NCAAB Odds, Best Bets: 3 Picks for Thursday’s Early Games, Including St. John’s vs. Marquette, UCF vs. SMU

NCAAB Odds, Best Bets: 3 Picks for Thursday’s Early Games, Including St. John’s vs. Marquette, UCF vs. SMU article feature image

Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: UCF’s Darius Johnson.

Championship Week rolls on Thursday with even more college basketball to bet. Games start at 11 a.m. ET and stretch all the way through 11:30 p.m. ET.

Our staff split its best bets into three different tip-off windows today, and our writers came through with three picks for today's early games: St. John's vs. Marquette in the Big East Tournament, UCF vs. SMU in the AAC Tournament and Cal Baptist vs. Sam Houston in the WAC Tournament.

Read on for all three of our best bets for Thursday's early college basketball conference tournament games, and be sure to check back for even more picks for today's later games.

Thursday's Early College Basketball Best Bets

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Thursday's early conference tournament games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.

12 p.m. ET
Marquette -6.5
2:30 p.m. ET
UCF -7
3 p.m. ET
Cal Baptist +6.5
Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

St. John's vs. Marquette (Big East)

Thursday, March 9
12 p.m. ET
Marquette -6.5

By Shane McNichol

This line opened at Marquette giving nine points but quickly shot down to 6.5, and I can’t really fathom why.

Marquette, the Big East regular season champs, have lost just twice since Christmas and beat this very St. John’s team on the road by 11 earlier this year.

Perhaps some sharps saw something they liked in the regular-season finale, when the Johnnies lost to Marquette by just two in Milwaukee. I think that game is far more likely an aberration than a sign of things to come.

St. John’s, which ranks 225th in 3-point shooting in the nation, hit half its attempts from long range in that game, and despite that, Marquette led that game from the first media timeout to the final bell.

The Golden Eagles were favored by 11.5 at home in that game. This game is being played in New York, in an arena where St. John’s plays home games, but this should not be considered a home date for the Red Storm for betting purposes.

Tack on the fact that St. John’s played Wednesday afternoon and needs to turn around for this noon start, and this line makes even less sense.

Marquette has never won the Big East Tournament or even made the final. Even if that streak continues, it won’t be due to a Thursday afternoon disappointment here.

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Thursday, March 9
2:30 p.m. ET
UCF -7

By Brett Pund

If you read my AAC Tournament preview, I mentioned two opening-round games that I was circling to play, and I’m excited to see that I’ll be able to add one of those as my best bet here by backing UCF against SMU.

This is primarily a fade of the Mustangs, who have been terrible away from home in conference play. In league action, SMU finished with a 1-8 record on the road, with the lone victory coming against a Tulsa team at the bottom of the conference.

It has also been very profitable for bettors to bet against coach Rob Lanier’s team away from Dallas, as the Mustangs are 2-6-2 against the spread in road contests.

You can also look at how the squad played against the top programs in the AAC. SMU lost by 34 points at Houston, 23 at Cincinnati, 22 at Tulane, 15 at Memphis and by 22 in Orlando in the last meeting with UCF.

I like the Knights to secure another convincing win against the Mustangs in this spot.

Cal Baptist vs. Sam Houston (WAC)

Thursday, March 9
3 p.m. ET
Cal Baptist +6.5

By Jim Root

Conference tournaments can be a great time to back underachieving regular season teams. They get to hit the reset button in the postseason, giving new life to a team that was heralded in the preseason.

That can be especially true if the team is a better, healthier version of itself. That’s true of Cal Baptist, which just got reserve guard Joe Quintana back from injury. The Lancers were a sleeper title pick in the WAC for many, but cold shooting has limited the offense for much of the campaign.

Shooting will be pivotal. Sam Houston’s defense gives up a ton of perimeter jumpers, so if CBU’s gunners can get going, it has a chance to win outright. The Lancers took 31 triples in the first meeting, but they only converted 10.

On the other side, Sam Houston leans heavily on long jumpers. The Bearkats are an elite shooting team (fifth nationally in 3P%); if you let them launch, they can erupt.

CBU, though, excels at running opponents off the arc. If the Lancers can take away SHSU’s perimeter attack, the top-seeded Bearkats may struggle to score.

Notably, neither CBU nor SHSU wants to push the pace. The two played a 59-possession game earlier this season, and the total for this game is just 125. That makes 6.5 feel much higher; the favorite will not have as many possessions to extend the lead.

The pace and matchup edges make CCBU a worthwhile wager early on Thursday.

Pick: Cal Baptist +6.5 (Play to +5)

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