College Basketball Pick & Roll: Calabrese & McGrath’s 4 Top Saturday Betting Picks

College Basketball Pick & Roll: Calabrese & McGrath’s 4 Top Saturday Betting Picks article feature image

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images. Pictured: Kelvin Sampson (Houston)

  • This is the best Saturday college basketball slate of the season, and Tanner and Mike are here to break it down.
  • McGrath eyes a Big East tilt and East Carolina vs. South Carolina.
  • Meanwhile, Breese is targeting two massive matchups, including a top-five showcase.

Our Pick & Roll from Tanner McGrath and Michael Calabrese is just like Novocaine — give it time and it works.

After 20 games, the pair is 12-8 on the season.

This week, Tanner kicks things off with a Big East duel and a battle of the Carolinas before Breese dives into two heavyweight ranked matchups.

McGrath's Top 2 Saturday Picks

Providence vs. Seton Hall

Saturday, Dec. 17
12:30 p.m. ET

Shaheen Holloway’s Saint Peter’s Peacocks finished dead last in the MAAC in offensive efficiency twice during his four-year run. Those Peacocks finished seventh in the conference in 2020 and fourth in 2022.

Holloway’s Pirates look absolutely clueless on the offensive end.

Holloway is a tremendous defensive coach and motivator. In terms of offensive X’s and O’s, I’m not sure he has the goods.

The numbers are staggering. The Pirates rank in the 18th percentile in half-court PPP (.823) while falling out of the top 250 in eFG% and out of the top 350 in offensive turnover rate. I’ve literally seen two Pirates slam right into each other trying to set ball screens.

Providence flunked all its non-conference tests against Miami (FL), Saint Louis and TCU. The Friars need a win.

Luckily, these games are where Ed Cooley makes his money.

Cooley is 85-57-2 ATS as a road dog in his career, hitting at nearly 60% with a 16.5% ROI. He’s also 68-45-1 ATS as a conference road dog.

I also like the matchup for the Friars. It’s almost impossible to score on Seton Hall, but the Pirates have been at their best running opponents off the 3-point line (10th in 3P% allowed, 118th in 3PA% allowed).

The Friars want to get downhill and score on the interior, finishing at the rim at the 18th-highest frequency nationally. While the Pirates are strong at the rim, they’re average to below average at avoiding points in the paint.

Providence has monster advantages in two areas.

First, the Friars are crashing the offensive boards, ranking fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate. Fifth-year senior Ed Croswell is breaking out, snagging almost four offensive boards per game.

Meanwhile, Seton Hall is down to 224th in defensive rebounding rate.

Secondly, the Friars draw fouls when crashing downhill, ranking top-50 in free-throw rate. Seton Hall is 225th in free-throw rate allowed.

As a secondary point, the only way Seton Hall can score is at the charity stripe, ranking sixth in free-throw rate. Providence is top-25 in free-throw rate allowed.

Seton Hall can’t and won’t score. But Cooley and Jared Bynum will find enough ways to stay inside the number, or win outright (Caesars).

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East Carolina vs. South Carolina

Saturday, Dec. 17
2 p.m. ET

The GG Jackson experiment isn’t going awesome. South Carolina has dropped to 180th in KenPom behind a 5-5 record, and all its statistics look poor (sub-250 in eFG%, eFG% allowed, offensive turnover rate, defensive turnover rate).

It’s just hard to lean on a freshman to carry your team. Jackson is dropping 17.5 points a game, but he’s only shooting 43.4% from the field and has an ORtg under 100.

I expected his rebounding numbers to be better, too.

The Gamecocks have been better recently, covering four of their last five games. But I really hate this matchup for them.

I can explain this handicap with one name: Javon Small.

Small barely played last season, sitting behind Tristen Newton and dealing with injuries. But with Newton at UConn, Small has exploded into one of mid-majordum’s best guards.

Small can score or assist in every which way. He’ll pull up in your face or break you down off the dribble to score in the mid-range, at the rim or find the open guy.

Javon Small / East Carolina / Sophomore
6’2” 180lbs
18.1 PPG
4.5 REB
5.7 AST
1.2 STL
47.0 FG%
37.5 3FG%
89.0 FT%

( Synergy %’s )
P&R Ball Handler: 69%
Spot Up: 91%
Isolation: 98%
Jump Shot: 77%
Dribble Jumper: 94%
At Rim: 92%

— Simon Rath (@HawksDraftNerd) December 14, 2022

The key part of the handicap is South Carolina’s ball-screen defense. The Gamecocks are allowing .773 PPP in pick-and-roll situations (34th percentile), 1.000 PPP in off-screen situations (31st percentile) and a whopping 1.276 PPP to cutters (18th percentile).

This is Small’s bread and butter. Put Small on the ball and he’ll score .957 PPP in pick-and-roll situations (80th percentile), 1.316 PPP in hand-off situations (91st percentile) and 1.714 in off-screen situations.

