College Basketball Odds & Picks: Thursday’s Best Bets for Evening Games, Including Oklahoma vs. Kansas & DePaul vs. UConn (March 11)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Pictured: James Bouknight.
- With conference tournaments in full swing across the country, the college basketball night is far from over.
- Our staff broke down nine more games from 6 p.m. ET through 9:30 p.m. ET, including Oklahoma vs. Kansas and UConn vs. DePaul.
- Check out each pick complete with a full betting breakdown ahead of tip-off below.
Tensions are running wild throughout the college basketball world as Selection Sunday approaches.
The action remains hot and heavy on Thursday night, with every major conference in action, as well as plenty of mid-majors.
Our college basketball staff is going to be active all night, starting with Morgan State vs. Florida A&M and ending in the SWAC with Southern vs. Grambling State.
Check out each pick and breakdown below, and feel free to use the table below to navigate to any game included in our best bets.
College Basketball Odds & Picks
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Note: All photos below are via Getty Images.
Morgan State vs. Florida A&M
By Jim Root
As part of its pandemic scheduling, the MEAC split into two divisions, so this is the first time Morgan State and Florida A&M have met this season. As such, we don’t have any precedence to base this off, but several key matchup factors tilt this one toward the Bears.
Most importantly, FAMU’s offense is incredibly rim-reliant; no one on the team has even hit 30 3s over the team’s 19 games. That runs into the teeth of Morgan State’s defense, where UNLV/FGCU transfer Troy Baxter is a menace. The Bears’ defensive weakness is frequent fouling, but that’s not an area FAMU is built to exploit.
On the other end, Morgan State can absolutely dominate the offensive glass. The Bears rank 26th nationally in offensive rebound rate and come at foes in waves, while FAMU is a dismal 304th in defensive rebound rate. As long as Morgan State takes decent enough care of the ball and gets shots on the glass, there’s a clear route to points.
Additionally, Florida A&M has benefited from playing multiple awful shooting teams over and over in the South Division. Morgan State has several skilled gunners, so the Rattlers may run into some regression in both the 3-point and free-throw departments.
Bowling Green vs. Akron
I’ll gladly take 2.5 points with the team I actually have rated higher.
Bowling Green hit a nasty midseason slump, losing six straight. However, it then figured it out with four straight road wins, including one in Akron against these Zips. Justin Turner is a pro-level guard and star to the show, but it was the surrounding shooters (namely Trey Diggs) who busted out of their slump — in addition to the emergence of freshman Kaden Metheny — that turned things around.
Both offenses should have plenty of success, but the difference might be Bowling Green’s superior ability to turn opponents over.
Akron rarely ever forces opponents into mistakes, so Bowling Green (which ranks fifth in turnover rate in D-I) won’t have many lost possessions.
I also think the Falcons still have some more positive shooting regression coming their way, which is good news for an offense that comes in with plenty of confidence and momentum.
Oklahoma vs. Kansas
Kansas’ season has been as unsteady as any year in recent Jayhawk history. That’s particularly true of big man David McCormack.
His lack of effective production in the early portion of Kansas’ Big 12 schedule was a major hindrance to the Kansas offense. The Jayhawks’ resurgence in February and early March has largely been due to McCormack’s improvement offensively.
In the regular season, he led Kansas in usage rate, with Bill Self continuing to find him post touches.
McCormack was ruled out of the Big 12 Tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. Self could respond in two ways. First, we could see a ton of Mitch Lightfoot in the Kansas lineup. Lightfoot is a fun story, who already announced he’ll be back for a sixth season next year, but the Oklahoma guards would feast on him in pick-and-roll.
Self’s other option is to embrace a small-ball lineup. Some Kansas fans have been clamoring for more of this all year, dubbing it the “Billanova” lineup. Even in that case, Lon Kruger’s penchant for using screens to hunt switches should give the Sooners an offensive advantage against a small Kansas lineup.
Until we see Kansas play without McCormack, the smart move is to fade the Jayhawks.
