NCAAB Odds, Picks: Our Best Bets for Thursday’s Evening Slate, Including Arkansas vs. Auburn & More (March 9)
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Davonte Davis & Eric Musselman (Arkansas)
We’re getting deeper and deeper into Champ Week, and now all the major conferences are officially in postseason action.
After targeting the afternoon/early slate on Thursday, our staff is diving into the evening schedule with nine best bets, including one for Arkansas vs. Auburn in the SEC.
So, dive in below and get the top NCAAB odds, picks and best bets for Thursday’s evening slate.
9 NCAAB Best Bets for Thursday’s Evening Slate
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Thursday evening’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|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.|
Saint Joe’s vs. Dayton (Atlantic 10)
Unders are back!
If you love to blindly bet overs, this has been your year in college hoops. Using a sample size of the entire regular season, full-game overs cashed at a nearly 60% rate in Division I hoops.
Conference tournament settings across the country have been much less kind to the over bettor, however.
If you’re eyeing any under in these conference tournaments, you’d better be at the ready when sportsbooks begin to release opening lines.
Sharp bettors are aware of the tendency for unders to hit at a higher rate in conference tournaments, where teams are often content to slow tempo knowing they may be required to play on consecutive days.
Consequently, totals are often bet down within moments of a book opening the line.
Teams are often even more inclined to slow the tempo when bench depth is limited. I do believe that point will be a key factor in this Dayton vs. Saint Joe’s matchup.
Having earned a double-bye, today marks Dayton’s first A-10 Tournament game in the Barclays Center. Saint Joe’s, by comparison, will be playing its third game in as many days when it takes the court to face the Flyers this evening. Both teams are dealing with injuries to rotation players, limiting depth.
If Saint Joe’s manages to get past Dayton, we will get a lot of insight as to what kind of cardiovascular health its constantly-flapping hawk mascot has!
Unfortunately, I doubt we’ll get a chance to see more of Saint Joe’s after today. I think Dayton will control this game throughout and use the full shot clock in the second half in an effort to minimize its energy exertion.
In a year where overs have ruled, take the under here in this A-10 quarterfinal.
Pick: Under 136 (Play to 135)
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Washington State vs. Oregon (Pac-12)
By Alex Hinton
If you read my Pac-12 Conference Tournament preview, you will know that Washington State is a team I’m looking to back.
Washington State’s tournament odds have nearly been sliced in half (+2600 to +1400). The Cougars may also sense an opportunity to further their run with Jaylen Clark going down for UCLA.
However, first it will have to get by Oregon.
Washington State and Oregon are evenly-matched teams, and they split the two regular-season meetings. In this matchup, one streak will end, as Washington State has won seven in a row and Oregon has won its last three.
I’m giving the slight edge to the Cougars.
Washington State is a high-volume 3-point shooting team. It scores 39% of its points from the 3-point line, the 10th-highest rate in the country. However, it’s also efficient, shooting 36.6% from deep as a team.
That’s key against Oregon. The Ducks’ length makes it difficult to score inside (where Washington State struggles anyway), but Oregon struggles to guard the 3-point line. Oregon ranks 190th in 3-point percentage defense.
Oregon will look to attack Washington State inside with centers N’Faly Dante and Nate Bittle and physical drivers Will Richardson, Jermaine Couisnard and Keeshawn Barthelemy.
If Washington State can keep Oregon’s points in the paint to a minimum, the Cougars’ 3s will be worth more than the Ducks’ 2s. In the last meeting, Washington State had a nine-point edge at the 3-point line that it used to pull out a three-point win.
While I lean towards the Cougars on the moneyline (+128), FanDuel is giving nearly even money on Washington State to not lose by three.
Pick: Washington State +2.5 (Play to +2)
Hawaii vs. Cal State Fullerton (Big West)
As I discussed in my Big West Tournament preview, this matchup between Hawaii and Cal State Fullerton is one of the more intriguing duels of the tournament.
This will be the third meeting between these two teams, with Fullerton coming out on top in both matchups.
The Titans achieved both of these victories through their play on the defensive end. Fullerton boasts the top defense in the Big West, with an Adjusted Efficiency of 94.3%. This efficiency comes as the result of a 21.5% turnover rate, which is also No. 1 in the conference.
This ability to create pressure will be significant against a Hawaii team that has struggled to do the same. The Rainbow Warriors rank 261st nationally in turnover percentage at just 16.8%.
Additionally, Fullerton will have arguably the best offensive player on the floor in Latrell Wrightsell Jr. The senior point guard has excelled on both ends of the floor, averaging 16.3 points per game to go with the fourth-highest steal percentage in the Big West at 3.2%.
