NCAAB Predictions: Mike & Tanner’s Saturday Betting Card

NCAAB Predictions: Mike & Tanner’s Saturday Betting Card article feature image
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Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Stephon Castle (UConn)

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


Do you like Horizon league basketball?

We love it. It's a chaotic league where anything can happen on any given night.

So, naturally, our two-man duo is picking two Horizon league home 'dogs in our Saturday four-game pick-and-roll column.

In addition, we're picking sides in two of the day's marquee games, including a play on the down-and-out 'Horns and the up-and-coming Huskies.

So, read our "picks" and "roll" into a profitable Saturday slate.



McGrath's 2 Saturday Picks

Baylor vs. Texas

Saturday, Jan 20
12:00 p.m. ET
ESPN
Texas -1

It’s always been a relatively profitable endeavor, but fading ranked teams on the road is an auto-play this year.

Six of the past eight ranked teams to hit the road failed to cover, including Baylor on Tuesday, which lost in an overtime thriller at Kansas State.

I thought the Bears were unlucky in that game. I mean, losing in overtime on a 9-0 Wildcat run after you attempted 22 more shots (76 to 54) is a brutal way to drop a conference game.

But, in retrospect, it was expected.

Baylor is a guard-heavy, volcanic ball-screen attack spearheaded by RayJ Dennis and JaKobe Walter. The Bears run perimeter pick-and-roll sets more than almost any college hoops team, and they’ve supplemented interior scoring by shooting 42% from deep.

However, no team can shoot over 40% from deep for an entire season. ShotQuality projects the Bears should be shooting closer to 36% based on the “quality” of attempts, likely because they’re generating an unsustainable 1.44 PPP on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers, about .34 above expectation.

If you can stop the Bears’ ball-screen dribble-drive sets, they’ll fall back on shooting. They’ve managed a 14-3 record because Dennis and Walter are making everything, but the regression train is beginning to pull into Waco Station.

On Tuesday, the Bears generated only .55 pick-and-roll ball-handler PPP against an elite Wildcat ball-screen defense, so they fell back on 28 3-point attempts. But regression hit them like a bag of bricks, as they made only five (18%) on their way to the second-lowest point total of the season (64).

I expect the same thing to happen at Forty Acres this Saturday.

The Horns boast a rock-solid against dribble-drive ball-screen sets, ranking top-80 nationally in pick-and-roll ball-handler PPP allowed (.69). Max Abmas, Tyrese Hunter and Dillon Mitchell are three borderline-elite perimeter on-ball-screen defenders — at least by the numbers — who can hang with the dangerous Bear backcourt.

The Horns are also an elite interior defense all-around. They rank top-20 nationally in near-proximity field goal percentage allowed, allowing only 28 paint points per game (82nd percentile) on 35% paint shooting (86th percentile).

I don’t see Baylor driving much this game, so it’ll have to continue hitting 3s at an unsustainable rate to avoid a second consecutive road loss.

I’m betting that doesn’t happen.

On the other end of the court, Scott Drew runs a no-middle defensive scheme that’s generally elite at denying the paint and rim because the Bears force opposing ball-handlers toward the sideline and baseline.

But they’ve devolved from an elite paint-denying defense into a miserable one. They’re allowing 33 paint points per game (30th percentile) on 47% interior shooting (ninth percentile). They can’t stop the dribble, so Abmas and Hunter can penetrate the interior. They are a poverty short-roll (1.2 PPP allowed, ninth percentile) and cutting defense (1.2 PPP allowed, 27th percentile), so Mitchell and Dylan Disu can eat on the low block.

7-foot center Yves Missi is supposed to be a versatile interior defender and rim protector, but nobody’s protecting Waco’s restricted area these days. And the ‘Horns want to score at the rim, ranking first nationally in at-the-rim PPP (1.36).

Baylor should open as a short-road favorite on Saturday, but every major predictive analytics site projects Texas as a short-home favorite, so I’m betting the wrong team is favored.

Texas beat Baylor in Austin last year, and the Longhorns desperately need a win with their backs against the wall at 1-3 in Big 12 play. The Horns have too much talent to continue playing at this level, and I expect Rodney Terry’s squad to produce their best effort in an excellent schematic matchup. If there's ever a get-right spot, this is it.

Conversely, Baylor is due for more regression and conference losses. The Big 12 is too much of a gauntlet to roll through – back-to-back losses are far from inevitable.

