College Basketball Predictions | Our Pick & Roll for Saturday, Including FAU vs. FGCU (December 30)

College Basketball Predictions | Our Pick & Roll for Saturday, Including FAU vs. FGCU (December 30) article feature image
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Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Pictured: Vladislav Goldin (FAU)

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

Saturday, Dec 30
1:00pm ET
ESPN+
Fordham -5

Deep in the annals of A-10 lore is Fordham’s surprisingly strong home-court advantage.

Since Kyle Neptune took over in 2021 – and Keith Urgo has held up his end of the bargain – the Rams are 18-9 ATS at Rose Hill Gym, covering 66.7% of games with a 3.5-point average cover margin while generating a 27.3% ROI for backers.

I like this home spot for Fordham to bounce back after consecutive losses to St. John’s and Central Connecticut.

Yes, the Central Connecticut loss looks bad – as does the rest of the Rams’ resume – but that loss can be explained away by 31 Blue Devil free-throw attempts. Columbia only generates about 19 free throws per game, around 200th nationally, so don’t expect the Lions to live at the line.

I think Columbia is way overvalued in the market thanks to an 8-3 record over extremely sub-par competition. Four of their eight wins were against KenPom sub-300 teams, and another two came against D-II squads.

The Lions have also benefited from two-way shooting luck. They’re shooting 37% from deep and holding opponents to 30%, while ShotQuality projects those numbers closer to 33% and 34%, respectively, based on the “quality” of attempts.

The Lions allow the seventh-most unguarded jumpers per game nationally (12.6), but opponents are managing only 1.0 PPP on those shots, well below the national average. On the other end of the court, they’re scoring 1.1 PPP on guarded jumpers, top-50 nationally and about .15 more than the national average.

By ShotQuality’s metrics, the Lions rank 308th in high-quality 3s allowed. More are bound to fall, and the Lions should lose more games.

The projections agree on the Lions’ overrated-ness. EvanMiya projects Fordham as a six-point home favorite over Columbia, while ShotQuality thinks the Rams should be laying two touchdowns.

Aside from the bounce-back angle, the Rams can force shooting regression upon Columbia. Fordham shoots 3s and runs shooters off the 3-point line, ranking 134th nationally in 3-point rate (40%) and 16th in 3-point rate allowed (16%).

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Urgo runs a drop-coverage defensive scheme, where perimeter defenders overplay ball-handlers on the wings and funnel them toward center Abdou Tsimbila, who boasts an 11% block rate since joining Fordham last year. The scheme denies 3-point and at-the-rim attempts, so opponents are forced into awkward, inefficient mid-range shots.

Columbia doesn't love peddling in the mid-range, so I’m betting the Lions look uncomfortable on offense.

More on the schematic matchup: Columbia loves running the floor, and the Lions use handoffs and cutters in the half-court. Unfortunately for them, the Rams rank above the 80th percentile of D-I teams in PPP allowed against all three sets.

Fordham also loves to run the floor, but the Rams should score in the open court against a Lions defense that ranks 323rd nationally in transition PPP allowed (1.35). The Lions still have a poor interior defense, ranking 230th in 2-point shooting allowed (52%), so I expect the Rams drive downhill and score.

Fordham needs to take care of the ball better, but Columbia doesn’t pressure ballhandlers more than any other team. I’m hoping Oregon transfer Will Richardson continues his ascension as a fringe A-10 breakout guard because his 13% turnover rate is promising – let him handle the rock more.

Columbia’s improvements are also promising. The Lions were among the nation’s least experienced teams last season, but they returned five starters, and the unit is taking a step forward.

But, as mentioned, the regression monster looms, and I don’t think it’s just on the perimeter.

The Lions have shown tremendous improvements in their defensive rebounding numbers year over year, but when they’ve stepped up against bigger teams, they’ve been wiped off the boards. Across two losses to Albany and Providence, they were out-rebounded 81 to 63.

Fordham is a tremendous offensive-rebounding team, especially Tsimbila (14.3% offensive rebounding rate), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rams play volleyball on the offensive glass.