Rice vs. UAB
I make this line pretty close to where it sits currently, so I don’t have much interest in the pregame.
However, I will be hunting a 2H number on UAB….ideally if leading by four or less (or trailing). This will mark Rice’s third game in three days, so fatigue could become a major issue in the second half, especially since the Owls are extremely 3-point reliant, attempting shots from beyond the arc at the fifth-highest rate in the nation.
Rice may come out hot from 3 after gaining familiarity with the gym it’s played in the past two nights, and UAB’s offense (which can be a bit wonky at times) could come out a little flat.
However, I think the much fresher Blazers eventually take over this game and extend in the 2H.
Plus, it’s not a great matchup on paper for Rice. UAB’s bread and butter is its swarming defense, which really limits 3-point attempts and turns over opponents at the 17th-highest rate in the country. That spells doom for a 3-point reliant Rice team that ranks 244th in turnovers itself. We should see a lot of forced 3s and one-and-dones for the Owls.
Seattle vs. Cal Baptist
By Ky McKeon
It’s fitting that Cal Baptist and Seattle meet each other in the first round of the WAC Tournament.
The pair played a two-game series at CBU to finish the season, splitting the series evenly by a combined margin of victory of just four points.
Those two games gave us a very specific blueprint for what we should expect in the rubber match. Both contests played to 72 possessions, and the total scores in Games 1 and 2 were 159 and 155, respectively. Oddsmakers took cues from those matchups, making tonight’s game a pick’em with a total of 152.
CBU and Seattle have been similarly performing teams all season, but I’m a firm believer the Lancers are the better squad and a far better bet in a tournament setting. The primary reason for that is shooting.
The Lancers shot 38.5% from deep in WAC play; they are liable to go nuclear on any given night. Sharpshooting guards Ty Rowell, Reed Nottage, Tre Armstrong, and Mark Carbone all convert triples at over a 38% clip, giving the Lancers one of the most potent outside attacks in the country.
Seattle does not guard the perimeter particularly well, allowing the third-highest attempt rate of 3s in the WAC this season. CBU and its second-ranked WAC offense should find plenty of open looks all night long against the relatively soft Redhawk perimeter shell.
The concern for CBU is defense, as it has been all season.
The Lancers are one of the worst defensive teams in the country, and even a so-so offense like Seattle can score pretty much at will.
CBU generally avoids foul trouble, which takes away a key Seattle avenue of scoring, and the Redhawks are just average outside shooters. The perimeter is where CBU has mostly been torched, but some of that could be chalked up to luck given how well the Lancers run shooters off the line.
Ultimately, CBU backers shouldn’t have to worry too much about the defensive end.
The Lancers just need to outscore the Redhawks to cover the PK or one-point spread, and that’s very doable for this talented group of hoopers.
Niagara vs. Marist
The Niagara Purple Eagles face off against the Marist Red Foxes in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament Thursday.
These teams split the season series with Marist winning by two points and then Niagara responding with a 14-point victory earlier in the year.
Offensively, it’s been a tough year for the Red Foxes, who rank 323rd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. They shoot 3-pointers at a higher rate than anyone else in the MAAC, but they convert at just a 31.0% clip. They turn the ball over on 22.2% of their offensive possessions in conference play.
Niagara, meanwhile, is the best team in the MAAC in taking care of the basketball.
The Purple Eagles ended the season winning two of their final three, including splitting the series with No.1 Seed Siena. Senior forward Kobi Nwandu has scored at least 15 points in each of his last five games. The Red Foxes had no answer for Marcus Hammond, who averaged 20.0 points in the two regular-season games between these two teams.
This is a matchup of a strong offensive team vs. a strong defensive team. Niagara has a reliable one-two punch on offense that has proven it can expose this Marist defense.
I’m backing the Purple Eagles and coach Greg Paulus to cover the short number in the MAAC quarterfinals.
DePaul vs. UConn
By Mike Randle
DePaul’s win over Providence in the opening round of the Big East Tournament was a statistical upset but not a shocking result.