Pick: Texas -1


Robert Morris vs. IUPUI

Saturday, Jan 20
12:00 p.m. ET
ESPN+
IUPUI +4.5

IUPUI rolled past the previously undefeated Purdue Fort Wayne on Wednesday to nab the Jags' second Horizon League win.

The Mastodons were due for 3-point shooting regression both ways, which has come in droves during their four-game losing streak. So, when I saw IUPUI beat ‘em, I expected it was because the Jags shot the lights out from deep.

But that wasn’t the case. IUPUI attempted only five 3s, instead shooting a whopping 60% from 2-point range behind 18 points from the ever-improving Jlynn Counter against a hole-filled IFPW interior defense.

I think the same thing can happen on Saturday.

Bob Morris boasts arguably the worst interior defense in the country. The Colonials rank 349th nationally in 2-point shooting allowed (57%), allowing 38 paint points per game (ninth percentile). IUPUI is attacking the rim at a top-40 rate and generating 34 paint points per game (74th percentile) – 52% of the Jags’ points are coming in the paint, ranking in the 99th percentile of D-I teams – while RMU allows 1.14 at-the-rim PPP (171st nationally) and .97 post-up PPP (312th).

Opponents are shooting 70% at the rim against the Colonials on a whopping 20 attempts per game, so those IUPUI drivers should be licking their lips.

Part of this is because the Colonials play an uber-small-ball lineup, running 6-foot-7 at both forward spots. That doesn’t bode well against Counter, Bryce Monroe, and every other Jag.

I’m worried about IUPUI’s defense, as the Colonials' ball-screen offense matches up relatively well here.

But RMU is due for a letdown game on the road in a tough spot. The Colonials are off consecutive overtime home victories against a regressing Purdue Fort Wayne squad and an 0-19 (!) Detroit team.

So, I wouldn’t expect the Colonials’ best effort.

We didn’t get Rob Morris’ best effort against IUPUI last year. The Jags covered all three matchups with the Colonials in 2023 despite finishing 2-18 in conference play, including a scare in the conference tournament opening round.

But, again, this is a bad matchup for the Colonials, as IUPUI relentlessly rim-runs, and Robert Morris can’t defend the rim.

Robert Morris beat the brakes off IUPUI earlier this year, winning 92-48 in Moon Township, and that scares me. But the Colonials shot 76% from 2 and 38% from 3 in that one, while IUPUI shot 37% and 20%, respectively. I’m chalking up that wild result to general variance, which should flip with the Colonials in a tough road situational spot.

So, give me the Jags as an ugly home dog in a revenge spot with a good schematic matchup. I’m betting IUPUI attacks the rim confidently after nabbing another conference win earlier this week, while RMU runs out of gas after playing three draining overtime periods in the past week.

Pick: IUPUI +4.5


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Calabrese's 2 Saturday Picks

Youngstown State vs. Detroit

Saturday, Jan 20
4:00 p.m. ET
ESPN+
Detroit +11

Detroit Mercy is one of two remaining winless programs (Mississippi Valley State). But strangely, the Titans aren't hopeless, especially with Jayden Stone back in the starting lineup.

Stone returned to the lineup two games ago and scored 27 and 36 points in near upsets of Northern Kentucky and Robert Morris. The Titans were tied with the Norse with under two minutes remaining and held a double-digit second-half lead over Bobby Mo before falling in double overtime.

They're close to breaking through and undoubtedly competitive with Stone cooking nightly.

As a bonus, Youngstown isn’t a great defensive team. The Penguins give up a lot of open looks on the perimeter, and Stone is a green-light player who will fire up 12 to 15 triples if you let him. Teams are burying 36.1% of their 3-point attempts (308th nationally) against the Penguins this season.

So, while all of UDM’s underlying shooting metrics are awful, the Titans should get some clean looks against the Penguins.

Youngstown is also coming off a deflating loss to Oakland, which is currently in a tie for first in the Horizon. That was the Penguins' chance to climb the conference ladder, and now the Penguins play Detroit and IUPUI in back-to-back games. It’s human nature to look at those two opponents' records (0-19 & 6-14) and pencil in easy wins.

I expect a killer instinct to be lacking from YSU.

Pace is vital in this matchup, as YSU plays at the third-fastest pace in the Horizon and scores over 12 fast-break points per game. Detroit was sped up in its last two games and proved it could hang with Stone and Marcus Tankersley carrying the offense.

