College Basketball Pick & Roll: McGrath & Calabrese’s 4 Saturday Picks, Including Arizona vs. Oregon & UAB vs. Louisiana Tech
Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: N’Faly Dante (Oregon)
- Another college basketball Saturday means another pick and roll from Tanner McGrath and Mike Calabrese.
- They break down their top four picks for Saturday's college hoops games, including Arizona vs. Oregon, Louisiana Tech vs. UAB and more.
- Check out all four of their top bets for Saturday's college basketball games below.
Sitting at 18-13 (58%) on the season, Tanner McGrath and Michael Calabrese are focused on delivering a mix of high-major and mid-major plays that are predicated on knowing when to lean into a trend and when to count on a team’s luck to run dry.
Tanner has a bold prediction in the Big 12 and is ready to go out on a limb with an Oregon team that has been anything but reliable in 2023.
As for Breese, a pair of mid-majors have caught his eye for two completely different reasons. One proud program is continuing its tradition of “40 minutes of hell” and another has more or less given up on defense altogether.
For their picks and the rationale behind each play, read on.
McGrath’s Top 2 Saturday Picks
Kansas State vs. TCU
I’m in love with Kansas State. I think Jerome Tang should be National Coach of the Year. I invested in K-State to win the Big 12 (+900) and the National Championship (+8000).
That said, this is the spot of all spots for TCU. This game is the “Spot of the Weekend.” This game might be the “Spot of the Year.”
The market has never been higher on Kansas State, which is now 4-0 in Big 12 play, 15-1 overall, has won nine straight and has just beaten four KenPom top-30 teams in a row. The Wildcats have cruised up 54 spots in KenPom since the beginning of the season.
But you have to lose games in the Big 12. This league is too talented to go undefeated in.
Winning on the road at TCU might prove impossible, especially because TCU is coming off back-to-back losses and Kansas State is looking ahead to a monstrous rivalry game against Kansas back at the Octagon on Tuesday.
I can see it now: K-State thinks it can hit the road for a quick trip against a TCU team that lost to Iowa State at home and just get in and get out like that. The Wildcats might use this as a tune-up for the Jayhawks.
Not so fast.
TCU led by 18 against Texas and was up 12 with under 10 minutes to play. The Horned Frogs dominated the Longhorns for most of the game, but basketball is a game of runs, and they allowed some at the wrong time.
Even though they’re 2-2 in league play, let’s remember who these Frogs are. They were a consensus top-25 team that returned all five starters from last season. They look like a different animal with Damion Baugh back in the lineup. The Frogs were the trendy pick to win the Big 12 this season.
TCU can still make a run in this conference, and that should start Saturday afternoon. That’s especially the case because I love this matchup for the Frogs.
Kansas State has two kingsmen upon which the entire wheel turns. Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson are elite first-step players, and Tang utilizes them by setting up isolation situations and having the two look for off-ball cutters.
TCU ranks in the 89th percentile in isolation PPP allowed (.593) and in the 64th percentile in cutting PPP allowed (1.107). Baugh is an elite perimeter defender — ranking sixth in the Big 12 in EvanMiya’s DBPR metric — and Rondel Walker holds his own out there, too.
Alternatively, Kansas State can try to get out in transition or find spot-up situations. But TCU will counter that, as the Frogs rank in the 89th percentile in spot-up PPP allowed (.796) and the 64th percentile in transition PPP allowed (.955).
The Wildcats won’t get out in transition, but the Frogs will. K-State is just 172nd in offensive turnover rate and ranks in the 20th percentile in transition PPP allowed (1.070).
Meanwhile, the Frogs are top-25 in defensive turnover rate and create the fifth-most transition points per game in the country (23.4).
All this to say: the Horned Frogs can go punch-for-punch with the Wildcats. TCU will score in transition, while Kansas State won’t.
And considering the situational spot, TCU is a must-bet to bounce back in Big 12 play.
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Arizona vs. Oregon
Ah, yes. The Jekyll and Hyde Oregon Ducks.
The Ducks go back-and-forth almost like clockwork.
They lost three straight games to KenPom top-50 teams, then bounced back with wins over Villanova and Washington State.
Then, the Ducks lost to UCLA and beat Nevada the next weekend.
Most recently, the Ducks have had these results:
- 78-56 win over Portland
- 77-72 loss to Utah Valley
- 77-68 win over Oregon State
- 68-41 loss to Colorado
- 70-60 win over Utah
- 90-73 loss to Arizona State
It’s that part of the wheel again. If everything is usual, the Ducks might win this game by 50.
Arizona isn’t contagious to letdown games. It couldn’t handle an away game at Utah after Maui, and it recently dropped a home game to Washington State.
And I think it’s a small sandwich spot for the Wildcats, who just beat Oregon State, but are looking ahead to back-to-back home games against USC and UCLA.