Ultimately, Fordham is due for a bounce-back win on its home court, and Columbia is uber-overrated. And I like the schematic matchup enough to lay two possessions with #OurRams.

Pick: Fordham -5 (Play to -6)


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Saturday, Dec 30
4:00pm ET
CBS
UCLA +6

Yes, they beat Oregon State on Thursday.

But I still think we’re buying low on UCLA entering Saturday’s matchup with Oregon.

Before taking down the Beavers, the Bruins lost four straight. They’re a mediocre 6-6 on the year, albeit 1-0 in PAC-12 play.

But all those losses have come against good teams. Aside from an ugly loss to Cal State Northridge, the Bruins have lost five games to KenPom top-75 teams and four to top-30 squads (Ohio State, Villanova, Gonzaga, Marquette).

Even better, the Bruins lost by two to Marquette and four to Gonzaga. I think some close-game positive regression is coming for Mick Cronin.

Pouring on the positive Bruin regression, UCLA is due for all sorts of positive shooting regression. They’re shooting only 29% from 3, but ShotQuality projects that number closer to 34% based on the “quality” of attempts.

And, to be fair, they’ve scored a meager .79 PPP on unguarded jumpers this year, about .3 lower than the D-I average.

Hopefully, the positive regression train pulls into L.A. when the Bruins are playing an Oregon team I’m not super high on.

I’m unsure if the Ducks can survive the injuries. N’Faly Dante is sidelined until mid-January with a hamstring injury, and Keeshawn Barthelemy is battling an ankle injury. Throw in Nate Bittle and Jesse Zazruela’s season-ending injuries, and I question Dana Altman’s ability to align this Rubik’s Cube.

Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Mick Cronin (UCLA)

I also like the schematic matchup for UCLA.

The Bruins are a post- and mid-range-heavy isolation offense that works through the inside-out duo of Sebastian Mack and Adem Bona.

Conversely, the Ducks have been a downright poor isolation defense. And while their post-up defensive metrics have held firm behind Mahamdou Diawara (.333 post-up PPP allowed, 95th percentile), ShotQuality thinks that’s been luck, as it projects significant regression for the Mali-born big man (.83 post-up PPP allowed, 253rd nationally).

On the other end of the court, I don’t think Altman can establish his off-ball-screen-heavy offense against the nation’s best off-ball-screen defense (.99 PPP allowed). Similarly, the Ducks will try to attack the rim, but the Bruins rank 23rd nationally in at-the-rim PPP allowed (1.07) behind Bona and Co.

Mick Cronin’s defensive scheme tries to force isolation attempts. The Bruins do that well, as their 68 isolation defensive possessions are more than all but nine teams, and they’re allowing a meager .56 PPP on those sets.

Meanwhile, Oregon devolves into isolation ball a surprising amount (7% of possessions, 38th nationally), and the Ducks are scoring a meager .63 PPP on those sets.

I'm certainly siding with the Bruins if this becomes a heads-up battle between Jermaine Cousinard/Jackson Shelstad and Mack/Bona.

But, ultimately, this is a numbers play.

The market is way undervaluing UCLA based on a few close losses to good teams and some unfortunate shooting luck. The Bruins shouldn’t be catching two possessions against any PAC-12 opponent, especially with Cronin captaining the ship.

The projections agree with me, with EvanMiya making Oregon a two-point home favorite over UCLA and ShotQualityBets pegging the Ducks as a one-point home fav.

Cronin at +5 or better is a steal.

Pick: UCLA +6 (Play to +5)


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Calabrese's 2 Saturday Picks

Saturday, Dec 30
7:00pm ET
FOX
West Virginia +9.5

This is the time of the year when the rubber hits the road.

After feasting on low-major competition, sometimes dipping into the lower divisions to schedule opponents to work out the kinks, teams are now getting into the meat of their schedule.

Power programs nationwide are getting into conference play, with just a few marquee non-conference games remaining on the slate.

Ohio State and West Virginia are among the last meaningful non-conference matchups, and this game is teeming with intrigue.