Wrightsell will be leading a Fullerton offense that has shown an ability to get hot from the perimeter, leading the Big West in 3-point percentage at 37.4%. This high percentage from the outside has resulted in Fullerton scoring 34.5% of its points from beyond the arc.
Although Hawaii has been clinical at defending the 3-point line, Fullerton has the offensive weapons to turn Hawaii’s strength into a weakness.
This is a matchup slated to be a close, low-scoring slugfest. Given the defensive style both teams want to play, I will gladly back a Fullerton team that has shown an ability to get hot from deep and that has the most talented offensive weapon in Wrightsell.
Pick: Cal State Fullerton +1.5 (Play to -1)
Morgan State vs. Maryland Eastern Shore (MEAC)
Two of the top defenses will meet tonight in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tournament when No. 4 Maryland Eastern Shore faces No. 5 Morgan State in Norfolk, Virginia.
This will be the second time in 10 days that the two squads have seen each other after Morgan State won the latest meeting, 68-61. Prior to that, Maryland Eastern Shore secured the victory on the road, winning 72-58.
Most importantly, the total went under in both regular-season games this year.
Morgan State has been even against the total this season, going 13-13. However, Maryland Eastern Shore has been profitable on unders, going 14-10-1 for a 58.3% under hit rate.
Maryland Eastern Shore is the most efficient team in the MEAC, ranking 96th nationally in AdjD, per KenPom. Also, the Hawks are one of the best teams in the nation in defensive turnover rate, ranking fourth in Division I.
Zion Styles has led the way defensively for Maryland Eastern Shore, collecting 53 steals this season (1.8/game).
Morgan State is also a defensive-minded team, ranking third (202nd nationally) in the MEAC in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.
Like their opponent, the Bears are in the top 10 nationally in defensive turnover rate. Season to date, Morgan State has forced 568 turnovers (18.9/game), which makes it the top team in the country in the statistic.
While both teams are stout on defense, they have struggled to score this season. Maryland Eastern Shore and Morgan State rank 342nd and 345th in KenPom’s AdjO metric, respectively.
I fully expect this game to be another contentious defensive battle, with buckets coming at a premium.
There’s a strong level of familiarity between the two programs, and while my model is projecting a total of 136.5, I think we see something closer to 130 on a neutral court. I recommend betting the under to 136.
Pick: Under 139.5 (Play to 136)
Buffalo vs. Akron (MAC)
By Matt Cox
During the condensed COVID-19 season of 2020-21, Buffalo was at the tail end of a dominant multi-year run as the class of the Mid-American Conference. That year, the Bulls swept Akron, capped off by a seven-point overtime victory in the MAC Tournament at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
That summer, John Groce finally solved the Buffalo riddle.
Akron swept Buffalo the very next year and exacted revenge in the opening round of the MAC Tournament, the same backdrop as tonight’s opening round tilt. The Zips owned UB in the two regular-season meeting this year, dispatching the Bulls by 17- and 20-point margins.
Those lopsided results are no fluke. Akron’s half-court style has the upper hand over Buffalo’s breakneck transition attack. Groce weaponizes this clash of styles to his advantage and forces UB to execute in the half-court.
It also helps that the Zips are anchored by an interior defensive stalwart in Enrique Freeman, who swallows up any eager rim attackers in the restricted area.
Laying a touchdown may seem pricey, but the recent precedents indicate the Zips should have no trouble winning this game by margin. The second game between the two at Akron closed -9.5, so a 2.5-point adjustment for the neutral court setting implies a fair price at minimum.
Pick: Akron -7.5 (Play to -8)
Penn State vs. Illinois (Big Ten)
So, Penn State waxed the floor with Illinois in a season sweep. It’s the only team in the bottom of the Big Ten bracket Illinois hasn’t beaten.
That said, both games were closer than the final score indicated.
Penn State won the first game 74-59, but ShotQuality graded it as just a five-point analytical Nittany Lion victory. PSU then won the second matchup by 12, but that game was graded as a nine-point analytical Illini victory.
I mean, Penn State did shoot a combined 24-for-52 (46.2%) from 3 across the two wins.
As good as Penn State is at shooting, the Nittany Lions can’t keep that up forever. So, I’m banking on some Penn State regression and for Illinois to snap the head-to-head losing streak.
Especially because this is a great matchup for Illinois, at least on paper. Penn State runs a spread pick-and-roll offense spearheaded by stud guard Jalen Pickett, but Illinois is an elite ball-screen defense, ranking second nationally in pick-and-roll PPP allowed.
Meanwhile, Illinois should be able to bully Penn State on the other side of the court, given the Illini will have a size advantage at every position. Watch out for Terrence Shannon Jr. if he gets switched onto Pickett, Cam Wynter or even Andrew Funk (worst DBPR rating on the team, per EvanMiya).