I realize that’s a lot of numbers I just threw out there, but let me boil this down as simply as possible.

East Carolina will ball-screen the Gamecocks to death, and Small is the type of player to steal these games away. He already did it to Toledo, dropping 24 points and seven assists in a monster upset win.

Only Meechie Johnson grades out as an above-average defender in South Carolina's backcourt. Chico Carter Jr. and Hayden Brown are the two worst defenders on the team, per EvanMiya’s DBPR metric.

Nobody is stopping Small in this one, and the GG show should fall short. I’d make the Pirates favorites in this game, and I'm happy to grab points with them.

Calabrese's Top 2 Saturday Picks

Alabama vs. Gonzaga

Saturday, Dec. 17
1 p.m. ET

This game is all about pace and defense. Both teams like to play a modern, up-tempo brand of basketball. Alabama is second nationally in possessions per game while Gonzaga is 50th.

Where these teams truly separate, however, is on the defensive end.

The Bulldogs are 215th in points allowed per game, letting teams get good looks on a regular basis. They check in at 154th in opposing shooting efficiency.

But when they’ve faced off against quality opponents — and they’ve seen their fair share already — the game plan has shifted for the Zags.

They’ve challenged themselves with marquee non-conference matchups against programs like Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas, Purdue and Baylor. They held Michigan State and Baylor to 63 and 64 points, respectively. They were even able to curtail Kentucky, holding the Wildcats to just 72 points.

Texas and Purdue imposed their will, but in my opinion, that only reinforces the Zags’ desire to play a bit slower against a team looking to get into a track meet.

Alabama’s guard play, in particular, would give it a leg up, so I think Mark Few would rather rely on Drew Timme and a half-court game to attack Alabama’s young frontcourt.

Noah Clowney and Brandon Miller, in particular, may struggle with a crafty veteran like Timme, who averages 6.7 FTA per game, which is a career-high.

As a core strength, Alabama has a defense with a very high ceiling. The Tide are top-25 in a handful of meaningful metrics, like opposing shooting efficiency (11th), 3-point defense (25th) and opponent assist-to-made-basket percentage (21st).

My only concern with the Crimson Tide is that they foul quite often. Their 19.7-fouls-per-game mark is 309th nationally. Luckily, Gonzaga isn’t a great foul-shooting team, nor do I anticipate it leading late and getting sent to the line.

If this game is played in the 80s, Few already knows that he doesn’t have the horses to keep up. We’ll know right from the get-go how he’ll look to play things by the amount of touches Timme gets on the low block.

If they throw caution to the wind early and look to run, this under may be dead. But a plodding, slow, half-court game out of the chute should set the stage for a game played in the lower 70s.

I would play this under down to 155 (DraftKings).

Pick: Under 157.5 (Play to 155)

Houston vs. Virginia

Saturday, Dec. 17
2 p.m. ET

Virginia is punching above its weight at No. 2 in the AP Poll. The Cavaliers are the same team we’ve come to expect under Tony Bennett. A glacial pace (356th) — paired with a frustrating “Pack Line” defense — has been enough to carry them to an undefeated record.

It's worth noting that their defensive rotations and closeouts aren’t quite as crisp as they’ve been in recent years. As a result, opponents are canning 34.4% of their long-range attempts (214th).

It hasn’t hurt them in the win column because their offense has been ruthlessly efficient. They share the ball incredibly well (8th in AST/FGM) and get to the line better than any Bennett coached team (26.1 FTA, 9th).

And while the Cavs have cut their teeth against Illinois, Baylor and Michigan, their next opponent is a different animal.

Houston’s defense is ferocious. And not in the go-for-broke, full-court press kind of way. Yes, the Cougars do force turnovers on 21.8% of opponents possessions (16th), but they can also force teams into bad shots on the offensive end.

Opponents are shooting 31.6% from the field against U-of-H. If that feels low, it’s because it's the lowest in the entire country.

Offensively, Houston has been inconsistent — especially for a top-five team — but I have faith in the Marcus Sasser, Jarace Walker, Jamal Shead trio to contribute equally against a disciplined UVA defense.

Sasser is still averaging 16.2 points per game, but he’s not shooting the ball well at the moment. Luckily, Houston has four other players averaging 7.5 or more points per game.

Walker deferred far too often against Alabama, shooting the ball just four times in their six-point loss to the Crimson Tide. I’m looking for Kelvin Sampson to get him more involved, as he was in the first month of the season when he averaged over 10 shots per game.

Since Sampson got this program humming — starting in the 2018 season — he’s carried them to four straight NCAA tournament bids, including a Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four.

He’s also been ruthless on the road ATS. His 61.6% ATS record on the road is second only to UConn among power programs in the last five years.

I like a quality coach and great defense at a discount, and that’s what I’m getting in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon. I would play this up to Houston -3 (DraftKings).

Pick: Houston -1.5 (Play to -3)

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