As everyone knows, West Virginia has been in flux since Bob Huggins was forced out in July. Roster upheaval, coaching questions, and chemistry issues have plagued the program. And it didn’t help that RaeQuan Battle was denied a waiver from the NCAA.

Without Battle’s scoring on the perimeter, West Virginia began to look lifeless offensively. In recent losses to Pitt and UMass, Mountaineer guards averaged just 25 points per game.

And then they lost Jesse Edwards to a wrist injury.

Things were going from bad to worse.

But then the Mountaineers scored a big win — not on the court, but in the courthouse.

A federal judge in West Virginia “placed a temporary hold on an NCAA rule (NCAA Division I Bylaw 14.5.5.1) requiring certain student-athletes who transferred schools to wait a year before competing in games.” The decision in Ohio, et al. v. NCAA, placed a temporary block on the NCAA’s rule, allowing Battle to return to the floor.

In his two games back, the senior wing has scored 58 points on 49% shooting from the floor. He’s changed their offensive identity, getting to the rim and drawing fouls. He’s attempted 23 foul shots, and his mere presence as a premier scoring threat is opening up cleaner looks for his teammates.

Ohio State is playing like a team destined for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. They don’t live and die with the 3, ranking 300th in Rim-And-Three rate. Instead, they work tirelessly on the offensive glass (13th in rebounding percentage) and defend the paint.

But the Buckeyes are just 4-7 ATS as a favorite, and that's with major foul-shooting luck on their side. Buckeye opponents are shooting just 63.1% from the charity stripe, the seventh-worst percentage in the country. Battle will significantly impact this game as a career 84% foul shooter who consistently gets to the charity stripe.

This game is ultimately about grabbing the right number, which is why I would pass unless WVU were getting north of eight points.

But the 'Eers have the scoring punch to run with Ohio State, which is likely looking ahead to Rutgers next week.

Pick: West Virginia +9.5 (Play to +8.5)


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Saturday, Dec 30
7:00pm ET
ESPN+
FAU -15.5

Big-time kudos to the Owls for scheduling three top-20 teams already this season.

They scored 96 points in wins over Texas A&M and Arizona and dropped 89 on Illinois in a loss at the Jimmy V Classic. It’s proof that last season was no flash in the pan and that their offense, somehow, might be better this year than it was during its Final Four run last spring.

BartTorvik grades FAU as the nation’s fourth-best offense, KenPom has them seventh, and Evan Miya slots them tenth. The Owls can kill you from long range, particularly when Johnell Davis or Jalen Gaffney are letting them fly, but I’m more enamored with the maturation of Russian big man Vlad Goldin. He held his own during their dream run last March, but now he’s more than a contributor.

Goldin is a downright superstar, averaging 14 points, seven rebounds, and 2.6 stocks per game while shooting 74.2% from the field. He’s the perfect interior complement to a backcourt that can score in bunches.

And while this game has all the trappings of a “trap game,” I don’t think the Arizona upset was a shock inside the FAU locker room. The Owls are built to win games like that. And luckily, FGCU doesn’t have the goods to take advantage of a slightly distracted FAU team.

The Eagles are downright awful on defense. They don't rotate in the half-court, leaving shooters wide open with shocking regularity. It’s among the reasons that opponents have buried 39.4% of their attempts from deep (353rd nationally).

That’s FAU’s calling card, so it’s easy to envision 10 to 15 triples finding the bottom of the net.

There's also the second-chance buckets angle. Florida Gulf Coast struggles to wrangle defensive rebounds (311th nationally in defensive rebounding rate), where Golden should hurt them. They also struggle to turn teams over (315th), which is critical to hanging with a vastly superior team.

I would avoid a first-half play in case FAU comes out a bit hungover from their big win. But once the Owls lock in, they could beat FGCU by 30.

The Eagles have already given up nine “Kill Shots” this season, runs of 10-0 or worse against them, and I love targeting big favorites that can generate Kill Shots.

Pick: FAU -15.5 | Play to -22.5



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