It should have won at Providence on Dec. 27, but an A.J. Reeves 3 at the end of regulation led to a double-overtime loss for the Blue Demons. Facing Connecticut in the quarterfinals, however, brings a much greater challenge for DePaul.
The Huskies have battled through the absence of star guard James Bouknight and three separate COVID-19 pauses and are now peaking at the perfect time. They enter the conference tournament having won four games in a row and six of their last seven. Bouknight (20.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 80.3% FT) has scored 20 or more points in three of the past four games.
Head coach Danny Hurley has the best defensive team in the Big East, leading the conference in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, and 2-point percentage allowed (KenPom). The Huskies have a deep roster filled with multiple big men that comprise the best defensive block percentage in the Big East.
The Huskies feature athletic and long defenders such as 6-foot-9 senior Isaiah Whaley (8.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.7 BPG) and freshman Adama Sanogo (6.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG), who make scoring inside the arc very difficult. This is a huge problem for a DePaul team that generates 62.2% of its points in the 2-point area.
When these two teams met in Chicago on Jan. 11, the Huskies forced the Blue Demons into 24 turnovers en route to a 60-53 win. That win occurred despite it being the Huskies’ third road game in six games and without Bouknight on the floor.
I’m taking Connecticut to earn a big win in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, as a well-balanced team peaking at the right time.
Lamar vs. Sam Houston State
By Jim Root
Though the Southland had four teams separate themselves this year, I thought Lamar would be up in the top five along with Sam Houston State and others.
Nagging injuries, bad luck, and backcourt youth stunted the Cardinals’ growth, but they have now won five in a row, so it feels like they are finally playing to their full capabilities.
Lamar’s defense has been especially stifling: the last five opponents have tallied 0.79, 0.98, 0.66, 0.85, and 0.75 points per possession. Opponents are finally not scalding hot from beyond the arc, and the Cardinals have the best shot-blocker in the conference in David Muoka.
Additionally, I said yesterday that you beat Lamar by forcing it to shoot jump shots in the half-court. The Cardinals went just 2-of-14 from deep, underscoring those shooting issues, but they scored enough inside against Houston Baptist’s defense to get by, and that should be the case again today.
Sam Houston’s transition defense is also vulnerable, and the Cardinals can exploit that.
Even with a shorter rotation playing on a back-to-back, I’ll go back with a team that’s peaking at the right time
Southern vs. Grambling State
By Matt Cox
It’s slim pickings from the SWAC this evening.
The conference split up the quarterfinals into two nights, with the first pair being played last night and the latter two tonight. Still, a sliver of value exists in the late night tilt between Southern and Grambling, the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively.
The Jaguars were the apple of everyone’s eye this summer, pegged by many prognosticators to win the conference after a furious finish to the 2020 campaign. COVID-19 stopped that momentum dead in its tracks, but head coach Sean Woods was more fortunate than most. Most of the percolating nucleus would return the following year, with unfinished business as the motivator.
Fast forward to here and now. In the context of those lofty preseason expectations, an 8-6 league record looks like a major disappointment. However, the Jaguars deserve a bold, italicized asterisk next to that record based on the laundry list of injuries that piled up throughout the year.
Sixteen different players clocked at least 10 minutes in a game this season, while critical starters Lamarcus Lee, Damiree Burns and Ahsante Shivers haven’t seen the floor since early February.
Since then, Woods has juggled the rotations masterfully. The Jags are 2-2 against the number heading into the SWAC Championship but probably should’ve covered the last two against Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M.
Southern held a five-point lead late in the first half against PVAMU and shot a dismal 14-of-27 from the charity stripe. In the regular season finale against TXSO, the Jags blew a six-point lead with less than four minutes remaining, an all-time back door cover for Texas Southern backers.
Bottom line, Southern is primed to hit the reset button on its injury-ravaged season. As with any SWAC game, player availability is the ultimate crapshoot, but if there’s a team with the prerequisite depth to mitigate any surprise scratches, it’s Southern.
Pick: Southern -2