photo Credit: CBB Analytics

Marquette plays at the second-fastest pace in the Big East, while UConn is content grinding games out in the half court. The Huskies rank 322nd in Adjusted Tempo, while Marquette pours in nearly 15 fast break points per game (19th). However, the Huskies must attack UConn at every turn, especially on secondary break opportunities.

Placing aside raw tempo numbers, Marquette has the seventh-shortest average possession length in the country. The Golden Eagles attack and find good shots early in the shot clock, and I don’t see them moving off of that strategy here.

Tyler Kolek has been on a heater in his last four games (26/9/7) and can score and facilitate for his teammates. When he penetrates and kicks the ball outside, 3s fall for the Eagles (8.9 3-point makes per game, 39th nationally).

Another reason I believe Smart and his staff will push the tempo is because it’s proven to work against UConn. Seton Hall used 18 fast break points to crack the Connecticut defense in a December upset, and Xavier hung around for 40 minutes thanks to 16 transition points last month.

I'm playing it as long as I get this total below 150.

In addition to the total, I’m targeting a live number on UConn if Marquette gets off to a hot start. Giving Smart this many points isn’t wise, but UConn -4 or better live is worth it if you can grab it in the first five-to-seven minutes of action.

Pick: Over 147.5 (Play to 149.5)

LSU vs. South Carolina

Saturday, Feb 17
3:30 p.m. ET
SEC Network
South Carolina -5.5

The Bayou Bengals are a sinking ship.

It’s safe to say the Matt McMahon experiment has been a flop, and he may be lucky to survive the offseason after a 6-22 start in SEC play across his first two seasons in Baton Rouge.

Currently, LSU is trying to pull out of its nose dive, having lost six of seven straight up, including a home loss to Alabama in which the Tigers gave up 109 regulation points.

The defense is particularly vulnerable on the perimeter, giving up nearly nine triples per game (328th nationally). Mix in their turnover issues (13.1 per game, 280th), and you see why they’re capable of getting run off the floor on a nightly basis.

South Carolina isn’t an elite offensive team, but it should take advantage of LSU’s weaknesses, particularly on the glass. The Gamecocks are among the SEC’s best on the offensive glass, and Collin Murray-Boyles is using those offensive rips to establish himself as the league's breakout star.

The USC freshman is averaging 21 points per game across his last four games with 15 total offensive rebounds. The bouncy hometown product should dominate an LSU frontcourt that ranks 267th in defensive rebounding rate.

Then there’s the head coaching edge, which is significant.

Dating back to 2018, Lamont Paris-led teams have covered 61% of his games following a loss, including a perfect 3-0 mark this season. This should assuage fears that South Carolina can’t get off the mat after a 40-point humbling in The Jungle earlier this week.

Auburn is simply superhuman on its home floor, so I’m happy to reap the benefits of recency bias in the market with a depressed number.

And finally, I have the motivation factor for the Gamecocks to lean on in this one.

Despite their setback against War Eagle, South Carolina still has an excellent opportunity to take home the SEC regular season crown. Just a half-game back of Alabama, the Gamecocks need to start stacking wins down the stretch, and it’ll start at home against an overmatched LSU team.

Pick: South Carolina -5.5 (Play to -8.5)

How would you rate this article?

This site contains commercial content. We may be compensated for the links provided on this page. The content on this page is for informational purposes only. Action Network makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information given or the outcome of any game or event.

Sportsbook Promos
See All
Legal Online Sports Betting

FanDuel & DraftKings Promos: Secure up to $300 in Bonus Bets on Monday Action, All Events This Week

Doug Ziefel
May 20, 2024 UTC