And while Penn State enters this game with all the momentum, it’s probably time the Nittany Lions drop a game. I mean, PSU won its final two games on back-to-back last-second miracle buckets from Wynter.
And peering deeper into the regression lens, those two Penn State wins were graded as analytical losses. In fact, four of Penn State’s final five wins were graded as analytical losses.
If anything, I think this recent hot streak makes Penn State overvalued, especially because we know the regression monster is looming.
Meanwhile, we’re getting the Illini cheap in a great on-court matchup.
I’d probably make Illinois closer to a five-point favorite here, and I feel comfortable playing the Illini at -4 or better.
Say it with me now: it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season!
Pick: Illinois -2.5 (Play to -4)
Marist vs. Quinnipiac (MAAC)
By Ky McKeon
Quinnipiac has proven to be a difficult matchup for Marist in their two meetings this season.
Game one saw the Bobcats come from behind after a slow start put them 13 points in the hole. A three-minute scoring drought to start the game made Bobcat fans nervous as their team shook off the cobwebs. QU promptly outscored Marist by 16 points in the contest’s final 30 minutes.
Game two was all Quinnipiac, as the Bobcats scored a sizzling 1.33 points per possession and led by as many as 19 before ultimately winning by 12. Whether it was in the paint or behind the arc, the Red Foxes simply could not contain QU’s excellent backcourt.
Marist boasts the MAAC’s worst defense, and that will be exploited tonight against a Quinnipiac team that ranks third in the MAAC in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.
Featuring a quadrumvirate of upperclassmen guards including Dezi Jones, Luis Kortright, Matt Balanc and Tyrese Williams, the Bobcats have arguably the league’s most dangerous backcourt.
They’ll tee off from distance all night against a soft Red Foxes perimeter shell and look to put Marist’s frontcourt duo — Patrick Gardner and Stephane Ingo — in ball-screen coverage every time down the floor.
Gardner is a matchup nightmare for any MAAC opponent, but QU’s lack of size makes him particularly challenging.
Don’t be surprised if Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy throws a couple different defensive looks at the Red Foxes, including a shifting 2-3 matchup zone he rolled out against Marist last game.
The Red Foxes grade out as one of the nation’s worst zone offenses per Synergy, scoring just 0.796 points per possession.
Talent wins out tonight in this MAAC quarterfinal contest.
Pick: Quinnipiac -6 (Play to -6.5)
Arkansas vs. Auburn (SEC)
By Doug Ziefel
Yesterday, I stuck with my SEC preview predictions, and LSU came through. For the second round of the tournament today, we’re going to do the same thing with Arkansas.
The Razorbacks are a team I’m very high on in this tournament, as they have a shot at making a run to the final now that they’re healthy. While it’s a bonus that the market agreed with my initial notion — we’ve seen the Razorbacks go from 1.5-point underdogs to 3-point favorites — there’s still value on them.
Arkansas is a team that utilizes its size and length to create chances from close proximity, and it will be able to do so against Auburn. Of all the points the Tigers have surrendered, 41% have come in the paint.
While they have Johni Broome, who’s a great rim-protector, his impact could be minimized because the Razorbacks are adept at getting to the line. Auburn, meanwhile, ranks 325th in free-throw attempts-to-field-goal attempts ratio.
On the other end of the floor, Arkansas has allowed teams to shoot from the perimeter, and Auburn shouldn’t cause it to change its approach.
If the Hogs can contain Broome down low, they could pull away because the Tigers don’t have the outside shooting proficiency to punish Arkansas. Auburn ranks 316th in 3-point percentage, and to boot, Arkansas is 30th in 3-point percentage allowed.
The Razorbacks had tremendous value at open, but their current spread is a tad too far. So, I’m willing to lay the juice on their moneyline to get some of the value back.
Pick: Arkansas -140 (Play to -160)
Charlotte vs. Middle Tennessee (C-USA)
By Brett Pund
One thing I like to find once we get into these tournaments is a team that struggles on the road, and Middle Tennessee fits that bill as a team I’m looking to fade.
The Blue Raiders finished C-USA play with a 2-8 straight-up and against-the-spread record away from home, with the only victories coming at UTSA and Rice. They have failed to cover the last six coming into the conference tournament, losing by an average margin of 13.2 points per game.
I also like Charlotte’s matchup advantages in this contest. For MTSU to have success, it needs to hit the offensive glass and cause turnovers to secure extra shot attempts.
However, the 49ers are 16th in the country in opponents’ offensive rebounding rate, and they’re inside the top 100 in turnover percentage, according to Bart Torvik.
When you add it all up, I think the wrong team is favored here. So, I’ll gladly take the plus-money odds with the better squad.
Pick: Charlotte ML +100 (Play to -125)
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