Tankersley is critical because he can score without relying heavily on the 3-point shot. He’s scored 20 or more four times since mid-December without the benefit of a performance with more than two triples. Stone could go for 35 against YSU, but the Titans still need secondary scoring from Tankersley for this to be a non-sweat cover.

I don’t think the Titans will flirt with the outright upset for the third straight game, but anything above 12 points is too much to pass up.

Pick: Detroit +11


UConn vs. Villanova

Saturday, Jan 20
8:00 p.m. ET
Fox Sports 1
UConn -4

One of Twitter's last true pleasures is the handful of accounts that push vintage college content.

An ESPN highlight package of Duke-UNC 1995? Don’t mind if I do.

But beyond the nostalgia factor, you also quickly notice that being a top-five team in 1995 or even 2005 meant more than it does today.

These teams were often stacked with upperclassmen and lottery picks, but that's not the case with the AP top 10 today — a clown car of flawed teams that can play at a national title-caliber level one night and then lose by 16 on the road to Nebraska. Sorry for the super specific reference, Purdue.

So this begs the question, is anyone elite this season?

I think UConn is the only one that can make that claim while backing it up with metrics and personnel.

Let’s start with their roster composition.

As one of the country’s best offensive-rebounding teams (37.1%, ninth nationally), the Huskies’ frontcourt of Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban can take over games.

Clingan has gotten off to a slow start and was forced to sit with a foot injury, yet he’s still flashed his All-American potential. His 21-point, nine-rebound, three-stock performance against Gonzaga in just 26 minutes of work demonstrates how he can take over a game.

Karaban has popped more consistently on the offensive end, pouring in five 20-plus point performances this season. The common factor in those performances is his 3-point shooting. He shot 23-for-37 (62%) from deep in those five contests. It’s no wonder UConn is 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS when he scores north of 20 points.

One final nugget on the UConn bigs: per EvanMiya, the pair has the team's highest “Weighted Chemistry," meaning they both play decidedly better when on the floor together. So, even if Clingan isn’t dominating the box score, his mere presence makes Karaban a more dangerous two-way player.

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Alex Karaban (UConn)

I wanted to highlight UConn’s frontcourt first because it’s not even its offensive engine this season. Dan Hurley’s backcourt is already “March-ready,” providing the veteran coach with multiple ways to win.

Freshman guard Stephon Castle is coming into his own in Big East play by repeatedly attacking the basket. His 12 foul-drawn performance against Georgetown demonstrates that he’s comfortable in the role.

With Castle taking his defender off the dribble, UConn’s shooters become even more effective on the wing. Tristen Newton remains streaky, but when he’s knocking down shots, this offense is a cheat code.

And then there’s Cam Spencer (46.8% from 3), who consistently punishes teams that don’t rotate fast enough.

This remains the most complete team in college basketball by far, in my opinion.

On the metrics side, UConn jumps off the page in a few key areas.

The Huskies lead the Big East in rebounding margin and 2-point defense while taking up residency in the elite neighborhood on the offensive end. EvanMiya, KenPom and Torvik all rank UConn third offensive in their respective Adjusted Offensive Efficiency metrics.

And just for good measure, the Huskies' performance against Creighton (13 assists, seven turnovers) helped them crack the top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio. They’re a powerhouse on the floor and in the box score.

Credit where credit's due, Villanova has clawed back into the Big East race with tight wins over Xavier and Creighton. But Marquette and St. John’s have run the Wildcats off the floor. Those in-conference blowouts have me wondering when the bottom drops out for Kyle Neptune’s team.

Against most of their Big East neighbors, the Wildcats’ rebounding has been the difference-maker, but UConn is on another level. That should translate to more second-chance opportunities for the Huskies and fewer stops for the Cats.

If UConn can play this game in the 70s or 80s, it'll force Villanova out of its comfort zone. Nova hasn’t been able to knock down shots consistently, and if the Wildcats have any hope of hanging with the nation’s top team, they’ll need to manufacture offense.

Nova shoots just 42.1% from the floor (258th nationally), and no amount of window dressing or situational excellence can make up for that against top competition.

Hurley’s bunch just suffocated a sharpshooting Creighton offense, holding the Bluejays to 48 points this week. I expect more of the same here.

I'd play UConn at -5 or better.

Pick: UConn -4



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