Hell, I don’t even know if Arizona is playing that well. The Wildcats have failed to cover in four of their last five games, recently sneaking by Washington by three at home.
Arizona’s offensive attack is called fast-and-tall. The Wildcats storm out in transition and post-up at one of the highest rates nationally, thanks to big men like Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis.
Oregon can punch back, as the Ducks have been an above-average defense in transition and in the post all year. N’Faly Dante is holding opponents to only .667 PPP in post-up situations this year (81st percentile).
Plus, the Ducks defend without fouling, which is huge against an Arizona team that runs downhill with big men.
I’m not exactly sure how Oregon scores, but I think Will Richardson can outplay Kerr Kriisa while Dante, Kel’el Ware and Quincy Guerrier go punch-for-punch with Arizona’s talented frontcourt.
Given the situational spot and historical trends, that’s a bet I’m willing to make. And if they win Saturday evening, we can fade the Ducks into the sun at Cal on Wednesday.
I’m licking my lips already.
Calabrese’s Top 2 Saturday Picks
Stephen F. Austin vs. Southern Utah
The Lumberjacks currently have the longest road winning streak in the entire country. Winners of nine straight away from home, SFA’s disruptive defense clearly travels well.
The Jacks have forced turnovers on 21.8% of opponent possessions this season (7th). They’ve paired their never-ending pressure with the top field goal percentage in the WAC.
The last season and a half has been a runaway success for SFA’s head coach Kyle Keller. The Lumberjacks have won 19 of their last 23 conference games since arriving in the WAC from the Southland Conference.
And this year’s team has a pair of quality non-conference wins over UNC Greensboro (2nd in SoCon) and Louisiana Tech (3rd in C-USA), winning both away from home.
Southern Utah features five starters averaging double digits, but it generally lives and dies with wing Tevian Jones. The 6-foot-7 Illinois transfer is averaging 20 points per game and shoots nearly 40% from long range.
He was a non-factor in the Thunderbirds’ lone WAC loss, scoring just nine points in a three-point defeat to Tarleton.
Keller cut his teeth under hard-nosed coaches like Leonard Hamilton and Eddie Sutton, and as a result, his teams know how to make life hard on opposing stars.
If Lumberjacks limit Jones, there’s not a clear path forward for SUU to cover this number.
On the offensive end, DayDay Hall has been the glue holding it altogether for the Lumberjacks. The stat-sheet-stuffer’s line of 13.9/6.6/2.2 on 60.9% shooting from the floor is impressive even before you factor in his 2.2 “stocks” per game.
In three of his last six games, he’s scored 18+ and reeled in 10+ rebounds.
The Thunderbirds are one of the worst defensive teams in the entire country, ranking 344th in points allowed and 273rd in opposing shooting percentage. Hall should feast once again.
But the real red flag for the favorite in this game is how they handle the basketball. Southern Utah will be facing SFA for the first time, and it’s already struggled this season with turnovers (314th).
That’s playing directly into SFA’s hands, and Southern Utah is overly dependent on getting whistles near the basket (27.1 FTA, 2nd). If it doesn’t get to the line often, things can go sideways fast for SUU. It’s getting 25% of its points at the line this season.
I think this defense will win the day again, so I’ll lean into the streak and take the points. I would play this down to +2.
UAB vs. Louisiana Tech
From one team that can really play defense to another team that would rather not play defense at all.
The Blazers entered the year as a potential NCAA tournament Cinderella, but their turnstile defense has put them behind the eight-ball in both the C-USA and with the Selection Committee come March.
At this point, barring a scenario in which it wins out prior to its conference tournament, UAB is now looking at an auto-bid or bust when it comes to March Madness.
How bad has UAB’s defense gotten? It’s fallen to 252nd in scoring defense (73.4) and it’s been absolutely worked by conference opponents during its three-game skid.
The FAU Owls dropped 88 on the Blazers in regulation, including a career-high from sophomore Johnell Davis (36 pts).
They followed that up with a 90-87 overtime loss to FIU while surrendering another career-high — this time to Denver Jones (29 pts).
And the Blazers’ most recent loss — a 80-78 setback to WKU — showcased their laissez-faire defense once again. UAB allowed 48 points in the second half while wasting another vintage Jordan “Jelly” Walker performance.
One trend across all of its conference games is that UAB can’t stop sending the opposition to the charity stripe. Teams are attempting over 21 foul shots per game in conference play.
When you pair the Blazers’ lackluster, foul-prone defense with their electric offense, it’s easy to fall in love with an over play in this spot. No team has been more profitable in terms of cashing overs this year (14-2, 87.5%), and the oddsmakers still haven’t caught up.
Despite cashing eight straight overs, UAB games haven’t seen a total above 157.5. And while La Tech would prefer to play a bit slower, it’s still shown a fifth gear multiple times this season, scoring 75+ 10 times.
I would play this all the way up to 160 and count on UAB’s pace (7th) to speed this game up.